Capitals

Is this the end for Devils' Martin Brodeur?

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Is this the end for Devils' Martin Brodeur?

From Comcast SportsNet
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The New Jersey Devils' dreams of a historic comeback were all but dashed less than 11 minutes into Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. Just 10:10 in, Steve Bernier drilled Los Angeles defenseman Rob Scuderi from behind into the end boards and essentially took his club out of the game. Bernier was given a major penalty and was ejected from the game. "He turned back," Bernier said of Scuderi. "I feel very bad, but it's a fast game out there, and it ends up being a bad play. You certainly don't want to get five minutes for it. I wish I could take that play back." The Kings took full advantage of the 5-minute power play and scored three times in a span of 3:58 en route to a 6-1 victory that clinched Los Angeles' first Stanley Cup championship in the franchise's 45-year history. "It was just an unfortunate situation with a player who plays the game really hard, and he's going to have to live with that," Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said. "I don't think it's a fair thing, but that's what happens when one person has the fate of a hockey game in their hands. I talked to him and told him it's not his fault. I can't say if it was a good call or not." New Jersey trailed 3-0 after the first period and 4-1 through 40 minutes. The Devils had little left for the third period, when the Kings went into lock-down mode and added two late insurance markers. "I didn't want to hurt my team, I wanted to help them," Bernier said. "This is extremely hard. It's been a long playoff run for us. To finish on that note, it's not fun for sure. But there's nothing I can do now." The Devils were trying to become just the third team to force a Game 7 in the finals after trailing 3-0. Only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs came all the way back to win the Cup, and New Jersey was thoroughly thwarted by the Kings in Los Angeles' third shot at the title. While it is of little consolation, New Jersey became the first team in 67 years to even get to a sixth game in the finals after falling behind 3-0. "You don't give yourself a lot of room for error," captain Zach Parise said. "We found ourselves in a pretty deep hole before we even realized that the finals started. But we didn't quit. We really felt that we could get back in it and force a Game 7." But Bernier never gave them a chance to take the series back to New Jersey. "Everybody feels bad, but he shouldn't. He's done a lot of good things for this team," right wing David Clarkson said. "There's no fingers being pointed -- at refs or anywhere else. He threw a bodycheck. I didn't think it was that bad of a play. But we dug ourselves a bit of a hole there and couldn't come out of it. It's tough to swallow." Bernier slammed Scuderi behind the Los Angeles net, driving him headfirst against the boards. The hit left Scuderi dazed and bloodied before he left the ice under his own power and headed to the dressing room. Scuderi returned to the bench, but Bernier was done for the night -- and the season. "That's what he's been doing the whole playoffs. He's been doing a great job of getting in on the forecheck and finishing checks," Parise said. "That's why he's here. That's what you want from him. "It's just unfortunate that it happened. It's not his fault." Kings captain Dustin Brown scored first at 11:03, and Jeff Carter made it 2-0 at 12:45. Just 16 seconds later, Trevor Lewis poked the puck past the 40-year-old Brodeur's glove after Dwight King's centering pass squirted through the crease. "I don't know if we were salivating when we got that power play, but we were just determined to capitalize on that opportunity," Doughty said. "We knew that this was our chance to put that team away and we did just that." Adding to the Devils' frustration was a one-timer by New Jersey's Patrik Elias that rang off the right post just 38 seconds before the first period ended. Carter made it 4-0 just 1 minutes into the second period, beating Brodeur with a wrist shot from the slot. By then, all that was left to determine was the final score. Adam Henrique cut the deficit to 4-1 with 1:15 left in the second period, but the Devils couldn't get any closer. The Devils also lost Ryan Carter and Clarkson to 10-minute misconducts that forced New Jersey to play with a diminished corps of forwards for large chunks of the game. Defenseman Bryce Salvador also served a 4-minute high-sticking penalty in the second period that didn't produce a goal, but milked important minutes off the clock. New Jersey was outdone by the Western Conference champions this time, and scored only eight goals in the six games. The Devils dropped a pair of 2-1 overtime decisions at home in the first two games, and fought uphill the rest of the way. The Devils were whistled for nine penalties that totaled 47 minutes in Game 6, after coming in with an average of just 8.7 in the playoffs -- the second-fewest in this postseason. New Jersey recorded only 18 shots on goalie Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Brodeur, who backstopped New Jersey to Cup titles in 1995, 2000 and 2003, made 19 saves in the clincher. "They started to play really hard in Game 5, and they had a lot of momentum tonight," Brodeur said. "The major power play came at a time when the crowd was going crazy, and they were really feeling good. Those are situations where before we'd fight through it. Tonight, we didn't." For the second straight season, the Devils will be facing major offseason questions. A year ago, New Jersey was left to figure out how the club missed the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Now the Devils will have to face the possibility they will have to replace Brodeur and Parise, who could be on the move as one of the most attractive unrestricted free agents on July 1. The 27-year-old left wing, who has spent his first seven NHL seasons with the Devils, is coming off a 31-goal season. Brodeur, the winningest goalie in NHL history, has hinted that he would like to return next season at age 41. "This season and this playoff run answered a lot of questions about where my game's at, and I'm really happy to hopefully continue," Brodeur said. If Brodeur and Parise return, the Devils could be poised for another deep playoff run despite playing in the tough Atlantic Division that produced four 100-point teams this season -- the last being New Jersey, which was the No. 6 seed in the East. "We took down our two biggest rivals, the Flyers and the Rangers, and we took this series to six games," Brodeur said. "It's disappointing, but it's been a great season. We came a long way to challenge for the Stanley Cup from not making the playoffs last year. "There's only one team that can win. It's not us this time, but we're proud of what we've done."

