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Capitals, Rangers renew bitter rivalry

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Capitals, Rangers renew bitter rivalry

News, notes and quotes from today’s morning skate at Madison Square Garden in preparation for to tonight’s rematch between the Capitals (8-2-0, 16 points) and New York Rangers (7-2-2, 16 points):

Remember the pain: In each of the Caps’ last three trips to the playoffs they have been eliminated by the Rangers in seven games.

“You remember that hurt at the end of the year,” said Jay Beagle, who will center a third line with Jason Chimera and Andre Burakovsky. “It’s a team we’ve come up against quite a bit in the five or six years I’ve been here and a rivalry has formed, for sure. The teams don’t like each other. It’s a big game and it’s a game for first place. There’s a lot more to it than last year.”

Where they stand: The Caps and Rangers are tied for the Metropolitan Division lead with 16 points, one point ahead of the third-place Islanders. The Caps are ranked fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.4) while the Rangers rank first in goals allowed per game (1.8).

“They’re a very structured team,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Washington is one of the elite teams in the league and they’re playing real well. It was a tough playoffs series last year that could have gone either way.”

While it was the first time Vigneault faced the Caps in the playoffs, and the first time Barry Trotz facewd the Rangers in the post-season, both coaches got a good feel for the history between the teams.

“The pain doesn’t go away, it just doesn’t,” Trotz said. “We’ve both shown through the first 10 games that we’re quality teams. It’ll be a good match tonight.”

McDonagh-Girardi: The Rangers’ top defense pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will be reunited to face the Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.

“Part of it is they love that challenge,” Vigneault said of facing Ovechkin, who has 22 goals and 15 assists for 37 points in 39 games against the Rangers. “They know they’re going against one of the best players in the league, if not the best. (Ovechkin) is very competitive, very physical and that brings out the best in them as far as competitiveness, reads and physicality. He’s a tough, tough player to play against.”

Rangers top-line center Derick Brassard said that while Ovechkin is the most dangerous player om the Caps’ top line, Evgeny Kuznetsov (5 goals, 8 assists) is just as difficult to contain.

“He’s been playing really well,” Brassard said. “He’s a really good skater and that’s the main thing with him. In between the blue lines in the neutral zone he just flies out there.

“There’s a reason why there’s a big hype around him. Last year in the playoffs he brought his game to another level. This year he’s very dynamic and he’s playing with Ovechkin so we’re going to have to pay attention to him a lot.”

Breaking in the rookie: The Rangers will go with 23-year-old rookie defenseman Dylan McElrath on their third pairing with Keith Yandle. Known as The Undertaker, McElrath is a hulking 6-foot-5, 220-pounder from Winnipeg with four games of NHL experience. He recorded 165 penalty minutes in each of his last two seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack. 

“He’s been working hard so I think this is a good game for him,” Vigneault said. “Washington is a big, heavy team, so he should fit in.”

McElrath, who is replacing 39-year-old Dan Boyle, said he’s anxious to share the same ice as Ovechkin.

“It’ll be pretty cool,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve  grown up watching him. He’s been an elite player for 10 years. It’ll be pretty cool to step on the same ice as him. … I have to tote the line of playing physical but also playing smart.”

Here’s a quick look at the projected lineups for both teams:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Andre Burakovsky

Brooks Laich - Chandler Stephenson - Tom Wilson

Defense pairings

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Scratches: Taylor ChorneyMichael LattaStanislav Galiev

RANGERS

Forward lines

Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Jesper Fast

Oscar Lindberg - Kevin Hayes - Viktor Stalberg

J.T. Miller - Dominic Moore - Jarret Stoll

Defense pairings

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle - Dylan McIlrath

Goaltenders

Henrik Lundqvist (starter) - Antti Raanta

Scratches: Dan BoyleEmerson Etem

MORE CAPITALS: Why Caps expect another tight one in New York

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George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

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USA TODAY Sports

George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues -- when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West -- to get to the final.

Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.

Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.

Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa's point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.

Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn't muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets' attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.

The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.

The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.

The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place -- not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon -- were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.

The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.

After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.

Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.

One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games -- a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 -- but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.

Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.

Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career -- and first since 2015 with St. Louis -- Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.

MORE CAPITALS STORIES:

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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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