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NHL Playoffs: Capitals cut Penguins' series lead in OT after Sidney Crosby exits

NHL Playoffs: Capitals cut Penguins' series lead in OT after Sidney Crosby exits

PITTSBURGH -- A shot from the point by Washington's Kevin Shattenkirk salvaged -- or at the very least, extended -- his team's season.

A far different kind of shot may end up determining the outcome of a playoff series growing more contentious by the shift.

Shattenkirk's goal 3:13 into overtime lifted the Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins to cut Pittsburgh's lead to 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinal, one that could go on without Penguins star Sidney Crosby.

The Pittsburgh captain left just over 5 minutes into the game after getting cross-checked to the head by Washington's Matt Niskanen. The NHL's leading scorer and one of the game's best players did not return and his status for Wednesday's Game 4 -- and maybe the rest of the postseason -- is uncertain.

"Certainly didn't mean to injure him," said Niskanen, who spent four years with Crosby in Pittsburgh before signing with Washington in 2014. "It's an unfortunate play that happened really quick."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Crosby will be evaluated on Tuesday. Even without Crosby, Pittsburgh pushed Washington to the limit. Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz scored in a 48-second span with less than 2 minutes left in regulation to force overtime.

For once Washington, whose 43-year franchise history is littered with playoff collapse after playoff collapse, dominated the extra period before Shattenkirk's flip zipped by Marc-Andre Fleury's blocker to send his teammates pouring over the boards in celebration.

"Tonight was a great test for all of us," said Shattenkirk, who played miserably during a blowout loss in Game 2. "There were a lot of different moments in the game where we had to see what we were made of."

One frightening moment, however, will resonate above all others.

The game was scoreless early in the first period when Crosby skated just outside the Capitals' crease. Washington's Alex Ovechkin slashed Crosby along the upper body and Crosby slid awkwardly trying to maintain his balance when he collided with Niskanen, who had his stick raised.

The stick caught Crosby flush across the mouth and the two-time Hart Trophy winner laid on the ice in pain for several moments before slowly skating off under his own power as Pittsburgh trainers searched the area for Crosby's teeth.

Niskanen earned a major penalty for cross-checking and was given a game misconduct. Washington coach Barry Trotz called it "a hockey play." Niskanen allowed it looked "really bad" when he caught the replay, but stressed there was no malicious intent.

His former teammates weren't buying it.

"It's one of those things you look at it once, you see what actually happened and the next thing is watching how deliberate it was when the guy cross-checks him in the face," Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz said. "I thought all of that was kind of out of this league, but I guess not."

This wasn't the first time Crosby took an ugly shot to the head from a Capital. Crosby was in the middle of an MVP run on Jan., 1, 2011, when he took an elbow to the head from Washington's David Steckel during the Winter Classic, leading to a concussion that cost Crosby the better part of two years in his prime as he struggled to recover.

Their captain gone for the rest of the game and perhaps longer, the Penguins appeared momentarily dazed as they tried to regroup.

Washington took a 2-0 lead early in the third period behind goals by Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetzov, rare moments of flow during a static and occasionally ugly three periods that tried to make up in physicality what it lacked in pace of the frenetic opening two games in Washington.

"That's what you have to do in the playoffs," Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. "You have to play physical and grind it out. We're trying to make this a long series here and the physicality is key for us."

Braden Holtby, yanked after a sloppy second period in Game 2, remained steady during Pittsburgh's second-period surge and the Capitals appeared to be in control when the Penguins pulled Fleury with 3 minutes to go. Then Malkin scored with 1:53 remaining and Schultz tied it 48 seconds later when his blast from the point deflected off Oshie.

No matter. Washington dominated the extra period before Shattenkirk delivered his first goal of the playoffs.

"We came here to win two games," Shattenkirk said. "And next game is going to be even tougher."

Though maybe not as tough as it could be for Pittsburgh if Crosby's familiar No. 87 is out of the lineup.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

Flyers Weekly Observations: Secondary scoring behind Western Canada surge

A three-game win streak?!?!?! All through the daunting Western Canada road gauntlet?!?!?!

Here’s something we haven’t said in a while: what a week it was for the Flyers.

Ah, refreshing, isn’t it? I’m sure the guys in the locker room will tell you it is.

