"Rivalries create a lot of excitement and those are the games the fans want to watch," Capitals forward Brooks Laich told NHL.com. "As players, those are the games you want to play in. Even though it was disappointing to lose to Philly in the playoffs last season, it was a fantastic series. A lot of people said that the series was their favorite to watch; even if they weren't Capital or Flyers fans."
Even Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau couldn't hold back his animosity after the Flyers handed Washington a 7-1 loss in their first regular-season meeting on Dec. 20 -- the Caps' worst beating since 2006.
When asked about the Flyers putting their top offensive forwards on the ice in the final minutes, Boudreau said: "What goes around comes around eventually. And it will."
Perhaps that time will come Tuesday, when the Flyers visit Washington. Whether it does or not, Boudreau's remarks add some spice to what is becoming must-see hockey each time the clubs meet. Let's face it, even Capitals megastar Alex Ovechkin was thisclose to blowing his stack in the waning moments of the Dec. 20 game before Boudreau thought wisely to sit him down.
"In Philly, we played great, but they got lucky bounces and their goalie (Antero Niittymaki) was great; I don't know what he was eating before the game, but he stopped every shot," Ovechkin said. "It's a great rivalry and usually a great hockey game. The thing I like about playing them is that both teams are always pushing forward and the play is back and forth. There are always a lot of shots and big hits and both teams are playing with emotion. It's always fun."
"Not only do both teams go at it, but within the game there are also a lot of personal little rivalries," Laich said. "Mike Richards and Alex Ovechkin almost squared off, in fact. They have a lot of very good, young hockey players that are locked up for long term and we have the same thing. Pittsburgh is still a big rival, but Philly is really starting to reach that same intensity level."
The Capitals enter the game in second place in the Eastern Conference with 26 wins and 55 points, five better than the third-place Flyers (21 wins, 50 points).
Original Six salute -- As part of the festivities leading up to the Montreal Canadiens' Centennial on Dec. 4, 2009, the club will hold a special pre-game ceremony Thursday to salute the 92-year rivalry between the Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Canadiens hold a 327-272-88-5 career record against the Leafs in 692 games. The teams have split the series this season with the Leafs scoring a 6-3 victory in the most recent contest on Nov. 8. The Canadiens, who are dealing with injuries to Alex Tanguay (upper body), captain Saku Koivu (lower body), Chris Higgins (upper body) and goalie Carey Price (lower body), are fifth in the East with 21 wins and 48 points. The Maple Leafs, 5-5-0 over their last 10, are 11th with 16 victories and 38 points.
Tocchet returns to Phoenix -- Shorty after his retirement in 2002, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet joined the Colorado Avalanche as an assistant coach and spent a season and a half on the bench with the Avalanche before joining former teammate Wayne Gretzky as an assistant with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005.
On Thursday, Tocchet returns to Phoenix to match wits against "The Great One" when his Lightning face his former team at Jobing.com Arena.
Tocchet entered Sunday's game against Atlanta with a record of 5-11-6 since taking over for Barry Melrose as the interim coach in Tampa on Nov. 14. He played 18 seasons with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington and Phoenix, appearing in 1,144 career games and recording 440 goals, 952 points and 2,972 penalty minutes. He's one of two players in the history of the NHL to record 400 goals or more and at least 2,500 penalty minutes. Tocchet won the Stanley Cup with the Pens in '92 and appeared in the Stanley Cup Final with Philadelphia in '87.
After splitting up the popular MVP Line of Vinny Prospal, Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis for several games in mid-December, Tocchet reunited the trio Thursday and they responded with two goals -- both by Lecavalier -- and five assists in a 7-4 loss to the Capitals.
The Coyotes rank seventh in the Western Conference with 19 wins and 43 points and the Lightning, 4-4-2 in their last 10, are currently 14th in the Eastern Conference with 10 wins and 30 points.
Saturday sideshows -- There are 12 games scheduled on Saturday. There are also three divisional contests on the docket. Here's a breakdown:
Atlanta at Florida -- The Panthers snapped a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) with an impressive 6-1 victory over the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday, marking the first time the Panthers scored six goals in a game this season.
Six different Florida players recorded two or more points and 12 different players posted at least one point in the win.
"It was a huge game. I couldn't have scripted it any better," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's hopefully what the doctor ordered for us."
Nathan Horton scored twice against Pittsburgh and, heading into Sunday's game against Montreal, had four goals in the last four games. Additionally, Panthers center Michael Frolik ranked 11th among the NHL's rookie scoring leaders with 16 points (seven goals) entering Sunday's game against the Montreal Canadiens. He's also eighth among rookie leaders with 62 shots.
After going nine games without a goal, Ilya Kovalchuk scored in back-to-back games heading into Atlanta's showdown with Tampa Bay Sunday. Kovalchuk leads the Thrashers with 39 points (13 goals).
The Thrashers are 4-5-1 over their last 10 and are fourth in the Southeast Division with 13 wins and 31 points. The Panthers are eight points better than Atlanta with 17 victories.
Chicago at Nashville -- Chicago, still reeling after its disheartening 6-4 loss to Central Division rival Detroit on New Year's Day at the Winter Classic, plays the final game of a three-game road trip in Nashville Saturday.
It'll be interesting to see how quickly goalie Cristobal Huet can regain his confidence after being yanked by coach Joel Quenneville 3:25 into the third period after allowing six goals against Detroit. Either Nikolai Khabibulin or Huet had played every minute of the previous games except for one, when Khabibulin was forced out early at San Jose because of an injury on Nov. 26.
Chicago is second in the Central Division with 20 wins and 47 points and Nashville is fourth with 17 triumphs and 37 points. The Predators are 0-2 in the New Year and have lost four straight. The club finished 6-6-1 in December. Nashville's game with Chicago is the final of a five-game home stand and the first of a home-and-home set with their division foe.
"This past month was our month to make some headway since we played the teams that were a little lower in the standings or the middle of the standings," said Nashville goalie Dan Ellis. "Now we're playing the tough teams and this is where we'll need to bear down."
Dallas at Phoenix -- The Coyotes are 13-5-2 on home ice, 11-6-1 when scoring the first goal of the game and 14-0-1 when leading after two periods this season. They have lost in regulation just twice in their past 12 games and, since Dec. 10, are 7-2-3, gaining 17 of a possible 24 points in the standings.
The Stars, meanwhile, won for the fifth time in their last six home games following a 4-2 victory over the Devils on New Year's Eve and improved to 16-16-5 overall during an impressive 5-2-1 span since the middle of the month. Dallas is still last in the Pacific with 37 points, one point behind Los Angeles. The Stars are 12-3-1 when scoring the first goal of the game and goalie Marty Turco is 6-2-1 in his last nine starts.
All Star coaches announced -- The League will announce the coaches for the 57th NHL All Star Game at Bell Centre in Montreal on Sunday, Jan. 11.
NHL on NBC -- The NHL on NBC will return on Jan. 18 when the New York Rangers visit Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Air time -- Following a two-week break, the NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman and co-host Bill Clement will resume Thursday from 4-5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and Sirius Channel 208).
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