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Ovechkin sends Caps into Game 7 with Rangers

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Ovechkin sends Caps into Game 7 with Rangers

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lose one game, win the next. No matter how seemingly devastating a defeat, in overtime or otherwise, the Washington Capitals -- from two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin to playoff rookie goalie Braden Holtby -- simply do not allow setbacks to bother them. They regroup, get back out there and follow a loss with a victory, each time by the slimmest of margins. Ovechkin rebounded from a rare zero-shot performance by scoring after 88 seconds Wednesday night, Holtby made 30 saves, and the Capitals recovered the way they always seem to, beating the top-seeded New York Rangers 2-1 to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. "We're resilient," Washington defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We have that thick skin. We know when to battle back when we need to and have to." Never moreso than after Game 5 on Monday night, when No. 7-seeded Washington managed to blow a lead in the last 10 seconds of regulation. New York scored a power-play goal with 7.6 seconds left in the third period to tie it, and another 1 12 minutes into overtime to win it. The Capitals could have folded. Instead, they staved off elimination, and the teams will meet in New York on Saturday night to determine who will face the New Jersey Devils in the conference finals. "It's where we want to be," Holtby said. "We didn't expect a short series." He improved to 6-0 in games immediately after losses this postseason. That's why the Capitals are 4-0 in games that follow overtime losses in the playoffs. One other bit of proof that they know how to bounce back: They haven't lost consecutive games since March 22-23. "Everyone, I think, counted us out," said Jason Chimera, who scored in the second period to make it 2-0, Washington's second two-goal lead of the series. "This is the way we are. ... We don't really crack." Ovechkin's reduced role became a major talking point throughout these playoffs: Usually a 20-minute-a-game guy, he played as few as 13 12 minutes in Game 2 against New York. He also came up quiet in Game 5 on Monday night, with no shots on goal, only the second time in 49 career playoff games that had happened to the man they call Alex the Great. Before Wednesday's game, Ovechkin told reporters: "We just can't go home right now." He helped make sure they didn't yet. About 1 12 minutes after the opening faceoff, Ovechkin dropped to a knee as he powered a slap shot just inside the right post from about 30 feet in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It was Ovechkin's 30th career playoff goal, tying the franchise record held by Peter Bondra, and came 15 seconds after Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman was sent to the penalty box for tripping Chimera. Another miscue followed: Defenseman Ryan McDonagh wasted a chance to clear the puck, instead sending it along the boards right to a Capitals player. That giveaway led to a series of crisp passes by the Capitals -- Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green were credited with assists -- and an animated earful for McDonagh from Rangers coach John Tortorella. That early edge proved to be a good omen for the Capitals, who are 7-1 this postseason when scoring first -- and 0-5 when their opponent scores first. In this series, all six games were won by whichever team led 1-0. "Obviously, we talked about coming out and starting well, and they get a goal right away on the power play. It kind of set the tone for the game," Lundqvist said. "From there, it was just hard for us to get going." Later in the first period, Ovechkin nearly scored one of his YouTube-ready, "How did he do that?" goals, somehow managing to lift the puck past Lundqvist while belly-flopping onto the ice. But the puck hit the crossbar. Then, at the opposite end of the rink, Ovechkin used his back to block a shot by McDonagh, preventing the puck from even approaching Holtby -- the sort of thing the Russian wing is not known for, but his teammates have turned into an art form this postseason. The Capitals rank No. 1 in blocked shots during these playoffs -- the Rangers are No. 2 -- and Washington put together a 24-6 edge Wednesday. Ovechkin contributed three blocks. "He had a lot of energy," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "He's ready to go when he's called upon, and he played a good game tonight." A little more than a minute after Chimera made it 2-0, the Rangers got a good chance to change the tenor of Game 6, when Capitals forward Jeff Halpern -- playing for the first time in more than six weeks -- was called for high-sticking John Mitchell, a 4-minute double minor. That was the same penalty called on Washington's Joel Ward in the final 30 seconds of regulation in Game 5, while the Capitals nursed a 2-1 lead. And, well, we know how that turned out. This time, though, the Capitals' penalty killers were up to the task, allowing the Rangers only three shots and no goals. When Halpern skated out of the box, the lead intact, the red-clad Capitals fans gave their team a standing ovation. "It kills you," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. There was one final moment of trepidation for the Capitals and their supporters. With his mom covering her eyes in the stands, Holtby gave up a goal with 50.5 seconds left -- a score that was credited to Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, whose shot deflected off Capitals forward Matt Hendricks' skate and defenseman John Carlson's hip in the crease. Said Ward: "You kind of think, Oh, no. Not again!' But we're a confident group." NOTES: Game 7 starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT. ... The Rangers haven't reached the conference finals since 1997; the Capitals haven't since 1998. ... Capitals F Jay Beagle was scratched because of what the team said was a lower-body injury and replaced by Halpern, who hadn't played since March 23.

First and Final Thoughts: Does anyone really know what to expect this Sunday?

First and Final Thoughts: Does anyone really know what to expect this Sunday?

Not unlike Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky, it's Year 2 of First and Final Thoughts. Insider JJ Stankevitz and producer Cam Ellis talk about what's on their minds between games.

