Playoffs Tonight: Rangers, Bruins kick off their series

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The last of the Conference Semifinals series starts tonight and then we’ll see if the San Jose Sharks can end the Los Angeles Kings’ perfect record at home in the 2013 playoffs.

Please keep in mind that both games can be watched online in addition to the channels listed below.

Game 1: Boston Bruins host New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

The New York Rangers and Boston Bruins both needed the full seven games to best their first-round foes, but between them, the Rangers have looked like the better team lately.

After falling behind in their series against the Washington Capitals, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist posted back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7 to show why he’s arguably the best goaltender in the league. The question is how much help he’ll get from his teammates.

The Rangers’ offense seemed to wake up in Game 7, with captain Ryan Callahan being one of the four New York players to score his first goal of the 2013 postseason. However, Rick Nash hasn’t scored yet and Brad Richards has just one assist in the playoffs. Richards’ struggles have been especially concerning, given that he’s been bumped down to the fourth line.

For Boston, the big question is their defense. Defensemen Wade Redden, Dennis Seidenberg, and Andrew Ference are all dealing with injuries and it would be a huge blow to Boston’s blueline if they had to enter tonight’s contest without any of those three.

At the same time, some of their younger blueliners like Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton held their own late in the first round, so maybe the Bruins will be able to overcome those injuries.

Game 2: Los Angeles Kings host San Jose Sharks (10:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Los Angeles leads series 1-0

So far, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick has been just as effective against the San Jose Sharks as he was against the St. Louis Blues in the first round. The Sharks managed to get 35 shots on net in Game 1, but the Kings still won 2-0.

“I spent six days reviewing the St. Louis series, and I heard a lot of the same stuff coming out of their mouths,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan told CSN Bay Area. “We didn’t accomplish enough. There is a team that just played against them for six nights, and said they had a lot of chances and the goaltender made a number of saves. We can’t be that team again.”

Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle added that his team needs to be “a little hungrier and a little dirtier and a little meaner in front of their net.”

We’ll see if they can solve Quick tonight, but before they get that chance, there’s one other matter to be settled. Sharks forward Raffi Torres has been offered an in-person hearing for his hit on Kings forward Jarret Stoll.

Torres and McLellan both argued that his hit was clean, but his shoulder appeared to hit Stoll’s head and Stoll was forced out of the game as a result of the incident. Torres has a lengthy suspension history, including his 25-game (later reduced to 21-game) suspension for a high hit on Chicago’s Marian Hossa in the 2012 playoffs.

Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

(Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

The penalty element is interesting, though.

When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

via Natural Stat Trick

It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

Judge for yourself in the highlights:

The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you, stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.