NHL schedule: Games to circle on your calendars

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The National Hockey League released its 1,230-game regular season schedule on Friday and, after hours of intense scrutiny, PHT (again, it’s just me) has whittled down its list of must-see games.

In no particular order, they are…

Dec. 1, Detroit at Ottawa: Alfie returns

The longtime Sens captain shocked fans by signing with Detroit at the start of free agency, ending his 17-year career in Ottawa in the most dramatic of fashions.

It’ll be interesting to see how he’s received.

The organization has praised Alfredsson — Sens owner Eugene Melnyk said the club “would never forget Alfie for all the things he’s done,” — but the former captain admitted he expects anger from fans.

Jan. 19, Boston at Chicago: Stanley Cup Final rematch

The Blackhawks and Bruins will meet at the United Center for the first of two Cup Final rematches (the second is on Mar. 27 at TD Garden).

Of note, one of the biggest figures of Chicago’s victory, Dave Bolland, won’t be around to experience the rematch. The Stanley Cup-winning goalscorer was dealt to Toronto at the NHL Entry Draft.

Nov. 27, Philadelphia at Tampa Bay: Vinny goes home

It’ll be an emotional night in Tampa when Vincent Lecavalier returns as a Flyer.

Lecavalier, who debuted for the Bolts at 18 and spent his entire 14-season career in Tampa Bay, didn’t choose to leave — his contract was bought out during the compliance window, with the club citing salary cap issues.

While Tampa gained cap relief, it lost an important community fixture in the process. Fans will likely give Lecavalier’s a hero’s welcome on the 27th.

Mar. 20, Minnesota at New Jersey: Parise finally faces Devils

The former New Jersey captain was denied a chance to face his ex-club due to the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, but will have a chance next season during Minnesota’s lone trip to the Prudential Center.

It’s going to be curious to see how Devils fans treat Parise, especially since he’s no longer the most recent star to leave New Jersey.

A big chunk of the team that lost the 2012 Stanley Cup Final to Los Angeles is gone — Parise’s in Minnesota, David Clarkson’s in Toronto and Ilya Kovalchuk stunningly retired, then signed in the KHL.

Oct 30, Boston at Pittsburgh: So. Many. Storylines

Let’s see.

The Bruins swept the Pens out of the playoffs.

Zdeno Chara punched Sidney Crosby in his surgically-repaired jaw.

Jarome Iginla signed with the B’s in free agency.

Of note, Oct. 30 is the first of three meetings between the Pens and Bruins next season.

Nov. 30, Vancouver at New York Rangers: Torts is back!

The Canucks will make their first and only trip to the Big Apple early in the year, which will mark John Tortorella’s return to MSG after being fired by the Rangers in late May.

It’ll also mark Alain Vigneault’s first regular-season game against his old club (the Canucks and Rangers will meet in the preseason in Vancouver, mind you) and the first time Vancouver has played in New York since the 2010-11 season.

Honorable Mentions

…Tyler Seguin will return to Boston as a member of the Dallas Stars for the first time on Nov. 5.

…Two years after being traded from Columbus, Rick Nash will return to Nationwide for the first time on Nov. 7, in a game that will also mark Marian Gaborik’s first game against his ex-Ranger mates.

…Los Angeles and San Jose will meet for the first time since their intense playoff series on Oct. 30. Subplot here? Raffi Torres vs. Jarret Stoll.

…In that vein, Ottawa and Montreal will meet for their first time since their controversial playoff series on Nov. 7. Subplots here include Eric Gryba vs. Lars Eller, and Brandon Prust vs. Paul MacLean.

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.