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Behind the glory: Stanley Cup stories of valor

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Behind the glory: Stanley Cup stories of valor

It happens every year. The Stanley Cup gets raised and the stories of uncommon valor follow. This NHL season ended no differently.

While Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks were celebrating the Hawks’ third championship in six years, stories of heroism and self-sacrifice were all around them.

Like the fact 40-year-old defenseman Kimmo Timonen was lying in a hospital bed in Finland this time last year with blood clots in his leg and lungs. I’ve had the pleasure of covering Timonen as a player and admit to having chills when Toews handed him the Cup and he let out a primal scream.

“It’s unbelievable,” Timonen told NBC’s Pierre McGuire. “I’ve been dreaming for this the last 17 years. This game gave me a lot, but I gave everything to this game. I’m happy, I’m ready and I’m leaving this game as a Stanley Cup champion.

Asked what he was thinking as the game clock melted to zero, Timonen said, “All the hours, all the battles, all the games I played. It’s just a great journey. It’s been a long one. With what happened last summer I’m happy to be here, first of all, and it’s been a long process, but I’m a Stanley Cup champion!”

And then there were the post-game admissions from Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who played through a torn right groin, and forward Tyler Johnson, who played with a fractured wrist.

Bishop was injured in Game 2, was forced to leave Game 3 and sat out Game 4 before returning for Games 5 and 6.

"It was one of those things where you don't want to put your team in a tough situation," Bishop said. "You want to play the game, no matter what. I barely got through Game 3 [a 3-2 win], and I didn't want to go out there [in Game 4] and then be gone for the rest of the series. I thought [backup Andrei Vasilevskiy] at 100 percent was a little bit of a better option."

Johnson, who was leading all playoff scorers with 21 points through the first three rounds, managed just two points in the Final.

MORE CAPITALS: WAS THIS OVI'S BEST SEASON YET?

The pass: There were dozens of spectacular plays throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs, but the passing combinations that led to Kane’s clinching goal with 5:14 remaining in the final period of Game 6 was a thing of beauty.

Brandon Saad started the rush and deftly dropped a pass to Brad Richards, taking one defenseman with him. Richards sold shot to Bishop, lifting his right leg as if to shoot before sliding a pass to Kane for an empty-netter that sent the crowd at UnitedCenter into delirium.

Next year’s odds: Less than 12 hours after the Blackhawks took turns kissing the Cup, the odds for next season were already released, with the Hawks 7/1 favorites to repeat and the Rangers 8/1 favorites to represent the East in the Final. The Caps ranked 12th among NHL teams with 18/1 odds.

Here’s the complete list. What’s yours?

Chicago Blackhawks                             7/1

New York Rangers                                 8/1

Anaheim Ducks                                     10/1

St. Louis Blues                                      12/1

TampaBay Lightning                             12/1

Los Angeles Kings                                14/1

Minnesota Wild                                     14/1

Montreal Canadiens                               14/1

Pittsburgh Penguins                              14/1

Boston Bruins                                       16/1

Nashville Predators                               16/1

Washington Capitals                              18/1

New York Islanders                                22/1

Winnipeg Jets                                       25/1

Columbus Blue Jackets                         33/1

Detroit Red Wings                                 33/1

Edmonton Oilers                                   33/1

Calgary Flames                                     40/1      

San Jose Sharks                                   40/1

Vancouver Canucks                               40/1

Ottawa Senators                                    50/1

Colorado Avalanche                              66/1

Dallas Stars                                         66/1

New Jersey Devils                                 66/1

Philadelphia Flyers                                66/1

Toronto Maple Leafs                             66/1

Florida Panthers                                    75/1

Buffalo Sabres                                      100/1

Carolina Hurricanes                                100/1

Arizona Coyotes                                    100/1

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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