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Stanley Cup Final down to a best-of-three thriller

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Stanley Cup Final down to a best-of-three thriller

News, notes and quotes as the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning return to Tampa with the Stanley Cup Final knotted at two wins apiece following the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Lightning Wednesday night in Chicago. Game 5 will be played at Amalie Arena on Saturday [8 p.m., NBC]:

Happy Saad: Chicago forward Brandon Saad netted the game-winning goal at 6:22 of the third period, giving the 22-year-old Pittsburgh native his second third-period goal in as many games. Saad also scored the  go-ahead goal in Game 3 and now has eight goals in the playoffs. Saad's two goals in the 2015
Stanley Cup Final are tied with teammate Teuvo Teravainen and Tampa Bay's
Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette for the most on both rosters.

Hold your breath: Is anything better than the final minute of a one-goal hockey game? The Lightning peppered Corey Crawford with several scoring chances, including a pair from in close by Steve Stamkos, leaving NBCSN play-by-play voice Mike Emrick breathless.
All four games in the Stanley Cup Final have been decided by one goal for
the first time since 1968, when the Canadiens swept the Blues, and for just
the third time in NHL history (1951, all five games).
Overall, nine of the past 11 games between the Lightning and Blackhawks
have been decided by one goal dating to March 9, 2011. The Lightning are 8-2-1; the Hawks 3-4-4.

When it matters most: Under coach Joel Quenneville the Blackhawks are 30-30 in Games 1 through 3 of the playoffs and 41-14 in Games 4 through 7. (7-2 this year).

Nail biters: All four games of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final have been tied or within one goal entering the final five minutes of regulation, as have more than half
of all games this postseason (54 of 87, 62.1 percent).

Best of 3: This is the fifth time in seven years the Stanley Cup Final is knotted at 2-2 after four games. The others:

2009 (Detroit, Pittsburgh tied 2-2)
2010 (Chicago, Philadelphia tied 2-2)
2011 (Boston, Vancouver tied 2-2)
2013 (Boston, Chicago tied 2-2)

United they stand: The Blackhawks improved their NHL-best home record in the 2015 playoffs to 8-2. They have outscored opponents 34-23 at United Center, with
their two losses coming in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final [2-1 vs. Anaheim] and Game 3 of the Final [3-2 vs. Tampa].

Nice company: Chicago forward Patrick Kane earned an assist on Brandon Saad's game-winning goal in the third period to move into fourth place on the Blackhawks' all-time playoff points list.

1. Stan Mikita (59-91—150)
2. Denis Savard (61-84—145)
3. Bobby Hull (62-67—129)
4. Patrick Kane (47-65—112)
5. Steve Larmer (45-66—111)

And then there’s Marian: Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa notched an assist on Jonathan Toews' game-opening goal in the second period, raising his career playoff totals to 49-95—144 (192 GP). Hossa climbed into a tie for 26th place on the NHL’s
all-time playoff assists list with Chris Pronger (95) and tied Chris Chelios (31-113—144) and Larry Robinson (28-116—144) for 31st place on the NHL’s  all-time playoff points list.

Mr. Captain: Hawks captain Jonathan Toews tallied his 10th goal of the playoffs when he opening the scoring at 6:40 of the second period. He’s now tied
Patrick Kane for the team goal-scoring lead and set a personal high for one
playoff year, surpassing the nine goals he scored in 2014.

Nice replacement: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy (17 saves) became the sixth goaltender in NHL history to make his first career playoff start in the Stanley Cup Final. At 20 years old, he’s also the youngest goalie to start a game in the Stanley Cup Final since Patrick Roy in 1986.
The three goaltenders younger than Vasilevskiy (20 yrs., 10 mos.) were Detroit's
Harry Lumley (18 yrs., 4 mos.) in 1945, Minnesota's Don Beaupre (20 yrs., 4
mos.) in 1981 and Roy (20 yrs., 7 mos.) in 1986.

