Henrik Lundqvist, Alex Ovechkin

Playoffs Tonight: Ovechkin’s Caps host Lundqvist’s Rangers


So much for sweating about goals. Last night saw a couple of blowouts and some excitement out West.

The final two series yet to play kick off tonight with a pair of Game 2s to go with it. Catch all the action on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Game 1: Montreal Canadiens host the Ottawa Senators (7 p.m. ET, CNBC)

The Habs might be looking to copy the Boston Bruins in tonight’s Game 1. Like the Bruins, the Habs stumbled at the end of the season headed to the postseason and like them they’ll hope that with the playoffs starting, all the regular season worries evaporate. Carey Price closed the season not looking all that hot and going up against Daniel Alfredsson and the Senators will give them the kind of battle they need to know where exactly they’re at.

Both teams were surprising in their own ways this season, but if Montreal runs into trouble against Ottawa it’ll likely be thanks to goaltender Craig Anderson. If not for injury, he’d be a legit Vezina candidate this season and if he plays as strong as he has this season in the playoffs, it’ll be up to Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban to get him figured out quickly.

The season series between these two was close with Montreal winning it 2-1-1 with two shootout games in the mix.

Game 1: Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

So they meet again. For the fourth time in five years these two square off and by now you have to think they know each other inside and out. This year’s series has a different feel to it though.

Last year’s snoozer of a seven game set gets replaced by the resurgent Alex Ovechkin and a Caps team firing on all cylinders going up against a Rangers team that’s got its swagger back. The depth is there again (even with Ryane Clowe and Brian Boyle hurting) and guys like Derek Stepan and Rick Nash are playing great. Oh yeah, and there’s Henrik Lundqvist still in goal too.

New York took the season series going 2-0-1 against the Caps this season. If they can keep Ovechkin quiet, they’ll have a great shot at the upset.

Game 2: St. Louis Blues host the Los Angeles Kings up 1-0 in series (9:30 p.m. ET, CNBC)

Game 1 saw the Blues come out and hit the defending Stanley Cup champions right in the mouth. While we saw some of that same Kings magic from last season when Justin Williams scored late in the third to tie the game up, the Blues still prevailed thanks to Jon Quick turning the puck over to Alex Steen behind his own net while on the power play.

You have to believe those mistakes won’t happen again and the Kings will be hungry to tie this series up and head back to L.A. You also have to think the Blues aren’t going to play things any differently and will bring that high-intensity forecheck once again.

One thing the Blues could use, however, is some puck luck. The posts went home with bruises thanks to Blues shots clanging off them. If they can get their offense in gear they’ll be that much more dangerous.

Game 2: Anaheim Ducks host the Detroit Red Wings up 1-0 in series (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Anaheim was able to turn things on Detroit thanks to guys like Teemu Selanne and Nick Bonino doing the damage as opposed to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Jonas Hiller’s strong play in goal had a lot to do with that as well, but the Wings are seemingly not rattled by how things went in Game 1.

Detroit’s youngsters like Gustav Nyqvist and Damien Brunner will need to be more of a factor to give Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg the offensive help they’ll need to even up the series heading back home. One thing Detroit definitely has to do is clean up their penalty killing.

The Wings gave up two power play goals to the Ducks in Game 1 and that’s what made the difference. The Ducks should worry about the same as Detroit’s lone tally also came on the man advantage.

Here’s PHT’s Mike Halford and Jason Brough breaking down the Blues-Kings physicality and taking a look at Rangers-Capitals.

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DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”