PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 19: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals battles for the puck against Brooks Orpik #44 of the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 19, 2013 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

Caps GM downplays additional challenges from realignment

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For years the Washington Capitals have played in the often poorly regarded Southeast Division. That’s about to change and there will be little debate about the quality of their competition going into the 2013-14 campaign.

They are entering a division with the rising New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Carolina Hurricanes on top of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils.

Still, Capitals GM George McPhee argued that it won’t be any harder to make the playoffs.

“It’s always difficult,” McPhee told CSN Washington. “It’s as difficult as it can be to make the playoffs. As I said before it’s no small feat to make the playoffs in this league anymore.

“It’s a real good league and the [salary] cap levels the playing field. The real difference now in making the playoffs is managing your coaching and getting the right players. You could this year, but this is the last year you can outspend teams. Some teams were at $70 to $75 million this year. We were $60 million. Going forward it’s level.”

McPhee doesn’t see his team making any roster changes specifically designed to accommodate the change in competition.

“I remember when I first came here [in 1997] we talked about [Eric] Lindros in Philadelphia and how we’d have to get someone to match up with him because if we’d meet in the playoffs it would be an advantage for them if we didn’t have someone. Well, we never met in the playoffs for 10 years,” McPhee said. “So why bother?

“I just try to focus on our club and what we need to really be a complete team and a good team.”

The Capitals certainly looked impressive down the stretch this year and they gave the Rangers a run for their money in the first round. At the same time, they were 15-3-0 against the Southeast Division in 2013 and 12-15-3 outside of it. It’s doubtful that they will have that kind of winning percentage against their new rivals.

Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

You might even be tempted to believe the hype.

Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

ST PAUL, MN - MAY 6: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck against Zach Parise #11 and Jason Pominville #29 of the Minnesota Wild during the first period in Game Three of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 6, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

Central Division title chase

1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

Price didn’t just play for Habs; he made the difference vs. Rangers

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It’s one thing for Carey Price to shake off that Paul Byron shot in warm-ups. And, honestly, that bump from Shea Weber during the game. But to play like, well, Carey Price? That would be something else.

Well, you probably saw this one coming … but Price had some absolutely great moments against the New York Rangers in an eventual 3-2 shootout win.

He was the main difference-maker, although it must be said that there’s some comic relief in Byron scoring the shootout-winner.

Price vs. Rick Nash felt like a subplot of the overall story.

On one occasion, Price made a resounding stop on a Nash breakaway:

It was quite the night for the aging power forward, however, as he nailed his other opportunity.

Some might be a little sad that Nash vs. Price didn’t go against each other in the shootout, but hey, maybe the two teams could save that for next time?

The Canadiens needed this win more than the Rangers. The Ottawa Senators actually briefly went ahead for first place in the Atlantic Division, but now Montreal has 72 points to Ottawa’s 70 … while the Sens hold two games in hand.

Similar tweets might end up being relevant, however. Though betting against Price is also a dicey proposition.

Video: Laine hits 30 goals vs. Matthews and Leafs, Byfuglien battles Martin

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Patrik Laine might rub some people the wrong way with his matter-of-fact brand of swagger, but the Winnipeg Jets rookie can back up that talk.

Just look at how he performs against fellow Calder Trophy hopeful Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Back in October, Laine stole the show with a hat trick. He has a chance to do that again, but either way, with two goals in as many periods, Laine hit the 30-goal mark as a rookie. In February.

His 29th goal came less than five minutes into the game:

He then hit the big 3-0 in the dying seconds of the middle frame, though that was far from the only noteworthy moment of the clip above this post’s headline.

As you can see, there were bodies being thrown around, culminating with a brief bout between Dustin Byfuglien and Matt Martin. The earth may or may not have shook from such an altercation. It wasn’t the only example of violence between the two teams tonight.

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It’s been a nice milestone night for young Jets scorers, as Nikolaj Ehlers also scored his 20th goal of 2016-17.

That 30th goal came less than 30 seconds after Leo Komarov‘s second goal of the contest, putting Winnipeg up 4-3 heading into the third period. For all we know, the Jets might need even more from Laine tonight.