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Hockey loses a legend: Gordie Howe passes away at age 88

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Hockey loses a legend: Gordie Howe passes away at age 88

DETROIT (AP) -- Gordie Howe, the rough-and-tumble Canadian farm boy whose boundless blend of talent and toughness made him the NHL's quintessential star during a career that lasted into his 50s, died Friday. The man forever known as "Mr. Hockey" was 88.

Son Murray Howe confirmed the death Friday, texting to The Associated Press: "Mr Hockey left peacefully, beautifully, and w no regrets."

Howe shattered records, threw elbows and helped the Detroit Red Wings win four Stanley Cups, becoming an idol to Wayne Gretzky and countless other Canadians while also helping the sport attract American fans.

His final NHL season came at age 52 when Gretzky was a rookie -- a fitting symmetry since Howe was the league's most prolific scorer until the "Great One" broke his career marks for goals and points.

With finesse and a heavy dose of grit, the Hockey Hall of Famer set NHL marks with 801 goals and 1,850 points -- mostly with the Red Wings -- that held up until Gretzky came along. Howe was also so famously fierce that a "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" became synonymous with the combination of having a goal, an assist and a fight in one game.

Howe suffered a stroke in late October 2014 while at his daughter's home in Lubbock, Texas, losing some function on the right side of his body. He suffered another stroke a short time later and family members said chronic back pain, advanced stages of dementia and high blood pressure were taking a toll. The body Howe relied on as an athlete stayed relative strong, but memory loss became a problem that family members noticed before the death of their mother, Colleen, in 2009.

Howe was a giant of the game and no list of the NHL's greatest players has him anywhere but near the top alongside players like Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard, Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Bobby Hull and Gretzky. Like few others, Howe's impact on the game stretched over decades.

Besides the four Cups, the talented right winger won six Hart Trophies as NHL MVP and six Ross Trophies as the league's top scorer. Howe began playing for the Red Wings in 1946, leading them to seven straight first-place finishes in the regular season. He was a part of what was known as "The Production Line" with fellow future Hall of Famers Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel during his 25-year run with the franchise.

"When Gordie came into the NHL, hockey was a Canadian game. He converted it into a North American game," former NHL President Clarence Campbell said when Howe retired the first time in 1971 because he was playing with arthritis in his left wrist and for a last-place team.

Howe's wife orchestrated a plan to get "Mr. Hockey" back on the ice two years later. She helped him live his dream of playing professional hockey with his sons, Mark and Marty, in the World Hockey Association. And at the age of 45, Howe still had it. He scored 31 goals and had 69 assists, was named MVP of the NHL's rival league and led the Aeros to the 1973 WHA title -- a run that was the focus of a movie: "Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story."

Howe had 41 points for the Hartford Whalers during the 1979-80 season in what was his 26th and final year in the NHL.

When Howe finally retired for good from the NHL, he was 52. And with a single shift with the Detroit Vipers in the International Hockey League in 1997, he played professionally in a sixth decade at the age of 69.

He referred to his play as "poetry in slow motion" late in his career, a far cry from his score-and-smash style in his 20s, 30s and early 40s.

Of course, Howe's prowess in scoring was matched by his skill with the rough stuff. Unlike anyone in quite the same way, Howe handled his business with his elbows and fists almost as often as he did with wrist and slap shots. He ranked among the NHL leaders in penalties minutes three times, spending 100-plus minutes in the penalty box during those seasons. When he resumed playing as a parent with sons on the same sheet of ice, opponents often found out not to mess with his boys.

"If I can skate, I'll get even," Howe once said.

Howe needed more than 400 stitches to close cuts, lost several teeth, broke ribs and nose. He had a serious head injury in 1950 that led to emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. Despite the blood and broken bones, he didn't miss many games during his NHL-record, 1,767-game career and played in all 80 during his final season that ended after his 52nd birthday.

"You've got to love what you're doing," Howe once said. "If you love it, you can overcome any handicap or the soreness or all the aches and pains, and continue to play for a long, long time."

Mark Howe said his father was "the toughest, meanest guy I've ever seen on a pair of skates," and that's why he was able to play for decades.

"No one in their right mind ever wanted to tangle with him," Lindsay has said. "Gordie had a lethal pair of elbows, was strong as a moose and knew every angle."

Gordon Howe was born March 31, 1928, in tiny Floral, Saskatchewan, and raised in nearby on the Canadian prairie in Saskatoon. His father was a laborer and Howe pitched in early, growing strong with the work.

"He was born in a barn and the house he grew up in was no bigger than a garage," Mark Howe said. "They had nothing, like many people during the Depression. Someone was going door to door, selling bags of stuff for $1 and in one of those bags, dad got his first pair of skates."

Howe left as a teenager to pursue a career in hockey. Howe made his NHL debut for the Red Wings at the age of 18. In Howe's second season, he was an All-Star for the first of a record 23 times.

"Finally, I saved enough to buy my mom and dad a brand new home -- with running water," he once recalled. "I think that's the biggest thing I ever achieved. That's what I wanted, and I saved my money to buy it."

Howe was 6 feet tall and weighed 205 pounds during his career, making him bigger than post of his peers. His ability to skate, shoot and pass made him a threat to make plays every time he had the puck. No one, according to Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, was quite on par with Howe's style of play that led to a lot of points and punches.

"He could fight, intimidate, play offensively," Bowman recalled.

Howe surpassed Richard's NHL record of 544 goals in 1963 and after the turn of the century, the humorous Howe would walk around Joe Louis Arena in Detroit carrying around a teacup poodle named Rocket. Howe ranked among the top five in scoring for 20 straight seasons.

