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Fighting for home ice: Habs, Bolts meet tonight in likely playoff preview

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Barring some sort of stunning collapse — or ascension, depending on your perspective — the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning are going to meet in the opening round of this year’s playoffs.

Which makes tonight’s game in Tampa so interesting.

The two sides will meet for the fourth and final time of the season at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, with the Bolts holding a 2-0-1 edge through the first three games.

Montreal heads into tonight’s action sitting second in the Atlantic Division with 93 points through 76 games played. Tampa is two points back, with 91, but has a game in hand and knows a win tonight would have huge implications for home ice advantage in the opening round.

“We’re fighting with them for home ice,” Steve Stamkos said, per NHL.com. “It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere. … We’re not worried about the playoffs now, we’re just worried about playing hockey and getting as many points to finish as high as we can.”

Lightning-Canadiens is hardly a storied postseason rivalry, but the two do have some history. The Bolts dispatched of the Habs in four straight games in the 2003-04 Eastern Conference semifinals, a series that current Habs Andrei Markov and Francis Bouillon participated in.

Tampa Bay would go on to win its first and only Stanley Cup that spring.

Talk of historical playoff matchups and potential home ice is a tad premature, though. Neither team has clinched a spot yet — though both could get in with a win tonight — and, according to Lightning coach Jon Cooper, this evening’s game is all about the points.

“It’s hard not to put emphasis on the game because we’re, what, two points behind them?,” Cooper said, per the Lightning website. “I don’t know how things are going to play out in the end here, but beating them would sure be a nice rallying point for out team.

“A four-point game? That’s what that one is.”

PHT Morning Skate: Adam Henrique wants to make NHL 17 great again

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Martin Jones is a calming presence in the Sharks’ net. (Sports Illustrated)

–The Rangers should go after Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. (The Hockey News)

–Some people have pretty wild hockey tattoos. (BarDown)

–Watch the highlights of last night’s game between the Penguins and Capitals. (Top)

–A great piece on how Bruce Boudreau impacted the Ducks and Capitals. (Sportsnet)

–It should be an interesting off-season for the Anaheim Ducks. (Daily Breeze)

Adam Henrique is a funny guy. He took to Twitter to try and get himself on the cover of NHL 17:

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.