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How important is winning Game 5? Not really

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How important is winning Game 5? Not really

News and notes as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks prepare for tonight’s showdown in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena in Tampa [8 p.m., NBC]. The series is knotted at two wins apiece:

Who's in goal: Once again, Lightning coach Jon Cooper is playing it coy, saying tonight's starting goaltender for the Lightning will be a game-time decision. Ben Bishop took shots at the morning skate on Saturday morning, an indication he will return after missing Game 4. It's a safe bet no one will know tonight's starter until just before puck drop.  

So close: The opening four games of the series each have been decided by one goal, just the third such occurrence in Stanley Cup Final history (also in 1951 and 1968). Only one Stanley Cup Final has featured five consecutive one-goal games to open the series – the 1951 affair between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens in which all five contests required overtime (TOR, 4-1).

Did you know?: The team that has won Game 5 after a split of the opening four contests of the Final has gone on to capture the Stanley Cup 16 of 23 times (69.6 percent) since the series adopted the best-of-seven format in 1939. However, the club that has lost Game 5 has rebounded to win the series in four of the past seven occasions (all since 2001).

 In 2013, the Blackhawks defeated the Bruins, 3-1, in Game 5 before ultimately winning the series in six contests.
 
The four teams since 2001 that have rebounded to win the Stanley Cup after losing Game 5 in that scenario include the 2004 Lightning, who dropped Game 5 at home to the Flames 3-2 in overtime before rallying for a seven-game series victory.

RELATED: End of season review: Dmitry Orlov

The other three clubs since 2001 to overcome a Game 5 loss to fall behind 3-2 in the Final were the 2001 Avalanche (vs. NJD), 2009 Penguins (vs. DET) and 2011 Bruins (vs. VAN).

As close as it gets: Here’s a breakdown of the first four games of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final: 

Games Played: 4
Wins by Team: CHI – 2, TBL – 2
Total Goals: 18
Goals by Team: CHI – 9, TBL – 9
Total Shots on Goal: 211
Shots on Goal by Team: CHI – 107, TBL – 104
Total Power-Play Goals: 3
Power-Play Goals by Team: CHI – 2/11, TBL – 1/11

A closer look at the goals scored in the series:

Total Goals: 18
Go-Ahead Goals: 7
Game-Tying Goals: 7
Game-Winning Goals: 4
Other Goals: 0

FYI: Overall, the Lightning have led for 38.5 percent of total playing time in the Stanley Cup Final, while the Blackhawks have led for 10.4 percent. The teams have been tied for 51.1% of total playing time – the clubs have been tied or separated by one goal for the entire series.
 
- All four games in the Stanley Cup Final have been tied or within one goal entering the final five minutes of regulation, as have more than half of all contests this postseason (54 of 87, 62.1 percent).
 
- The winning goal has been scored in the third period in each game thus far in the Stanley Cup Final, including two in the final five minutes of regulation (Antoine Vermette at 15:26 in Game 1 and Cedric Paquette at 16:49 in Game 3).
 
- The Blackhawks are 41-14 in Games 4-7 since the start of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including a 7-2 record this year. Since 2012, they have won 17 of 21 contests in Games 5-7 (7-2 on the road).
 
- The Blackhawks have been tied 2-2 in eight previous series since the start of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including one other this year (CF vs. ANA). They are 16-1 in Games 5-7 of those series, with their lone such loss in Game 5 of this year’s Western Conference Final at ANA (5-4 OT L).
 
- The Lightning have been tied 2-2 in three of their four series this postseason (also in first round vs. DET and conference final vs. NYR); they are 4-2 in Games 5-7, with both series going the distance.

MORE HOCKEY: End of season review: Matt Niskanen

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3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

3 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks

The Capitals got their Canadian road trip off to a good start with a 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. The stars came to play as Alex Ovechkin scored twice and added two assists while both John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom recorded three point nights to lead Washington.

Here are three reasons why they won the game.

John Carlson

Carlson was easily the best player on the ice for either team. He has shown tremendous offensive instincts this season and that was on display in the first period when he snuck behind the defense to receive a pass from Jakub Vrana and chipped the puck past goalie Anders Nilsson. You don’t usually see a defenseman as the first player in on an offensive play, but Carlson saw a lane and he took it to put Washington up 1-0.

The Caps’ blue liner also added two assists on the power play. This was Carlson’s fifth multi-point game and it is only the Caps’ eighth game of the season.

You can read more on Carlson’s big night here.

Evgeny Kuznetsov from the office

The Caps scored a power play goal in the second period from the office, but the shot came from the right faceoff circle, not from Ovechkin’s spot on the left.

So much of Washington’s power play is built around setting up Ovechkin on the left and that gives players like Kuznetsov a lot more room than they normally would have.

Ovechkin had the puck at the top of his office, but the Canucks had his shooting lane covered. Instead of shooting, Ovechkin fed it back to Carlson at the point. The penalty killers did not want to get drawn away from Ovechkin and just leave him over for the return pass, but that left Kuznetsov wide open in the opposite faceoff circle. Carlson fed him the puck and he did his best Ovechkin impression with the one-time goal.

Kuznetsov now has five goals on the season and all five have come on the power play.

A broken stick

Trying to slow down the NHL’s top power play is hard enough. When one penalty killer loses a stick, however, it becomes that much more difficult

Already up 3-2, the Caps got a third period power play after Troy Stecher was caught for tripping Dmitrij Jaskin. While on the power play, a shot by Carlson broke the stick of Markus Granlund.

You may not realize just how small a player becomes when he loses his stick. Most importantly for a power play, it means the penalty killer cannot stay in front of the puck to block a shot while also covering a passing lane with his stick. With no stick for Granlund, that gave Ovechkin and Carlson plenty of room to exchange passes. Carlson only had to wait for Ovechkin to get into position before setting him up for the one-timer from the office.

Ovechkin’s second goal of the night extended the Caps’ lead to two and shut the door on any possible Canucks comeback.

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It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

Whenever a player has a career year in the last year of his contract, there is always some trepidation the next season. Was he really worth all those years or all that money that come with his new deal or did he just cash in on one great season?

John Carlson got the big contract and now is silencing all the doubters with his outstanding play.

Carlson scored his fifth goal of the season Monday as he chipped in a great feed from Jakub Vrana past Vancouver Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson (see above).

He later assisted on two more goals in the contest, giving him his fifth multi-point game of the year.

On the final year of his deal in 2017-18, Carlson was brilliant with 15 goals, 53 assists and 68 points, all of which were career highs.

It’s rare to see a bonafide No. 1 defenseman hit the open market, meaning there would have been plenty of teams lining up to pay him the big bucks. The Caps never let it get that far and they re-signed Carlson to an eight-year deal worth $64 million before free agency opened. His $8 million cap hit ties him for second among all defensemen.

That’s a whole lot of money to spend on a player whose previous career high was 55 points. Carlson would not have been the first player to regress in the first year after signing a big deal and he certainly would not be the last.

For now, however, he looks like he is worth every penny.

Carlson’s 68 points last season led all defensemen and he looks like he’s on pace to shatter those numbers. His goal Monday was his 11th point on the season. It took him 15 goals to reach that mark last season and 43 games to reach five goals.

Despite a career year, Carlson was not invited to the All-Star Game, he was not a finalist for the Norris Trophy and he was not named a first or second-team All-Star at season’s end. At his current rate of play, however, he will be impossible to ignore. 

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