Sharks

Caps to play for the Cup after shutting out Tampa in Game 7 of East Finals

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AP

Caps to play for the Cup after shutting out Tampa in Game 7 of East Finals

BOX SCORE

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alex Ovechkin scored early and Andre Burakovsky added two second-period goals to help the Washington Capitals put a decade of playoff frustration behind them with a 4-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Wednesday night.

Braden Holtby stopped 29 shots for his second straight shutout and the Lightning, who led the NHL in goals during the regular season, failed to score in the last 159 minutes, 27 seconds - a stretch of nearly eight periods.

Ovechkin, who had never played a team that advanced beyond the second round, scored 1:02 into the winner-take-all showdown he had described as probably the "biggest game in my life."

Nicklas Backstrom had an empty-netter to complete the rout.

To earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, where they'll play the Vegas Golden Knights, the Capitals beat the top-seeded Lightning three times on the road, improving to 8-2 away from home this postseason.

It's Washington's first Cup Final appearance since 1998, and the first during Ovechkin's 13-year career.

Two games after being a healthy scratch for Game 5, Burakovsky became the 17th player to score a goal for Washington in the playoffs this year - four shy of the NHL record - when he beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on a breakaway at 8:59 of the second period.

The winger, who played two games in the first round against Columbus before sitting out 10 straight with an upper-body injury, added a breakaway goal to make it 3-0 heading into the last period.

Tampa Bay, which rebounded from losing the first two games at home to win straight three straight for a 3-2 series lead, had plenty of chances. A couple of shots clanged off the post, Yanni Gourde was unable to get his stick on a loose puck in front on an empty net and the game gradually slipped away.

It was the 33rd time in league history that a Game 7 was required to determine a Stanley Cup finalist. Home teams are 21-12 in those games.

Tampa Bay also played Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final in 2015, when they blanked the New York Rangers, and again two years ago, when they lost 2-1 to Pittsburgh.

Both of those deciding games were on the road. The Lightning had never lost a Game 7 at home before Wednesday night.

Notes: Ovechkin and Backstrom made their 11th career Game 7 appearance, one shy of Boston's Zdeno Chara for the most among active NHL players. In addition to Chara, only five other players in NHL history have appeared in more Game 7s: Patrick Roy (13), Scott Stevens (13), Glenn Anderson (12), Ken Daneyko (12) and Stephane Yelle (12). ... Evgeny Kuznetsov's assist on Ovechkin's early goal extended his points streak to 10 games. ... Vasilevskiy made 19 saves. The Lightning outshot the Capitals (29-23) for the first time in the series.

Sharks recall rookie center Rourke Chartier after extended AHL stint

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AP

Sharks recall rookie center Rourke Chartier after extended AHL stint

SAN JOSE – There was more shuffling between the Sharks and their AHL affiliate on Wednesday, as the big club recalled rookie center Rourke Chartier from the Barracuda.

The 22-year-old center played 13 games for the Sharks, scoring one goal through that span before being reassigned to the Barracuda on Nov. 17. At the time, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said the reassignment was to help build up Chartier’s confidence – especially because the fourth line, where he’d been playing, was struggling mightily at the time.

“When you’re a young guy and you’re in that situation,” DeBoer said after practice that day, “sometimes it’s better to get into an environment where, instead of it snowballing on you, you can nip it in the bud and get back to playing some big minutes and get your confidence back.”

Clearly, the move paid off. Chartier has since registered eight points (two goals, six assists) in eight AHL games.

How the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native will fill into the lineup still remains to be seen. San Jose continues its search for the perfect combination on its fourth line, where Chartier played center at the start of the season. That position has recently been occupied by Lukas Radil, who tallied a goal and an assist in his last two NHL games while playing with Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson.

Chartier’s playing role could also be dependent on Joe Thornton’s health. The 39-year-old center took a maintenance day on Wednesday, making it twice this week he’s been absent from morning skate. Should the future Hall-of-Famer have to miss Thursday night’s game against the Stars, the Sharks’ forward lines may get rearranged as they look to close out their season series against Dallas with a win.

What rookie Antti Suomela's AHL stint means for Sharks' forwards

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USATSI

What rookie Antti Suomela's AHL stint means for Sharks' forwards

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks didn’t hold a practice Tuesday. But there still was news out of the South Bay, as Finnish rookie center Antti Suomela was reassigned to the AHL Barracuda for the first time this season.

The 24-year-old tallied eight points (three goals, five assists) in 27 NHL games since making the Sharks' roster out of training camp. It's unclear as of right now how much time Suomela -- who spent time centering the third and fourth lines -- will spend in the AHL. But the reassignment will, no doubt, give the Finn an opportunity to log game time.

Sharks fans likely noticed the absence of that No. 40 sweater recently, since Suomela was scratched two games in a row after Czech winger Lukas Radil was recalled from the AHL club.

Radil, who brings three years of KHL experience to his NHL campaign, scored his first NHL goal Saturday against the Arizona Coyotes. He also set up defenseman Radim Simek’s first NHL goal Monday against the New Jersey Devils.

Given Radil’s current success playing with Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson on the Sharks' fourth line, it wouldn’t make sense to take the line apart. So, instead of having Suomela practice with the Sharks and then having him post up in the press box on game night, it makes more sense for him to get some games in with the Barracuda. That way, he can stay fresh and get a bit of a boost from playing with the AHL club.

Suomela impressed in his first couple of NHL games as the third-line center, finding success with Evander Kane and fellow countryman Joonas Donskoi on his wings. He scored his last goal on Nov. 13 against the Nashville Predators -- one day after being a healthy scratch, no less -- and tallied his last assist four days later against the St. Louis Blues. He had not scored a point in his last seven games prior to his reassignment.

As with the length of Suomela’s reassignment, it’s also not entirely known how the Sharks’ fourth line will shake out. While Radil has found success through a couple of games playing with Goodrow and Karlsson, it’s also possible San Jose could recall another one of its rookie centers to play on that line. Forward Francis Perron, whom San Jose acquired in the Erik Karlsson trade, currently leads the Barracuda with 22 points, and he hasn't seen any NHL time yet.

There also has been speculation the Sharks could be in search of a fourth-liner ahead of the NHL trade deadline. While Joe Thornton’s move to third-line pivot has helped spread San Jose’s depth throughout the lineup, having another weapon in the bottom six would behoove the Sharks if they want to make a deep playoff run. If that’s the case, we likely won’t see members of this season’s rookie contingent recalled unless there’s an injury to one of the Sharks’ staple forwards.

In the meantime, Suomela will join the Barracuda as they travel to Southern California this upcoming weekend for games against the San Diego Gulls and the Ontario Reign. The Cuda currently leads the Pacific Division of the American Hockey League with 33 points, and a 15-3-1-2 record so far on their 2018-19 campaign.