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Three playoff rematches highlight busy NHL Thursday

by Dan Rosen
Twelve games make up the NHL schedule Thursday night, but three in particular caught our eye:

Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, New York Rangers at Washington, Chicago at Detroit all are rematches of playoff series from last season.

The Penguins and Capitals advanced out of the first round to meet in their historic second-round series, won by Pittsburgh in seven games. The Wings bested the Hawks in six games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, where they met the Penguins.

Since some of the components have changed, we decided to zoom in for a closer look at how these squads match up. What follows is a crib sheet you should keep by your side when you watch the games tonight:


Recent history -- The Penguins have owned this rivalry over the past two seasons, knocking the Flyers out of the playoffs each time. Pittsburgh also won the 2008-09 regular season series, 4-2. Sidney Crosby had 9 points in the six games.

2009 Playoff series -- The Penguins won the first two games at home and then split Games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia to take a 3-1 lead. The Flyers won at Mellon Arena, 3-0, to force a Game 6 back at Wachovia Center. The Penguins took Game 6, 5-3.

The Pronger Effect
-- Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren gave away a bucket full of assets to land premier defenseman Chris Pronger for weeks like this one. Pronger is in Philadelphia now to at least help neutralize stars like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Ovechkin scored twice, but the Flyers beat the Capitals, 6-5 in overtime, Tuesday night. Now Pronger gets his first taste of the Keystone State rivalry with the task of limiting Crosby and Malkin.

Erasing more demons -- The last time Flyers goalie Ray Emery was around the Penguins, he was a disgruntled spectator watching from the end of Ottawa's bench as Pittsburgh torched Martin Gerber for 14 goals over four games en route to a first-round sweep of the Senators in 2008. However, prior to this season, Emery's last NHL win came against the Penguins (4-3 in overtime, Feb. 23, 2008). He's 4-1-2 with a 2.66 GAA lifetime against Pittsburgh and would love nothing more than to put his stamp on this rivalry.

Big guns are back -- Crosby has 46 points in 26 career regular-season games against the Flyers, while Malkin has 31 points in 21 games. Marc-Andre Fleury is 15-6 with a 2.66 GAA in 23 career appearances against the Flyers in the regular season. Mike Richards has 22 points, including 18 assists, in 28 career regular-season games against the Penguins. Jeff Carter has 20 points in 27 games. Danny Briere has 24 points in 28 games.


Recent history -- Washington rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Rangers in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal last season. Washington also took seven out of eight possible points in the regular-season series. Alex Ovechkin had 5 points.

2009 Playoff series -- New York took a 2-0 lead back to the Garden and led 3-1 after splitting at home. However, the Caps won 4-0 at Verizon Center and then 5-3 back in New York to force Game 7. Sergei Fedorov scored the winner with 4:59 left to give the Caps a 2-1 victory. Ovechkin had 7 points in the series.

Brand new Blueshirts -- When the Caps last saw the Rangers, they were playing against Scott Gomez, Nik Antropov, Nikolai Zherdev, Markus Naslund, Paul Mara, Derek Morris, Lauri Korpikoski, Fredrik Sjostrom, Blair Betts and Colton Orr. They're all gone. Now the Caps have to deal with Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal, Ales Kotalik, Christopher Higgins, Enver Lisin, Brian Boyle, rookies Michael Del Zotto, Matt Gilroy and Artem Anisimov, as well as their former teammate, Donald Brashear.

Brash facts -- Rangers fans still are trying to warm to Brashear, who as a Capital last season knocked Betts out of the playoff series in Game 6 with a malicious blow to the head. Brashear returns to Verizon Center with his new teammates tonight and hopefully for their own good he doesn't have any scores to settle. Rangers fans probably hope he does.

Line 'em up
-- Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin: Best line in hockey? Hey, at least an argument can be made through the first week of the season. The three have combined for 26 points. They were the top three scorers in the League entering a light Wednesday night schedule. They'll face Henrik Lundqvist tonight, and the Swedish goalie is 8-3-2 lifetime against the Caps.


Recent history -- Since 2007-08, only three Western Conference teams claim winning regular-season records against the Blackhawks, but Detroit is not one of them. Chicago is 7-5-2 since 2007 against the Wings, but just 1-4 when it matters most (the playoffs). The Hawks won only two of the six meetings last season, losing twice in the shootout. Hawks goalie Cristobal Huet gave up 12 goals in three appearances against Detroit last season.

2009 Playoff series
-- Three games were decided in overtime, but Detroit needed only five games to advance. The Wings held serve at home with a pair of wins to take a 2-0 series lead back to Chicago. The Hawks won Game 3, but lost, 6-1, in Game 4. Detroit closed it out in Game 5 with 2-1 victory on Darren Helm's OT winner 3:58 into the extra session.

Missing No. 81 -- Marian Hossa caused a big stir over the summer when he signed a 12-year deal with the Hawks after playing out his one-year contract with the Wings. Hossa in Chicago may be exactly what the Hawks need to get past Detroit, but we won't find out anything tonight. Hossa is on the shelf after having offseason shoulder surgery, but he could be back for the next game between his new team and his old team, Dec. 20 in Chicago. Meanwhile, Tomas Kopecky should be in Chicago's lineup against his former team.

European vacation -- The jet-lag should be gone by now, but we'll find out. Both the Hawks and Wings touched down in North America sometime early Sunday morning after whirlwind, week-long trips to Europe. At least Chicago came back with some points. Detroit lost to St. Louis twice in regulation in Stockholm while Chicago lost to Florida in a shootout before winning the second game of the 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere-Helsinki, 4-0.

Dem's fightin' words -- Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times about facing his former team for the first time, Kopecky said, "It'll be fun, and more fun when we beat them." He later clarified his statement by saying, "I meant I would like to beat them. It's not that I guarantee anything." It's easy to find controversy in a quote even if there is no intent to create any, but Kopecky's comments add extra juice to a rivalry that probably didn't need any.

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