Artem Anisimov, Kris Letang

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets (Game 4)

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The Pittsburgh Pegnuins entered the first round as the clear favorites against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but this series has arguably had more twists and turns than any of the other 2014 playoff matchups.

Both teams have won on the road and have overcome 2-goal deficits. While the Penguins hold a 2-1 series edge and can put the Blue Jackets against the ropes with a win tonight, it’s fair to say that neither squad should feel comfortable with the lead until the game is over.

The contest will start at 7:00 p.m. and air on NBCSN. You can also stream the game via the link below:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

A homerun for the Penguins tonight would be a shutout. Since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Penguins have allowed more than three goals per contest in the playoffs. They might be able to get away with that against Columbus, but it’s unlikely that they will get far in the postseason unless they can play a sounder defensive game.

For Columbus, a win would be huge in and of itself. It would be the franchise’s first playoff victory at home and keep the pressure on the Penguins.

Related:

NHL announces start times for Saturday’s playoff games

High-powered ‘Hawks, Pens look to cure power play woes

Get your game notes: Penguins at Blue Jackets

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Video: McKenzie on the unclear future for Gallant, Weight and the Islanders

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NHL insider Bob McKenzie stopped by NBCSN’s NHL Live on Wednesday for a really interesting session on the New York Islanders. If you want some fascinating tidbits, the video above is full of great insight … but you might be just as confused as ever about the direction of the franchise.

(Probably because the Islanders give off the impression that they’re confused, too.)

Let’s break down some of the more intriguing material:

  • In one eyebrow-raising point, McKenzie said that the Islanders may have gone one step further than asking for the Florida Panthers’ permission to speak with Gerard Gallant. The Isles might have even do so weeks before they fired Jack Capuano. Wow.
  • Even so, that doesn’t guarantee that Gallant will be their future head coach. McKenzie deems that a “long shot” for now and notes that nothing is imminent.
  • Instead, “what you see is what you get,” which means that Doug Weight may serve as interim head coach for a healthy chunk of time. The situation seems in flux overall.

Weight seems fine with whatever, as ESPN reports.

“I’m going to give everything I have, whether it’s five games or 40 games or if it turns into 10 years,” Weight said.

  • Maybe most importantly, McKenzie said that more sweeping changes could come to the Islanders organization this summer. One could imply that GM Garth Snow’s just isn’t set in stone, something PHT discussed after Capuano’s firing.
  • Also, Gallant could be in the running for the coaching gig in Las Vegas.

So, yeah, that video above this post’s headline is absolutely worth watching. The NHL Live crew also provides some insight about the Islanders’ struggles and future direction, so check it out.

… And stay tuned. More twists and turns could be coming in this story.

Red Wings hope to continue the climb back to playoff contention vs. Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Kevan Miller #86 of the Boston Bruins is upended by Luke Glendening #41 of the Detroit Red Wings during the second period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The odds are against them right now, but the Detroit Red Wings hope to continue the climb back into the thick of the East’s playoff bubble against one team already situated in playoff position in the Boston Bruins. It should make for a spirited edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry (8 pm ET on NBCSN, online or the NBC Sports app).

At the moment, the Red Wings are closer to the bottom of the East (two points ahead of the last-place Islanders, one ahead of Buffalo) than the last wild card spot (Ottawa has a six-point edge and five teams rank ahead of Detroit right now).

On the other hand, Detroit won’t let its record-breaking playoff run end without a fight. The Red Wings are currently on a two-game winning streak, so there could be some optimism on their end.

Meanwhile, the Bruins rank second in the Atlantic, but they still need to protect their spot. Ottawa and Toronto aren’t far behind the Bruins, and both of those teams have five games in hand on Boston.

In other words, Detroit’s climb could benefit from Boston’s fall, so we’ll see what happens tonight.

Click here for the livestream link. Tonight’s doubleheader also includes the latest round of the San Jose Sharks – Los Angeles Kings rivalry.

Rather than whining, Capitals take ‘shut up and play’ approach with refs

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 18:  John Carlson #74 of the Washington Capitals pleads his case with referee Brad Meier after teammate Brooks Orpik #44 is down after a hit in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Shut up and play has been a mantra lately for the Washington Capitals.

Too often early in the season players would harp on officials for missing a penalty or getting a call wrong. So coach Barry Trotz and veteran leaders made a concerted effort to tone down on the yapping.

Even though the Capitals have taken their fair share of penalties, their bench has been quieter during an 11-game point streak and that’s not a coincidence.

“You don’t want to be known as the whiny team that the refs don’t want to go by the bench because they’re always going to get whined at from the players,” right winger Justin Williams said. “You don’t want to have that reputation.”

