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An open letter to the Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans

An open letter to the Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans

Dear Pittsburgh Penguins and fans,

Well, it’s been a hell of a run, but finally it’s our turn. It’s our year.

First, congratulations on your amazing run. You won two straight Stanley Cups. That’s an incredible achievement. Yes, we are aware that nothing that happened this year can take away those Cups and yes, we are aware that we still haven’t won one yet.

But your two-year reign is over. And we ended it.

No, we’re not gloating. Believe us, we’ve had plenty of heartbreak in recent years. We wouldn’t wish that on anyone and what you’re going through right now sucks.

Really, we feel relief more than anything.

Can we be honest for a second? We may hate the Penguins, but we love this rivalry. We hate Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby as much as we love Peter Bondra and Alex Ovechkin. Every time we play you it means more. A regular season game in February can feel like the most important game in the world just because we want to destroy you so badly.

It’s been awhile since you’ve been in this position, since 1994 to be exact. Some of you may have trouble accepting this. Some may say “whatever, we’re not even rivals.”

First of all, don’t pretend like we’re not rivals because you hate the Philadelphia Flyers. Everybody hates the Flyers. You’re not unique in this. Second, yes we are rivals. You take over the steps of the National Portrait Gallery outside of Capital One Arena every time you win whether its the regular season or the playoffs. Those are the kind of traditions reserved just for rivals.

Seriously, do you have any big traditions in Phoenix every time you beat the Arizona Coyotes? Are there any major victory gatherings in Miami when you beat the Florida Panthers? No? That’s what we thought.

Yes, we all know we have only beaten Pittsburgh twice in the playoffs in 11 meetings. You can gloat about that all you want, but just like we can’t take anything away from your Stanley Cup runs the last two years, you can’t take any of the joy we feel this year away from us.

No more of this “Alex Ovechkin can’t win” nonsense. He scored the game-winner in Game 3 and had the primary assist in the game-winning goals in Game 5 and Game 6. He has eight goals and 15 points in 12 games this postseason and continues to produce at a point-per-game rate in the playoffs.

No more “Braden Holtby isn’t a playoff goalie” lunacy. He has the second-best save percentage in NHL playoff history.

No more curse.

The best part about this is that this finally feels like a real rivalry again. It always felt that way to us, but with every passing year, with every series loss, there was that nagging feeling that perhaps you may lose interest. Perhaps this won’t mean as much next year as it does now. The only thing worse than seeing a rival win is seeing a rival not care. But we don’t have to worry about that anymore because while you may have beaten the Caps nine times in 11 playoff meetings, we ended your Cup run. We handed Mike Sullivan his first playoff loss and we did it in front of your hometown fans.

We know that stings.

We know that regardless of how dismissive you may try to be about the Capitals, regardless of all the past wins, regardless of all the past Cups, you had to watch Ovechkin celebrate on your ice after beating your team and ending your chance at a three-peat. That will be tough to get over. It will be made worse by the fact that everytime these two teams meet next season, they will show a replay of Evgeny Kuznetsov slipping the puck through Matt Murray's five-hole in overtime. It will eat at you and you will want nothing more than to beat us every time we play just to erase that image and move on from a heartbreaking loss.

Now that's a rivalry. We can't wait either.

See you guys next year.

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How to watch the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

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How to watch the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

The 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship is coming to a close this Memorial Day weekend.

After two weeks, the sixteen team field has been narrowed down to four with the world championship now on the line in Slovakia. 

The two group winners, Canada, the top-ranked team in the world and 26-time IIHF Champions, and Russia, who rolled through the group stage with a 7-0 record and a +29 goal differential, are the favorites. Russia overwhelmingly has played like the best team in Slovakia, outscoring its opponents 40-10 behind Nikita Kucherov's 16 points in eight games.

The Russian/ Soviet Union team is the only team with more titles than the Canadians with 27 (five as Russia, 22 as the Soviet Union). 

Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin is playing for Team Russia. In eight games he's scored two goals and recorded an assist. 

Canada will face off against the Czech Republic, whose only loss came against the Russians in group play, with a spot to the Finals on the line. Russia will play Finland for the last spot in the gold medal match.

