NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21: Derek Stepan #21 of the New York Rangers and Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Boston Bruins fight for the puck in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 21, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Playoffs Tonight: Bruins know series vs Rangers isn’t over

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We got a full night of NHL hockey ahead of us and the Boston Bruins might even secure a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.

Please keep in mind that all of tonight’s games can be watched online in addition to the channels listed below.

New York Rangers host Boston Bruins (7:00 p.m. ET, CNBC)
Boston leads series 3-0

No one understands better than the Boston Bruins that a series isn’t over until it’s over.

“It would be nice,” David Krejci told the Boston Globe when asked about the possibility of avoiding a Game 5. “But we know and we learned as a team that the last one is the hardest from past years and even in the last series. We’ve just got to get ready for tomorrow and play just like it’s Game 1.”

The Bruins have managed to get by without defensemen Dennis Seidenberg, Wade Redden, and Andrew Ference thanks in part to the rise of young and relatively inexperienced blueliners like Matt Bartkowski. Bartkowski’s success in particular has to be gratifying to Bruins fans, given that he was linked to Boston’s ultimately failed bid to acquire Jarome Iginla.

The New York Rangers might need boost from their depth blueliners as well. Marc Staal has only played once since March 5 due to his eye injury and now they might be forced to continue without defenseman Anton Stralman.

Needless to say, the Rangers situation looks bleak, but right now, they just have to focus on getting one win.

Detroit Red Wings host Chicago Blackhawks (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Detroit leads series 2-1

Chicago hasn’t lost three games in a row since the season started, but the Blackhawks are in danger of doing so now. That speaks to how consistently good they’ve been, but it also highlights just how little adversity they’ve faced this year.

They’ve come from behind in games and won close contests, but they got ahead of the league so quickly that many of those impressive victories were achieved in low pressure situations. Still, that doesn’t mean they’ll buckle under the pressure.

“Just because we haven’t faced a whole lot of adversity this year doesn’t mean we’ve never faced it in our lives before,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith argued, according to Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus. “Let’s face it: Winning in the playoffs isn’t easy. It’s not always going to go your way.”

Perhaps the biggest x-factor in this game is Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. He called Chicago’s 3-1 loss on Monday a slap in the face.

He hasn’t scored a goal in the playoffs and this is the kind of situation that the Blackhawks look to their captain to step up.

Los Angeles hosts San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Series tied at 2-2

The Sharks and Kings had two of the NHL’s best home records in the regular season and neither team has lost a game in their arena during the 2013 playoffs. That’s good news for Los Angeles, even if they have squandered a 2-0 series lead.

If Sharks captain Joe Thornton manages to replicate his success in from Game 4 on Tuesday, then San Jose might break that trend and earn its third consecutive win tonight.

“That was vintage Joe Thornton right there,” Logan Couture told CSN Bay Area after the Sharks’ 2-1 win. “Unbelievable. Creating turnovers, making passes, skating like a young guy. He was flying, and I know me personally, it got me going. We need Joe to play like that for the rest of the playoffs.”

Whatever happens, it’s likely that this game will come down to the final minutes of action. The last three contests in this series have been determined by just one goal and even Game 1 was a close 2-0 affair.

More good times in Washington, as Backstrom named first star of the week

Nicklas Backstrom
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The Caps have won nine in a row and catapulted to top spot in the NHL with 63 points, one ahead of second-place Columbus.

Suffice to say, folks are feelin’ fine in D.C.

Those good vibes continued on Monday, as center Nicklas Backstrom was named the NHL’s first star of the week.

More:

Backstrom led the League in assists and points with 3-7—10 in four contests as the Capitals won all four games to extend their overall winning streak to nine contests and propel Washington to the top of the NHL standings (29-9-5, 63 points).

Backstrom registered multiple points in all four games starting with one goal and one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 9. On Jan. 11, he recorded one goal and three assists in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by one goal and one assist in a 6-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 13. Backstrom finished the week by notching two assists in a 5-0 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 15.

In his 10th season, all with the Capitals, the 29-year-old Galve, Sweden native leads the Capitals and is tied for 10th in League scoring with 42 points (12-30—42 in 43 GP).

Backstrom, of course, wasn’t the only big story in Washington last week. Captain Alex Ovechkin scored his 1,000th career point on Wednesday, becoming the first player in franchise history to hit that mark.

The only negative thing coming out of D.C. is that John Carlson, who leads all Caps d-men in scoring, is out for today’s game versus Pittsburgh. Carlson’s absence will be brief, though, as head coach Barry Trotz expects him back in the lineup later this week.

Panthers recall McIlrath from AHL — but will they play him?

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Ryan Reaves #75 of the St. Louis Blues and Dylan McIlrath #42 of the New York Rangers fight during the first period at Madison Square Garden on November 3, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers have recalled defenseman Dylan McIlrath from a conditioning stint in the AHL.