Trying to nip that reputation before it gets out of control, players talked inside the locker room about officials being human beings. No one likes to get yelled or screamed at while doing their job, so show a little respect and maybe it’ll get returned in kind.

Trotz and most around hockey will readily acknowledge just how difficult officiating an NHL game can be and compliment referees and linesmen for getting more calls right than wrong. He’ll often apologize to referees later for yelling at them if they saw something he didn’t.

But that doesn’t mean everyone’s always thrilled about officiating. Captain Alex Ovechkin expressed his displeasure about a couple of missed calls in their 8-7 overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Monday, including a high hit from the Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist on T.J. Oshie in the second period and a trip by Sidney Crosby on him in overtime.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” Ovechkin said Wednesday. “Everybody have emotions. If it’s 100 percent call and nobody make a whistle and don’t make a call, of course everyone going to be mad and sad about it. But I think the captains and the coaches, we can talk to the referees, so that’s what we should try to do.”

Trotz, Ovechkin and alternate captains Brooks Orpik and Nicklas Backstrom have the job of communicating with officials. Keeping the off-the-cuff yapping to a minimum has been part of Washington’s recent success.

Given the Capitals’ recent dominance at 5-on-5, not taking a reactionary penalty allows them to take advantage of their depth and wear opponents down. They’re pretty good when they’re not in the penalty box.

“I think controlling our emotions and having the right people talk all the time and focus on the right things can keep us more grounded, more on detail,” Trotz said. “I just think that’s how we’re going to handle it.”

Orpik said cutting back on mouthing off to officials can help players sharpen their focus on controllable aspects of the game. Oh, and they have long memories.

“If you yell and scream at them all game long, they might not give you the benefit of the doubt at the end of the game or the next game they have you they might say, `Oh we got Washington again,’ and before they even get to the game they’re sick of us,” Orpik said.

Perhaps sick of their own penchant for taking penalties, the Capitals don’t want to put undue stress on goaltenders Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer and the players tasked with killing them off. Williams said the coaching staff and older players had to set the tone for how everyone else should treat referees and linesmen.

Most of the time that means just being quiet.

“Yelling at the refs, although spontaneously it may feel like the right thing to do, it never changes the call – never, ever – as much as you whine and moan about it,” Williams said. “I think you get more respect from the referees that way when you show them the respect, as well.”

NOTES: D John Carlson missed practice Wednesday with a lower-body injury and is considered doubtful to play Thursday in St. Louis, which would be his second consecutive game out of the lineup. Trotz said the team would consider recalling a defenseman on Thursday morning but isn’t worried about going to St. Louis and Dallas with only 12 forwards “because we have airplanes.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno .

Varlamov injured, again, as questions arise about future in Colorado

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, of Russia, takes a drink during a time out against the Arizona Coyotes in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 7, 2016, in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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So, an interesting series of events for the Avs on Wednesday.

First, the club announced that No. 1 netminder Semyon Varlamov‘s troublesome groin — one that’s hampered him throughout the last two seasons — will sideline him for the next two weeks.

“We’re going to shut [Varlamov] down until after the All-Star break [Jan. 27-30],” coach Jared Bednar told the Avalanche website. “This is no longer a day-to-day thing.”

Varlamov, who turns 29 in April, has struggled with health and consistency since his banner ’13-14 campaign — the one in which he led the NHL with 41 wins, finished second in Vezina voting and fourth for the Hart Trophy.

He appeared in 57 games in each of the last two seasons, but his save percentage steadily dropped (from .921 to .914). This year, he’s only played 24 times, and he’s at an ugly .898.

Given he’s nearly 30 and trending in the wrong direction, it wasn’t entirely surprising to read this today, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

We’ve been focusing on defencemen as what the Avalanche will be acquiring for one of their cornerstone forwards.

But don’t be surprised if a goalie becomes a focal point of the conversation, too. I’m not sure Colorado is too secure in what they have.

Varlamov’s smack in the middle of a five-year, $29.5 million extension, one that carries a $5.9 million cap hit. That’s a big financial obligation. Outside of Varly, Colorado has a young ‘tender in Calvin Pickard — the 24-year-old in his first full year as Varlamov’s backup — but right now, it’s unclear if the Avs see him as a potential No. 1.

It’s also unclear what the organization thinks of Spencer Martin, the 63rd overall pick in ’13. Martin’s played reasonably well for AHL San Antonio this year, and is still just 21 years old.

Add it all up, and the goaltending situation is just another wrinkle in what’s become a very complex situation for Colorado.