Pictured: Alex Ovechkin
Source: Getty Images North America

Preview: Washington at Toronto

The Toronto Maple Leafs have refused to let two straight setbacks extend to a three-game losing skid on eight separate occasions this season. The Maple Leafs look to nip their latest two-game streak in the bud on Thursday when they bid for a season sweep of the visiting Washington Capitals.

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Although Toronto dropped the final two contests of its season-high six-game road trip (3-2-1), coach Mike Babcock generally was pleased with the team’s overall body of work. “I liked our road trip a lot,” Babcock said after the Maple Leafs settled for a 3-2 overtime setback to white-hot St. Louis. “I didn’t like our game in Phoenix (a 2-0 loss to Arizona). Other than that, I liked our game every night.” Washington has alternated losses and wins in the first four contests of its six-game trek, although superstar captain Alex Ovechkin pushed his NHL-leading goal total to 42 with four in the last three outings — including two in a 3-2 victory at Los Angeles on Monday. The three-time Hart Trophy recipient joined Russian countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom in recording a goal and two assists this season against Toronto, although former Vezina Trophy winner Braden Holtby permitted nine goals on 64 shots to lose both encounters.

TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCS Washington, TVAS, TSN4 (Toronto)

ABOUT THE CAPITALS (33-20-7): Washington waived pending unrestricted free agent Devante Smith-Pelly on Wednesday after initially planning to part ways with fellow forward Dmitrij Jaskin. “Right now, there is a lot of movement going on, especially for teams that are salary-capped strapped like we are,” coach Todd Reirden said. “Earlier in the day, we had made the decision to put Jaskin on waivers and we changed our mind and were notified during practice. We made that adjustment and now Devante has been put on waivers.” The 26-year-old Smith-Pelly has eight points (four goals, four assists) in 54 games this season after scoring seven goals and setting up one other during the Capitals’ run to their first Stanley Cup title in 2017-18.

ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (36-19-4): William Nylander, who has struggled mightily since signing a six-year contract extension, publicly welcomed the added responsibilities that come with playing the center position with Nazem Kadri sidelined with a concussion. “I thought we were able to create some chances, so it was fun,” the 22-year-old Nylander told the Toronto Sun of his line of Andreas Johnsson and Connor Brown. “I’m feeling pretty good, skating well and the chances are there. They’re coming, that’s all you can say.” The 25-year-old Brown had a pair of assists in Toronto’s 4-2 win over Washington on Oct. 13 and two more in a 6-3 victory versus the Capitals on Jan. 23.

OVERTIME

1. Toronto C Auston Matthews has seven points (four goals, three assists) in his last four games overall and three (two goals, one assist) against Washington this season.

2. Capitals D John Carlson has four of his club-best 45 assists in his last three contests.

3. Maple Leafs RW Kasperi Kapanen has six points (three goals, three assists) in his last five games.

Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Pictured: Auston Matthews
Source: Ronald Martinez / Getty Image North America

Preview: Capitals at Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have tumbled into a tailspin that has seen them drop seven of their last 10 games overall and six of seven at home. The Maple Leafs likely won’t receive much sympathy on Wednesday when they host the Washington Capitals, who have lost a season-high six in a row (0-4-2) and surrendered at least seven goals in three of their last four contests.

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Auston Matthews is mired in an offensive funk, as the 21-year-old has just one goal in his last 13 games and three assists along with a minus-11 rating in his past seven. Matthews, however, has found success versus Washington as he boosted his point total to six (two goals, four assists) in six encounters after scoring and setting up a goal in Toronto’s 4-2 win on Oct. 13. Three-time Hart Trophy recipient Alex Ovechkin set up goals by countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov and Chandler Stephenson in that contest and registered his third hat trick of the season – 23rd of his career – in Tuesday’s 7-6 overtime loss to San Jose. The Capitals, who allowed the tying goal in the final second of regulation before falling in overtime, will look to avoid losing seven in a row for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, TVA, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360, (Toronto)

ABOUT THE CAPITALS (27-16-6): T.J. Oshie scored one goal and set up two others against the Sharks to boost his point total to 10 (four goals, six assists) in his last eight games. Nicklas Backstrom had an assist in the first meeting with Toronto and set up a pair of goals on Tuesday to lift his total to 37, one shy of defenseman John Carlson for the team lead. The 29-year-old Carlson set up Oshie’s first-period goal against San Jose and has seven points (two goals, five assists) in his last eight games.

ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (29-17-2): William Nylander, who has just one goal in 20 games, posted his first point since Jan. 3 when he set up defenseman Travis Dermott’s first-period tally in Sunday’s 4-2 setback to Arizona. The assist was the 22-year-old Nylander’s third in 20 contests this season after he recorded 41 in 82 games in 2017-18. Offense hasn’t been an issue for John Tavares, who reached the 30-goal plateau for the fifth time in his career on Sunday when he scored in the third period.

OVERTIME

1. Toronto F Mitch Marner has four goals and two assists in his last six games.

2. Washington G Pheonix Copley likely will get the nod on Wednesday and bid for his first win since Jan. 8, when he turned aside 37 shots in a 5-3 victory versus Philadelphia.

3. Maple Leafs G Frederik Andersen (21-11-1) is just 9-7-0 at home this season despite sporting a 2.28 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

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Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Alex Ovechkin
Source: Patrick Smith / Getty Image North America

Preview: Flyers at Capitals

The Washington Capitals didn’t exactly put forth an awe-inspiring performance in their last outing, but the result proved to be just enough to prevent their first four-game skid since March 2017. The Capitals will look for a better effort on Tuesday when the Metropolitan Division leaders host the team making itself comfortable in the division’s cellar: the free-falling Philadelphia Flyers.

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For a club that boasts 14-time 30-goal scoring dynamo Alex Ovechkin, Washington received an offensive jolt from unlikely sources as Travis Boyd netted his fourth tally at 6:19 of the third period and Michal Kempny added his fifth with 3:52 remaining of Sunday’s 3-2 win over Detroit. Habitual line-stepper Tom Wilson moved within two tallies of last season’s career high by scoring his 12th goal in 22 games for Washington, which is facing Philadelphia for the first time in 2018-19 after dropping three of four encounters last campaign. The fledgling Flyers fell for the seventh straight game (0-5-2) and sustained their sixth shutout loss of the season in Monday’s 3-0 setback to St. Louis — to a goaltender (Jordan Binnington) that was making his first NHL start, no less. Rookie Carter Hart turned aside 34 shots versus the Blues, but Michal Neuvirth is in line to start Tuesday’s tilt against his former team.

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, TVAS, NBCS Washington

ABOUT THE FLYERS (15-21-6): Captain Claude Giroux, who leads the team in assists (33) and points (46), has been kept off the scoresheet in five of his last seven outings while Sean Couturier (club-best 15 goals) has been held without a point in five of his last six. Both forwards look to get off their respective slides at the expense of Washington, against which Giroux collected five points (two goals, three assists) in four meetings while Couturier had seven (two goals, five assists). Jakub Voracek also collected two goals and five assists versus the Capitals last season, although he has been kept off the scoresheet in four of six outings after notching a point in 11 of his previous 13.

ABOUT THE CAPITALS (25-12-4): Coach Todd Reirden’s decision to reunite Washington’s top line of Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Wilson from the playoffs paid immediate benefits as Kuznetsov corralled a loose puck in front of the net and alertly fed Wilson on the right side for a one-timer at 6:57 of the first period. “That’s what you’ve got to do in this league,” Wilson said of shaking things up, per the Washington Post. “It hasn’t been coming easy for us the last couple of games, and it’s huge to be able to turn that one around and finish on a strong note. It’s a tough league, and you’ve got to be sure you end those little skids.” Kuznetsov’s assist accounted for his 300th career point before he set up Kempny’s game-winning tally.

OVERTIME

1. Philadelphia has mustered just 12 goals during its seven-game losing streak.

2. Ovechkin has flustered the Flyers throughout his career, to the tune of 55 points (33 goals, 22 assists) in 49 career encounters.

3. Philadelphia D Ivan Provorov, who has just 13 points this season, had four (one goal, three assists) against Washington in 2017-18.