The question now is whether they’ll play him.

McIlrath has only appeared in four games for the Panthers since getting traded by the Rangers in November — and in three of those games, he logged less than 10 minutes of ice time.

On his conditioning assignment, the 24-year-old played six games for the Springfield Thunderbirds, scoring once with an assist and 13 PIM.

It seems unlikely that the Panthers would make any changes to their lineup after knocking off Columbus, 4-3, on Saturday. They start a four-game road trip tomorrow in Calgary.

McIlrath’s chances of playing may be limited due to the fact he’s a right shot and the Panthers’ back end already has three healthy right shots in Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers, and Mark Pysyk.

Ekblad, Demers, and Pysyk have each played all 45 games this season. The leading candidate to be scratched is probably Jakub Kindl, a left shot.

So barring an injury, McIlrath may have to sit and wait some more. The Panthers have won four of their last six, and they’re not in a position to mess with success.

Alex Petrovic (ankle) is Florida’s only injured defenseman. Also a right shot, he could be ready to return in early February.

The Bruins are finally ‘starting to connect’ on offense

Boston Bruins' David Krejci (46), of the Czech Republic, celebrates his goal beside Philadelphia Flyers' Wayne Simmonds (17) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
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The floodgates have opened for the Boston Bruins.

And it’s about time.

With Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Flyers, the B’s have scored 22 goals in their last six games. The offense has been a relative juggernaut compared to the first few months of the season. Brad Marchand had five points against Philadelphia, and he likes the progress the team has made.

“I think early on we had a lot of moving parts and guys in and out of the lineup. [We had] different guys that came in that we all had to get used to one another, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Marchand, per CSN New England. “It took half the year, but…I think we all realized that we have to be a desperate team. We’re starting to come together and learn each other and finally get some chemistry on the lines. All of that comes into play and again, I think we’re just starting to connect.”

The statistics suggested the goals would come. The Bruins have the highest score-adjusted Corsi in the league, but through Christmas, for whatever reason, the pucks weren’t going in.

To illustrate, Patrice Bergeron had just four goals in his first 31 games, and it wasn’t for a lack of shots. He now has five in his last 12, bringing his season total to a modest nine, as the bounces are finally starting to go his way:

To be sure, the Bruins are still in a desperate fight for a playoff spot. They’re currently second in the Atlantic Division, but with five more games played than both third-place Toronto and fourth-place Ottawa, winnable games like this afternoon’s against the Islanders need to be won.

“When you score a couple goals, I guess your confidence goes up a little bit,” said goalie Tuukka Rask. “I think that’s what happened [with us]. So we’ve just got to make sure that we keep it going and don’t take a step back.”

NHL on NBCSN: Capitals visit Penguins, go for 10 in a row

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates with the puck past Trevor Daley #6 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at Verizon Center on November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Washington Capitals at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here

Streaks are colliding in Pittsburgh on Monday night when the Penguins host the Washington Capitals.

From the Pittsburgh side, they are looking to break a three-game losing streak (their longest of the season) and will have to do so without the services Kris Letang, their top defensemen, after he was placed on injured reserve on Monday morning. Not exactly a great situation to be in when the team coming in for a visit is a Capitals team that has not only won nine games in a row, but has been absolutely crushing every team they have played during this stretch, including the Penguins less than one week ago.

Even more than the current winning streak, the Capitals are now 16-2-2 in their past 20 games and have moved back into the top spot in the NHL standings and are making a run at a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy.

It has been a collective team effort during this latest run, especially during the current winning streak where five players have averaged more than a point per game, including Justin Williams who has a team-high six goals during the streak.

“Everybody seems to be doing their job at a high level right now, and that’s why we’re being successful,” Williams said after their 5-0 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, via the Washington Post. “When there’s a breakdown, someone’s there to help you out, and when there’s a total breakdown, our goaltenders are there to shut the door. Not a great start but a great finish.”

The Capitals were able to win Sunday’s game with backup goalie Phillip Grubauer in net — and for the first 40 minutes he had to be their best player — and will be turning back to Braden Holtby tonight. For as good as Holtby was a year ago when he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, he has managed to be even better this season and carries a .933 save percentage into Monday’s game. In 18 starts since the start of December, he has been at an even higher level at .944.

The Penguins meanwhile have hit their first tough stretch of the season, giving up 15 goals over the past three games. The Penguins have not lost four games in a row since a four-game losing streak in December of 2015, which were also the first four games of Mike Sullivan’s head coaching tenure with the the team. Going up against a team that just beat them 5-2 a week ago, and a team that has outscored Columbus, Ottawa, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Philadelphia by a 26-3 margin they have a gigantic test in front of them.