Playoffs Tonight: Ovechkin’s Caps host Lundqvist’s Rangers

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So much for sweating about goals. Last night saw a couple of blowouts and some excitement out West.

The final two series yet to play kick off tonight with a pair of Game 2s to go with it. Catch all the action on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Game 1: Montreal Canadiens host the Ottawa Senators (7 p.m. ET, CNBC)

The Habs might be looking to copy the Boston Bruins in tonight’s Game 1. Like the Bruins, the Habs stumbled at the end of the season headed to the postseason and like them they’ll hope that with the playoffs starting, all the regular season worries evaporate. Carey Price closed the season not looking all that hot and going up against Daniel Alfredsson and the Senators will give them the kind of battle they need to know where exactly they’re at.

Both teams were surprising in their own ways this season, but if Montreal runs into trouble against Ottawa it’ll likely be thanks to goaltender Craig Anderson. If not for injury, he’d be a legit Vezina candidate this season and if he plays as strong as he has this season in the playoffs, it’ll be up to Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban to get him figured out quickly.

The season series between these two was close with Montreal winning it 2-1-1 with two shootout games in the mix.

Game 1: Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

So they meet again. For the fourth time in five years these two square off and by now you have to think they know each other inside and out. This year’s series has a different feel to it though.

Last year’s snoozer of a seven game set gets replaced by the resurgent Alex Ovechkin and a Caps team firing on all cylinders going up against a Rangers team that’s got its swagger back. The depth is there again (even with Ryane Clowe and Brian Boyle hurting) and guys like Derek Stepan and Rick Nash are playing great. Oh yeah, and there’s Henrik Lundqvist still in goal too.

New York took the season series going 2-0-1 against the Caps this season. If they can keep Ovechkin quiet, they’ll have a great shot at the upset.

Game 2: St. Louis Blues host the Los Angeles Kings up 1-0 in series (9:30 p.m. ET, CNBC)

Game 1 saw the Blues come out and hit the defending Stanley Cup champions right in the mouth. While we saw some of that same Kings magic from last season when Justin Williams scored late in the third to tie the game up, the Blues still prevailed thanks to Jon Quick turning the puck over to Alex Steen behind his own net while on the power play.

You have to believe those mistakes won’t happen again and the Kings will be hungry to tie this series up and head back to L.A. You also have to think the Blues aren’t going to play things any differently and will bring that high-intensity forecheck once again.

One thing the Blues could use, however, is some puck luck. The posts went home with bruises thanks to Blues shots clanging off them. If they can get their offense in gear they’ll be that much more dangerous.

Game 2: Anaheim Ducks host the Detroit Red Wings up 1-0 in series (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN)

Anaheim was able to turn things on Detroit thanks to guys like Teemu Selanne and Nick Bonino doing the damage as opposed to Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Jonas Hiller’s strong play in goal had a lot to do with that as well, but the Wings are seemingly not rattled by how things went in Game 1.

Detroit’s youngsters like Gustav Nyqvist and Damien Brunner will need to be more of a factor to give Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg the offensive help they’ll need to even up the series heading back home. One thing Detroit definitely has to do is clean up their penalty killing.

The Wings gave up two power play goals to the Ducks in Game 1 and that’s what made the difference. The Ducks should worry about the same as Detroit’s lone tally also came on the man advantage.

Here’s PHT’s Mike Halford and Jason Brough breaking down the Blues-Kings physicality and taking a look at Rangers-Capitals.

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The Buzzer: Tatar’s three-point night; Matthews makes more history

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Three Stars

1. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens. Two big wins in a row for the Canadiens. Two big nights for Tatar, who now has six points in his last two games. During a 7-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings, Tatar scored a goal and assisted on two others. Last season, Tatar had only two multi-point games the entire year.

2. Kasperi Kapanen, Toronto Maple Leafs. Kapanen continued his red-hot start with a pair of goals during the Maple Leafs’ 4-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. He now has four goals and eight points through seven games this season, really making most of this opportunity in William Nylander‘s absence.

3. Craig Anderson, Ottawa Senators. A 37-save effort from Anderson helped the Senators dispatch the Dallas Stars 4-1. It was Anderson’s second win in a row and over his last two games he’s stopped 73 of 75 shots faced.

Highlights of the Night

• During their game Monday night, the Senators remembered the late Ray Emery:

• Maxime Lajoie can’t stop scoring. The Senators defensman potted his fourth of the season and now has seven points on the season.

• In his 1,000th NHL game, Tomas Plekanec scored:

• One of Kapanen’s goals was this bank shot:

• Good luck trying to stop this Matt Dumba rocket:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Maple Leafs 4, Kings 1

Senators 4, Stars 1
Canadiens 7, Red Wings 3
Predators 4, Wild 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Panthers’ Matheson suspended two games for slamming Pettersson to ice

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The NHL announced on Monday evening that Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson has been suspended two games for “interference and unsportsmanlike conduct” against Vancouver Canucks rookie forward Elias Pettersson over the weekend.

