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NHL Playoffs: Capitals overwhelm Penguins to force decisive Game 7

NHL Playoffs: Capitals overwhelm Penguins to force decisive Game 7

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Capitals are well aware of their franchise's inglorious past, one filled with unmet expectations and gut-wrenching collapses.

And they don't care. It's not 1992. It's not 1996, 2009 or 2016 for that matter.

The Capitals have spent the better part of the season insisting this time, things will be different. That they're not burdened by the weight of the team's history of playoff flameouts, one most of the guys in red, white and blue had nothing to do with.

Backed up to the precipice against a rival that's tormented them for decades, the Capitals finally punched back. Hard.

Andre Burakovsky scored twice, Nicklas Backstrom got his sixth of the playoffs and Washington beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Monday night to force a Game 7 in their seesaw Eastern Conference semifinal.

This is the fourth time the two teams will meet in a winner-take-all. The Penguins have won each of the previous three. Not that it bothers the Capitals.

"I haven't been here forever but, one, I've never been in a Game 7," said Washington forward T.J. Oshie, who opened the scoring with a first-period power-play goal . "Two, I've never been past the second round. I know how much it would mean to me and I imagine it would be the same to every guy in this locker room."

The Capitals are as close as they've been to their first appearance in the conference finals in 19 years after rallying from a 3-1 series deficit by sprinting by Pittsburgh in the third period at home in Game 5 and then delivering a masterful performance 48 hours later in a city that's often been a burial ground for once-promising seasons.

A year ago, Washington trailed Pittsburgh 3-1 in the second round, won Game 5 at home only to fall in overtime of Game 6. Intent on not repeating history yet again, the Capitals jumped on the defending Stanley Cup champions early and didn't relent until the things were well in hand and a once raucous arena was largely empty.

"Since Game 3 we've had a sense of calmness about what we're doing," Washington coach Barry Trotz said. "We're having fun now. The fun part has been the obstacle."

Jake Guentzel picked up his playoff-leading ninth goal and Evgeni Malkin added another 52 seconds later late in the third period to make the score look cosmetically better, but the Penguins were never in it. The Capitals controlled play throughout. Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 21 saves and received little help in front him.

"I think we were probably guilty of making a few mistakes early on and then probably chasing our mistakes after that," said Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby, who had an assist in 20 minutes but was largely a nonfactor in his second game back after missing Game 4 with a concussion.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan tinkered with his line combinations reuniting the "HBK" line (Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel) that played an instrumental part in the team's Cup run last spring. Sullivan also moved rookie Guentzel alongside Malkin and put Conor Sheary with Crosby.

None of it worked as Washington pushed the Penguins around. Crosby took a nasty spill in the first period when he was slammed into the end boards head-first while he tangled with Carlson. He remained in the game but found little room to work.

Then again, neither did any of his teammates as Washington dominated.

Pittsburgh's first shot in the opening 17 minutes was a 136-foot flip by Brian Dumoulin that made its way to Braden Holtby, who easily stopped it for the first of his 16 saves. By then the Capitals already had a 1-0 lead on Oshie's fourth of the playoffs.

It wasn't unlike most of the first four games of the series, when Washington would control play for long stretches only to have Pittsburgh expertly counter on its way to a 3-1 advantage.

This time, there would be no response by the Penguins.

Pittsburgh had trouble executing even the simplest of plays. Defenseman Ron Hainsey went to boards to retrieve a loose puck in the Penguins end only to get checked by Burakovsky, who skated away with the puck and stuffed a shot past Fleury 6:36 into the second .

Holding two-goal leads in the postseason has been a tenuous proposition at best, with 13 times teams letting them away so far in the postseason.

Yet instead of simply trying to protect its advantage, Washington kept pressing. Backstrom flipped a wrist shot by Fleury 16 seconds into the third to make it 3-0 and when John Carlson fired one past Fleury 11:17 into the third, the arena began emptying out.

It was a sweet moment for the Capitals, but they're aware an even more blissful one awaits if they can duplicate their performance on Wednesday.

"We're going to have to be better," Oshie said. "We're going to have to push them out. That's going to be a tough task but I think it's something we have the right guys and the right mentality right now to do that."

