NHL What to Watch: Pastrnak, Bruins face off against Panarin, Rangers

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Matchup of the week: Pasta vs. Bread

Boston Bruins at New York Rangers
Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS
Friday, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS, MSG+, NESN, NHL.TV

Boston. New York. The cities go way back as rivals in sports, including the NHL. The Bruins and Rangers were in the American Division from 1926-38, went head to head when the League had no divisions from 1938-67, and were in the East Division from 1967-74.

But that was the last time the Bruins and Rangers were division rivals — until now. The NHL has realigned temporarily because of restrictions at the Canada-United States border and the need to reduce travel amid the coronavirus pandemic, giving us the first Boston-New York matchup of this kind in 47 years with the teams playing in the MassMutual East Division.

The “Wednesday Night Hockey” game on NBCSN this week happens to be the 700th game between the Bruins and Rangers, including the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the first of eight this season. The Friday game is the lone game in the NHL that night.

Fans can carbo load with Bruins forward David “Pasta” Pastrnak against Rangers forward Artemi “Breadman” Panarin

Last season, Panarin finished third and Pastrnak fourth in the voting for the Hart Trophy, which goes to the NHL’s most valuable player, behind Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl and Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon.

This season, Panarin leads the Rangers with 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in 10 games. Pastrnak has scored eight points (five goals, three assists) in four games.

Opening night rematch

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens
Wednesday at Montreal, 7:30 p.m. ET; SN, RDS, NHL.TV
Saturday at Toronto, 7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN, CITY, TVAS, NHL. TV

The Canadiens and Maple Leafs entertained us on opening night with a seesaw game that ended with 1:36 left in overtime, when defenseman Morgan Rielly scored to give Toronto a 5-4 win in Toronto 34 seconds after goalie Frederik Anderson stopped a one-timer by forward Tyler Toffoli.

“It was a good game to play in, to watch,” Rielly said afterward.

The Original Six rivals have been fun to watch since as they’ve battled for first place in the Scotia North Division.

Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews leads in the NHL with 10 goals. Toffoli is right behind with nine, tied with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid and Vancouver Canucks forward Brock Boeser. Canadiens forward Josh Anderson is next with eight.

Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner is third in the NHL in scoring with 20 points (six goals, 14 assists), behind McDavid, who has 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists), and Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, who has 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists).

Video: What to Watch: North Division

Stat of the week

750 — The number of regular-season games between the Canadiens and Maple Leafs, including this one. The most regular-season games the Canadiens have played against an opponent? Seven hundred fifty, against the Bruins. Montreal leads its all-time series with Toronto with 359 wins, 289 losses, 88 ties and 12 overtime losses.

Battle of Florida’s time in the sun

Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET; FS-F, SUN, NHL.TV
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, FS-F, SUN, NHL.TV

The Lightning entered the NHL in 1992, the Panthers in 1993. We’ve been waiting for a real rivalry to develop ever since. In 26 seasons, they’ve made the postseason together only three times, in 1996, 2016 and 2020, and have never played each other in a series.

We got a glimmer of what this could be in 2015-16, when the Panthers won the Atlantic Division and the Lightning finished second. The Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions and in first place in the Discover Central Division, one point ahead of the Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks.

This is the first of three games in a row between the teams, who will play eight times this season. It’s up to the Panthers to prove they belong in the class of the defending Cup champions and make the Battle of Florida a thing.

Sid vs. Ovi

Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS

The Capitals and Penguins played each other twice in Pittsburgh in the season’s first week, and they did not disappoint. The Penguins won 4-3 in a shootout Jan. 17, despite a goal and an assist by Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, and 5-4 in overtime Jan. 19, despite an assist from Ovechkin.

Who scored the OT winner in the second game?

Penguins center Sidney Crosby.

In the 54 regular-season games between them, Crosby has scored 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists). Ovechkin has scored 54 points (31 goals, 23 assists).

Lake Tahoe preview

Colorado Avalanche at Vegas Golden Knights
Sunday, 7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS

The NHL created a unique dynamic this season by putting the Avalanche and Golden Knights together in the Honda West Division and a unique event by pitting them against each other in the Bridgestone NHL Outdoors Saturday on the shores of Lake Tahoe on Feb. 20 (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, SN1, TVAS).

Each team has dealt with COVID-19 issues this season. Vegas had three games postponed before returning to play with a 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings at T-Mobile Arena on Friday. Colorado has had five games postponed through Thursday.

But if the schedule holds, this game will be first between the Stanley Cup contenders this season, the first of two leading up to the game at Lake Tahoe, the first of four in a row and the first of eight this season.

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