The Flyers’ kicked off the winning run with a 5-2 win Monday night vs. the Flames in Calgary to snap the dreadful 10-game losing skid. On Wednesday night, they skated past the Oilers in impressive fashion with a 4-2 victory in Edmonton. And capping things off the next night with by jumping out to a big lead in Vancouver and holding on to it for a 4-1 triumph.

Per usual, plenty of things to go through this week, but on the good side this time around.

So let’s get this party started, shall we?

• In their three victories this week, the offensively challenged Flyers scored 13 goals. They scored just 20 goals total throughout the prolonged misery of the 10-game losing streak. So what changed?

Like Frankenstein, the Flyers’ secondary scoring sat up and came to life. While Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek each still put up their points, they weren’t forced to do all of the heavy lifting this week. In Calgary, Scott Laughton scored for the first time in 22 games, Valtteri Filppula tallied for the first time in 18 games, Wayne Simmonds struck for just the second time in 19 games and Michael Raffl cashed in for just the third time all season. In Edmonton, Jordan Weal scored for the first time in 13 games and just the third time all year while Dale Weise beat a netminder for just the second time in 16 games. And in Vancouver, Shayne Gostisbehere scored for the third time in 20 games.

Now that … that is what the Flyers were drastically missing during the skid. If Giroux, Voracek and or Couturier weren’t scoring, it was basically game, set and match from the get-go and the Flyers would be fortunate to even get a single marker on the board. Heck, at one point a few weeks ago that trio had accounted for nearly 50 percent of the Flyers’ goals for the entire season.

Giroux, Voracek and Couturier will continue to get theirs. That’s just what they do. But when the others get theirs as well, you see it makes all the difference in the world.

• Have a good number of Dave Hakstol’s lineup decisions dating back to last season raised eyebrows and garnered legitimate questions? Yes, absolutely. But you have to give credit where credit is due as he made a bold decision and broke up the potent Giroux-Couturier-Voracek trio heading into the Calgary game Monday.

That was a gutsy decision to break up a line that was that lethal and one of the best in the league. I’m sure that decision raised a few more eyebrows across the Delaware Valley, but when you’re on a putrid skid and haven’t won a game in almost a month, you can try some crazy things.

This crazy thing worked as the Flyers’ goal-scoring pulse is alive again with those 13 goals in the last three games. Hakstol deserves a lot of credit for pushing the right button there.

• Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the recent line changes has been Raffl.

The 29-year-old Austrian started the season as part of an effective fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier. But as the Flyers started to flounder like a fish out of water, Raffl was juggled up and down the lineup with no set spot. That was until this week when Hakstol injected Raffl into the top six on the second line with Voracek and Filppula. It was one of Hakstol’s bold moves, considering Raffl hadn’t scored since January prior to his goal vs. the New York Islanders on Nov. 22, a span of 42 games (Raffl missed the final month and change last season with an injury).

And the confidence the coach put in the winger is paying off. Raffl looks like a new player out there. He’s using his speed and strength to his advantage, barreling down the ice and setting up shop in front of the net to wreak havoc and cash in. And that’s his game — he’s got a power game and is more than capable of putting the puck in the net. And he’s got noted chemistry with Voracek. Remember, the two were on the Flyers’ top line three seasons ago when Raffl potted a career-high 20 goals. Raffl could be quite the important piece moving forward if the Flyers are to dig out of this hole.

• I’d be remiss beyond comprehension if I didn’t show Brian Elliott some love here. He was pretty darn good for the Flyers over that 10-game losing skid when he went 0-3-5 with a 3.06 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. The best numbers in the world? No. But he made the saves he needed to make and gave the Flyers chances to win night in and night out, exactly what they needed. Elliott’s teammates in front of him just couldn’t pick him up.

But Elliott took his game to another level this week as he was stellar in the three games the Flyers took out in Western Canada. All told, he made 103 stops on 108 shots with a 1.67 goals-against average and .954 save percentage. His best showing of a sterling week came Monday vs. his old mates in Calgary when he stopped 43 of 45 shots faced. The Flames were pouring it on, especially in the second period when they fired 21 pucks on net. But Elliott stood firm and righted the Flyers’ ship with his play. He then stopped 24 of 26 Wednesday in Edmonton and 36 of 37 Thursday in Vancouver.

