PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 03: Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins puts the game winning goal past Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets at PPG PAINTS Arena on February 3, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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Penguins and Blue Jackets on track for what could be epic first round matchup

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PITTSBURGH — It is not one of the NHL’s biggest rivalries, but every time the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets get together it becomes increasingly clear that the two teams simply do not like each other very much. Or at all.  This is especially true when it comes to forwards Sidney Crosby and Brandon Dubinsky because there always seems to be something that happens in their games.

That was the case again on Friday night in Pittsburgh where the Penguins were 4-3 overtime winners against the Blue Jackets — after letting a two-goal third period lead slip away — thanks to a two-goal night from Phil Kessel, including the winner.

For the Penguins, it was a big response following the first meeting of the season when they were blown out in Columbus when the Blue Jackets were on their way to 16-game winning streak.

Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist admitted that game was on their mind a little bit heading into Friday.

“For sure.” Hornqvist said. “That does not feel good to lose 7-1 to one of your big rivals, and they have been playing really well. It was a big test for us but I think we came out really strong tonight, stuck with it the whole game and got the two points.”

They still have two more meetings during the regular season (including one in two weeks) and remain on track to meet in the first round of the playoffs. After Friday’s game they remain solidly positioned in the second and third spots in the Metropolitan Division.

When asked after the game if he wants to play the Blue Jackets in the playoffs, Hornqvist simply responded by saying, “Oh, we probably will.”

Indeed. With both teams at least four points ahead of the Rangers for the fourth spot in the division (with each having a game in hand), and both being a few points back of the Washington Capitals for the top spot this seems to be a matchup that is destined to happen.

Given the way recent games have unfolded, it would be one heck of a series.

Even though Friday’s game only featured one power play between the two teams (Columbus’ Cam Atkinson was called for hooking in overtime to set up Kessel’s second goal of the game) it at times resembled a law-less society on the ice where pretty much anything went.

Extra shots away from the puck. Chris Kunitz and Boone Jenner trying to fight at center ice after a whistle. Whatever-it-takes defense. Yet another altercation between Dubinsky and Crosby.

Ever since Dubinsky joined the Blue Jackets a few years ago that has been the preferred matchup for them in games against the Penguins, and it almost always seems to result in things reaching a boiling point, whether it was that fight fight a year ago, Dubinsky getting suspended for repeatedly cross-checking Crosby in the neck in front of the net, or just random physical play.

It happened again on Friday when in the second period the two forwards became tied up in the middle of the ice. After Crosby fell to the ice, Dubinsky gave him another shove to the back.

After the game Dubinsky was asked if he felt Crosby was trying to buy a call on the play, to which he replied, “I’m sure everybody else can make their own decision on that one.”

Dubinsky ended up playing a significant role in the game beyond that by scoring a goal and adding an assist, while also being guilty of a turnover at the blue line in overtime (at the hands of Crosby) that resulted in Atkinson’s hooking penalty to set up the winning Pittsburgh goal. If these two teams do end up meeting in the playoffs, it will be one of the individual matchups that gets the most attention.

“Crosby is one of the best players in the game, and I think Dubi, people that have been around Dubi know how he is. He is so competitive and so wants the challenge, he just thrives in that,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said after the game.

“He makes mistakes, but I live with more of his mistakes because they are always effort mistakes. It is never a lazy play. It is never an in-between play. I thought him and his line were outstanding.”

Along with the obvious dislike between the two teams the other factor that would make a first-round matchup so appealing is the simple fact these are, quite literally, two of the four best teams in hockey right now and are separated by just two points in the standings.

Because of the NHL’s divisional playoff format, and because nobody in the Metropolitan Division ever seems to lose this season with three of the top-four teams in the division all residing in the division, we could be guaranteed to see one of the top teams in the NHL be finished after the first round.

Flyers sign Michal Neuvirth to two-year, $5 million extension

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 12: Goalie Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on against the Florida Panthers at Wells Fargo Center on October 12, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The goaltending situation in Philadelphia has become a lot more clear today, as they’ve signed Michal Neuvirth to a contract extension.

According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, it’s a two-year deal worth a total of $5 million ($2.5 million cap hit).

Neuvirth was set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

The 28-year-old has been between the pipes for nine of his team’s last 11 games, but he’s dropped four of his last five decisions. He has a 10-9-1 record with a 2.90 goals-against-average and a .887 save percentage in 24 games.

The duo of Neuvirth and Steve Mason hasn’t worked out too well in Philadelphia. Both players have struggled to find consistency in their game, which has been problematic for the Flyers.

Even though Neuvirth will be back, they can still shake things up by moving on from Mason, who is also scheduled to become a free agent on July 1st.

The Flyers also re-signed forward Pierre Edouard Bellemare earlier today.

Report: Flyers extend Bellemare — two years, $2.9 million

PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 24: Pierre-Edouard Bellemare #78 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on against the Washington Capitals during the third period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 24, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Washington Capitals won, 1-0. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Philadelphia has re-upped with checking forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on a two-year extension, per Sportsnet.

It’s believed to be a $2.9 million pact, one that carries a $1.45M average annual cap hit. That’s a nice raise for the 31-year-old, who’s in the last of a two-year pact at $712,500 per.

Bellemare joined the Flyers for the ’14-15 campaign, following a lengthy career in Europe that included stops in his native France, and a lengthy spell in Sweden. He’s emerged as a good energy guy in the bottom-six forward group, one that can kill penalties and chip in with a bit of offense.

Today’s news might come as a bit of a surprise for Flyers fans, however. Bellemare was a pending UFA and, given he’s on the wrong side of 30, there was speculation he’d be sold at the deadline in the hopes of recouping some assets.

Report: Jesper Fast out indefinitely after suffering shoulder injury

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30:  Jesper Fast #19 of the New York Rangers skates against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 30, 2015 in New York City.  Capitals defeated the Rangers 2-1.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Some tough news if you’re a fan of the New York Rangers.

According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Jesper Fast will miss some time with what’s believed to be a separated shoulder.

Fast suffered the injury after being flattened by Alex Ovechkin in last night’s 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.

The 25-year-old has been a key contributor for New York this season. He’s up to five goals and 15 assists in 59 games. He’s also second in shorthanded ice time and in hits among all Rangers forwards.

The Rangers went into last night’s game without Mika Zibanejad and they also lost Chris Kreider momentarily yesterday, but he was able to return.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is expected to provide an update on Fast’s status after today’s practice, but don’t expect the news to be good.

Canadiens acquire Dwight King for draft pick

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 27:  Dwight King #74 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his goal to take a 3-2 lead over the Colorado Avalanche during the second period at Staples Center on January 27, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Montreal Canadiens are keeping busy.

Just one day after acquiring Steve Ott from the Detroit Red Wings and Brendan Davidson from the Edmonton Oilers in separate deals, general manager Marc Bergevin completed another trade before the deadline when he acquired forward Dwight King from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a conditional 2018 fourth-round draft pick.

It will become a third-round pick if he re-signs with the Canadiens this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

In 63 games this season King has eight goals and seven assists.

He also adds to the Canadiens’ apparent season-long attempt to become a grittier and tougher team, now joining a roster that now has seen Ott, Shea Weber, and Andrew Shaw join it over the past eight months.

For the Kings, it is a move that clears out a bit of salary cap space, perhaps opening the door for them to complete a deal with Colorado for Jarome Iginla, something that seems to be a work in progress on Wednesday.

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