SPORTS

NHL playoffs: 4 things to know for tonight

04/16/2015 12:32 EDT | Updated 06/29/2015 04:59 EDT
Canada could lose zero, one or two teams from the Stanley Cup playoff tournament Wednesday as Ottawa and Winnipeg fight to stay alive in Round 1. Elsewhere, Minnesota and the New York Rangers try to put St. Louis and Pittsburgh on the brink of elimination.

Here's what you need to know for tonight's NHL playoff games:

On the brink

A pair of Canadian teams, Ottawa and Winnipeg, face elimination on home ice in Game 4 of their first-round series against Montreal and Anaheim, respectively. Only four clubs in NHL playoff history have come back from 3-0 series deficits to win.

For Senators fans believing their team will reel off four straight wins, consider this: Canadiens goalie Carey Price (see below) has not lost four in a row since last season — Jan. 18-25, 2014, to be exact. 

Ottawa is sticking with Craig Anderson in goal for Game 4 (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET). Rookie Andrew Hammond dropped the first two games in the series after a 20-1-2 finish to the regular season, while Anderson, despite a 47-save effort in Sunday's 2-1 overtime loss, hasn't won a game since March 9. But to the Sens' credit, they have lost twice in OT and all three games by one goal. They are 12-11 in Game 4s but 2-13 when facing elimination.

Zack Smith replaces centre David Legwand, who will be a healthy scratch, while Montreal defenceman Nathan Beaulieu is out for the series with an upper-body injury. Rookie Greg Pateryn will draw in to make his NHL playoff debut. The Canadiens, who have scored six of their nine goals in the series in the second period, are attempting to begin the Stanley Cup playoffs with a series sweep in back-to-back years for the first time since 1987.

Paging Dustin Byfuglien

Winnipeg needs "Big Buff" in a big way with its season on the line. The Jets can't afford to have defenceman Dustin Byfuglien caught out of position like he's been for much of their first-round series against Anaheim. They certainly can't have him on the ice for three goals against as he was Monday when the Ducks eked out a come-from-behind 5-4 overtime victory. Offensively, Byfuglien has no points and 11 shots in Games 1-3, a far cry from the 2010 post-season when he scored 11 goals, including five game winners, and 16 points to help Chicago to a Stanley Cup title.

The odds are against Winnipeg, which won four or more games in a row just twice in the regular season and can't stop an Anaheim outfit that has been lethal in the third period but has led only 6.1 per cent of the time in the series.

Malkin stuck in neutral

Which will come first Wednesday: Pittsburgh opening the scoring against the New York Rangers or Penguins centre Evgeni Malkin registering his first point of the series? Fans in the Steel City are hoping for both with their team trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final. Malkin, who is believed to be hampered by a back injury, hasn't scored in 13 straight regular-season and playoff games and has four shots in this series, including zero in a 2-1 Game 3 loss. His teammates believe Malkin is poised for a breakout game.

The Rangers' shutdown defence duo of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh might have something to say about that. Girardi tops the team with 15 blocked shots, while McDonagh has eight hits in the series while averaging a team-high 25 minutes 35 seconds of ice time.

Desperate times

In the end, the old adage that speed kills might end up costing St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong their jobs. For now, the Blues have yet to find an answer for Minnesota's speed, with Hitchcock said to be devising a plan to try and slow the Wild through the neutral zone in Game 4. There's also the challenge of stopping Minnesota's Zach Parise-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville line that combined for six points in a 3-0 Game 3 win. By comparison, Blues forwards David Backes, Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie don't have points in the series.

The Wild's 6-1 home record the past two playoffs doesn't sit well with St. Louis fans, along with the Blues' 3-17 post-season mark on the road since 2003.

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