Three of the four teams remaining (Russia, Canda, and the Czech Republic) are the winningest teams in the IIHF's history. The four semifinalists have combined to win 67 of the 82 IIHF World Championships.

When is the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will take place at 8:15 p.m. local time (2:15 p.m. ET) on Sunday, May 26. The bronze medal match will precede the gold medal match at 3:45 p.m. local time (9:15 a.m. ET). 

2019 IIHF World Championship Schedule:

There are only four matches left in the 2019 IIHF World Championship. The two semifinals, the bronze medal match, and the gold medal match.

No. 3 Russia vs. No. 5 Finland, 9:15 a.m. ET, May 25
No. 1 Canada vs. No. 6 Czech Republic, 1:15 p.m. ET, May 25

Loser of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Loser of Semifinal No. 2, 9:45 a.m. ET, May 26

Winner of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Winner of Semifinal No. 2, 2:15 p.m. ET, May 26

How to watch or stream the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

All games at the IIHF World Championships will be broadcast on NHL Network.

Who is playing in the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will be played between the winner of Russia (8-0-0)/ Finland (7-0-1) and Canada (7-1-0)/ Czech Republic (7-0-1).

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF Championship Finals will be announced on the morning of May 26. 

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The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

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The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

When the St. Louis Blues woke up on Jan. 3, they were in dead last in the NHL. A 15-18-4 record gave them 34 points, less than teams like the Los Angeles Kings and the Ottawa Senators who would go on to finish the season as the two worst teams. Yes, St. Louis had played in only 37 games to that point, the fewest in the league, but finding a way to climb back into the playoff hunt seemed daunting and unlikely.

Now the Blues are the Western Conference champions and stand just four wins away from the Stanley Cup.

The Blues have been one of the best stories of the NHL season climbing from last place to the Stanley Cup Final. When looking back at St. Louis’ season, there are several moments one can point to as key moments in the turnaround. Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as head coach on Nov. 20 and goalie Jordan Binnington got his first start with the Blues on Jan. 7 and never gave back the crease.

But the turnaround really started on Jan. 3. On that morning, the Blues were in last place. That would be the last day they would find themselves there.

And it all started with a 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals.

On Jan. 3, St. Louis and Washington looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. While the Blues were in last place, the Caps were rolling with a 24-11-3 record, first in the Metropolitan Division. Washington came into St. Louis on a five-game road winning streak. As if that wasn’t enough, the Blues were also without sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

And yet, what looked like an easy win for the Caps turned into anything but. Robert Thomas scored a deflection just four minutes into the game. Washington managed to take a 2-1 lead early in the second, but St. Louis rattled off four straight goals for the 5-2 win. With Washington down only 3-2 heading into the third period, the Blues but on a possession clinic outshooting Washington 14-2 in the final frame.

"We stayed aggressive," Alex Pietrangelo told reporters. "When we're playing in the O zone, the best way to play defense is to play in their end. We kept the puck, we moved the puck, we worked. Forwards were great tonight, protecting the center of the ice. It kind of took their playmakers out of the game."

The Caps’ first shot came 13 minutes into the third. By then, the Blues already had 12 shots and two goals.

Over the course of an 82-game season, teams will lose games against teams they shouldn’t. This felt different. Watching this game, you did not come away thinking the Caps played down to an inferior team. The Blues dominated that game and the Caps knew it.

“They were skating, competing harder, won races, more determined than we were,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “If we’re being honest about it, we didn’t have a very good game, and they played a pretty darn good game.”
More importantly, St. Louis realized it as well. They knew following the game that this was a win and a performance they could build on.

“I think we out-chanced them, so we're building here at even strength,” Pietrangelo said. “It's just a matter of keeping it at even strength and scoring goals. Tonight the goals weren't necessarily pretty but we created a lot of chances."
That night proved to be the first night of the turnaround. From Jan. 3 on, no team in the NHL earned more points than St. Louis’ 65, not even the Tampa Bay Lightning who won the Presidents’ Trophy with an incredible 128 points.

St. Louis was not expected to be bad this season. The team made a number of offseason moves to bolster the roster and many thought they could be real contenders, but they sure did not play like it through the first half of the season. It took a big win over the defending Stanley Cup champs to show them and everyone else just how good they really were. From that point on, they never looked back.