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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Caps slide while Knights rise

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Caps slide while Knights rise

It's not impossible for the Washington Capitals to climb out of the 0-2 hole they dug themselves, but it's not looking good. 

After winning 12 of their last 15 regular-season games going into the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Caps squandered their home-ice advantage in their first two postseason games. They lost the leads and eventually the contests in overtime, twice, and are now headed to Columbus for Game 3 and Game 4.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

Despite the 0-2 deficit, Alex Ovechkin promised the Caps won't get swept and that the series will return to Washington all tied up, but that's obviously easier said than done. 

The Caps-Blue Jackets Game 3 is set for Tuesday, while Game 4 is Thursday. If the Caps are looking to turn around their luck in the playoffs, they need to start now before they truly risk getting swept. 

Around the Metropolitan Division, it looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins would cruise to victory against the Philadelphia Flyers after beating them easily, 7-0, in Game 1. However, the Flyers proved they're not going away quietly and stormed back to take Game 2, 5-1. But the Pens won by the same score in Game 3 — leaving Wednesday's Game 4 as a potentially huge turning point if Pittsburgh can lock up another road win.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

No. 1 in the Atlantic Division, it’s not surprising that the Tampa Bay Lightning have a 2-0 series lead over the New Jersey Devils. To their credit, the Devils held on for 5-2 and 5-3 losses on the road, but they’ll have a chance to tie it all up when they return for two home games. Game 3 of the series is Monday, and Game 4 is Wednesday.

As for the rest of the Atlantic, the Boston Bruins look poised to take the series — if not sweep it — against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dominating in the first two games, the Bruins won 5-1 and 7-3. David Pastrnak is on fire, scoring four goals with five assists in the first two games. Game 3 is Monday, while Game 4 is Thursday back in Toronto.

In the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators are doing everything they were expected to. They’re up 2-zip in the series over the Colorado Avalanche, and even though they’re headed to Denver for the next two games, the Preds are looking strong. One of the many reasons they’re staying at the top of our NHL power rankings.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

On the other side of the Central Division, the Minnesota Wild put up a solid 6-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets in Game 3, but we think there’s a pretty good chance the Jets hold onto their 2-1 series lead for the win.

In the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks are putting on a little bit of a show against the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks were slightly favored, but the Sharks have a 2-0 lead in the series and will play the next two games in San Jose — giving them a chance to sweep at home.

And last but most certainly not least are the Vegas Golden Knights against the Los Angeles Kings. The Knights have been showstoppers all season while defying typical expectations for an expansion team. But they’re fast and fun to watch, and they have a 3-zip lead over the Kings.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

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Tarik's 3 Stars: Bobrovsky denies Capitals even series with outstanding Game 2 performance

Tarik's 3 Stars: Bobrovsky denies Capitals even series with outstanding Game 2 performance

For the second straight game, the Caps took a two-goal lead on home ice vs. the Blue Jackets.

For the second straight game, the Caps committed a couple of unnecessary penalties, coughed up that lead and eventually fell in overtime. Philipp Grubauer, the starter for both Game 1 and Game 2, was pulled before the start of the third period. 

And now — following a dispiriting 5-4 defeat Sunday night — the three-time Metro Division champs find themselves down two-games-to-none, with the first round series shifting to Columbus for a pivotal Game 3 on Tuesday night.

Ugh.

RELATED: LINESMAN LEAVES GAME 2 EARLY WITH KNEE INJURY

Tarik's Three Stars of Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Game 2

1. Cam Atkinson, Blue Jackets

Atkinson scored on a breakaway late in the first period to trim Washington’s lead to 2-1.

Then the 5-foot-8, first line winger sniped one on the power play in the second period to even things 3-3.

2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets

Bobrovsky did exactly what Vezina Trophy winning goalies do: when his team needed him most, he was their best player.

The 29-year-old Russian stopped a total of 54 shots, including 20 of 21 in the third period as a desperate Caps team threw everything at him… including an Alex Ovechkin mini-breakaway.

Bob got that one, too.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

After the morning skate, the Caps’ captain acknowledged that he needed to be better than he was in Game 1. And boy was he ever.

Ovechkin scored from his office on the power play in the first period to stretch the Caps’ lead to 2-0.

He struck again on the power play early in the second period to put Washington up 3-1.

Alas, his pair of goals and 10 shots on net weren’t enough.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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Both Tom Wilson and Josh Anderson avoid suspensions for Game 1 hits

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USA TODAY Sports

Both Tom Wilson and Josh Anderson avoid suspensions for Game 1 hits

There will be no suspension for Tom Wilson or Josh Anderson for their questionable hits in Thursday’s Game 1, Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post reports.

Wilson was issued a charging penalty for his hit to Alex Wennberg in the third period.

Wennberg would leave the game as a result of the injury and did not return. Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told reporters via a conference call Friday that Wennberg is doubtful for Game 2 with an upper-body injury. He also stated he felt Wilson's hit was "a dangerous hit."

Columbus would score on the resulting power play to tie the game.

Wilson lamented the hit afterward saying, "I'm just trying to finish my check there. I'm obviously not trying to take a penalty. Potentially, that cost us the game. That's a critical moment. I've got to be better and maybe pass up on that hit. We've got the lead there so maybe a big hit's not needed."

Wilson was fortunate not to be suspended considering he is now a repeat offender in the eyes of the DoPS. He was suspended twice for incidents in the preseason, the second of which cost him the first four games of the regular season.

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan and Wilson both met with George Parros, the head of the DoPS, earlier in the season to review video and learn more of how the department evaluated hits and what was deemed to be suspension-worthy.

"We had a meeting me, (Wilson) and Parros and went over videos and just what they were looking at when he was being considered for suspensions and fines and other examples throughout the league," MacLellan told reporters prior to the playoffs. "So, he’s spent a lot of time educating himself on what they’re looking at and how they look at it and what’s the certain things they look for. So, I give him a lot of credit for how he’s evolved with that.”

That evolution remains a work in progress, however. The hit on Wennberg was a definite charge from Wilson, it was an unnecessary offensive-zone penalty and it allowed Columbus to tie the game at 2.

When injuries occur on hits, referees may raise the level of a penalty to a major, but the decision to give Wilson only a minor reflects that it did not appear to him that Wilson intended to hurt Wennberg on the play. With no suspension coming, the DoPS seemingly agreed with that assessment.

Also avoiding suspension is Blue Jackets forward Anderson who's first period board of Michal Kempny earned him a major and game misconduct penalty.

Kempny is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and will be reevaluated on Saturday, according to the team.

The decision not to give any supplementary discipline comes as no surprise given how much the league tends to weigh playoff games. The penalty occurred in the first period meaning Anderson missed the majority of Game 1. That likely played a factor in the DoPS's decision not to suspend him. A suspension of another game would essentially cost him two, which is a steep price to pay in the postseason.