Final Thoughts on the Bye Week 

J.J. Stankevitz: The Bears had a lot of soul-searching to do in their off week, specifically among offensive players and coaches not named Allen Robinson. But more important than anything else will be improvements on the offensive line — better protection and run blocking will go a long way toward helping this offense operate more effectively in the Bears’ final 11 games. That means better play from left tackle Charles Leno and center James Daniels, as well as counting on Rashaad Coward/Ted Larsen/Alex Bars to be better at right guard than a less-than-100-percent Kyle Long was. 

Fix the O-line and a lot of problems will be solved. Don’t and it could diminish how much better Mitch Trubisky is — if he is at all — upon  coming back. 

Cam Ellis: I'll be curious to see where the Bears' bye week preparation show up first. Between the offensive line, an uninspiring run scheme, absent tight end production and no real answers at quarterback (but otherwise it's fine!), they've got to start somewhere.  Is it fixing the run game in hopes that it takes the burden off Trubisky's return? Or is it getting Trey Burton: The Adjuster involved earlier? Speaking of getting the ball earlier, Anthony Miller lightly lobbied for a higher workload, which may not be a bad idea either. This is why they pay Nagy the big bucks, but man, coaching in the NFL seems kind of hard. 

First Thoughts on Week 7 

Stankevitz: I’m going to expand on this more later in the week, but New Orleans’ defense looks like a tough challenge for Trubisky to face in his expected return Sunday. 2018 first-round edge rusher Marcus Davenport is third in the NFL in pass rushing efficiency, generating a pressure once every 13.7 snaps (behind only Nick Bosa and Khalil Mack). Cam Jordan is one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL and doesn’t always get his due for how good he is. 

So New Orleans has an excellent defensive front, one that will take sound technique and strong communication for the Bears’ O-line to block. And then there’s cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who’s shut down the likes of Amari Cooper, Mike Evans and DJ Chark over the last three weeks. His lock-down presence — he travels in zone coverage to take out a team’s best receiver — allows the Saints to not need to always play a safety over the top, leading to extra men in the box to stop the run. 

So Trubisky will have his hands full on Sunday. It’s not like the Saints have an elite defense, but it’s good, and looks like a bad matchup for the Bears’ offense. 

Ellis: To almost directly contradict J.J., I actually think there are yards to be had against a Saints defense that ranks 13th in pass defense DVOA, ninth in yards per play and has allowed five plays of 40+ yards (T6). Marshon Lattimore's had a great month, but his season-long coverage numbers are more good than great. An average pass defense will be more than enough if the Bears' offensive line plays as poorly as it did in London, but if for some reason the combination of Rashaad Coward, a bye week breakthrough, and Taylor Gabriel makes everything snap into place, I think the Bears could move the ball better than people expect.

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How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

How Blackhawks physicality is adding new dimension to style of play

The Blackhawks turned in their best 60-minute effort of the young season in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers. They controlled the pace of play, got terrific goaltending from Corey Crawford and tightened up defensively.

But they also showed that they added a new layer to their team game this season.

The Blackhawks registered 36 hits against the Oilers, one of which was thunderously delivered by Andrew Shaw, sparking a scrum. Brent Seabrook led the team with six hits, Calvin de Haan had five and Drake Caggiula and Olli Maatta each had four. Heck, even Alex DeBrincat (three) and Patrick Kane (one) got in on the action.

It’s an element of their game that’s been missing the last few seasons and something they feel is important to their overall team success because it keeps other teams honest.

"I don't know if it's because of the personnel we have or the way we want to be strong and competitive and win battles, but obviously the other night we had a lot of finished hits and a lot of physicality that brings up the morale on the bench, which is a good thing," Kane said. "You look at Shawzy's hit, the stuff he's been doing early in the season — whether it's scoring big goals or sticking up for guys after they get hit — it's been awesome for the team. That's something that can really help us. We also need to play a little bit more with the puck, but it's a way we can get the puck back."

The Blackhawks don’t necessarily want to lead the NHL in the hits category, but they do want to establish an identity centered around being a difficult team to play against and adding that dimension is part of it. So is team unity.

"I don't think it's going to be our go-to in the way we're going to beat teams," Jonathan Toews said. "There's no doubt we've got guys that can mix it in. We saw last game with Shawzy and Murph, and [Ryan Carpenter] and [Zack Smith] and go down the list of guys. Even [Caggiula] and [DeBrincat] were throwing the weight around a couple days ago. It's definitely part of our game — we can play with energy and I think it's going to be there when we're ready to go. But our game is puck possession and keeping teams in their end and outplaying them in that sense.”

Through four games this season, the Blackhawks are averaging 33.0 hits per game. The previous two seasons they averaged 16.5 and 16.8, respectively, which ranked 30th.

While it's still early, there's clearly an uptick in the physicality department and it's exactly what the organization was hoping for after bringing in players like Shaw and Smith to add some bite to the roster. The Blackhawks are focused on becoming a team that can win in several different ways and play any kind of style.

"There’s a difference between running around just trying to get a tick on the stat sheet," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "But we definitely want to be physical when we have the chance and force the opposition to make plays before they're ready, and we can create turnovers and transition and offense and get out of D zone. We have some guys who like to play that way and I think it helps our team." 

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