CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 27: Ryan O'Reilly #90 of the Colorado Avalanche shoots against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on December 27, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Avalanche 7-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Feb. 28 looms large for O’Reilly, Avs… and any team looking to acquire him

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Interesting note here from ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun about the pre-deadline, uh, deadline for Colorado and RFA center Ryan O’Reilly:

Circle Feb. 28 on your calendar. It’s as of that date that the trade freeze lifts on Ryan O’Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche can move the star player if it wishes to do so. They weren’t allowed to trade him for 12 months after matching Calgary’s offer sheet last Feb. 28.

There are several teams we’ve spoken to over the past week that are eagerly anticipating Colorado’s decision on O’Reilly. Do they move him or keep him?

If the Avs do put O’Reilly on the trade market (and again, we don’t’ know if they ever will), there would be at least a dozen teams interested. One of them would likely be the Vancouver Canucks, who are said to covet O’Reilly and have depth at defense, which is what the Avs would be looking for. Food for thought…

O’Reilly, who sat out half of the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign embroiled in a contract squabble, recently said he wants to remain with Colorado.

“I like it here. I want to play here. I want to stay here,” O’Reilly said, per the Denver Post. “But it’s just stuff you can’t control right now. It’s easier when you don’t have to worry about that stuff and just play the game, but I don’t control it. I just stay out of the business side ’til the season is over.”

According to the Post, both O’Reilly and the Avs have agreed to play out this season and discuss a new deal in the summer. Tied with Matt Duchene for the Colorado lead in goals (with 16), O’Reilly is in the final of a two-year, $10 million deal with a base salary of $6.5 million this season, meaning the Avs will have to qualify him at $6.5 million to retain his rights — should they not work out a new deal before July.

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Colorado has tremendous depth down the middle with Duchene, O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon and Paul Stastny, but Stastny is unrestricted at season’s end and in the midst of a stellar campaign (34 points in 43 games) which netted him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

That said, O’Reilly has successfully transitioned to the wing this season and could move there permanently if the Avs want to retain all four centers for next season.

“I feel comfortable on the wing now,” O’Reilly explained. “Within our system, Patrick [Roy] does a good job of letting everyone know what they’re supposed to do.

“It’s been great playing for him this year, for sure.”

Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

(Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

Letang told his side of the story:

The Capitals disagree:

While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

Read reactions to the check here.