Capitals

Quick Links

Who was that guy in goal for the Lightning?

usatsi_8600250.jpg

Who was that guy in goal for the Lightning?

News, notes and quotes as the Tampa Bay Lightning savor Saturday night’s 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks and head to Chicago with the Stanley Cup Final knotted at one win apiece:

How do you spell relief: He only played 9:13 in relief of starter Ben Bishop, but rookie Lightning backup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all five shots he faced in a pair of stints during the third period (from 7:17 to 8:49 and from 12:19 to the end of regulation) to pick up the win. Vasilevskiy was credited as the game-winning goaltender because he was on the ice when Lightning defenseman Jason Garrison scored the game-winning goal at 8:49 of the third period.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Vasilevskiy became the first goaltender to post a Stanley Cup Final victory in a relief role since Pittsburgh's Frank Pietrangelo made 15 saves in 40 minutes to lead the Penguins to a 6-4 win over the Minnesota North Stars in Game 5 in 1991.

Selected 19th overall by the Lightning in the 2012 NHL draft, the 20-year-old native of Tyumen, Russia entered Game 2 having made two relief appearances during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs in blowout losses to the Rangers (7-3 on May 26) and Canadiens (6-2 on May 7). Vasilevskiy also became the first goaltender to win his first career playoff game in relief in the Stanley Cup Final since April 7, 1928, when Lester Patrick – the coach of the Rangers – came in to backstop the team to a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 2 against the Montreal Maroons at Montreal.

The last goaltender to earn his first career playoff win in the Stanley Cup Final – as a starter – was Jussi Markkanen, who achieved the feat with the Oilers on June 10, 2006 in Game 3 against Carolina (24 saves in a 2-1 win).

Conn Smythe?: Tampa forward Tyler Johnson set a franchise record with his 13th goal of the playoffs, surpassing Ruslan Fedotenko and current Blackhawks forward Brad Richards, each of whom tallied 12 goals for the Lightning during their run to the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Triple threat: The Lightning's "Triplets" line of Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat combined for three points in Game 2 and have accounted for half of the Bolts’ offense in the playoffs with 30 points. Johnson has 13 goals and 9 assists for 22 points; Kucherov has 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points; and Palat has 7 goals and 8 assists for 15 points. Toss in Steven Stamkos (7-10-17) and Alex Killorn (8-9-17) and the quintet has accounted for three-quarters of Tampa’s 60 goals this postseason (45 of 60).

Century mark for Toews: Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews recorded the 100th playoff point of his NHL career (38-62-100 in 113 GP) by earning an assist on the goal by Brent Seabrook that tied the game 3-3 at 3:38 of the third period. Toews is the
92nd player in NHL history and 14th active skater to reach the milestone. Four of the 14 active NHLers with at least 100 playoff points play for the Blackhawks -- Toews, Marian Hossa (49-92-141), Patrick Kane (47-64-111) and Brad Richards (35-66-101).

Toews, who has spent his entire career with the Blackhawks, became the sixth player in franchise history to reach the 100-point milestone in the
postseason. The others: Stan Mikita (155), Denis Savard (131), Bobby Hull (116), Kane (111) and Steve Larmer (107).

Good company: Brent Seabrook netted his seventh goal of the post-season, setting a Blackhawks record for goals by a defenseman in one playoff season. He shared the previous record of six with Chris Chelios, who set the mark in 1992.

Seabrook, who has spent his entire career with the Blackhawks, also equaled a franchise record for career playoff goals by a defenseman (19). He can pass Bob
Murray and Doug Wilson with another goal.

RemarQable: Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final marked the 200th playoff game behind the bench for Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville (112-88). Only two other
head coaches in NHL history have reached the milestone: Scotty Bowman (353) and Al Arbour (209). Quenneville also ranks third behind Bowman (223) and Arbour (123) for the most playoff wins by a head coach in NHL history.

By the numbers: Teams winning Game 2 have gone on to hoist the Stanley Cup 74.7 percent of the time since the Final went to the best-of-seven format in 1939 (56-of-75 series), including nine of the past 12 occasions.

