<span class="vcard">James O'Brien</span>

New York Rangers v Anaheim Ducks

NHL on NBCSN: Rangers host Ducks in potential Stanley Cup preview

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign tonight as the New York Rangers host the Anaheim Ducks at Madison Square Garden, starting at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

The New York Rangers and Anaheim Ducks rank among their respective conferences’ best, so Sunday presents an interesting test for each team. Some may even wonder if this could end up being the 2015 Stanley Cup Final preview.

The Rangers hold a commanding lead on the top spot in the Atlantic Division while the Ducks’ Pacific Division brethren faded from their rear-view mirrors long ago.

Each team is now eyeing broader seeding goals, but that hasn’t stopped them from playing well as of late.

Anaheim is on a four-game winning streak as they begin a five-game road trip against Eastern Conference teams with this game versus the Rangers at MSG. The Blueshirts are winners of seven of their past nine contests including Saturday’s 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes (so the Ducks hold a slight fatigue advantage today).

Interestingly, both the Rangers and Ducks are gunning for the Montreal Canadiens to some extent.

Montreal owns a tiebreaker advantage over the Ducks for the NHL’s top standings spot while the Rangers only trailing the Habs by two points despite holding three games in hand.

There should be plenty of firepower on hand with Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry representing three of the NHL’s premier power forwards.

The netminders may not be so familiar to some fans, yet Cam Talbot will face a quality goaltender, whether it’s Frederik Andersen or John Gibson in net.

These two teams don’t see each other all that frequently, yet they hope to face off in a certain seven-game series in June if things break the right way. Even if this ends up being the last time these two teams meet in 2014-15, it should be a great show on NBCSN.

NHL on NBC: Familiar foes face off as Red Wings host Blues

Detroit Red Wings v St Louis Blues
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NBC will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Detroit Red Wings host the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena at noon p.m. ET today. In addition to NBC, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

The St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings don’t clash anywhere near as often with Detroit now in the Eastern Conference, yet it’s probably safe to say that the teams – and especially the fans – still can’t stand each other.

Both squads should have added motivation this afternoon because they both need to steady themselves. Each team has lost two in a row, with the Blues needing to shrug off a lopsided loss to Minnesota and the Red Wings also dropping six of their last eight.

St. Louis is currently 2-1-1 on a six-game road swing that concludes in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The Red Wings begin a four-game homestand in Detroit today.

The Red Wings beat the Blues 3-2 in OT the last time these two teams met (on Jan. 15). Pavel Datsyuk was the player who scored the game-winner, and he won’t play today, according to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan.

Jake Allen saw some action after Brian Elliott was unceremoniously pulled from yesterday’s Blues loss, so one would think that Allen will start. Jimmy Howard seems likely to play in Detroit’s net.

While the Red Wings aim to stay sharp with their position as the third-ranked team in the Atlantic Division fairly well set, the Blues hope to earn a little breathing room in their race to take the Central Division crown from the Nashville Predators.

The two former division foes will meet for the second and last time today, so expect quality over quantity on NBC.

Palat says he’s ready to return for Lightning tonight

Tampa Bay Lightning v Arizona Coyotes
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Ondrej Palat said he’s “100 percent ready” to return for the Tampa Bay Lightning against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, according to Bryan Burns of the team website.

Palat had missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, a span where the Lightning went 1-1-1.

He suffered the injury on March 10, but the positive news is that it seems like he’s well ahead of the announced two-to-three week recovery period.

One would assume that Palat would slide back into his spot on a prolific line with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. It’s been a breakout season for the trio, as Palat’s earned some buzz for his two-way play while collecting 15 goals and 52 points in 64 games.

The 23-year-old’s dealt with some bumps and bruises in 2014-15, yet he’s been a force when healthy, so the Lightning must be delighted to get him back against the Red Wings tonight.

Are the Capitals still just a ‘one-line team?’

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom
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The Washington Capitals seem to face an all-too-familiar situation.

The good news is that Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are on a tear with Ovechkin leading the league in scoring (73 points) and Backstrom tied for second with 72. Capitals blog Japers Rink’ trots out some interesting new ways to express thoughts like “Yes, Ovechkin’s by far the best player in the NHL when it comes to scoring goals.”

There are great things to be said about Backstrom, too, but Japers’ Rink also provides a familiar “Yeah, but ..” in the fact that, after all these changes, the Capitals may rely on their dynamic duo too much.

Indeed, looking at the Capitals’ top forward scorers, the picture looks remarkably similar to 2013-14, aside from the fact that Ovechkin and Backstrom are producing at a better clip.

2014-15 scoring leaders:

Ovechkin – 73 points
Backstrom – 72 points
John Carlson, a defenseman – 47 points
Marcus Johansson and Mike Green – tied at 39 points

2013-14 scoring leaders:

Ovechkin and Backstrom – tied at 79 points
Joel Ward – 49 points
Johansson – 44 points

Look, in a salary cap league, it’s tough to put a team together that won’t see a drop-off from players at the level of Ovechkin and Backstrom. And yes, it at least helps that they’re enjoying contributions from an improved defense.

Still, when you look at some of the league’s most successful teams, they often enjoy strong depth and obvious one-two punches. When Jonathan Toews’ line was ailing, the Chicago Blackhawks could count on Patrick Kane to make magic happen (before he got injured, of course). The Los Angeles Kings saw Jeff Carter light up scoreboards alongside Anze Kopitar’s line.

The way Ovechkin and Backstrom’s playing, it seems like their line can create a goal or two per night. That said, if they make it to the playoffs and a team finds a way to slow them down, will Washington get the offense it needs from other forwards?

Why Anders Lindback may become one of ‘the most reviled Sabres ever’

Anders Lindback
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When Anders Lindback was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, sarcastic folks deemed it a perfect marriage: a deeply struggling goalie on a team that essentially wants to struggle.

Of course, Lindback doesn’t want to struggle; he wants to save his NHL career, and if he does a good job of that, things will get interesting … and maybe a little hostile.

The Buffalo News argues that Lindback could become one of “the most reviled Sabres ever” on the heels of Tuesday’s dazzling performance in a win.

The second-best stretch of Lindback’s career has Buffalo hockey fans cursing him in the name of Connor McDavid. The goalie stole three points this week that never should have been in Buffalo’s bank. If he keeps it up for the final 12 games, 30th place might become a thing of the past.

At any other time in Sabres history, Lindback would be a triumphant feel-good story. Instead, he’ll enter the crease Friday against New Jersey or Saturday in Nashville with Blue and Gold backers begging for him to fail.

In stopping 44 of the Boston Bruins’ 45 shots in that surprising win, Lindback grabbed his first victory with Buffalo. One win seemingly doesn’t justify hand-wringing, yet it’s remarkable how much his individual stats have improved since being moved. Just look at this comparison:

10 games with the Dallas Stars: 2-8-0, .875 save percentage, 3.71 GAA
Seven games with Buffalo: 1-3-2, .934 save percentage, 2.41 GAA

That basically looks like the work of a bad goalie in 1985 and the work of a great goalie in 2015, side-by-side.

As the Buffalo News notes, this would normally be a heartwarming situation, but instead it’s a cause for concern.

Then again, if Buffalo gets worried, they could always just “test the rotation” by playing Lindback less often, right?

This all brings about a question for Sabres fans in the audience: who is the most reviled member of the team (past or present) in your mind?