Notes 
Penguins D Trevor Daley did not play after getting hit by Washington's Tom Wilson in Game 5. Chad Ruhwedel filled in. ... Washington went 2 for 4 on the power play. The Penguins were 0 for 3.

Voracek vaporizes late deficit for rolling Flyers

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USA Today Images

Voracek vaporizes late deficit for rolling Flyers

BOX SCORE

Jake Voracek did it all Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens.

The NHL’s assist leader decided to let his goals do the talking as the Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in overtime at the Wells Fargo Center.

Voracek scored the game-tying goal with 1:25 remaining in regulation and then won it in overtime to extend the Flyers’ point streak to nine games.

Replacing the injured Wayne Simmonds on the top power-play unit, Nolan Patrick scored the Flyers’ first goal. Patrick now has seven points (four goals, three assists) over his last 11 games.

Alex Lyon stopped 25 of 27 shots earning back-to-back victories.

The Flyers also became the second team in NHL history to not allow their opponent a power-play opportunity in three straight games. 

• With Simmonds missing his first game since April 2015, it was interesting to see who would take his place on the Flyers’ power play. Once again, Dave Hakstol pushed the right buttons by utilizing the rookie Patrick. One of Patrick’s attributes are his incredibly soft hands, which he put on display as he redirected Claude Giroux’s pass. Patrick positioned his stick beautifully and ramped the puck top shelf that Carey Price had no chance at stopping. 

• The Canadiens scored the go-ahead goal with 11 minutes remaining in the third period. Paul Byron was left all alone in front of the goal mouth as the Flyers attempted to recover from a defensive breakdown with Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas out there with the Patrick line. To make matters worse, Lyon attempted unsuccessfully to poke-check the puck away, which took him completely out of position to make a save.

• As Lyon came off the bench, the Flyers promptly convertED with the extra man as Voracek scored the game-tying goal from the top of the right circle. Clearly Voracek, with a low shot, was attempting to create a rebound opportunity. However, replays showed the Canadiens got a stick on the puck, which was redirected past Price and through the five hole.

• After some sloppy and sluggish starts this season, the Flyers brought some jump and energy from the opening faceoff. They outshot the Devils 6-0 in last week’s game against New Jersey, and the Flyers dominated the first six minutes as they didn’t allow the Canadiens a shot on net.

• Making his NHL debut, Oskar Lindblom produced a solid opening period as he played just over four minutes at even strength. Lindblom complimented the Scott Laughton line well and most of their shifts were spent in the Canadiens’ side of the ice. He may not be considered a fast skater, but he has a quick burst that allows him to close on pucks. 

• After the first intermission Lindblom told Flyers radio, “I was a little nervous there in the beginning, but after a couple of shifts it felt like normal again. It’ a good time.”

• Unlike the previous game against Montreal on Feb. 8, Canadiens goalie Price looks much more confident in net. Price allowed five goals in the previous game, his positioning was awful and he was all over the place. Price looked supremely confident with his glove hand in the opening 20 minutes.

• I liked Lyon’s demeanor, structure and body language in the first period, and you can’t blame him for Jeff Petry’s deflected shot goal. So hard to tell what part of Petry deflected the puck, but it threw Lyon off the original shot angle. 

• The Canadiens led 1-0, which marked the first time in eight games the Flyers trailed after the opening period.

• Lyon built on his solid first period with a pair of saves on Canadiens sniper Max Pacioretty, including the second save he snagged up high with his glove hand.

• While the Flyers defensively aren’t as loose as they were in New York on Sunday, they’re still giving up too many quality scoring chances that the Canadiens were unable to convert.

• The Flyers had a golden opportunity to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission as Giroux and Voracek couldn’t stuff home a prime opportunity. Voracek passed up a chance to beat Price and elected to pass back to Giroux, who didn’t have much open net to look at. Simply one too many passes, but Voracek made up for it later.

Lines, pairings and scratches

Forward
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Jakub Voracek-Nolan Patrick-Jordan Weal
Oskar Lindblom-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl
Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Andrew MacDonald-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Alex Lyon
Petr Mrazek

How Flyers prepare for life without Simmonds, Neuvirth

How Flyers prepare for life without Simmonds, Neuvirth

One Czech is out, and another has checked in.

