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.

While Erik Karlsson tries to fit in, Sharks just want him to be himself

While Erik Karlsson tries to fit in, Sharks just want him to be himself

SAN JOSE -- At his introductory press conference Wednesday afternoon, new Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson drew an interesting parallel when he was asked about trying to fit into a new team, after being the leading man for so long. 

The Swede mentioned playing for his national team at best-on-best tournaments; first at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and then at the World Cup of Hockey two years later. 

“It was something that I always enjoyed,” Karlsson told reporters, “And I think that it challenged me to do things in a different way sometimes … I’m looking forward to that here as well.”

It’s not necessarily an outlandish comparison. The salary-capped Sharks aren’t as good as a Swedish national team that, if its latest World Cup iteration played in the NHL, would have been about $28 million over the current upper limit. But, Karlsson’s move from the 67-point Ottawa Senators to the 100-point Sharks in last week’s blockbuster trade represents a significant upgrade in the talent surrounding him.

The two-time Norris Trophy winner joins a defense corps featuring another Norris recipient (Brent Burns) and a shutdown defenseman with international pedigree of his own (Marc-Edouard Vlasic), on a team led by a Hart Trophy winner (Joe Thornton), the NHL’s sixth-leading scorer since 2013-14 (Joe Pavelski), and the fourth-best player by Corsica Hockey’s wins above replacement (WAR) model last season (Logan Couture). 

“We’re a good hockey team,” Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us. There’s a lot of good teams in the West, but I think [the Karlsson trade] puts us in position to have the ingredients to go compete with all the top teams.” 

Karlsson, then, just might be the active ingredient for a franchise still looking for its first Stanley Cup. He has two Norris Trophies to his name, four first-team All-Star appearances, and more points than any other defenseman since he entered the league. He led the Senators to within a double-overtime goal of the Stanley Cup Final just over a year ago, and scored more points than all but five defenders in a “down” year last season. 

If anything, Karlsson may have undersold his role on the Swedish national team when making the comparison. 

At the Sochi Olympics, Karlsson tied for the tournament lead with eight points, winning a silver medal. The Swedes weren’t as successful at the World Cup two years ago, but Karlsson still tied for the team lead in scoring. He also led his team in ice time in three out of four games, edging out the likes of Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman and Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson. 

The former ultimately won the Norris Trophy last season, while the latter will have the third-highest salary cap hit ($8.25 million) of any defenseman next season, when his eight-year contract extension kicks in.

In other words? “He’s one of the best players on the planet,” according to Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer, and not just because of his offensive ability. 

“We can use him in every situation,” DeBoer said Wednesday of his newest defenseman, adding that Karlsson was one of “very few players in the world that you could use in the last minute of games when you’re up to shut down the other team’s best players, or use to create offense when you’re behind.”

Karlsson sounded very aware of the situation he’s joining in San Jose. He knows he’s coming to a team that’s “been together for a long time that has good chemistry,” and he said it’s on him to find a way to fit in by doing whatever is asked of him. 

DeBoer indicated he will simply ask the four-time, first-team All-Star to be himself. 

“I don’t think there’s any adjustment,” DeBoer said. “We play up-tempo. We play aggressive. We play the way he plays.

“He’s gonna fit right in.”

The pre-trade meeting that made Erik Karlsson excited about Sharks

The pre-trade meeting that made Erik Karlsson excited about Sharks

SAN JOSE -- Sharks general manager Doug Wilson was in Ottawa last week to meet with defenseman Erik Karlsson before acquiring him in a blockbuster trade with the Senators. It turns out head coach Peter DeBoer met with Karlsson, too. 

DeBoer, alongside Wilson, met the two-time Norris Trophy winner and his wife, Melinda, in Toronto “maybe a day” before the trade was finalized, he told reporters Wednesday after the day’s first practice session of training camp. The purpose, DeBoer said, was to give Karlsson a a sense of what the Sharks had to offer. 

“It’s a huge investment for the organization,” DeBoer said Wednesday morning. “It’s a huge investment from him and his wife to commit to coming out here and playing here. It was a great information session, and I think we all walked out of there really impressed with the player and the person.”

It’s fair to say Karlsson came away impressed, too.

“I think from that day on, both of our views kind of matched up, and I was extremely excited about everything they had to say,” Karlsson told reporters at his introductory press conference Wednesday. “They were great people right from the start.”

“And they’re still great people,” he added with a laugh. 

After the meeting, the Sharks sealed the deal last Thursday. They acquired Karlsson in a deal that sent two roster players, two prospects, two draft picks, and two more conditional picks to the Senators. 

Before the deal was completed, the Senators gave the Sharks permission to meet with Karlsson, Wilson said Wednesday after the press conference. Karlsson and his wife also spoke with Sharks owner Hasso Plattner several times, Wilson first told reporters Saturday. 

Wilson credited Plattner with giving him and the front office the ability to take go after “difference-makers” like Karlsson, and Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares, whom the Sharks met with ahead of the start of free agency. 

Plattner was in the room when San Jose pitched Tavares at the CAA offices in July, and Wilson said previously that the owner keeps up-to-date with just about everything the team does, even down to the recent rookie tournament in Las Vegas. Karlsson said Wednesday that Plattner’s knowledge stood out. 

“Speaking with [Plattner] was very reassuring,” Karlsson said. “He knew what he was talking about, and he was a very well-spoken man. Hopefully, I get to meet him soon.”

Meeting the owner, head coach, and general manager ultimately made Karlsson comfortable with coming to San Jose, and vice versa. Although Wilson said he would not discuss contract negotiations, he reiterated Wednesday he felt “very comfortable” about locking up the 28-year-old to a long-term extension. 

Karlsson declined to discuss a possible extension as well, keeping the focus of his introductory press conference largely on the upcoming season. But, he said he was grateful that Plattner, Wilson, and DeBoer made the trade “as smooth as it possibly could’ve been.”

“[My wife and I] are extremely happy and excited to be finally here, soak it all in, and start our new adventure," Karlsson said.