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Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Red Wings at Capitals

Alex Ovechkin has won the Maurice Richard Trophy seven times during his stellar career, including five of the last six seasons, and is on a path toward another. The 33-year-old captain looks to extend a pair of streaks on Tuesday as the Washington Capitals seek a third straight victory when they host the Detroit Red Wings.

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Ovechkin, who is the reigning Richard Trophy winner after coming within one tally of his fourth 50-goal effort in five seasons, began Monday as the league leader with 22 as he has scored in three consecutive contests and seven of his last eight. The three-time Hart Trophy recipient also is riding an 11-game point streak (10 goals, six assists) and has yet to go back-to-back games this campaign without landing on the scoresheet. Detroit is coming off just its second win in seven home contests, a 3-1 triumph over Los Angeles on Monday in which Dylan Larkin scored his team-leading 12th goal. The 22-year-old has collected two tallies and five assists during his four-game point streak for the Red Wings, who are seeking their third straight road victory.

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, NCBS Washington

ABOUT THE RED WINGS (14-13-4): Trevor Daley returned to the lineup against the Kings and blocked two shots while posting a plus-2 rating in 19 minutes, 43 seconds of ice time. The 35-year-old defenseman, who is one point away from 300 for his career, had missed the previous five contests with a lower-body injury. Larkin has landed on the scoresheet in seven of his last nine games, collecting four goals and six assists in that span.

ABOUT THE CAPITALS (17-9-3): Washington could be even stronger for Tuesday’s contest as T.J. Oshie was a full participant in Monday’s practice and may be ready to return to the lineup. The 31-year-old, who is four goals shy of 200 for his career, has missed the last 11 games with a concussion. Like Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov has yet to be held without a point in back-to-back contests this season as he brings a five-game streak (one goal, five assists) into Tuesday’s matchup.

OVERTIME

1. Capitals RW Tom Wilson, who has recorded 14 points in 11 games this season, missed the last two contests with a concussion.

2. With the return of Daley, Detroit assigned D Brian Lashoff to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.

3. Washington has scored at least four goals in eight of its last 10 contests.

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Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Capitals at Canadiens

The Washington Capitals have a chance to post back-to-back victories for the first time this season when they wrap up a four-game road trip with a visit to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. The defending Stanley Cup champions have enjoyed spectacular success in Montreal, winning five in a row and 12 of their last 13 at the Bell Centre.

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First-year coach Todd Reirden acknowledged that the Capitals are “still a work in progress” after their spirited run to claiming the Stanley Cup last season. “As much as you want to talk about building momentum from last year — and we have the majority of our players back — it’s tough to replicate the intensity that goes on, and just the detail in our game could improve,” Reirden said. The Canadiens, who will be trying to avoid dropping two in a row for the first time this season, opened a three-game homestand with a 4-1 loss to Dallas and now have to face Washington and Tampa Bay over the next three nights. “It’s too bad because we worked hard,” Montreal coach Claude Julien said. “The effort was there but the result just wasn’t.”

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, RDS, TSN2 (Montreal), NBCS Washington

ABOUT THE CAPITALS (5-3-2): Defenseman Brooks Orpik sustained a lower-body injury in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win at Calgary and has been ruled out of Thursday’s matchup by Reirden. Madison Bowey played 10 1/2 minutes against the Flames and could be paired with another second-year blue-liner in Christian Djoos versus Montreal. “This is the growth of them as young players, to see where they are at and to see how they do in these situations,” Reirden said. “That’s how we’ll start the game, and throughout the game they’ll probably play with other players as well. … But those will be our three pairs to start the game.”

ABOUT THE CANADIENS (6-3-2): Leading goal scorer Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron both missed Wednesday’s practice, but only the latter’s status is in question after he suffered a lower-body injury against Dallas. “Gallagher was definitely just a maintenance day,” Julien said. “Same thing with Paulie, but Paulie I think is more day-to-day. I know Gallagher will be fine tomorrow. Can’t say the same about Paulie yet. We’ll go about it on a day-to-day basis.” With Gallagher and Byron absent, Julien juggled his lines and put together the all-Finnish trio of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia on one unit.

OVERTIME

1. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin had four goals and an assist in three games versus Montreal last season.