Tampa starter Ben Bishop is questionable for Game 5 in Tampa but coach Jon Cooper said he will return to play in the Final. He’s just not sure which game. Game 6 is slated for Monday night in Chicago and Game 7, if necessary, will take place Wednesday night in Tampa.

The other Alex: Lightning forward Alex Killorn scored Tampa Bay's lone goal, tying the score 1-1 at 11:47 of the second period with his ninth goal of the Stanley
Cup Playoffs. Killorn, who notched 15 goals in 71 games during the regular
season, also scored Tampa Bay's lone goal in their 2-1 loss to Chicago in
Game 1 of the Final as well as the first and eventual game-winning goal in
Tampa Bay's 2-0 win over the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern
Conference Final.
Killorn has recorded 7-7--14 in his past 16 games dating to Game 2 of the
second round series against Montreal on May 3. He ranks third on the
Lightning in playoff goals (9) and points (18, tied) in 24 games.

Did you know?:

- After allowing 19 shots on goal in the first period of Game 3 -- the most
they have allowed in a single period during the playoffs
-- the Lightning allowed just two shots in the opening period of Game 4 --
the fewest the club has given up in this year's postseason. Their previous
low was the three shots given up to Detroit in the first period of Game 1
of their first round series.

- The Blackhawks scored first for the first time in the 2015 Stanley Cup
Final and improved to 10-1 when scoring the opening goal this postseason.

- Tampa Bay did not lead any point in the game for the first time in the
2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning have led for 38.5 percent of total playing
time in the Final, the teams have been tied for 51.1 percent, and the
Blackhawks have led for 10.4 percent. The clubs have been tied or separated by one
goal for the entire series.

MORE CAPITALS: For Blackhawks' Timonen, one last chance to win it all

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

We all know that Alex Ovechkin is a world-class goal scorer. He is the best goal scorer of his generation and perhaps the best of all time.

He tallied another two goals Monday in the Capitals' 6-3 victory Game 6 over the Blue Jackets, but that’s not what really impressed head coach Barry Trotz.

While Ovechkin's career is full of highlight reel goals, it was the ugly plays that really caught Trotz's eye on Monday.

"[Ovechkin's] evolved in areas of his game," Trotz said after the game.

"He’s not just at that dot. He’ll go to the front of the net, he’s not scared to do that. It’s just adding layers to his game."

Ovechkin's first goal of the game was not pretty. It won't make any Top 10 lists, it won't be shown throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an ugly rebound goal...and it was beautiful.

Just four minutes after Nick Foligno tied the game, Ovechkin put the Caps back ahead with a rebound goal. He parked himself in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and was in perfect position when Bobrovsky made a kick out save to backhand the rebound into the empty net.

Those are the type of plays we did not always see from "The Great 8." But his performance on Monday did not stop there.

As Washington attempted to shut the door on the game and the series, Ovechkin did what veteran leaders do, laying out to block a Ryan Murray shot with less than three minutes to go.

"I’m probably as proud of him right at the end of the game blocking shots and doing that type of thing," Trotz said. "That’s full commitment. When that was necessary, that’s where you get your street cred with your teammates. You’ve got to block a shot when it’s necessary and get a puck out when it’s necessary. I’d probably give him more props on that than even scoring goals because that’s what you really expect of him."

Few expected a 32-year-old Ovechkin to rebound from a 33-goal season, but he did just that with 49 goals in 2017-18 to win his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the league-leader.

The reason why was on full display on Monday. His game has evolved, as cliche as it sounds.

Instead of relying just on the quick rushes, pretty one-timers and incredible dekes, Ovechkin has committed more to getting to the contested areas. He's altered his game. He is scoring the type of ugly, dirty goals the Capitals desperately need in the playoffs.

That commitment on offense seemed to translate to the defense as well on Monday night, putting his body is a dangerous position laying out for blocked shots.

"Those are the necessary things, those necessary details that allow you to win," Trotz said. "If you don’t have them, then you’re not going to win."

MORE CAPITALS: Pens again: Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year