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NHL Playoffs: Capitals cut Penguins' series lead in OT after Sidney Crosby exits

NHL Playoffs: Capitals cut Penguins' series lead in OT after Sidney Crosby exits

PITTSBURGH -- A shot from the point by Washington's Kevin Shattenkirk salvaged -- or at the very least, extended -- his team's season.

A far different kind of shot may end up determining the outcome of a playoff series growing more contentious by the shift.

Shattenkirk's goal 3:13 into overtime lifted the Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins to cut Pittsburgh's lead to 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinal, one that could go on without Penguins star Sidney Crosby.

The Pittsburgh captain left just over 5 minutes into the game after getting cross-checked to the head by Washington's Matt Niskanen. The NHL's leading scorer and one of the game's best players did not return and his status for Wednesday's Game 4 -- and maybe the rest of the postseason -- is uncertain.

"Certainly didn't mean to injure him," said Niskanen, who spent four years with Crosby in Pittsburgh before signing with Washington in 2014. "It's an unfortunate play that happened really quick."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Crosby will be evaluated on Tuesday. Even without Crosby, Pittsburgh pushed Washington to the limit. Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz scored in a 48-second span with less than 2 minutes left in regulation to force overtime.

For once Washington, whose 43-year franchise history is littered with playoff collapse after playoff collapse, dominated the extra period before Shattenkirk's flip zipped by Marc-Andre Fleury's blocker to send his teammates pouring over the boards in celebration.

"Tonight was a great test for all of us," said Shattenkirk, who played miserably during a blowout loss in Game 2. "There were a lot of different moments in the game where we had to see what we were made of."

One frightening moment, however, will resonate above all others.

The game was scoreless early in the first period when Crosby skated just outside the Capitals' crease. Washington's Alex Ovechkin slashed Crosby along the upper body and Crosby slid awkwardly trying to maintain his balance when he collided with Niskanen, who had his stick raised.

The stick caught Crosby flush across the mouth and the two-time Hart Trophy winner laid on the ice in pain for several moments before slowly skating off under his own power as Pittsburgh trainers searched the area for Crosby's teeth.

Niskanen earned a major penalty for cross-checking and was given a game misconduct. Washington coach Barry Trotz called it "a hockey play." Niskanen allowed it looked "really bad" when he caught the replay, but stressed there was no malicious intent.

His former teammates weren't buying it.

"It's one of those things you look at it once, you see what actually happened and the next thing is watching how deliberate it was when the guy cross-checks him in the face," Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz said. "I thought all of that was kind of out of this league, but I guess not."

This wasn't the first time Crosby took an ugly shot to the head from a Capital. Crosby was in the middle of an MVP run on Jan., 1, 2011, when he took an elbow to the head from Washington's David Steckel during the Winter Classic, leading to a concussion that cost Crosby the better part of two years in his prime as he struggled to recover.

Their captain gone for the rest of the game and perhaps longer, the Penguins appeared momentarily dazed as they tried to regroup.

Washington took a 2-0 lead early in the third period behind goals by Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetzov, rare moments of flow during a static and occasionally ugly three periods that tried to make up in physicality what it lacked in pace of the frenetic opening two games in Washington.

"That's what you have to do in the playoffs," Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. "You have to play physical and grind it out. We're trying to make this a long series here and the physicality is key for us."

Braden Holtby, yanked after a sloppy second period in Game 2, remained steady during Pittsburgh's second-period surge and the Capitals appeared to be in control when the Penguins pulled Fleury with 3 minutes to go. Then Malkin scored with 1:53 remaining and Schultz tied it 48 seconds later when his blast from the point deflected off Oshie.

No matter. Washington dominated the extra period before Shattenkirk delivered his first goal of the playoffs.

"We came here to win two games," Shattenkirk said. "And next game is going to be even tougher."

Though maybe not as tough as it could be for Pittsburgh if Crosby's familiar No. 87 is out of the lineup.

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

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Philadelphia Flyers

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Noah Cates became a hit in high school.

His first year after graduation, though, he didn't exactly mind being away from the classroom. From Stillwater, Minnesota, Cates traveled south to Omaha, Nebraska, for a full season of USHL hockey with the Lancers.

A nice, little perk to the decision?

"No school that year for me, so that was fun just to play hockey," Cates said with a smile three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "Develop, work on everything."

