BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 12: Ryan Callahan #24 of the New York Rangers shoots the puck against Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on February 12, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

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.

Kovalev, Brodeur would’ve killed it at All-Star Game’s ‘Four Line Challenge’

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 06:  Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils makes a stick save as Alex Kovalev #27 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during their game at the Continental Airlines Arena on December 6, 2006 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)
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It’s reasonable to bemoan the death of the Breakaway Challenge heading into the 2017 NHL All-Star Game, but we should also give its replacement “The Four Line Challenge” a shot.

Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski provides a nice breakdown of some of the ways the event might be great and also why it may not work, stated well here:

This could also be the new “passing pucks into mini-nets,” as these players frustratingly miss shot after shot after reaching a certain distance and the crowd slips slowly into a coma.

Indeed. The event itself is kind of a brain-full to explain in words, so luckily the NHL laid it all out in this video:

Yeah, that’s a lot to digest.

After sorting things out a bit, it does kind of make you miss the sublime skill of Alex Kovalev, who probably would get a fairer shake these days. One of his old mix tapes is basically an argument for this event:

Martin Brodeur also would have been a game-changer, what with goalies getting bonus points later in the competition:

It almost makes you yearn for old-timers to get an invite to the festivities, eh?

Then again, the beauty of competitions like these is we get to find out which All-Stars boast the same freakish skills. There won’t be systems or opponents to get in the way of those displays, either.

Of course, as Wyshynski notes, it also opens the door for silent crowds and players frustratingly missing targets … but there’s a segment of the audience that will love that part the most.

Flames put Gaudreau back with Monahan, life makes a little more sense

CALGARY, AB - JANUARY 7: Johnny Gaudreau #13 (L) of the Calgary Flames confers with his teammate Sean Monahan #23 during a break in play against the Detroit Red Wings during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on January 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Look, it totally makes sense for teams to strive for scoring depth. Just look at what spreading the wealth did for the Pittsburgh Penguins during their Stanley Cup run.

Even so, in these uncertain times, there’s also some comfort to seeing dynamic duos reunite, and the Calgary Herald indicates that will be the case for the Calgary Flames, as Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are back together.

The wider consensus is that Monahan generally benefits the most from being with Gaudreau, something you can see plainly in “WOWY” stats.

This specific instance presents an interesting wrinkle, however, as it’s Monahan who has the hot hand.

He’s currently riding a five-game goal streak, and he’s also sprinkled in two assists for good measure. You can tell he’s confident even by looking at shots on goal; Monahan’s fired an impressive 25 on net during the past six games.

“I think I’m getting a lot of chances right now,” Monahan said, via the Calgary Herald. “When you’re getting chances, that means you’re doing things right. When you’re getting those chances, if you’re not putting the puck in the net, it can be frustrating. Right now, I’m getting some lucky bounces.”

(Hey, he might be on a hot streak, but he’s still, well, not a great quote.)

Gaudreau, meanwhile, has one goal in 2017. He has just three points in his last 12 games.

Some of that is failing to get the bounces Monahan mentioned, but maybe Gaudreau’s better off with his partner-in-crime, too? It can’t hurt for the Flames to experiment, especially considering the fact that they have something special in the “MMM Line” of Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk and Michael Frolik.

Really, the bigger question is probably still: who will ultimately fit with Gaudreau and Monahan? For now, the answer is Alex Chiasson, but the Flames are still searching for a better solution.

Gaudreau, Monahan and the rest of the Flames face an interesting test in the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.

Sens sign Smith to four-year, $13 million extension

Pittsburgh Penguins v Ottawa Senators
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Two weeks ago, we passed along word that Ottawa and Zack Smith had engaged in preliminary extension talks.

On Monday, the two sides wrapped ’em up.

Smith and the Sens have agreed to a four-year deal worth $13 million — an average annual cap hit of $3.25 million, as announced this afternoon. It’s a pretty nice pay bump for the 28-year-old, who’s in the final year of a deal that pays $1.88M.

Smith had a breakout performance last year, scoring a career-high 25 goals while averaging a healthy 15:24 TOI per night. This year he’s been equally effective offensively — 11 goals and 22 points in 43 games — and has thrived at times playing on a line with Derick Brassard and Mark Stone.

Smith also earned the praise of his coaching staff, particularly assistant bench boss Marc Crawford.

“He is so strong on the puck and he has got a very good shot,” Crawford explained, per the Citizen. “He’s fearless and he goes to the net.”

This new extension kicks in next season, and will keep Smith in the Canadian capital through 2021. The only players on the current roster locked in for that long are Dion Phaneuf and Bobby Ryan.

 

Pre-game reading: Remembering the ’74-75 Caps, who were just terrible

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— Up top, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh recalls his high-school hockey days in Minnesota, where he won a state championship with Cretin-Derham Hall and received the 2007 Minnesota Mr. Hockey award.

— An enjoyable look back at the NHL’s worst-ever team, the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. “To date, no team has played at least 70 games while posting fewer points (21), wins (8) or road wins (1) than the 1974-75 Capitals. Nor has any mustered a lower points percentage (.131), allowed more total goals (446), or dropped more contests consecutively (17).” The expansion Caps lost 67 games that season, including ones by scores of 10-4, 11-1, 12-1, 10-0, 10-3, 12-1, and 10-2. Click here to see their entire season. (Sports Illustrated)

— Speaking of expansion teams, Sportsnet recently caught up with Vegas president Kerry Bubolz, who had the following to say about the Golden Knights’ unique market: “We are setting aside some of our ticket inventory for that convention or leisure traveler, but the vast majority of our inventory is going to be sold locally. The local who happens to be from another market, maybe their hometown is Philadelphia or Boston or Chicago… we’re going to be embracing the fact that they may be fans of another team. But we’re going to encourage them to join our team as well. You can only play those other teams once a year.” (Sportsnet)

— A touching tribute from Paul Holmgren to his late brother, Dave, who gave him a gift he’ll never forget. All these years later, Holmgren only wishes he’d made more of an effort to say thanks. “I don’t remember thanking him, even though my father had specifically told me to. And even if I did, I’m convinced that I didn’t thank him enough.” (Player’s Tribune)

— The Boston Globe remembers the last Bruins team to make the playoffs. “Tuukka Rask was doing his thing. Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton formed an excellent top defensive pairing. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were emerging as the best 200-foot tandem in the league with Reilly Smith riding shotgun. Musclemen Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla flanked David Krejci. Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson were chewing up bottom-six forwards and third pairings as third-line partners.” Indeed, it’s a different-looking group today, and management must accept much of the responsibility for what’s gone wrong. That doesn’t mean Claude Julien’s job is safe, but the Globe’s analysis is worth a read. (Boston Globe)

— The NHL has hired an artist to paint 100 portraits of the league’s 100 top players. It’s quite an undertaking for one artist, but for Tony Harris, it’s also “maybe the greatest job I could ever get.” (NHL.com)

Enjoy the games!