2. Canadiens G Carey Price has labored against the Capitals with a 6-13-4 record and 3.30 goals-against average.

3. Washington’s top-ranked power play is converting on 37.1 percent (13-for-35) of its chances.

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Posted in NHL, Top Fantasy Picks

Capitals at Golden Knights Game 5 Preview

The Washington Capitals are venturing to Vegas with more than just breaking the bank on their minds – they are looking to capture their first Stanley Cup title in franchise history. The Capitals can do precisely that on Thursday as they look to secure Washington’s first professional sports championship since 1992 with a win over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena.

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While teams that hold a 3-1 series lead on the NHL’s grandest stage own a 32-1 record, the Capitals have failed to close the deal with that same advantage on a league-most five occasions in their star-crossed history – and as recently as 2015 against the New York Rangers. “There’s been heartbreak here, we know that. But I think that’s kind of scarred over and has made us a little stronger for it,” said Washington forward T.J. Oshie, who scored a goal and set up two others in Monday’s 6-2 romp to give him 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) in his past 15 contests. While the Capitals are looking to exorcise some demons, Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said his expansion team essentially is playing with the house’s money. “The pressure is off us now,” Gallant told reporters in a conference call. “We’re going to go out and play and work hard and go have some fun. So we’ll see what happens.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: The recipient of the Conn Smythe Trophy has been a heated debate in Washington, with some tabbing Braden Holtby (15-7, 2.13 goals-against average) as the front-runner since his paddle save on the doorstep in the waning moments of Game 2 arguably turned this series around. The former Vezina Trophy winner recorded consecutive shutouts to eliminate Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals and has won five of six overall, with a .965 save percentage in those victories. Three-time Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin (NHL high-tying 14 goals, 12 assists) and fellow Russian countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov (12 goals, 19 assists) are also in the mix, with the latter netting four assists on Monday to become the fifth player since 1997 to reach the 30-point plateau in a single postseason – moving within five points of the 36 recorded by Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin in the 2009 playoffs.

ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS: James Neal has reached the 20-goal plateau in all of his 10 NHL seasons, but the 30-year-old felt a bit snake-bitten during the first period of Game 4 when his bid into an open net caromed off the far post. “Man, you want those chances,” Neal told reporters. “Nine times out of 10, you probably put that in the back of the net.” Three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t been receiving as many fortunate bounces of late, as he has answered a 12-3 mark with a .947 save percentage in the first three rounds with a 1-3 record and .845 save percentage in the Final.

OVERTIME

1. Washington C Nicklas Backstrom notched three assists in Game 4, boosting his total to nine points (two goals, seven assists) in his past six contests.

2. Vegas, which has dropped three in a row, did not lose four straight games during its inaugural season.

3. The 1942 Detroit Red Wings are the lone team to lose the Stanley Cup Final after holding a 3-1 series lead.

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Posted in NHL

Golden Knights at Capitals Game 4 Preview

The Washington Capitals hope the momentum of their first-ever home win in the Stanley Cup Finals will go a long way toward recording another versus the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 on Monday, thereby bringing them one victory away from grabbing the chalice for the first time in franchise history. Three-time Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin scored the signature diving goal in Saturday’s 3-1 triumph, helping the Capitals claim a 2-1 edge in the series.

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“I thought it was just sort of the right thing in our first victory in the Final at home that Alex would score the goal,” coach Barry Trotz told reporters. “I thought that was a little bit of poetic justice, if you will, for all the tough times.” Ovechkin matched a franchise high (John Druce) with his NHL high-tying 14th tally (Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele) to push his point total to 25 to reside two shy of fellow Russian Evgeny Kutznetsov, who rebounded from an upper-body injury in Wednesday’s 3-2 win to score and set up a goal in Game 3. Tomas Nosek netted his fourth goal in five games on Saturday when he took advantage of Braden Holtby’s misplay for the Golden Knights, who have dropped two in a row for the first time since the final two games of the regular season (April 5-7). “We had twice as much time off as they have in the playoffs. We should have a lot in the tank,” Vegas defenseman Deryk Engelland told TSN. “I just think we’re not playing our identity. We’re trying to make too many plays.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS: Shea Theodore has parlayed a solid season into a strong playoffs for Vegas, however his play in both Games 2 and 3 left a bit to be desired – and he knows it. “I just have to be much better than I was,” said the 22-year-old defenseman, who saw his broken stick lead to Kuznetsov’s goal at 12:50 of the second period while his botched clearing attempt resulted in fourth-liner Jay Beagle setting up Devante Smith-Pelly with 6:07 remaining in the third. Theodore also didn’t do himself any favors by allowing Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen to skate past him, resulting in Marc-Andre Fleury to be whistled for tripping to negate a Vegas power play in the latter stages of the second period.