The Lightning improved to 4-0 in Game 2s during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, outscoring opponents 21-8 in those contests. The Blackhawks fell to 2-2.

Seven of the past nine games between the Lightning and Blackhawks have been decided by one goal dating to March 9, 2011.

More than half of the games in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs (52 of 85, 61.2 percent) have been tied or within one goal entering the final five minutes of regulation, including Game 2.

More than one-third of the games this postseason have featured a comeback win (31 of 85, 36.5 percent), including Game 2.

The Lightning improved to 9-1 in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs when leading after two periods. Tampa Bay had suffered its first playoff loss in such a scenario in Game 1 of the Final.

The Lightning improved to 10-1 when scoring the first goal during the playoffs, also having suffered their first playoff loss under such a scenario in Game 1 of the Final.

The Lightning improved to 8-1 following a loss in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There will not be a sweep in the Stanley Cup Final for the 16th consecutive season. The last team to win in four games was the 1997-98 Red Wings, who swept the Caps in four games. The Red Wings also swept the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997.

They said it:

“I know we have two unbelievably capable goaltenders. When Bish had to leave, there wasn't an ounce of stress on anybody on our bench, including myself.  I mean, the kid proved it when he went in.  He was great.” – Lightning coach Jon Cooper on Vasilevskiy

“Well, I thought we were a lot more aggressive today than we were in Game 1.  I thought Game 1 we were a little bit hesitant making plays.”  - Lightning forward Tyler Johnson 

“We get to go home, get excited, play in our building.  I'm sure everybody will be loud and excited about us coming back.” – Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville

 

Quick Links

Why the Caps had to trade Matt Niskanen

matt-niskanen-puck-capitals-usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Why the Caps had to trade Matt Niskanen

In an ideal world, you keep players like Matt Niskanen.

A veteran defenseman with years of experience, a player who was given hard minutes during Stanley Cup playoff runs in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and excelled, a soft-spoken, but blunt man unafraid to say when his team played like hot garbage. These are not guys you look to trade. 

Unless, of course, they have a $5.75 million salary-cap hit for the next two years and your team desperately needs to clear space for other priorities. The Capitals made that long-expected move on Friday when they traded Niskanen to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Radko Gudas. 

In a vacuum, this is a loss. Niskanen by all accounts has been a better defenseman than Gudas. But they are also on different career trajectories. Niskanen struggled, especially early last season. He is 32. There’s at least a chance we’ve seen the best of him, though he’d argue by the end of last season he was closer to his normal self.

“Not totally shocked, but it caught me a little off guard,” Niskanen told reporters on a conference call Friday. “I knew once the NHL season was over, from now until the draft is typically when things happen.  Not really shocked, a little surprised. I knew this is the time of year when these things can happen and I knew what kind of situation Washington was in, so I knew there was a possibility.

Gudas, 29, is going in the opposite direction – though his ceiling is surely lower than Niskanen’s is at his best. He’s cut down his penalty minutes each of the past three years. He’s of limited offensive value, instead a classic stay-at-home defenseman who’s become effective at limiting the high-danger chances when he’s on the ice. 

And that role won’t have to be a big one. The Capitals have an in-house replacement for Niskanen on the right side of the second pair with Nick Jensen, who is really the on-ice key to this trade. 

Jensen, acquired at the trade deadline from Detroit, was immediately signed to a four-year contract extension sight unseen. The writing was on the wall for Niskanen then. Caps GM Brian MacLellan basically said it out loud at breakdown down when he acknowledged retaining scoring depth is a priority and that he likely would have to move salary. These dots weren’t difficult to connect. 

Gudas is the plug-in defenseman on the third pair who allows Washington’s coaching staff to pick and choose which young player – Jonas Siegenthaler, Christian Djoos or whoever – they want to use on a given night. Both players are natural left-side defensemen.

If Jensen can find the comfort level he’d reached with the Red Wings, then MacLellan will have a more balanced roster. Immediately he can focus his leftover resources on the third and fourth lines. Maybe that means re-signing Carl Hagelin. Early indications are that’s a priority. 

