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Caps earn first win of the series in overtime over Crosby-less Penguins

Caps earn first win of the series in overtime over Crosby-less Penguins

Final score: Washington Capitals 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

How it happened: This game had a little bit of everything. Karl Alzner made his return to the lineup and it was a good thing he did. Matt Niskanen was ejected just over five minutes into the game after delivering a hit to the head of Sidney Crosby. It looked as if the Penguins' superstar lost his balance as Niskanen was delivering the hit which resulted in the high hit. Crosby did not return.

After the Caps killed off the five-minute major power play, they were able to strike first on a two-man advantage power play as Nicklas Backstrom banked a shot off of Marc-Andre Fleury and Ian Cole. Both teams were held scoreless in the second period, but Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to add an insurance tally on an odd-man rush in the third period. Then disaster struck. The Penguins were able to score twice with less than two minutes remaining with the goalie pulled to tie the game and force overtime. After Marcus Johansson forced a penalty, however, Kevin Shattenkirk scored his first goal of the postseason to give the Caps the win.

What it means: The Capitals finally managed to take one from the Penguins and now trail the series 2-1. They are still in a tough position, however, as they must still win Game 4 in Pittsburgh to avoid a 3-1 hole and bring the series back to Washington tied at 2. Still, the Caps have at least avoided the possibility of a sweep and guaranteed a return trip to Washington for Game 5.

Goals

Caps goal: Nicklas Backstrom (power play) from Alex Ovechkin and Justin Williams. With a 5-on-3 power play, Backstrom held the puck on the red line to the left of the net. He fired a shot into the crease that bounced off the stick of Marc-Andre Fleury and leg of Ian Cole into the net.  Caps 1, Penguins 0

Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams at 9:46 in the 3rd. Trevor Daley could not corral a puck at the Caps' blue line and it bounced over his stick leading to an odd-man rush. Williams backhanded a pass to Johansson who went in on net before passing at the last moment to Kuznetsov. Fleury sold out to stretch the pad leaving the top of the net open for Kuznetsov to bury. Caps 2, Penguins 0

Penguins goal: Evgeni Malkin from Justin Schultz and Phil Kessel at 18:07 in the 3rd. The Penguins passed around the perimeter until Malkin found some room and fired a one-timer that beat Holtby. Caps 2, Penguins 1

Penguins goal: Justin Schultz from Evgeni Malkin at 18:55 in the 3rd. A point shot from Schultz deflected off the stick of T.J. Oshie bouncing its way into the net for the late, game-tying goal. Caps 2, Penguins 2

Caps goal: Kevin Shattenkirk (power play) from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom at 3:13 into overtime. Caps 3, Penguins 2

3 Caps stars

1. Kevin Shattenkirk: He has had a rough postseason so far, but he won the game with his overtime tally to give the Caps a glimmer of hope for the series.

2. Braden Holtby: There was a lot of talk over who should start this game after Holtby was pulled in Game 2. Barry Trotz, however, put his faith in Holtby and his faith was rewarded as Holtby had his best game of the series.

3. Daniel Winnik: Remember that series-defining save Tom Wilson made off the goal line against Toronto? Winnik made a similar play in the first period. A shot from Nick Bonino got past Holtby and hit off the post sitting in the crease. Bryan Rust got a whack at it, but Winnik blocked the shot with the shaft of his stick to save the goal.

Look ahead: The series remains in Pittsburgh for Game 4 on Wednesday. Game 5, made necessary by Monday's win, will be in Washington on Saturday.

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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.

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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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