James O'Brien

The New York rangers play the Washington Capitals

Rangers tweak D pairs: Staal with Klein, Boyle – Yandle

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The New York Rangers are making some defensive pairing swaps in lieu of Game 6 against the Washington Capitals on Sunday.

Chalk it up to matchups or any other factors, but Marc Staal has been reunited with Kevin Klein while Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle will make up one of the most expensive third defensive pairings in recent memory, as ESPN’s Katie Strang points out.

The Rangers’ top duo remains Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.

Interesting to see this change with New York’s last win in mind, but the Capitals get the last change at home, so it makes some sense. The Rangers have been tough to eliminate while the Caps have had trouble putting opponents away in recent postseasons, so this could be an interesting night.

Chimera on Ovechkin: ‘I have no doubt he’s going to score a big goal’

Washington Capitals v New York Rangers

The Washington Capitals haven’t been getting point production from their big top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward lately, but the company line seems to be “it’s just a matter of time.”

Jason Chimera more or less predicted a big goal for Ovechkin while speaking with the Washington Post about Game 6 on Saturday.

“You can’t keep a guy like that down too long,” Chimera said. “He’s got his looks, he’s playing hard, you’re not going to stop him. You can limit his looks but he’s going to get those looks and they’re going to go in eventually tomorrow. I have no doubt he’s going to score a big goal tomorrow.”

The attempts have been there, at least to an extent. Ovechkin has 11 shots on goal in this three-game drought, although only two came in Game 5.

Backstrom’s only had two SOG in this span (all in Game 5), yet that isn’t overly concerning considering his role as a passer. Joel Ward hasn’t been shy to shoot (nine SOG in three games, including five in the past one).

It all gives at least some credence to the belief that the Caps’ first line is getting its looks.

Actually, the real company lines are “you need everyone to step up” (Barry Trotz to the Post) and “we don’t care where the offense comes from” (Brooks Orpik to the Post).

That said, considering how tight this series has been, a breakthrough from Ovechkin – Backstrom – Ward could be enough to punch a ticket to the Eastern Conference finals.

WATCH LIVE: Tonight’s Stanley Cup Playoff action

Tom Wilson, Rick Nash
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Could we see a Game 7 in round two of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs?

The New York Rangers face just that opportunity as they march into the Verizon Center to face the Washington Capitals down 3-2 in their series. Tonight’s two games of NBCSN action begin with this Game 6, which you can watch on TV and also stream via NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

The Calgary Flames are one game behind the Rangers in their own strides to push the Anaheim Ducks to the distance. The Ducks currently hold a 3-1 series advantage and get a great opportunity to finish the Flames off with Game 5 in Anaheim. Again, this one’s also on NBCSN and can be streamed via NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Even Vanek admits he let the Wild down

Minnesota Wild v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Two
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The Minnesota Wild signed Thomas Vanek to a lucrative deal with this in mind: they finally wanted to get over the hump against the Chicago Blackhawks. Vanek’s detractors would counter that he was the last guy who would accomplish such a task.

Unfortunately for the Wild, Vanek-haters seem to be correct, at least for one season. At least if you look at the results.

Even Vanek is disappointed with his play, as the Pioneer Press’ Chad Graff reports.

“I knew I only needed one to get going and I didn’t get it. I let them down,” Vanek said. “Their scorers scored when they needed to with timely goals and I didn’t.”

The 31-year-old didn’t just fail to score timely goals. He didn’t find the net in garbage time or merely to give Minnesota a little “insurance” either. In 10 playoff games, Vanek failed to score a single goal, settling for four assists.

Now, even the best snipers – a group Vanek belongs to, or at least once did – can hit a wall during the precious few games that make up a postseason. The 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs provide plenty of examples, from Steven Stamkos to Rick Nash. Marian Hossa’s struggles to get a bounce even flew under the radar, as his only goal of this playoff run so far came on an empty-netter in Game 4.

The key difference between Vanek and those other forwards is that, frankly, it’s tougher to gauge the effort from Vanek.

It’s not just a matter of puck luck failing him. Vanek only generated 19 shots on goal in 10 playoff games, and as flimsy as plus/minus can be, seeing him go pointless with a -4 mark in the last three contests isn’t promising. Unlike Hossa, Vanek doesn’t exactly draw rave reviews for his defensive play either, so it’s easy to understand the negativity surrounding the situation. NHL snipers don’t tend to age like fine wine, after all.

The key will be for him to play his game, and a big part of that is unleashing his shot with aplomb. Merely looking at his shot totals in 2013-14 (248 in 78 games with three different teams) versus this past season (just 171 in 80 contests with Minnesota), it’s reasonable to wonder if this was just an off year. Perhaps his off-the-ice issues were simply too much to overcome?

Whether it comes from within or from a coach saying the right words (Mike Yeo or perhaps someone else?), Vanek needs to turn things around.

At least he realizes as much, though.

Petry: ‘Hope is definitely alive’ for Habs

Montreal Canadiens v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four
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The Montreal Canadiens didn’t just avoid a sweep against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 last night; they crushed the Bolts.

Really, it’s kind of difficult to begrudge them their swagger on Friday morning, either.

Montreal has taken the shot advantage in three straight games, generating a whopping 100-67 edge over Tampa Bay in the past three contests. Bounces don’t always go your way, and until last night, Ben Bishop and a handful of Lightning forwards made the difference earlier in this series.

The Habs defiantly said “not yet” on Thursday, and it’s clear that they aren’t intimidated by this challenge. Either that, or they’re putting on a convincingly brave face.

“Momentum in hockey can change quick,” Michel Therrien noted to the Canadian Press’ Stephen Whyno.

For P.K. Subban, it’s simply not time to golf.

Therrien noted that he believes the Canadiens are a tough team to play against, and that the Lightning should expect no less in Game 5 on Saturday. One wouldn’t put it past Montreal to make things a lot more interesting, especially if they aren’t too concerned about this current deficit.

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