The guy has been the steadying veteran presence in net and in the locker room. He’s been invaluable to the team so far. He’s taken the reigns of the No. 1 job, and that was even before Michal Neuvirth’s most recent injury. The Flyers clearly have their No. 1 goalie. And Elliott has earned every ounce of that role.

• If you haven’t yet, check out my colleague Jordan Hall’s column from Saturday morning on Hakstol and how the Flyers’ current philosophy has put him in a tricky spot behind the bench.

The Flyers have been toeing this line between development and trying to win for a while now and it’s been a tug of war for Hakstol with his coaching decisions. While some are rightfully questioned, he is still in a tricky spot. It’s a deep dive into that position for Hakstol. Well worth any Flyers fan’s time.

Coming up this week: Tuesday vs. Toronto (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Thursday vs. Buffalo (7 p.m. on NBCSP), Saturday vs. Dallas (7 p.m. on NBCSP).

Best of NHL: Sergei Bobrovsky gets 23rd career shutout in Blue Jackets' win

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Best of NHL: Sergei Bobrovsky gets 23rd career shutout in Blue Jackets' win

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Josh Anderson scored 30 seconds into the game and Sergei Bobrovsky did the rest, recording his 23rd career shutout as the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Arizona Coyotes 1-0 on Saturday night.

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner had 35 saves and got his fourth shutout this season as Columbus won its second game in as many days and its 10th out of 13.

Antti Raanta started in goal for the Coyotes after missing seven games with an injury and was sharp in stopping 33 shots.

But Bobrovsky was better, and the Blue Jackets (19-10-1) created more quality looks overall.

Anderson got his team-leading 11th goal when he picked up a hard Artemi Panarin ricochet pass off the back wall, skated around the net and snapped a shot over Raanta's glove into the far corner. Pierre-Luc Dubois also got an assist.

Arizona (7-20-5) lost its third in a row and sixth out of its last seven (see full recap).

Bozak scores twice, Maple Leafs bury Pens early in win
PITTSBURGH -- Tyler Bozak scored two goals, and the Toronto Maple Leafs got off to a fast start in a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Conner Brown and James van Riemsdyk scored in the first 1:42 of the game, and Bozak also scored in the first period. Mitch Marner had three assists for the Maple Leafs, who've won five of their last seven.

Frederik Andersen stopped 33 shots for his 50th win with the Maple Leafs. Andersen has won 11 of his last 15 starts.

Evgeni Malkin scored his ninth goal on the power play and Riley Sheahan tallied his third for Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby scored his 13th with 2:48 to play, but the Penguins couldn't manage the equalizer. Crosby has at least one point in 10 of the last 12 games. Pittsburgh had won five of six before Saturday.

Tristan Jarry made 13 saves, but allowed three first-period goals before he was pulled for Casey DeSmith. DeSmith, making his second career appearance, stopped eight shots.

Brown got Toronto on the board early when he took a feed from Morgan Rielly in the slot and whipped a wrist shot behind Jarry (see full recap).

Blues score 4 times in 5-shot span, rout Red Wings
DETROIT -- Jaden Schwartz knocked home his own rebound and the St. Louis Blues scored four times on only five shots on the way to beating the Detroit Red Wings 6-1 Saturday.

Vladimir Sobotka, Scottie Upshall, Jay Bouwmeester, Brayden Schenn and Dmitrij Jaskin also had goals for the Blues in their third straight victory.

Frans Nielsen scored for Detroit, which has won just once in its last eight games.

Shortly after killing off a high-sticking penalty, the Blues opened the scoring at 11:50 of the first period. Schwartz took a pass from Alex Steen and drove a low shot that Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard stopped with his left pad. Schwartz put the rebound past Howard.

The Blues made it 2-0 at 4:07 of the second period when Sobotka's long wrist shot from just inside the Detroit blue line beat Howard high on the glove side. It was the Blues' first shot on goal since Schwartz opened the scoring.

St. Louis made it three goals on three consecutive shots when Upshall got loose on a breakaway after a turnover by defenseman Niklas Kronwall and slipped the puck between Howard's pads to make it 3-0 at 6:17 of the second period (see full recap).