Playoffs Tonight: Tale of Two Game 7s

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It’s the final day of the first round and two series are still undecided.

Before we take a look at them, please keep in mind that you can watch both of these games online in addition to the channels listed below:

Game 7: Boston Bruins host Toronto Maple Leafs (7:00 p.m. ET, CNBC)
Series tied at 3-3

For the Toronto Maple Leafs, simply making the playoffs was an accomplishment that many didn’t think they would achieve this season. They did anyways and when the Leafs fell behind in this series 3-1, Toronto showed that neither the pressure nor a sense of contentment would stop them.

Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer has proven that he can handle himself in the playoffs despite no prior postseason experience. Meanwhile, forward Phil Kessel has been a hero against his former team, the Boston Bruins, despite his prior struggles versus the club.

That being said, the Boston Bruins aren’t about to roll over either. Many of the Bruins’ key players were around when they blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and although this collapse isn’t on that level, there will likely be plenty of desperation on their side to avoid a similar fate.

The player to watch on the Boston Bruins’ end is Tyler Seguin. He’s typically one of their most effective offensive weapons, but he doesn’t have a point in this series.

Game 7: Washington Capitals host New York Rangers (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Series tied at 3-3

This is the fourth time in five years that these two teams have met in the playoffs and the third time in that span that they’ve needed the full seven games to settle their differences. In 2009, Washington took Game 7 and last year, the New York Rangers edged past the Capitals.

Just as it was a year ago, Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby and Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist have been leaders for their respective teams. However, one of them will obviously surrender at least one more goal and it will be interesting to see if either team’s biggest stars will step up for this deciding contest.

Rick Nash has just one assist in this series while Alex Ovechkin has no points and a minus-three rating in his last four contests. Additionally, Rangers forward Brad Richards has just one goal and no points in the playoffs.

Among those three, Richards is the one that has struggled the most in this series. Richards started Game 6 on the fourth line and logged just 9:34 minutes in that contest.

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

He also had a few choice words for No. 87: