Quick Links

Caps fall in Game 7


Caps fall in Game 7

NEW YORK -- It may be fitting the Capitals season ended in the city that never sleeps.

Because after Saturday nights 2-1 loss to the Rangers in Madison Square Garden there will be plenty of sleepless nights wondering what might have been.

Henrik Lundqvist evoked haunting memories of Jaroslav Halak and made goals by Brad Richards and Michal Del Zotto stand up as the Capitals saw their promising playoff run come to a screeching halt on the corner of 33rd Street and 8th Avenue.

The win sends the top-seeded Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1997. Theyll host the sixth-seeded Devils at MSG Monday night and attempt to become the first NHL team to win the Stanley Cup after playing 14 games in Rounds 1 and 2.

The loss sends the Capitals into another summer wrought with questions.

Will Dale Hunter answer the pleas of his players and return as head coach?

Will general manager George McPhee decide to keep unrestricted free agents Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman? Will he even entertain the idea of trading Alex Ovechkin for Rick Nash?

Those are questions that will be addressed soon enough. But when the Caps look back on their playoff series loss to the Rangers, they will most remember blowing a one-goal lead with 6.6 seconds remaining in Game 5, then losing it in overtime.

The Rangers carried a 1-0 lead into the third period and when Del Zotto knocked Ovechkin off the puck then beat him down the ice to score his second goal of the playoffs with 9:55 remaining in regulation it appeared all hope was lost.

But just 38 seconds later Roman Hamrlik floated a shot through a Troy Brouwer screen and over Lundqvists right shoudler to breathe life into the Capitals.

The Caps had a chance to tie the score when Ruslan Fedotenko took a delay of game penalty, but nearly allowed a shorthanded goal. And when Nicklas Backstrom was slapped with a slashing penalty with 7:03 to play, the Rangers gained the momentum and
never let go.

In fact, the Caps couldnt pull Braden Holtby until 1 minute remained in the game.

After two days of talking about the importance of scoring first the Rangers wasted no time doing it.

Richards did the honors just 92 seconds into the contest when he ripped a 30-footer past a screened Braden Holtby for his sixth goal of the playoffs and a 1-0 lead.

Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto started the play with a long stretch pass to Carl Hagelin, who fed Richards at the top of the left circle. With Marian Gaborik charging the net and tying up Capitals defenseman John Carlson in front, Richards hammered a shot under the catching glove of Holtby.

The team that had scored first had won every game in the series, but with 58 minutes, 28 seconds of regulation still remaining, the Caps figured they had plenty of time to mount a charge. And in the second period they did.

The Caps outshot the Rangers 12-11 in the second frame but had a distinct advantage in scoring chances.

Henrik Lundqvist was the difference. The Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy finalist was brilliant, losing his stick while stopping Alex Semin on a backhander; kicking out his right pad to stop Mike Knuble at the side of the net; and getting his right leg on a shot by Troy Brouwer from in close.

The Caps pinned the Rangers in their own zone for long stretches in the second period, but had seven shots blocked by the Rangers in the period and entered the final period trailing for the first time in 14 playoff games.

Quick Links

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


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.


Quick Links

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.