Playoffs Tonight: Bruins know series vs Rangers isn’t over

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We got a full night of NHL hockey ahead of us and the Boston Bruins might even secure a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.

Please keep in mind that all of tonight’s games can be watched online in addition to the channels listed below.

New York Rangers host Boston Bruins (7:00 p.m. ET, CNBC)
Boston leads series 3-0

No one understands better than the Boston Bruins that a series isn’t over until it’s over.

“It would be nice,” David Krejci told the Boston Globe when asked about the possibility of avoiding a Game 5. “But we know and we learned as a team that the last one is the hardest from past years and even in the last series. We’ve just got to get ready for tomorrow and play just like it’s Game 1.”

The Bruins have managed to get by without defensemen Dennis Seidenberg, Wade Redden, and Andrew Ference thanks in part to the rise of young and relatively inexperienced blueliners like Matt Bartkowski. Bartkowski’s success in particular has to be gratifying to Bruins fans, given that he was linked to Boston’s ultimately failed bid to acquire Jarome Iginla.

The New York Rangers might need boost from their depth blueliners as well. Marc Staal has only played once since March 5 due to his eye injury and now they might be forced to continue without defenseman Anton Stralman.

Needless to say, the Rangers situation looks bleak, but right now, they just have to focus on getting one win.

Detroit Red Wings host Chicago Blackhawks (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Detroit leads series 2-1

Chicago hasn’t lost three games in a row since the season started, but the Blackhawks are in danger of doing so now. That speaks to how consistently good they’ve been, but it also highlights just how little adversity they’ve faced this year.

They’ve come from behind in games and won close contests, but they got ahead of the league so quickly that many of those impressive victories were achieved in low pressure situations. Still, that doesn’t mean they’ll buckle under the pressure.

“Just because we haven’t faced a whole lot of adversity this year doesn’t mean we’ve never faced it in our lives before,” Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith argued, according to Chicago Sun-Times writer Mark Lazerus. “Let’s face it: Winning in the playoffs isn’t easy. It’s not always going to go your way.”

Perhaps the biggest x-factor in this game is Chicago captain Jonathan Toews. He called Chicago’s 3-1 loss on Monday a slap in the face.

He hasn’t scored a goal in the playoffs and this is the kind of situation that the Blackhawks look to their captain to step up.

Los Angeles hosts San Jose (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
Series tied at 2-2

The Sharks and Kings had two of the NHL’s best home records in the regular season and neither team has lost a game in their arena during the 2013 playoffs. That’s good news for Los Angeles, even if they have squandered a 2-0 series lead.

If Sharks captain Joe Thornton manages to replicate his success in from Game 4 on Tuesday, then San Jose might break that trend and earn its third consecutive win tonight.

“That was vintage Joe Thornton right there,” Logan Couture told CSN Bay Area after the Sharks’ 2-1 win. “Unbelievable. Creating turnovers, making passes, skating like a young guy. He was flying, and I know me personally, it got me going. We need Joe to play like that for the rest of the playoffs.”

Whatever happens, it’s likely that this game will come down to the final minutes of action. The last three contests in this series have been determined by just one goal and even Game 1 was a close 2-0 affair.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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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.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.