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Ovi did his best to be Game 7 hero


Ovi did his best to be Game 7 hero

NEW YORK – Rangers fans take their hockey – and their heroes – seriously.

So when Capitals coach Barry Trotz dropped comparisons between Alex Ovechkin and Mark Messier into his daily conversations with the media during the Caps’ second-round payoff series against the Rangers, fans in the Big Apple thought he was out of line.

Messier, after all, has won six Stanley Cups and was deemed New York’s Messiah after leading the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years in 1994.

But when Ovechkin boldly said Sunday night that the Caps would come back to beat the Rangers in Game 7 in Madison Square Garden, well, that bordered on hypocrisy to Rangers fans because Messier made a similarly legendary boast 21 years ago, one which he backed up with a season-saving hat trick against the Devils.

So what’s the headline today in the New York Post?

“Talk’s cheap! Alex Ovechkin, Capitals come up short – again”

Yes, they did.. But while the Capitals’ 2-1 overtime defeat in Game 7 Wednesday night might make for headline fodder, it’s hard to pin the blame on the Capitals’ 29-year-old lightning rod of a captain.

“I think my top guys delivered,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz told the assembled media late Wednesday night. “All my top guys delivered.

“Alex, Backy, they all delivered. They were great today. They grew up. They grew today.

“I know people went after Alex for saying what he did. I love to go into a fox hole with guys that will stick their neck out and say, ‘You know what?  I’m going to deliver for you.’ And he did. He was really strong. He got our goal.”

Ovechkin logged 21:47 of ice time and it would have been more had the Caps not taken three straight penalties, including a game-changing cross-checking penalty to Mike Green that resulted in Kevin Hayes’ game-tying power play goal.

In his 30 shifts, Ovechkin recorded six shots on goal, with another three missing the net, along with three hits. His goal third goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs was a snipe over Henrik Lundqvist’s catching glove and gave the Caps the early lead 12:50 into the game.

“I thought we had great momentum in the first period,” Trotz said. “Second period, we can’t start the period with six minutes in penalties. We had one failed clear and it ended up in the back of the net. In the third period I thought we were fine [outshot 9-6] and in the overtime we were good. We’ll move forward. In Game 7s we’re 1-1 with this group and we’ll try to build our record from there.”

Of course, Trotz’s view is his own. He wasn’t around to witness six Game 7 defeats during the Ovechkin era. He didn’t feel the pain of winning a Presidents’ Trophy, only to be bounced in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.

“I think that goes away,” Trotz said. “They’ve had some disappointment, but I think they recognize they played a different style. They played playoff hockey and our team is evolving.

“You look at the growth of Backstrom and Ovi just in this last game. They put themselves out there and I don’t know if they would have done that in the past. I’m seeing young men mature. I’ve seen them mature not only as hockey players but also as people and leaders and they still have a lot of good hockey left in them.”

Ovechkin turns 30 in four months. Backstrom turns 28 in November. Jason Chimera is 36, Joel Ward is 34 and Brooks Orpik will be 35 at the start of next season.

The window of opportunity for Ovechkin and his teammates remains open, but now seemed like a good time for a hero.

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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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3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

When the Capitals take to the ice at home on Monday, they will be playing for their playoff lives. They lost their third straight game on Saturday as the Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead and push the Caps to the brink.

Here is why the Caps fell on the road for the first time in this series.

A rough start

Nineteen seconds was all the time Tampa Bay would need to score in Game 5.

Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov chased after it, but instead of getting the puck he inexplicably played the body of Cedric Paquette. Paquette was able to chip it into the offensive zone to Ryan Callahan. Callahan tried to pass to the slot, but it hit off of Orlov right to Paquette who buried it past Braden Holtby who was very deep in the crease.

If Orlov doesn’t cough the puck up in the neutral zone, if Kuznetsov plays the puck instead of the body or if Holtby challenges that shot, that goal doesn’t happen. An ugly play all around for Washington.

A no-call on Steven Stamkos

Later in the first period, Orlov went to corral a puck in the neutral zone, but was pressured by Stamkos, fell to the ice and turned the puck over to Nikita Kucherov. It was very clearly a trip on Stamkos, but there was no call. Palat would score on the play to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.

You can read more about the play here.

A rough night for Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen

Orlov and Niskanen is normally the Caps' best defensive pair, but they had a very long night. They were on the ice for each of the Lightning’s three goals of the game.

Orlov’s turnover led to the first goal, Stamkos’ trip of Orlov led to the second. On the third, Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman was somehow able to drive and turn the corner on Niskanen leading to a scoring opportunity that eventually deflected off the glove of Ryan Callahan and into the net. Stralman is not the speediest of players. The fact he was able to go one-on-one with Niskanen and get in behind him was surprising to see.