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Goalie nods: With East’s top spot on the line, Rangers start Raanta versus Pens

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Plenty of storylines at PPG Paints Arena tonight when the Penguins host the Rangers.

There’s the history: Pittsburgh ended New York’s season last year, and New York did the same to Pittsburgh two years ago.

There’s the stakes: The Rangers sit two points ahead of the Penguins for top spot in the Eastern Conference but, with a regulation win, the Pens can overtake the Blueshirts for No. 1.

As such, the goaltending decision by Alain Vigneault is an interesting one. Antti Raanta, who’s played very well lately, will get the nod ahead of Henrik Lundqvist, who has started the last three in a row.

To be accurate, Lundqvist didn’t just start three straight — he dominated them. A 2-0 shutout win over Dallas (in which he left momentarily after getting run by Cody Eakin), and back-to-back 2-1 shootout victories over Nashville and New Jersey.

That said, Lundqvist’s had recent problems with the Pens, especially in last year’s playoffs, which could be part of the reason why Vigneault’s turning to Raanta.

For Pittsburgh, Matt Murraay is in goal.

Elsewhere…

— The Islanders’ goalie carousel continues to spin. After J-F Berube made his first starts of the season on Friday and Sunday, Thomas Greiss draws in against the Bruins. No word yet on a Boston starter.

Cory Schneider will look to snap a personal four-game losing streak when the Devils host the Preds. Like the Bruins, Nashville has yet to announce a starter.

— Coming off a 29-save effort in a 1-0 loss to Boston, Peter Budaj is back in for the Kings in Columbus. The Jackets will give Sergei Bobrovsky the night off, and roll with Curtis McElhinney.

Robin Lehner starts again for Buffalo, after making 33 saves in a win over the Isles on Friday. He’ll be up against Roberto Luongo, who had a four-day break while James Reimer started Florida’s last game.

— In a rematch of last year’s playoffs, Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings take on Ben Bishop and the Bolts in Tampa.

Carey Price stopped 20 of 21 shots in a win over Washington on Saturday, and will be back in as the Habs host the Ducks. No word yet on an Anaheim starter, though it’s probably Jonathan Bernier as John Gibson got the win in Toronto on Monday.

Semyon Varlamov versus Devan Dubnyk as the Avs visit Minnesota.

Scott Darling will start his 10th game in a row when the ‘Hawks host Ottawa at the United Center. Andrew Hammond is injured and Craig Anderson is still away from the team, so the Sens are going with Mike Condon (Matt O’Connor will back up).

Even though he’s struggling, Jake Allen continues to start for the Blues. He’ll be up against Antti Niemi, who is starting his fourth straight.

Jacob Markstrom, who hasn’t played since coming on in relief of Ryan Miller in last week’s Carolina debacle, goes for the Canucks tonight. The visiting Jets will roll with Connor Hellebuyck.

Brian Elliott started against and beat the Coyotes last night, so Chad Johnson goes for Calgary. Martin Jones is in net for the Sharks.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.