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Around the rink – February 25; Kovalev debuts for Pittsburgh, Caps and Rangers face off

Feb 25, 2011, 4:33 PM EDT

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Alex Kovalev

7:00 p.m.

Washington @ NY Rangers

New York gets Ruslan Fedotenko back in the lineup tonight while Mike Green appears to still be out. Nicklas Backstrom will also play as he’s got a broken tip of his thumb. The Caps have won two in a row while the Rangers are hoping their shootout win over Carolina is the stepping stone they need to pull away from the gathering mob at the bottom of the Eastern playoff race. The Caps need a win to keep pace with the Lightning in the Southeast.

Pittsburgh @ Carolina

Welcome back Alex Kovalev. Kovalev will make his re-debut with the Penguins tonight, his first game with Pittsburgh since the 2002-2003 season. After acquiring the Russian star from Ottawa, the Penguins are showing that they’re going to keep trying with or without Sidney Crosby in the lineup. The bigger problem immediately for Pittsburgh will be playing without Brooks Orpik for the next month. For Carolina a win, any win, would be huge for them as they’re caught in a mosh in the eighth spot in the East with Buffalo, Toronto, and Atlanta all right there waiting for them to fall. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has lost three in a row. With the injuries mounting it’s getting tougher to keep up with Philadelphia for the Penguins.

Phoenix @ Columbus

The Coyotes look to rebound from their 8-3 humbling at the hands of Tampa Bay with a game against the reinvigorated Blue Jackets in Columbus. Columbus has won seven of their last nine and are just four points out of the cluster of five teams vying for the last four spots in the West. Phoenix is locked into a battle with the Sharks for control of the Pacific Division and the only way for them to keep at it is to keep winning as the Sharks seem set to keep doing the same.

7:30 p.m.

New Jersey @ Tampa Bay

If Tampa Bay wants to prove something to themselves, beating the red hot Devils would be a good way to go about it. The Devils have beaten Tampa Bay in 12 of their last 13 games in Tampa. Such things are always startling to read but after the Lightning humbled Phoenix who had been playing great hockey up to that point, it’s tough to deny the Lightning the shot at getting off the schneid. The Devils coincidentally come into their game with Tampa Bay also on an eight game win streak, similar to the one Phoenix had before their date in Tampa. For the Lightning, this game marks the final one of their 12-game home stand. During that record stretch, the Lightning are 6-3-2.

Ottawa @ Buffalo

Buffalo is just three points behind Carolina for eighth and they’ve got the Maple Leafs catching up to them fast. A win over lowly Ottawa would be huge for the Sabres. Doing it against a re-motivated Craig Anderson might prove to be the hard part. Ottawa has won two in a row with Anderson’s help so perhaps the doormat Sens are gone for now. We’ll see how badly Buffalo wants back in the playoff race with how they handle the Senators.

Florida @ Atlanta

Is this the last stand of the Florida Panthers as we know them? With tonight’s game against Atlanta and Sunday’s against New Jersey, whether or not we’ll see the likes of David Booth, Stephen Weiss, or Tomas Vokoun after the weekend is through is up in the air with the trade deadline on the way on Monday afternoon. Atlanta hopes they can just get a win, period, as they’ve slipped further back in the race for the playoffs in the East.

9:00 p.m.

San Jose @ Calgary

A pair of teams that have been playing well of late square off. The Sharks have taken control of the Pacific Division by a point over Phoenix but they’ll be without Dan Boyle tonight. Boyle’s a difference maker on the blue line for them and how that effects Antti Niemi in goal will be curious to see. After a tough loss to Boston on Tuesday, getting back on top of things for Calgary would be huge. To do it against a rival like San Jose would make it sweeter.

St. Louis @ Edmonton

Times are tough for St. Louis right now. They’re virtually on the edge of being out of the playoff discussion and after three straight losses, including last night’s to Vancouver, things aren’t getting any easier. Sure they’re playing harder but without wins they’re going nowhere fast. Dealing with the NHL’s worst team in Edmonton should be the elixir they’re looking for to fix things up but Edmonton is hot winners of four of their last five games. If you’re afraid of giant goalies, be afraid. St. Louis will start 6’8″ Ben Bishop while Edmonton counters with 6’6″ Devan Dubnyk.

10:00 p.m.

Minnesota @ Anaheim

Dan Ellis will make his first start as a  Duck tonight as the Wild look to put their tough loss to the Kings last night behind them. Minnesota sits in a logjam for sixth place in the West while the Ducks look to get back into the mix themselves after getting hammered in their last four games by a combined 24-12 score all while going 0-4-0 in that span. The Wild could help their own cause by stringing some wins together rather than alternating wins and losses.

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