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Although the Caps lost, it's apparent that they're starting to find their game

Although the Caps lost, it's apparent that they're starting to find their game

NEW YORK—As disappointing as Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Madison Square Garden was for the Caps, Coach Barry Trotz and his players emerged from the visitors’ dressing room heartened by how the team played over the final two periods.

Indeed, there was a distinct difference between the first 20 minutes, during which the Caps were outscored 1-0 and outshot 19-10, and the final 40 minutes, which saw the visitors battle back and threaten to steal a point on the road from a good, well-rested rested opponent.

“We were atrocious in the first,” Trotz said. “We played poorly and [backup goalie Philipp Grubauer] was outstanding. It could have been 5-0 in the first, not 1-0. But we were able to get through that. In the second and third, we had the better chances and [carried] the majority of the play.”

Sunday marked the Caps’ second game back from their six-day bye week. On Saturday, they started slowly and lost to the Red Wings in a shootout. Including that defeat, teams are 3-12-4 in their first game after the mandatory hiatus.

“For us, it was hard to come back after [the] break, have one practice and [then] play,” said Alex Ovechkin, who scored Washington’s lone goal against the Rangers. Saturday’s game in Detroit started at 2 p.m. “and today we played at 12:30. It was kinda tough with no morning skates.”

RELATED: Prediction recap: Caps can't solve Henrik Lundqvist

Prior to the bye, the Caps had won six games in a row, rolling up five or more goals in all but one of those contests.

It’s too early to say definitely whether Ovechkin and Co. are back. They are, after all, 0-1-1 since returning. But they certainly looked a lot more like their previously dominant selves after doubling the Rangers up in shots, 22-11, over the second and third periods in an entertaining matinee on Broadway.

So what was the difference between the first period and the rest of the game? Trotz didn’t mince his words.    

“We were engaged in the second and third,” he said. “We were winning our battles. We were managing the puck much better. And we really didn’t give up much. Grubi really got all of his work for the most part in the first period and then after that he didn’t have much.”

From where he was standing, Grubauer said he could see the timing and cohesiveness slowly returning to his teammates’ collective game.

“The break was long,” Grubauer said. “Sometimes you have to find that chemistry.”

He added: “That’s not how we wanted to start, giving up those many scoring chances. But we did a pretty good job coming back [and] dominated the second and third periods.”

Defenseman Matt Niskanen agreed with Grubauer’s assessment.

“The second two periods were a lot better than the first [period], and a lot better than yesterday,” Niskanen said. “So it’s a step in the right direction.”

The Caps will take Monday off and then return to practice Tuesday morning in Arlington before heading to Philadelphia for a Wednesday night showdown with the Flyers.

“It was a lot better, that’s for sure,” Nicklas Backstrom said of the final 40 minutes at the Garden. “I thought the first period was not how we play. But we’ve lost two in a row. We’ve got to get back to the way we played before. We’ll have another practice before the next game, so we’ve just got to get back at it.”

MORE CAPITALS: Grubauer not enough as Caps drop goalie duel to Rangers

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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.

SEMIFINALS:
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

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

GOLD MEDAL MATCH:
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.

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