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Stanley Cup Final down to a best-of-three thriller

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Stanley Cup Final down to a best-of-three thriller

News, notes and quotes as the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning return to Tampa with the Stanley Cup Final knotted at two wins apiece following the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Lightning Wednesday night in Chicago. Game 5 will be played at Amalie Arena on Saturday [8 p.m., NBC]:

Happy Saad: Chicago forward Brandon Saad netted the game-winning goal at 6:22 of the third period, giving the 22-year-old Pittsburgh native his second third-period goal in as many games. Saad also scored the  go-ahead goal in Game 3 and now has eight goals in the playoffs. Saad's two goals in the 2015
Stanley Cup Final are tied with teammate Teuvo Teravainen and Tampa Bay's
Alex Killorn and Cedric Paquette for the most on both rosters.

Hold your breath: Is anything better than the final minute of a one-goal hockey game? The Lightning peppered Corey Crawford with several scoring chances, including a pair from in close by Steve Stamkos, leaving NBCSN play-by-play voice Mike Emrick breathless.
All four games in the Stanley Cup Final have been decided by one goal for
the first time since 1968, when the Canadiens swept the Blues, and for just
the third time in NHL history (1951, all five games).
Overall, nine of the past 11 games between the Lightning and Blackhawks
have been decided by one goal dating to March 9, 2011. The Lightning are 8-2-1; the Hawks 3-4-4.

When it matters most: Under coach Joel Quenneville the Blackhawks are 30-30 in Games 1 through 3 of the playoffs and 41-14 in Games 4 through 7. (7-2 this year).

Nail biters: All four games of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final have been tied or within one goal entering the final five minutes of regulation, as have more than half
of all games this postseason (54 of 87, 62.1 percent).

Best of 3: This is the fifth time in seven years the Stanley Cup Final is knotted at 2-2 after four games. The others:

2009 (Detroit, Pittsburgh tied 2-2)
2010 (Chicago, Philadelphia tied 2-2)
2011 (Boston, Vancouver tied 2-2)
2013 (Boston, Chicago tied 2-2)

United they stand: The Blackhawks improved their NHL-best home record in the 2015 playoffs to 8-2. They have outscored opponents 34-23 at United Center, with
their two losses coming in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final [2-1 vs. Anaheim] and Game 3 of the Final [3-2 vs. Tampa].

Nice company: Chicago forward Patrick Kane earned an assist on Brandon Saad's game-winning goal in the third period to move into fourth place on the Blackhawks' all-time playoff points list.

1. Stan Mikita (59-91—150)
2. Denis Savard (61-84—145)
3. Bobby Hull (62-67—129)
4. Patrick Kane (47-65—112)
5. Steve Larmer (45-66—111)

And then there’s Marian: Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa notched an assist on Jonathan Toews' game-opening goal in the second period, raising his career playoff totals to 49-95—144 (192 GP). Hossa climbed into a tie for 26th place on the NHL’s
all-time playoff assists list with Chris Pronger (95) and tied Chris Chelios (31-113—144) and Larry Robinson (28-116—144) for 31st place on the NHL’s  all-time playoff points list.

Mr. Captain: Hawks captain Jonathan Toews tallied his 10th goal of the playoffs when he opening the scoring at 6:40 of the second period. He’s now tied
Patrick Kane for the team goal-scoring lead and set a personal high for one
playoff year, surpassing the nine goals he scored in 2014.

Nice replacement: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy (17 saves) became the sixth goaltender in NHL history to make his first career playoff start in the Stanley Cup Final. At 20 years old, he’s also the youngest goalie to start a game in the Stanley Cup Final since Patrick Roy in 1986.
The three goaltenders younger than Vasilevskiy (20 yrs., 10 mos.) were Detroit's
Harry Lumley (18 yrs., 4 mos.) in 1945, Minnesota's Don Beaupre (20 yrs., 4
mos.) in 1981 and Roy (20 yrs., 7 mos.) in 1986.

Tampa starter Ben Bishop is questionable for Game 5 in Tampa but coach Jon Cooper said he will return to play in the Final. He’s just not sure which game. Game 6 is slated for Monday night in Chicago and Game 7, if necessary, will take place Wednesday night in Tampa.

The other Alex: Lightning forward Alex Killorn scored Tampa Bay's lone goal, tying the score 1-1 at 11:47 of the second period with his ninth goal of the Stanley
Cup Playoffs. Killorn, who notched 15 goals in 71 games during the regular
season, also scored Tampa Bay's lone goal in their 2-1 loss to Chicago in
Game 1 of the Final as well as the first and eventual game-winning goal in
Tampa Bay's 2-0 win over the New York Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern
Conference Final.
Killorn has recorded 7-7--14 in his past 16 games dating to Game 2 of the
second round series against Montreal on May 3. He ranks third on the
Lightning in playoff goals (9) and points (18, tied) in 24 games.

Did you know?:

- After allowing 19 shots on goal in the first period of Game 3 -- the most
they have allowed in a single period during the playoffs
-- the Lightning allowed just two shots in the opening period of Game 4 --
the fewest the club has given up in this year's postseason. Their previous
low was the three shots given up to Detroit in the first period of Game 1
of their first round series.

- The Blackhawks scored first for the first time in the 2015 Stanley Cup
Final and improved to 10-1 when scoring the opening goal this postseason.

- Tampa Bay did not lead any point in the game for the first time in the
2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning have led for 38.5 percent of total playing
time in the Final, the teams have been tied for 51.1 percent, and the
Blackhawks have led for 10.4 percent. The clubs have been tied or separated by one
goal for the entire series.

MORE CAPITALS: For Blackhawks' Timonen, one last chance to win it all

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan began tackling the items on his very long to-do list with the signing of prospect forward Shane Gersich. The team announced Monday that Gersich was re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract that carries a cap hit of $700,000.

