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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.”

Jared Spurgeon shows he has hands like a surgeon (Video)

CALGARY, AB - FEBRUARY 17: Jared Spurgeon #46 of the Minnesota Wild in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on February 17, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon has a pretty good knack for scoring goals, especially considering the fact that he doesn’t always take a ton of shots.

Maybe Bruce Boudreau should consider asking him to fire away a little more often.

You won’t see many prettier examples of hand-eye coordination than Spurgeon’s power-play goal from Tuesday’s game against the New Jersey Devils, which gave the Wild a 1-0 lead:

It’s almost impressive enough to justify rhyming his last name with surgeon. You know, theoretically.

Video: Chris Kreider doesn’t just fight Cody Eakin, he hits him with his helmet

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Tuesday’s Dallas Stars – New York Rangers almost seemed destined to be a wild affair, and so far, the two teams aren’t disappointing.

For one thing, Chris Kreider and the Rangers were open about “not forgetting” Cody Eakin‘s hit on Henrik Lundqvist, something Eakin realized heading in. The Stars had their own irritations coming into this game, as they clearly weren’t happy with their loss to the Buffalo Sabres and their shaky play overall.

So, yeah, plenty of reason for this to be a rowdy affair.

Kreider is delivering in particular, with the most memorable moment being his strange fight with Eakin, which you can see above. SBNation’s Pat Iversen points out that Kreider probably should have been ejected for hitting Eakin with a piece of his equipment, a violation of Rule 53.

As many know, Kreider has even more of a reputation for “interacting” with goalies, as he did once again with Antti Niemi:

The Stars currently lead the game 5-3, so it’s been a busy one on the scoreboard, too.

Video: Maple Leafs lose Morgan Rielly after fall into boards

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Down 2-0 to the Buffalo Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a shaky start on Tuesday. Still, their concerns likely revolve the most around the health of defenseman Morgan Rielly.

As you can see from the video above, the young Buds blueliner was shaken up by an awkward spill into the boards.

It’s too early to know if he avoided injury or might miss some time, but there’s at least some concern that he might have aggravated an issue from before his NHL days:

We’ll need to wait and see, but with his offensive skills and overall importance in mind (average just under 23 minutes a game this season, more or less in line with his breakthrough year in 2015-16), the Maple Leafs are crossing their fingers that this isn’t anything major.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 23:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck as he turns against Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on December 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Avalanche defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks need to put a tough weekend behind them; maybe the Colorado Avalanche are just what the doctor ordered.

Colorado is clearly ranked last in the league, whether they believe they have some assets in the likes of Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog or not. Perhaps there will be a few scouts on hand to see how such potential Avs trade targets perform against a contending team?

It’s rarely a dull night when the Blackhawks roll out talented players like Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews – among others – so it should be a good time on NBCSN on Tuesday.

You can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.