Gretzky would later break his records for goals, points, MVP trophies and scoring titles while wearing No. 99 in a tribute to Howe, who wore No. 9 during a lower-scoring era of the game. He finished his career in 1999 with 894 goals.

"I thought I had something they would never touch," Howe said. "But I knew when they started scoring 80 goals in a season I was in trouble."

Mark Messier reached 1,887 points in 2004 during his 25th NHL season and pushed Howe from second to third in the record books.

"I haven't celebrated coming in second too many times in my life," Messier said back then. "But I'll tell you, because of what Gordie has done, for us mere mortals who have played this game, being No. 2 is not so bad."

Howe, without a doubt, was most proud of his family. He raved about Colleen, whom he married in 1953. They became personal and professional partners as the woman known as "Mrs. Hockey" championed the game for children and later became her husband's agent. She died in March 2009 at age 76 after battling Pick's disease, a rare form of dementia similar to Alzheimer's. Their children, Murray, Mark, Marty and Cathy, each took turns having him sleep at their houses for weeks or months at a time after their mother died.

Playing with his sons, though, was what Howe said he was most proud of from his career. "The fact that I had an opportunity to skate five years with them," Howe told The AP in 2011, "I think that's every father's dream."

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Lightning

After a rough start, the Caps battled back to make a game of it against Tampa Bay, but ultimately fell 4-2 to the Lightning. Here's why.

The first period

To put it simply, this game was lost in the opening period. Washington was the better team for the second and third but they could not overcome the 3-0 lead they spotted the Lightning in the first. Beyond the goals, the Caps just did not play well. Even the simplest of plays looked difficult as Washington struggled to get the puck out of their own zone, gave up numerous turnovers and scoring chances and just looked overmatched. Braden Holtby also looked shaky allowing three goals on just eight shots. Usually he is able to cover up some of the mistakes the defense makes it front of him, but he was not there to bail the team out on Tuesday in what was a really rocky start.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Taking a penalty 34 seconds into the game

Entering Tuesday’s game, Tampa Bay boasted the second best power play unit in the league. Playing a disciplined game is part of every game plan, but that is especially true against such a dominant unit. Giving up a penalty just 34 seconds into the game was not an ideal start. The call itself was debatable. Brett Connolly was called for interference when he knocked over Dan Girardi in the offensive zone. The puck was just behind Girardi as he had lost control of it in his skates. The sticking point here is that Girardi no longer had possession and Connolly could have played the puck instead of the player. Most referees would probably let that go with the puck so close, but Connolly was not so lucky. Whether it was a good call or not, the Caps found themselves down a man and down a goal soon after as Brayden Point scored the power play tally.

A missed opportunity from Kuznetsov on one end, a goal for Nikita Kucherov on the other

Even after spotting the Lightning a 3-0 lead, the Caps made a game of it. Lars Eller struck on the power play in the second period and Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington to within one with about nine minutes left to play. Just over a minute later, Evgeny Kuznetsov stole the puck away from Nikita Kucherov, the frontrunner for league MVP this season, at the Tampa blue line giving the Caps a short 2-on-1. Defenseman Andrej Sustr was textbook on the play forcing Kuznetsov as far wide as he could go while still covering the passing lane and Kuznetsov elected to shoot from the faceoff dot rather than attempt the pass to T.J. Oshie.Andrei Vasilevskiy made a routine blocker save to deny what looked like a great opportunity to tie the game. As always happens in hockey, a failed opportunity on one end led to an opportunity in the other direction. Less than a minute later, Kucherov made up for his mistake by scoring a breakaway goal to put the game out of reach at 4-2.

MORE CAPITALS: KEMPNY EXCITED TO MOVE FROM LAST PLACE CHICAGO TO FIRST PLACE WASHINGTON

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3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

3 stars of the game: Lightning strike 3 times in the first to burn Caps

The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's game did not go well for Washington. The Tampa Bay Lightning scored three times in the opening frame and rode that lead all the way to the 4-2 win.

With the game heading towards a repeat of their blowout loss to Chicago, the Capitals rebounded in the second period to make a game of it as Lars Eller scored on a power play. Alex Ovechkin pulled Washington within one in the third period, but Nikita Kucherov slammed the door shut with a breakaway goal to extend the lead back to 2.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Brayden Point: Tampa Bay won this game in the first period when they took a 3-0 lead. Point scored two of those three goals. His first came only 2:30 into the game. He retreated to the blue line on the power play believing Jay Beagle would clear the puck. When Beagle turned the puck over, he recognized it and immediately crashed the net, taking a Ryan Callahan pass in the slot and shooting it through the five-hole of Braden Holtby.

On his second goal, Anton Stralman saw an opportunity on the Caps’ line change and passed the puck up to Point at the blue line. Point turned on the jets to get behind the defense and went five-hole again on Holtby to make the score 3-0.

2. Alex Ovechkin: After the first period, Washington slowly took this game over for much of the remaining 40 minutes. Ovechkin was a big part of that as he totaled an incredible 19 shot attempts for the game. Nine of those shots were on goal and he found the back of the net in the third period for career goal No. 594.

3. Tom Wilson: Through the first period, the Caps looked well on their way to a repeat of the 7-1 debacle they suffered Saturday in Chicago. They had nothing going in this game until Wilson drew a trip from Vladislav Namestnikov in the second period. Eller would score on the resulting power play giving Washington some much-needed life.

The Namestnikov penalty was the 29th drawn penalty of the season for Wilson, which moves him into a tie with Matthew Tkachuk for the most drawn penalties in the NHL.