Petterson has been entered in to the NHL’s concussion protocol and is expected to be sidelined for the next 7-10 days as a result of the play.

The incident took place early in the third period of Saturday’s game in Florida and left the Canucks completely furious. Just after Pettersson had dangled around Matheson in the offensive zone, Matheson again encountered the talented rookie along the boards and after checking him, proceeded to slam him to the ice with the puck nowhere near the two players.

Here is the video as well as the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner tried to defend his play on Monday by saying that Matheson is an honest player and that he was just attempting to finish his check hard, while Matheson’s agent said that his client was “surprised” by how light Pettersson is and that it all happened very quickly.

On Monday, Canucks coach Travis Green was still upset about the play and how it resulted in his team losing a bright young star to injury on a play that was not necessary.

“Am I mad at the play? Extremely mad. I’m really upset, I still am,” Green said. “We lost a bright young player to an injury that I don’t think was necessary. I’m pissed off right now, still talking about it.”

Matheson forfeits $52,419.36 in salary and is eligible to return to the Panthers’ lineup Saturday against Detroit.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Crosby, MacKinnon surprise Kenyan hockey team (Video)

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Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon have teamed up before to promote Tim Hortons, the Canadian coffee and donut shop, but their latest venture saw them help spread the gospel of hockey.

Tim Hortons flew 12 members of Kenya’s senior men’s hockey team to Canada over the summer for a game. The African team, which was formed in 2012 and has set a goal for future Olympic participation, has only been able to play against themselves back home and this would be a new experience playing against an actual opponent.

As the players gathered inside their locker room, which featured brand new equipment and Kenya hockey jerseys, in came the Pittsburgh Penguins captain and Colorado Avalanche star to join their team.

“It is a dream to not only have the chance to play in Canada, but to play – for the first time – in full gear alongside two of the greatest players of the game,” said team captain Benard Azegere. “When we first started playing in Kenya, we didn’t even have full equipment, but now not only do we have that, we can say we’ve played a real game with some All-Star teammates.”

“That’s the best part about the game, just how it reaches so many people in a place like Kenya where you wouldn’t think there’s even ice,” Crosby said on Monday via the Tribune-Review. “To meet people from different places and to share the game that we love to play, I think I had as much fun as any of those guys today.”

The Kenyan Ice Hockey Federation is coming soon, and the men are not alone in their pursuit of a national team. As ESPN.com documented last week, a group of five women make up the Nairobi Ice Lions, who, like the men, see Olympic participation in their future.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Alex DeBrincat is Blackhawks’ next rising star

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Alex DeBrincat spent three seasons between 2014 and 2017 absolutely dominating the Ontario Hockey League. He was one of the most productive and prolific scorers in all of junior hockey during his time with the Erie Otters, and never finished a full season with less than 50 goals or 100 points.

That sort of production, combined with his obvious talent level, should have made him one of the first picks in the 2016 draft class.

It didn’t. Mainly because he was listed at 5-7 and under 170 pounds, making him one of the smallest players in the class and, today, one of the smallest players in the NHL. As he slid out of the first round in 2016 there was always the potential for somebody to get a steal of a player.

That somebody turned out to be the Chicago Blackhawks, who ended up snagging him with the 39th overall pick in the draft.

Today, that pick is looking like one of the steals of that draft.

DeBrincat has been one of the offensive stars for the Blackhawks in the early going this season and already has nine points (including six goals) in the team’s first five games. That comes after a rookie season that saw him finish as the Blackhawks’ leading goal scorer. So far, he is one of the most productive players to come out of his draft class as the only players to outscore him have been Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Mathew Tkachuk, and Clayton Keller, all of whom were among the first seven players taken in the draft.

Only Matthews, Laine, and Keller have been better on a points per game basis.

All of this is a huge development for the Blackhawks.

Given their current salary cap situation they are going to need young players on cheap contracts to fill in around their big-money stars at the top of the lineup. DeBrincat is well on his way to giving them such a player and should be part of the organization’s next wave of young talent. And that next wave seems to have some promising prospects. Along with DeBrincat the Blackhawks are also getting a ton of production out of rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju, the team’s first-round pick in 2017, and they also have Adam Boqvist, the No. 7 overall pick from 2018, waiting in the wings.

The lesson that the rest of the teams in the league should take away from this is to never let a player’s size stand in the way of giving them a chance. Over the past decade teams have been far more willing to take “undersized” players than they used to be, but they are still a little too fearful of that lack of size because there was nothing in DeBrincat’s production or play as a junior player that should have resulted in him being anything other than a first-round pick … and probably a very high one. Obviously if all things are equal with players the bigger, more physical player is preferable. But in cases like DeBrincat (and Johnny Gaudreau, and Nikita Kucherov, and so on and so on before him) all things are not usually equal.

DeBrincat has always been a highly skilled player that produced at an obscene level. There was always the potential for him to be a top-line player. A lot of teams couldn’t get past the lack of size and allowed him to slip all the way down to the second round. The Blackhawks were the team to take the “chance” on him and are being rewarded with an emerging star that could be a potential difference-maker for them for a very, very long time.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.