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Beagle answered one assist in his previous eight games by setting up a pair of goals, including tapping the puck to Kuznetsov on a 2-on-1 rush. “(The assist isn’t) as good as a goal, but I want it out of my hands when it’s me and him, that’s for sure,” the 32-year-old Beagle said of Kutznetsov, who curiously referenced an NBA Hall of Famer in a nod to playing while at less than 100 percent. “It’s emotional stuff. Like Michael Jordan, when he play(ed) his best game, he got hurt, got 53 points,” the 26-year-old Kuznetsov told reporters, although it’s not known which game he’s referencing. “I mean like when you’re hurt, you play a little better always.”

OVERTIME

1. Vegas C William Karlsson, who led the team with 43 goals in the regular season, did not register a single shot attempt in Game 3.

2. His Game 3 gaffe notwithstanding, Holtby has permitted just three goals since being pierced for five in the series opener.

3. The Golden Knights’ third line of Erik Haula, David Perron and James Neal were a combined minus-9, with Haula collecting the lone two shots by the contingent.

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Posted in NHL

Capitals at Golden Knights Game 2 Preview

Those looking to break the bank in Sin City have often tried to disprove the theory that “The House always wins,” often times leaving with a bruised ego and a lighter wallet. The Vegas Golden Knights, who have posted better odds at home than most tables in the casino, aim to continue their good fortune at T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals.

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Tomas Nosek scored the go-ahead goal midway into the third period and added insurance into the empty net in Monday’s 6-4 triumph for Vegas, which has outscored the opposition 31-16 en route to posting a 7-1 mark at home in the playoffs. The 25-year-old Nosek, who has eight regular-season goals in 84 career contests, owns four points (three goals, one assist) in his last three games while fellow fourth-liner Ryan Reaves has tallied in back-to-back contests for the first time since April 6 and 8, 2017. “We didn’t play our best game,” Capitals superstar captain Alex Ovechkin told reporters after his club’s first contest since a Game 7 win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday. “I think next game is going to be different and all the nervousness, all the bad things (go) away (from) this game. We just have to forget about it and bounce back.” Countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov notched an assist in the topsy-turvy series opener to extend his franchise-record postseason point streak to 11 games, during which the 26-year-old Russian has scored six goals and set up 10 others.

 

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Habitual line-stepper Tom Wilson’s blindsided hit on Jonathan Marchessault did not result in a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Tuesday, with the league citing that it was shoulder to shoulder rather than to the head and that it was in the flow of the game. The 24-year-old Wilson, who received a three-game suspension in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Pittsburgh, said he has no plans to change his playing style. “You always have your reputation,” Wilson told reporters. “When you play my physical style, you’re going to have that reputation. I trust myself. I play the game hard. It’s my job to bring that energy, that physicality. Right after he got up, he said ‘good hit.'”

ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS: Reilly Smith continued his stellar postseason by scorin

 

g a goal and setting up another in the series opener, giving him 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) in 16 outings. Fellow forward Marchessault has done him one better with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists), snapping a tie with New York Islanders’ Jude Drouin (1975) and San Jose Sharks’ Igor Larionov (1994) for the most with a franchise in its first-ever postseason. Marchessault, who set up Smith’s second-period goal, has flustered the Capitals with four assists in three encounters this season.

OVERTIME

1. Washington’s John Carlson scored his 17th career playoff goal in the opener to move past Kevin Hatcher for the most by a defenseman in franchise history.

2. Vegas’ lone postseason home loss came in double overtime on April 28, a 4-3 decision against the Sharks in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals.

3. Capitals RW T.J. Oshie set up a pair of goals in the series opener to push his point total to 13 (four goals, nine assists) in the past 12 games.