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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.

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Mike Rizzo makes bold move to call up Juan Soto

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Mike Rizzo makes bold move to call up Juan Soto

This is not a tweet I expected to read in May of 2018.

On the heels of their latest injury, the team is adding uber-prospect Juan Soto to the roster. It's unclear how much playing time he'll receive early on, but it's hard to imagine the team would be willing to start his service time clock and mess with his development track simply to sit him on the bench. He'll likely play, and make an impact on the team for as long as he's in D.C.

Let's not bury the lede, though. As you probably noticed in the tweet, Juan Soto is 19-years old. He was born in October of 1998, making him the youngest player in the majors, and bringing us one step closer to the first big-leaguer born in the 2000s. 

As incredible as it is for Soto to make the majors as a teenager (Bryce Harper and Time Raines are the only other teenagers to play in the majors in franchise history, which is pretty good company), what might be even more stunning is how quickly this came together for him. 

This will already be Soto's fourth different level of professional baseball this season alone, having spent time with the low-A, high-A, and AA clubs so far. In his entire life, Soto has just 35 plate appearances above class-A, which is almost unheard of for a player getting promoted to the big league roster.

He's hit everywhere he's been, with his career OPS in the minors a whopping 1.043 (his lowest  wRC+ at any level is 132), though it remains to be seen if his prodigious bat is ready for Major League pitching. Still, simply being in the majors at such a young age is a great sign for his future.

Not that anybody should put Hall of Fame expectations on a kid who hasn't even faced a pitch in the majors yet, but Soto's meteoric rise gives him a better chance than most at greatness. Just last month, when discussing the dynamic Braves duo of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna, Hall of Fame-expert Jay Jaffe did some research on young stars making the big leagues, and the numbers are promising.

According to Baseball Reference (and we're just going to take their word for it), there have been 19,261 players in the history of Major League Baseball, and 226 of them have been elected to the Hall of Fame. That's a minuscule 1.1%.

But, of every player to ever record 100 plate appearances as a 19-year old (a number Soto should easily hit if he stays up all season), the number of players who eventually made the Hall of Fame jumps to 24%. If Soto is only up for a cup of coffee this year, and next year is when he's here to stay, you can move up the list to players who recorded 100 PA in their age-20 seasons, and the number is still 19%.

Plus, that percentage is likely to increase in the coming decades, as there are 18 active players to reach the benchmark, including future locks Adrian Beltre, Miguel Cabrera, and Mike Trout, and guys who are young but on the right track (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Carlos Correa, and Giancarlo Stanton). Acuna, Albies, and Rafael Devers could find their way on the list one day as well. Considering only three of those names need to be enshrined in Cooperstown one day, it's safe to say that percentage is only growing.

That's a lot of stats that look nice for Soto and the Nationals, but obviously, we're at least a decade away from having a legitimate conversation about his Hall of Fame chances. Still, it highlights what we've known about him for quite some time. Juan Soto is a special, generational talent, and his rise to the big leagues as a teenager is worth writing home about.

What he's done so far is historic, and even if the move seems premature, it's plenty cause for excitement about the future of baseball in D.C.

MORE NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.