Rivalry Night on NBCSN: Bruins, Habs battle for top spot in Northeast

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Throughout the season, NBCSN will feature the NHL’s fiercest rivalries on Wednesday nights. Tonight the Boston Bruins will head to the Bell Centre for a match against the Montreal Canadiens at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Boston and Montreal had some serious question marks heading into this season, but also plenty of promise and so far the latter has won out. Both of these teams have been fantastic through eight games.

For Boston, the big story has been goaltender Tuukka Rask, who has flawlessly transitioned into the number one gig after Tim Thomas’ decision to take a season off. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Rask is how he responded to surrendering six goals on 31 shots against Buffalo on Thursday. Rather than letting it get to him, he came right back with a 21-save shutout over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

Montreal has also gotten great goaltending out of Carey Price, but that alone hasn’t led the Canadiens to a 6-2-0 start. One of the big differences for Montreal this season has been the rise of rookie forwards Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. The duo has combined to record four goals and 12 points. Their addition has gives Montreal a lot of different offensive weapons and makes them a threat to score at all times.

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The return of 34-year-old defenseman Andrei Markov, who played in just 65 games over the previous three seasons due to injuries, has also been huge for Montreal. He’s finally healthy and already has re-established himself as one of the league’s best offensive defenseman, especially with the man advantage.

The Boston Bruins will counter with the depth that they’ve been known for over the last few years. If anything they’re looking stronger this season now that Nathan Horton is healthy after missing roughly half of the 2011-12 campaign with a concussion. They also have a thriving rookie of their own in 19-year-old blueliner Dougie Hamilton.

Just a point separates these two squads early in the battle for the Northeast Division as both teams look to build off of their strong starts.

Probable goaltenders: MON – Price (6-1-0, 1.70 GAA, .938 SV%) | BOS – Rask (5-1-1, 2.10 GAA, .919 SV%)

Top scorers: MON – Markov and Raphael Diaz are tied with eight points in eight games. | BOS – David Krejci (2-5-7, 8 GP)

Notable Injuries:
Montreal – Forwards: Petteri Nokelainen (back)
Boston – Forwards: Brad Marchand (shoulder), Daniel Paille (eye), Shawn Thornton (concussion), Marc Savard (concussion)

‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

BUT!

The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.