Petr Mrazek has endured a rather eventful past 24 hours. Following news of the trade to the Flyers, Mrazek didn’t go to bed until 2 a.m. and was awake at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Philadelphia that had him at the Wells Fargo Center in time for the Flyers' morning skate.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Mrazek said Tuesday. “I got a call at 9:30 from (Red Wings GM) Ken Holland and then Ron Hextall. Yeah, I’m excited. A couple of months ago I had a good conversation with Ken Holland about it and he said if he had a good opportunity to do it, he was going to try and move me. I was really happy.”

With Michal Neuvirth now expected to miss the next four to six weeks with a lower-body injury, and Brian Elliott scheduled to be out until late March recovering from core muscle surgery, Mrazek will now be the Flyers' go-to guy in net. 

“Petr’s a proven guy,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That goes without saying. We’ve said all along we have confidence in Alex (Lyon) and he’s starting tonight, but Hexy alluded to it, going out and getting an established veteran NHL goaltender and that’s what Petr is.”

Mrazek’s game has definitely reached another level since the calendar flipped to 2018. The 26-year-old netminder has a 5-3-2 record to go along with a 2.29 GAA and a .925 save percentage since Jan. 1. 

“I changed a couple of things during the summer,” Mrazek said. “I didn’t play much the first half of the season and it was tough for me to find my game playing once in two weeks or once in three weeks. It was tough but I worked hard during that stretch on the ice to try and improve my game, and I think over the past few months it was going in the right direction.”

Mrazek will also find comfort in a clubhouse with three Czech teammates: forward Jakub Voracek, defenseman Radko Gudas and Neuvirth. They’ve played together at the IIHF World Championships and the World Cup of Hockey.

“I won’t be surprised if we signed Jags after the Olympics,” Voracek said jokingly regarding Jaromir Jagr. “Obviously, something needs to be done regarding Neuvy and Elliott. Petr’s a great goalie and I think we’re having a great season this year. Obviously, he’s very competitive. As long as we find a way to win with him in the net, that’s all that matters.”  

“They’re different style goalies for sure,” Gudas said of the differences between Mrazek and Neuvirth. “He’s a great goaltender who challenges a lot. That’s a good thing for us to have someone who cares as much as he does. I think our goalies were doing a really good job of keeping our defense intact and keeping them honest, and I think Petr is going to do the same thing, especially our young D corps, and help them out.” 

In Bloom
Many expected Oskar Lindblom to make the Flyers out of training camp. Few expected the call-up to come during the heat of a playoff race. 

Regardless, the 21-year-old Swede will make his NHL debut Tuesday against the Canadiens and should see an extended look into March following an upper-body injury to Wayne Simmonds. The Flyers' power forward is expected to miss the next two to three weeks of action.

“I’ve grown as a person and as a player,” Lindblom said. “I just felt I had to go down there (Lehigh Valley) and just do my thing and get better every day.”

“It’s so valuable going into the American League and have the opportunity to gain that experience, especially for Oskar being his first year in the smaller NHL rink,” Hakstol said. “He’s grown as a player. I think his confidence has always been good.”

Certainly, confidence won’t be lacking as Lindblom was lighting it up with the Phantoms, scoring a goal in three straight games, along with another scoring streak that included five goals in a six-game span.  

“I don’t know why I’ve been that way this season,” Lindblom said. “But it’s good when it comes and I need to keep riding on that wave a little bit.”

“He’s got a great shot, great hockey sense,” Claude Giroux said. “He’s been playing some great hockey with the Phantoms, and he’s a great guy in the locker room, too, so I’m pretty excited to see him on the ice since I haven’t seen him in awhile.”

Lindblom will be on the Flyers' third line along with center Scott Laughton and winger Michael Raffl.

“He’s a smart player, a really heady player,” Laughton said. “I’m excited to play with him. I haven’t talked to him too much. I’m sure we’ll talk more before the game with what me and Raffl like to do and we’ll go out there and continue to push forward and look for him in the slot where he likes to score goals.”

Projected lines and pairings
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny

Jakub Voracek-Nolan Patrick-Jordan Weal

Oskar Lindblom-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Jori Lehtera-Valtteri Filppula-Dale Weise


Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere

Andrew MacDonald-Robert Hagg

Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas


Alex Lyon

Petr Mrazek