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We hate the Rangers, but can you bet against them?


We hate the Rangers, but can you bet against them?

Say what you want about Braden Holtby and Ben Bishop. Is there a goaltender you’d rather have for a Game 7 than Henrik Lundqvist?

Not if you’re the New York Rangers, who are in the same exact same place they were 16 days ago when they staved off elimination against the Capitals in Game 6 to force a seventh and deciding game at Madison Square Garden.

We all know how that ended. After allowing an early goal to Alex Ovechkin, Lundqvist erected a Swedish wall in front of his net until Derek Stepan won it for the Rangers in overtime.

So how can you expect anything different tonight when the Rangers and Lightning face off to determine who will represent the Eastern Conference in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final?

The Rangers are 7-0 all-time in Game 7s at the Garden. Lundqvist is 6-1 with an 0.84 goals-against average in seven career Game 7 appearances, including six straight wins, three of them coming against the Caps. He is also 15-3 in 18 elimination games, including a 10-0 record at home.

Unlike their previous series against the Caps, in which each game was decided by one goal, the Rangers and Lightning have had three blowouts in their first six games, with the Rangers winning Games 4 and 6 by four goals, and the Bolts winning by four goals in Game 2.

Each team has also won twice in the other’s building.

So what will tonight’s game bring?

“I have no idea how tonight's game is going to go,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I don't know. I'll be shocked if we're going to see 7-3, 6-5. Just my feeling is when you get down to these late games where everything's on the line, I think the game sometimes stops being played -- I don't want to say -- obviously, both teams are trying to win the game, but both teams seem to play not to screw something up and they wait for the other team to make the mistake.”

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he’s treating tonight’s game like he would any other, saying it is “just one of many games.”

“I can see how from the outside people could interpret it [as something more] because there is a lot of hype, and it is a do-or-die situation,” Vigneault said. “ But I think as an athlete and a coach, you've got to focus on staying in the moment, and you've got to concentrate on the things that you need to do to have success on the ice, and you can't be disrupted by the noise that's going on the outside.  You've just got to stay within your group, stay within your mind, and go out there and execute.” 

Cooper, who saw his team beat the Red Wings in seven games to advance to the second round of the playoffs, painted a completely different picture when asked about the magnitude of tonight’s game.

“I don't think it's just another game,” Cooper said. “This is Game 7. You win this game and you're going to go play for the Stanley Cup, so I'm not going to sit here and hide this from our guys saying, ‘Oh, fellas, this is one of 103 or 104 or whatever we're playing.’

“… So I don't want to hide behind the clichés of it's just another game.This is an unreal game to be a part of. You sit back and think -- I said this last night -- guys don't dream of scoring the winning goal in Game 1. You dream of scoring the winning goal in Game 7, and this is Game 7. I don't know. We're excited to play this game.”

And the rest of us are excited to watch. Give us your prediction.

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Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders


Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.


Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."


Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.