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Special teams play big role in Capitals-Flyers playoff series

Special teams play big role in Capitals-Flyers playoff series

There's a perception that when the playoffs roll around in the NHL the referees put away their whistles and call fewer penalties. That was not the case in the first round matchup between the Capitals and Flyers as both teams had their fair share of power play opportunities.

Luckily for the Caps, both their power play and penalty kill was up to the task.

"The early couple of games were all special teams on both sides," Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said.

The Capitals' power play stole the show in the first three games of the series as the Caps went an incredible 8 for 17 with the extra man including a Game 3 blitz of five power play goals.

But while the power play went cold in the second half of the series—the Caps failed to score in their final 10 attempts—the penalty kill remained consistently strong.

"I give their penalty kill a lot of credit," Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. "Their PK is a pressure PK. They're very disciplined, they're very much in sync together and they did a good job."

In the decisive Game 6 on Sunday, it was the penalty kill and not the power play that proved key.

Locked in a scoreless tie in the second period, Nicklas Backstrom was incorrectly assessed a double-minor for high sticking Ryan White even though replay showed White was actually struck by the stick of his own teammate, Chris VandeVelde.

"I was pretty shocked because my stick was down there but it happens," Backstrom said. "I mean you just got to suck it up."

Just five seconds into the penalty kill, Matt Niskanen was booked for hooking. That gave the Flyers a full two-minute two-man advantage. For a Philadelphia team that had struggled to generate any offense in the series, they were handed a golden opportunity to give goalie Michal Neuvirth another lead to protect. Yet, in the ensuing power play, Braden Holtby turned aside three shots and Jay Beagle blocked another as the the Caps were able to successfully kill off all three penalties.

"Those are big parts of the game," T.J. Oshie said. "When you're at a big disadvantage and you have guys out there blocking shots, Holts making great saves, guys playing it exactly how we wanted to play it, when you kill those off it gives you almost more momentum than a goal would."

"If we don't get through that, this building probably explodes," Trotz said. "We were able to get through that and to me, once we got through that I felt that we were going to find a way to win the hockey game."

It was those moments that quietly colored the series.

Imagine how different things could have been if Philadelphia had been able to score on any of their three power play opportunities they had in the first period of Game 1. Before their late-game meltdown in Game 3, the Flyers had five power plays in what was their first game back in Philadelphia since the passing of owner Ed Snider. Any power play goal would have sparked a lot of momentum from an emotional Wells Fargo Center, but the Flyers failed to score on any of their opportunities.

In fact, the Flyers managed only one power play goal in the series out of 24 chances and it came in Game 4. The Flyers would go on to win that game. In the other five games in which they did not score a power play goal Philadelphia's record was 1-4.

"It was a big difference maker for us in the series," Trotz said. "Early our power play was as well as our penalty kill and then as the series went on our penalty kill ended up being a difference maker for sure."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The Americans played their way back into the only women's hockey game that matters: a showdown with Canada for the Olympic gold medal.

The Americans are back in the title game for a third straight Olympics after shutting out Finland 5-0 on Monday in the semifinals. They will face their arch-rival, which beat the "Olympic Athletes from Russia" 5-0 a few hours later, on Thursday. They Americans will be trying to win their first gold since 1998 when women's hockey made its debut in the Olympics.

And yes, the Americans understand the United States-Canada playing for gold is what everyone expects to see.


"Definitely the rivalry has been there since I think I was born, so everyone's looking forward to that," said 22-year-old Dani Cameranesi.

This will be the third opportunity at gold for six Americans: captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy and twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.

"It's honestly a dream come true," Knight said. "This is the world's biggest stage. This is the game that you want. This is the game we've been dreaming of and to have another opportunity to get back here, it's huge."

Olympic newcomer Cameranesi scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Americans over Finland. Marvin started the scoring, and Lamoureux-Davidson and Knight both scored during a 5-on-3 34 seconds apart in the second period. Maddie Rooney made 14 saves for the shutout.

Finland remains winless in eight games against the Americans at the Olympics. The Finns, ranked third in the world last year, will try to take home the bronze medal for the first time since 2010.

"We're got one thing on our mind, and that's to get a medal," said goaltender Noora Raty, who made 33 saves. "They're the best in the world (U.S. and Canada). We just need to get more girls involved so we have more to choose from."

The Americans opened these games a 2-1 loss to Canada wrapping up pool play.

"This was really a gold-medal preparation for us because they're a darn good team, and we had to be ready to play," U.S. coach Robb Stauber said of Finland.

The Americans wasted no time getting on the board. Captain Meghan Duggan found Marvin alone in the slot, and she beat Raty stick-side for the easy goal just 2:25 into the game.

Finland lost defenseman when she had to be helped off the ice and to the locker room after a knee-on-knee collision with Duggan. She was knocked off balance before crashing face-first into the boards, snapping her head back. When play resumed without a penalty, some fans booed. Savolainen returned in the second period.


Stauber said the referee immediately came over and said it was a collision. Duggan said she was really happy Savolainen got up and that any decision about a potential suspension was out of her control.

"There's been some other plays that haven't been put into question, and so I can't imagine that there would be any disciplinary action just based on other things that have been let go," Duggan said.

Cameranesi put the United States up 2-0 with 1:22 left in the period, taking the puck away from Susanna Tapani and skating into the left circle before beating Raty's blocker with a wrist shot top shelf.

Lamoureux-Davidson's slap shot from the left circle came with 2 seconds left on the 5-on-3 at 13:21 of the second period, and Knight got her first goal of this tournament by redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin with 5 seconds left on the man advantage for the 4-0 lead. Cameranesi padded the lead as she scored from the slot over Raty's glove off a pass from Hannah Brandt.

"We're super excited to be in this position again," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We worked four years to put ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal and we'll enjoy this for a little bit, but we know that this isn't what we came here for. We're ready to go to battle in a couple days."

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NHL Power Rankings: A rough week


NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

The Caps are coming off of one of, if not the worst week of their season. Washington has now lost three of four games and all three of those losses came in devastating fashion.

On Feb. 11, the Caps hosted a scuffling Detroit Red Wings team and saw the Wings build a 4-1 lead in the second period, a period in which the Caps were outshot 17-2. Washington battled back to tie the game, but ultimately lost in overtime. Tuesday in Winnipeg the Caps held a 3-1 lead in the third period, but allowed the Jets to mount a comeback and tie the game with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation before losing in overtime. Then, of course, there was Saturday's 7-1 blowout at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that had lost eight straight coming into that game.


To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins keep on winning and now hold a one-point lead over Washington. So yeah, things were not great.

The bad news is that, with the recent surges of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and even New Jersey, the Caps have to figure things out fast or they could continue to fall in the standings fairly quickly.

The good news is that they still remain in a relatively good position should they rebound. The Penguins do hold a one-point lead in the standings, but the Caps remain very much in the driver's seat of the division with three games in hand.

Four games separate Washington from the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The Caps will play in Buffalo, host Tampa Bay, play in Florida and host Buffalo. Winning three of those four games, especially if they can beat the dominant Lightning, will go a long way towards putting last week in the rearview mirror. Another tough week, however, could force the hand of general manager Brian MacLellan to make an unanticipated move at the trade deadline in order to keep a playoff season from falling apart.

After a week like that, it's no surprise to see Washington fall in this week's NHL Power Rankings. You can see the full rankings here.