Despite not hitting the books, Cates, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Flyers, learned a lot, gaining a knowledge base he'll use moving forward.

Because it's back to school.

In mid-to-late August, the 19-year-old is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue his education and hockey career with the 2018 national champions, where he'll be joined by his older brother Jackson Cates.

"Very excited," the younger Cates said.

A year away from home to prepare for the college hockey life did Cates well. He grew on and off the ice, which built confidence — especially important ahead of development camp, a world junior summer showcase and his freshman season.

"Just how to be a pro, show up every day," Cates said. "It's a long season but you have to be consistent — that was a big part for me. Consistently, doing the right thing, day in and day out.

"It's all about confidence. If you're confident you can play with those guys and that your body can hold up, you can do it. That's just a big part of it and what I developed this year."

Cates, a left winger with a true offensive skill set, came on strong after a feeling-out start to the season in which he totaled 14 points (six goals, eight assists) over his first 22 games. From then on, he broke out for 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in his final 38 contests, finishing second on the Lancers with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games, while posting a plus-21 rating. 

"Second-half league for me, just got more comfortable with the team, the coaches, the league," Cates said. "The team did well, so I kind of fit in, did my part."

The offense has always been a part of Cates' game. Beyond the statistics, what truly stood out from the 2017-18 season was the added strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. Cates weighed 165 pounds at 2017 development camp. He said he started the year with Omaha at 170. Impressively, by season's end, he was a solid 180 to 185.

"That was a big part, how I progressed throughout the season," Cates said. "That was my main goal going there to step into college hockey and get ready to play against those older guys, so it was a really good season in that case."

Cates will now take his next test — back in class and on the ice.

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Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

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USA Today Images

Nolan Patrick selected as No. 1 breakout player for 2018-19 by NHL Network

Nolan Patrick's rookie season can be split into two halves, but his performance down the stretch has caught the attention of one national pundit.

NHL Network analyst Mike Johnson, who played 12 years in the league, selected Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player for the 2018-19 season during Friday night's "NHL Tonight."

Johnson scored 375 points in 661 NHL games from 1996-2008 and last played in the league during the 2007-08 campaign with the St. Louis Blues.

Behind Johnson's reasoning for picking Patrick as his No. 1 breakout player was the Flyers' center's two-way instincts, ability to finish, size and a full summer of training ahead of him.

"We know his injury history, his lack of proper training, his lack of ability to hit the gym properly," Johnson said, "and he's still strong on the wall. That's only going to get better as he matures physically."

For what it's worth, Connor McDavid was NHL Network's No. 1 breakout candidate for the 2017-18 season — that was a bit of a softball.

As for Patrick, the center joined "NHL Tonight" on Friday to discuss the honor and also provide an update on how his summer is going.

"Coming off that surgery last year," Patrick said, "I had a slow start. It took a while to get my body back to where I wanted it to be. I missed two summers of training. It's been the first summer for me in a while that I've been back in the gym."

Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick in 2017, finished with 13 goals and 30 points in 73 regular-season games. He missed nine games in October and November because of a concussion and spent most of the first half of the season getting his mobility back after undergoing offseason abdominal surgery. In fact, he's lost his past two summers of training because of surgery.

Prior to his final junior season and his draft year, Patrick underwent sports hernia surgery. Then 10 days before the Flyers drafted him, he went under the knife again.

Now he's fully healthy and has a full summer of training.

"First time I can get after it," Patrick said during the team's exit interviews in April (see story). "It's going to be a big summer for me. I'm not satisfied with how the year was or how my year was, so I'm looking to take big steps here."

Once Patrick began feeling healthier, he started getting a bigger role with the Flyers. He was elevated to the team's second-line center and stuck. He also found a role on the power play.

The 19-year-old posted 17 points in the final 25 games, which translates to a respectable 0.68 points per game clip and 55 points over an 82-game schedule. Not too bad for a rookie who couldn't actually train during his previous two offseasons.

"My coaches pushed me throughout the year. Then they gave me more opportunity," Patrick told the NHL Network. "Jake Voracek was huge for me. He thinks the game so well. The puck protection that guy has, you just got to get open for him.

"I think my body also just felt better as the year went on. I kind of took a while to get my skating legs there, so I think in the second half, I had a little more pep in my step."

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