Gersich will remain a restricted free agent at the end of the deal but will still be one year away from becoming arbitration eligible.

Gersich, who will turn 23 in July, just finished his first full professional season with the Hershey Bears, recording eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

“I learned a ton,” Gersich told NBC Sports Washington about his first AHL season. “I think our staff here is unbelievable. They've taught me so much, whether it's [showing] me video or doing skills or whatever. Can't say enough good things about them. And just my overall game, playing 200 feet and being aware of little details in the game. I think my game's grown a ton.”

Gersich’s original contract was for two seasons, but the first year was burned at the end of the 2017-18 season when he signed out of college at the end of the season and joined the Caps’ roster.

That transition from Stanley Cup champion to AHL the following season was a tough one for Gersich initially.

“Obviously, you were making your NHL debut and stuff like that, then it's kind of back to work and square one,” Gersich said. “For me, I know [I'm] definitely not the kid that's going to shy away from working or anything like that. So obviously, you've got to earn everything you get, and then that's how it is at every level.”

The speedy forward played in five games for Washington, three in the regular season and two in the playoffs during the Stanley Cup run. His speed was evident and has led many fans to wonder if the future is now for the young forward. His first year in Hershey showed, however, he still has a lot to learn before he reaches the NHL.

Gersich is still very much learning the game at the professional level. There was a little too much reaction in his game as opposed to action, which mitigated his speed. That is something he knows he needs to refine.

“I think just always being aware out there,” he said when talking about aspects of his game he wants to improve on. “Keeping my head on a swivel and making little plays. Just using my strengths too, I think. I've got to realize that I can use my speed out there a lot.”

The Caps will have a few roster spots open next season and not much money under the cap to fill those spots. Using young prospects is always an intriguing option. Gersich’s new contract, however, seems to indicate the Caps anticipate him spending the season in the AHL.

Gersich’s new contract carries an NHL salary of $700,000, which is actually lower than his first contract with a $925,000 salary. His minor-league salary, however, went up from $70,000 to $115,000. It may look like Gerisch is getting a pay cut based on the NHL numbers, but he actually is getting a raise because, barring a dazzling training camp, he will be spending most if not all of next season in Hershey. And if he does surprise, well now he has a lower NHL cap hit which is very important for a Washington team that will likely be very close to the salary cap.

While the implications of the contract seem clear, Gersich is excited for the opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL at training camp in the fall.

“Obviously, I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “It's been my goal my whole life, and that's the reason I left North Dakota. I think I'm ready for it, but you've got to wait and see until the time comes.”

The Caps also announced Monday the re-signing of forward Brian Pinho to a one-year, two-way contract. His contract carries a $700,000 NHL salary and a $100,000 AHL salary.

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

The Capitals will have a lot of roster spots open and not much money to fill them with this offseason. Adding a young, cheap defensive prospect to the NHL roster will certainly help and that appears to be the plan for Jonas Siegenthaler.

Siegenthaler’s first NHL season began with him in the AHL, but it finished with him playing on the top defensive pairing of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The season did not get off to a great start for Siegenthaler as he became a cap casualty despite a strong training camp. Heading into the start of the NHL season, he looked poised to make the Caps roster.

“I came to camp here with the mindset to make the team and come to camp in good shape and everything,” Siegenthaler said at the team’s breakdown day.

The suspension to Tom Wilson and subsequent acquisition of Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers forced Washington to shuffle money to get under the salary cap. Siegenthaler, who was waiver exempt, was sent to the Hershey Bears as a result.

Siegenthaler would have to wait until Nov. 9 to finally make his NHL debut. He would go on to play 26 games his rookie season.

“I think a guy like Siegenthaler came up and played really well,” Lars Eller said.

““I tried to play my best game,” Siegenthaler said. “Of course it wasn’t always easy but I think like I did my best and tried to help the team.”

With a deep blue line, Siegenthaler was sent back to Hershey in February, but was recalled late in the season after Michal Kempny suffered a season-ending injury. The call-up, however, was just to have an extra body. As Todd Reirden experimented with the defensive pairs heading into the playoffs, it did not appear he viewed the rookie defenseman as a real option for the playoffs. Despite all the shuffling, Siegenthaler did not get into the lineup until the season finale after Washington had already wrapped up the division crown.

The Caps struggled in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes, however, prompting changes to the lineup. The defense still struggled with the constant in-game adjustments and a change was clearly needed. Siegenthaler got into the lineup for Game 4. By Game 5, he was playing in Kempny’s spot on the top pair alongside John Carlson.

“He really just seemed very poised,” Eller said. “There wasn't any panic in his game. It's hard to be thrown into a series like that where the stakes are high and I thought he did that really well.”

Still just 22 years old and with a contract that remains waiver exempt for another year, Siegenthaler could enter the 2019-20 season in a position to again have to compete just to make the NHL roster. The possible retirement of Brooks Orpik and speculation over whether Matt Niskanen could be traded, however, leaves the team with spots open on the blue line.

The fact that Siegenthaler was able to go from the AHL to the top pair of the Caps during the playoffs reflects his growth as a player over the course of the year. To expect him to come into next season in a top-pair role would be unfair. Even a top-four role seems unlikely with Kempny likely returning and Nick Jensen taking Niskanen’s spot if he does in fact get traded.

But if the coaches trusted Siegenthaler as a rookie when it mattered most and with him still on an entry-level deal at a time when the team will need to pinch every penny, Siegenthaler will almost certainly be in Washington and not in Hershey for the 2019-20 campaign.

“Next season’s going to be huge,” he said. “I’ll do my best in the summer to keep myself in shape, in even better shape. My goal is to be here a long time and for rest of my career and yeah, just got to work for it.”

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