Rangers-Devils Eastern Conference finals matchup: Forwards

With the Devils and Rangers set to begin the 2012 Eastern Conference finals tonight at Madison Square Garden, PHT will be spending most of today breaking down the positional matchups.

Forwards

New York Rangers (lines)

Carl Hagelin — Brad Richards — Marian Gaborik

Chris Kreider — Derek Stepan — Ryan Callahan

Ruslan Fedotenko — Brian Boyle — Artem Anisimov

Mike Rupp — John Mitchell — Brandon Prust

Overview: Richards and Gaborik lead the charge with 11 and 10 points respectively, and both have provided timely scoring (Richards especially).

After going scoreless in his first five games, Stepan has eight points in his last nine.

Outside of some occasional production from Anisimov and Boyle’s early heroics against Ottawa, the bottom six hasn’t provided much offense at all.

Strengths: The Rangers are versatile up front. Richards and Gaborik bring the skill, Hagelin and Kreider possess a speed game, Boyle and Callahan are physical presences while fourth-liners Prust and Rupp provide requisite toughness.

Weaknesses: Due in part to their workmanlike approach (and no bonafide No. 2 goalscorer after Gaborik), the Rangers are prone to long dry spells — specially at 5-on-5 (1.36 per game). There was a stretch during the Washington series where NY only scored one “pure” 5-on-5 goal in over 144 minutes of action, not counting Gaborik’s bank shot off Matt Hendricks in Game 6.

New Jersey Devils (lines)

Zach Parise — Patrik Elias — David Clarkson

Alexei Ponikarovsky — Travis Zajac — Ilya Kovalchuk

Petr Sykora — Adam Henrique — Dainius Zubrus

Ryan Carter — Stephen Gionta — Steve Bernier

Overview: Much like their defense, the Devils utilize a balanced attack. Twelve different forwards have at least three points (compared to eight Rangers forwards) with the highly-underrated Sykora-Henrique-Zubrus line combining for 18. That said, New Jersey’s high-end talent has carried the team at times. Most notable was Kovalchuk’s Game 3 performance against Philly which drew “world class” reviews.

Strengths: The forecheck. New Jersey runs an aggressive two-man system that absolutely throttled the Flyers (the Devils outscored them 14-8 even strength.) Here’s what MSG analyst Ken Daneyko told New York Magazine about New Jersey establishing the forecheck against Philly:

I thought the Devils felt they could exploit their defense, and that’s exactly what they did, by getting pucks in the corner — the Devils are one of the better cycling teams in the league — and they use their big bodies protecting it and spending a lot of time in the Flyers’ end.

Even if they didn’t score on a particular shift, if you’re in there 30 or 40 seconds, that can really wear a team down, physically as well as mentally, and I think that’s what they were able to accomplish against the Flyers.

Weaknesses: It’s not the toughest, meanest or most physical group. Peter DeBoer has parked two of the more noteworthy pugilists from the regular season brouhahas (Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen) in favor of more versatile players — like the 5-foot-7, 185-pound Gionta.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.