But with about $13.49 million in cap space, according to the uber-helpful web site Cap Friendly.com. there is a little breathing room now to take care of restricted free agents (RFAs) Jakub Vrana – expect him around the $4 million mark on a bridge deal – and maybe Andre Burakovsky (a $3.25 million qualifying offer or less than that if they buy out his final two years of restricted free agency). 

But now let’s look at the long-term implications of the Niskanen trade. Gudas is a free agent after next season. That Niskanen money is gone just in time for contract extensions with center Nicklas Backstrom and goalie Braden Holtby.  

The Capitals will lose the bonus overage ($1.150 million) they have to pay defenseman Brooks Orpik this year - whether he plays with the team or not (a return seems unlikely now). Gudas’ cap hit is $2.345 million. The salary cap should also rise again from $83 million. Without moving more salary, keeping both Holtby and Backstrom seems like a long shot. 

Speaking with Holtby on Saturday at the Capital Pride Parade, he insisted to NBC Sports Washington that he hadn’t heard anything from his agent about contract talks beginning. That’s something you’d expect to happen this summer - or not at all if Holtby rightly pursues a top-level goalie contract. 

Montreal goalie Carey Price has a $10.5 million cap hit, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist is at $8.5 million and Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky could hit double figures as he enters the free agent market this summer. 

Backstrom, too, a bargain for nine years now, will want a raise. He now has the 20thhighest cap hit for a center ($6.7 million). You’d have to think he’d seek well over $8 million. Teammate Evgeny Kuznetsov has had a $7.8 million cap hit since 2017.

Niskanen knew all of this, of course. He understands the business side of the sport. A player with his own moral code, who was always, always at his locker when he made a mistake in a game or when someone had to account for a poor team performance, leaves Washington after five years with a Stanley Cup and few regrets. It’s what he came here to do.  

MORE CAPITALS NEWS

Quick Links

The Niskanen trade helps the Caps’ salary cap situation, but tough decisions are still ahead

The Niskanen trade helps the Caps’ salary cap situation, but tough decisions are still ahead

The 2019 offseason for the Capitals was always going to revolve around the salary cap. The first domino fell on Friday with the trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen and his $5.75 million cap hit to the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Caps received defenseman Radko Gudas in return with the Flyers retaining 30-percent of his $3.35 million cap hit. In total, Washington freed up $3.405 million worth of cap space for next season.

But that was just step one. There is still a lot of work left for general manager Brian MacLellan to do over the summer to fill out a full roster. Just how much easier did his life get on Friday?

With the move, the Caps now have eight forwards, six defensemen and two goalies under contract for next season for about $69.5 million. Ideally, a team wants 22 players with 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies. The salary cap has not yet been officially set, but it is projected to be $83 million. That means the team still needs five forwards and one defenseman and has about $13.5 million worth of cap space to work with.

Jakub Vrana and Christian Djoos are both restricted free agents and both will almost certainly be back. That is one forward and one defenseman off the wish list. Vrana will probably come in at about $4 million per year and Djoos at $1 million, giving the team about $8.5 million left for four forwards.

The good news is that the team is pretty much set in the top-six which of course means MacLellan will not need to find a big money player. The Niskanen trade allows the team room for a significant depth forward somewhere in the $4 million range for the third line with enough left over to fill out the remaining depth spots. The bad news is that still leaves the team with some tough choices to make.

Carl Hagelin and Brett Connolly are both unrestricted free agents and the team may have enough money for one, but not both. There is also still the question of what to do with Andre Burakovsky. Do you qualify him for $3.25 million? That may not be as tough a pill to swallow at this point, but it is still a significant amount of money to commit to a player with 12 goals in each of the past two seasons. And then there are the team’s other RFAs Chandler Stephenson and Dmitrij Jaskin. MacLellan will have to make a decision on all of those players while still putting together a team with enough depth to compete for the Stanley Cup before the window closes on the Ovechkin era completely.

The Caps lost a good player and locker room presence in Niskanen and now have more cap flexibility as a result, but it does not solve all of the team’s salary cap problems. The team will not be able to add as much offensive depth as perhaps it would have liked and MacLellan will still have to get creative to put together a bottom six formidable enough for a deep Cup run.

 

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: