NHL on NBCSN: Best offense faces top defense in Hawks vs Kings

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Chicago and Los Angeles faced each other in the 2013 Western Conference finals and both seem poised to make serious runs for the Stanley Cup again this season.

They proved that they have what it takes after the Kings won it all in 2012 and the Blackhawks followed suit in 2013, but it’s not their past accomplishments that make these teams intimidating.

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Los Angeles is the hardest team in the league to score against, despite the fact that Jonathan Quick hasn’t played since Nov. 12 due to a groin injury. Rookie goalie Martin Jones has done a particularly great job in Quick’s absence with his 8-1-0 record, 1.31 GAA, and .953 save percentage in nine games. The team’s defense deserves a fair amount of credit too.

They’ll have to keep that up though, because while the Kings have the best defense in the league, the Blackhawks are leading the charge offensively. Forwards Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp have a combined 45 goals and 94 points in 41 contests this season, but Chicago has plenty of depth too as eight different players have recorded at least 20 points and six are already in double-digits in terms of goals.

Chicago also dominates with the man advantage and that might burn the Kings tonight as they’ve been one of the league’s least discipline teams this season.

Getting out of the gate running will also be important. Chicago is 16-0-2 this season when it’s leading through 20 minutes. That was the case in these squads’ first meeting on Dec. 15. The Blackhawks earned a 3-1 victory on the strength of a strong first period. At the same time, the Kings are nearly as impressive with their 13-1-2 record in games where they’re up going into the second frame.

Like the Kings, Chicago has been excelling despite the absence of their top goaltender. Corey Crawford (lower body) is progressing, but isn’t likely to be available tonight, so the Blackhawks will probably go with 24-year-old rookie Antti Raanta instead. He’s been solid, but is coming off of a rough 6-5 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues.

After that setback, Raanta is one of the bigger X-Factors, but in a contest between two deep teams led by stars, there’s any number of players that could potentially take charge of this game and steal the show. Only time will tell if this match is a playoff preview, but it is at the least a contest between top tiered teams.

Penguins’ Guentzel makes ‘kick save’ to stop Capitals

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It doesn’t get much better than a player making the type of save you’d only expect from a goalie. OK, how about this: when it happens amid the high stakes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel had already been distinguishing himself with a red-hot scoring start to the postseason, but he made a big difference in a way that won’t show up in the box score (aside from maybe as a blocked shot) for Game 1 against the Washington Capitals.

In one of the few golden opportunities in a notably tight first period, Guentzel made a “kick save” to keep it 0-0. He also managed to avoid giving the Capitals a penalty shot in the process, so this was quite the effort from the impressive rookie.

Video will be added soon. Here’s the moment in GIF form first:

Lundqvist snubs Sens with 21 saves in first (Video)

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You know how goalies claim they prefer to be busy rather than risking rust in seldom seeing shots? If that’s true, Henrik Lundqvist was really, really happy in the first period.

The Ottawa Senators generated chance after chance in a busy opening frame of Game 1, generating a 21-12 shot differential against the New York Rangers. The game remains 0-0 in large part because Lundqvist has carried over his momentum from the Montreal Canadiens series so far.

As you can see from the video above, Lundqvist made some absolutely fantastic saves, especially in somehow stopping Mark Stone.

In a duller game, 21 shots on goal could a team’s entire output.

That’s impressive stuff from what appears to be a “vintage” Lundqvist. We’ll see how much more the Rangers lean on him as this one goes along.

Oh, and here’s a GIF of the best stop of the bunch, because seriously.

Kunitz is in for Penguins vs. Capitals in Game 1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins get a familiar face back in the lineup, as Chris Kunitz is good to go against the Washington Capitals in Game 1.

The 37-year-old has been sidelined since March 31, ending his regular season with just an assist in his final nine games. His last goal came on Feb. 16.

So, in other words … he’s not quite as big of a deal for this series as he had been in the past.

He’ll draw into a solid fourth line with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl, while Carter Rowney will be a healthy scratch. Check out the Penguins’ line combos heading into Thursday’s showdown:

Foligno, Getzlaf, Giordano vie for Messier Leadership Award

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The NHL announced the three finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award: Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) and Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames).

In case you’re curious about the process, the league explains how it works (and how the buck stops with Messier):

Mark Messier solicits suggestions from club and League personnel as well as NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates for the award. However, the selection of the three finalists and ultimate winner is Messier’s alone. 

So, yes, it might come down to steeliness/60.

Anyway, the most fun part of this award is that Getzlaf and Giordano just engaged in a first-round series, with Getzlaf’s hit on Giordano (see above) being one of the standout moments.

Perhaps Giordano will at least get the best of Getzlaf in this one?