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Penguins beat Sharks 3-1, win Stanley Cup

Penguins beat Sharks 3-1, win Stanley Cup

If you asked the Capitals, they would tell you there is no solace in knowing they were eliminated from the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

On Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins completed their remarkable journey from a team that fired its coach in December to one hoisting Lord Stanley’s silver chalice following a tense 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 6.

Defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang and forward Patric Hornqvist netted goals for the Penguins and rookie goaltender Matt Murray turned aside 18 of 19 shots to give the Penguins their fourth Stanley Cup in team history (1991, 1992, 2009, 2016).  

The Penguins mowed down the Rangers in five games, the Capitals in six games, the Lightning in seven games and the Sharks in six games.

They did so under the direction of head coach Mike Sullivan, who was hired on Dec. 13 after the Penguins got off to a 15-10-3 record and fell to fifth in the Metropolitan Division standings. Sullivan’s first game behind the Penguins’ bench came against the Capitals on Dec. 14, a game the Caps won 4-1 in Pittsburgh. The Penguins lost their first four games under Sullivan to fall to 15-14-3, but went 33-12-5 in the final four months of the regular season to finish second behind the Caps in the Eastern Conference standings.

Each of the Penguins’ four wins against the Capitals were by one goal, with two coming in overtime. Burt that seemed little consolation to the Caps, at least not in the opinion of defenseman Brooks Orpik, a former Penguin who won the Cup with them in 2009.

“It’s only been my second year and I know there’s a lot made of not getting by the second round and I’m sure people feel that frustration,” Orpik said. “But I’ve lost in the Finals before and whether you lose in the Finals or if you lose in the second round, you lost. The goal here is to win the Stanley Cup and I can tell people you don’t feel any better losing in the Finals than you do losing in the second round. I mean, you either win or you lose.”

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Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now


Capitals are sticking with Chandler Stephenson on the top line… for now

With Tom Wilson still serving a 20-game suspension, Washington Capitals head coach Todd Reirden has the difficult task of finding a wing to complement his top line of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. For the first four games of the season, that player was Brett Connolly.

On Saturday, however, he changed things up and went with Chandler Stephenson instead.

Just 18 seconds into the game, Stephenson made his head coach look very smart as he finished off a 2-on-1 with Kuznetsov to score his first goal of the season.

“Obviously, the start was great,” Reirden said after the game.

Stephenson is an incredibly fast skater and the extra speed seemed to add another dimension to that line that opponents had to contend with, and it led to both of the Caps’ goals on the night.

In addition to Stephenson’s goal, Ovechkin drew a tripping penalty in the second period, and Washington scored on the resulting power play.

“Those guys are a lot of fun to play with,” Stephenson said. “They just know where to be and can find each other. I've just got to get the puck to them and just go to the net with your stick on the ice, and they'll find you.”

The top line’s success was a matter of finding instant chemistry as Stephenson had very little time to adjust. The Caps were off on Friday following back-to-back games, and Reirden did not make the switch of putting Stephenson on the top until Saturday’s morning skate.

Putting a new top line together with little time to practice does not seem like an ideal scenario, but according to Kuznetsov, the level of familiarity between all the players made the adjustment quick and easy.

“It doesn't matter with who you play,” he said. “In this locker room, we can communicate with anybody. We don't have a first line, we don't have a fourth line. We try and roll all lines.”

Reirden seemed pleased with the new trio after the game saying, “They did a number of good things during the game as well, so they I thought accomplished a lot. I thought [Stephenson] brought the speed on the forecheck and was able to at least go after their defense a little bit and force some turnovers that Kuznetsov and [Ovechkin] were able to at least get some opportunities from. So I think that's important to have him in that situation.”

Reirden was happy enough with the top line’s performance to keep them together. The team is off Monday, but Stephenson remained on the top line during Sunday’s practice.

But so long as Wilson remains out, finding the right match for the top line will remain a work in progress.

Said Reirden, “We’ll continue to try to put together our four lines that give us the best chance.”


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NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

NHL Power Rankings: Not every night is a big-time game for the Capitals

There was a lot of excitement to start the season for the Caps. First, there was the home-opener and the banner raising against the Boston Bruins. Then there was a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins. After that, it was a Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Vegas Golden Knights.

And all of that was followed up with a trip to Newark.


With all due respect to New Jersey, given the slate the Caps faced to start the season, it was no real surprise to see the team struggle to get up for Thursday’s game against the Devils, a game in which the Caps were blown out 6-0. Of all the games Washington faced to start the season, the trip to New Jersey was definitely the least exciting.

But not every game is going to be a big rivalry matchup or a playoff rematch. With every team gunning for the Caps, they better make sure they can get themselves ready for the grind of an 82-game season that won’t always feature a big-time matchup.

A trip to Newark may not be flashy or exciting, but it still counts as two points.

The Caps dropped the game in New Jersey and lost a tight contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Where do they stand now after two straight losses?