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Grubauer's stellar performance not enough as Caps drop goalie duel to Rangers

Grubauer's stellar performance not enough as Caps drop goalie duel to Rangers

Final score: Washington Capitals 1, New York Rangers 2

How it happened: Philipp Grubauer did everything he could to weather the storm of the first period, turning aside 18 of 19 shots in the opening 20 minutes. Alex Ovechkin tied the game in the second period with a power play goal. The Rangers came out on top, however, as Mats Zuccarello scored right off of a faceoff in the third period.

What it means: The Caps are 0-1-1 since returning from the bye week with two straight losses, the first time they have lost two straight since Dec. 27-29. Washington is 0-2-0 against the Rangers this season.

Goals

Rangers goal: Ryan McDonagh from Rick Nash and Derek Stepan at 7:49 in the first. McDonagh fired a shot on net forcing a rebound from Grubauer. Several Caps had a chance to clear it out of danger, but McDonagh beat them all to it and fired his own rebound into the back of the net. Caps 0, Rangers 1

Capitals goal: Alex Ovechkin (power play) from Lars Eller and Evgeny Kuznetsov at 17:24 in the second. Eller provided a nice cross-ice feed to find Ovechkin in the office. The captain wristed a shot that deflected off of Nick Holden, fooling Lundqvist. Caps 1, Rangers 1

Rangers goal: Mats Zuccarello from Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider at 8:37 in the third. Zibanejad found the puck on his stick right off of an offensive zone faceoff and weaved his way behind the defense before feeding an open Zuccarello in the slot. Caps 1, Rangers 2

3 Stars

1. Philipp Grubauer: This game could have gotten ugly early if not for the incredible effort of Grubauer. The Caps' netminder turned aside 18 of 19 shots in as opneing frame that was completely dominated by the Rangers.

2. Henrik Lundqvist: The Caps started tilting the ice in their favor in the second period. While Ovechkin was able to tie the game, Lundqvist prevented the Caps from taking control with his fantastic effort in net. He came up big in the final minute as well with a game-saving denial of Marcus Johansson on the doorstep.

3. Mika Zibanejad: Zuccarello's game-winning goal was all effort by Zibanejad who took the puck behind the defense right off the faceoff. He looked like he was a stop ahead of everybody else on that play and it gave the Rangers the win.

Look ahead: Washington will come home briefly for a Tuesday practice before heading to Philadelphia for a game against the Flyers Wednesday night. The Caps then face Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in Washington on Friday in the first leg of another back-to-back with the second leg coming on Saturday in Nashville.

Tell us what you think: Even with Braden Holtby on the bench, Saturday's game turned into a duel between the goalies as both Grubauer and Lundqvist dominated in net to keep their teams in the game. Which goalie had the more impressive performance?

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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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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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