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Posted in NHL

Capitals at Golden Knights Game 1 Preview

The Vegas Golden Knights started their inaugural season looking to be competitive and could end it with a championship as they host the Washington Capitals on Monday night for Game 1 of the best-of-seven Stanley Cup finals. The Golden Knights needed only 15 games to dispatch Los Angeles, San Jose and Winnipeg in the Western Conference playoffs to give themselves seven days off before facing the Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals.

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Veteran goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a .947 save percentage in the playoffs, leads the way for Vegas while Jonathan Marchessault boasts eight goals to along with 18 points in the postseason and told NHL.com: “We’re on a mission. Nobody is going to stand in front of us.” Washington, which dropped both meetings with the Golden Knights in the regular season, is the last obstacle as the Capitals make their first appearance in the finals since 1998 while seeking their first Cup after losing in the second round of the playoffs as the Presidents’ Trophy winners in 2016 and 2017. Washington lost the first two games of the playoffs at home before beating Columbus in six contests, eliminated its nemesis Pittsburgh and won at Tampa Bay in Game 7 on Wednesday to reach the finals in the 13th season for seven-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner Ovechkin (607 goals). “I think our group here really understands what it means to be a team and how to win,” Capitals goalie Braden Holtby told reporters. “Maybe in the past we’ve had more skill or been better on paper or whatever. But this team, everyone knows their role and everyone wants to pitch in and everyone is comfortable with each other. I haven’t been on a team like this where, in any situation, we’re confident.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Ovechkin boasts career highs of 12 goals and 22 points in the playoffs after scoring the winner in Game 7 on Wednesday and Washington general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters: “This is the most systematic he’s played throughout his career.” The 32-year-old gets plenty of help from fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has a franchise-record 24 playoff points this season and owns at least one in 10 straight contests (six goals). Defenseman Brooks Orpik is the only Washington player with Stanley Cup finals experience and the 37-year-old is having his best career postseason with three assists and an NHL-best, plus-15 rating.

ABOUT THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS: Fleury won three Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh, including the last two seasons, and veteran forward James Neal reached the finals with Nashville in 2017 to give Vegas two players with plenty of knowledge on this big stage. “I think they’re just, with their experience and presence, they stay calm,” Golden Knights center William Karlsson, who has 13 points in the playoffs after scoring 43 goals in the regular season, told reporters. “I don’t really ask them too much. Just having them around has a calming feeling. That’s enough for me.” Forward Reilly Smith is tied for second in the league during the playoffs with 14 assists.

OVERTIME

1. The Capitals have converted 28.8 percent of their power-play chances in the playoffs and Vegas has killed off 82.5 percent – both best among the final four teams.

2. Holtby is 12-6-0 in the playoffs with a 2.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage after posting shutouts in the last two games.

3. This is the first finals in 11 years and the sixth in NHL history to match two teams both going after their first Stanley Cup.

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Posted in NHL

Lightning at Capitals Game 4 Preview

The Tampa Bay Lightning fought their way back in the series with a vastly improved performance and the reward is a chance to even the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night when they visit the Washington Capitals for Game 4. All-Stars Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov combined for seven points as the Lightning recorded a 4-2 victory Tuesday in Washington after dropping the first two games of the series at home.

“We believed all along,” Stamkos, who has scored a goal in five of the last six games, told reporters. “We knew we weren’t good enough, and credit to them, they played really good hockey the first two games. We needed to make adjustments. We did that. We worked on it. The players went out there and did what we needed to do.” Tampa Bay was much tighter defensively despite allowing 38 shots overall, and scored twice on the power play to improve to 5-for-12 with the man advantage in the series and extend their streak to eight games with at least one. Evgeny Kuznetsov finished with 12 shots on net and a goal for the Capitals in Game 3 while linemate Alex Ovechkin did not have a point despite accumulating nine shots, but coach Barry Trotz told the media his team was “off a little bit” and will be better Thursday. “We believe in each other,” Ovechkin told reporters. “We know exactly what we have to do. Nobody said it was going to be easy. They’re not going to give us two wins in a row in our house. We just have to play more desperate and play smarter.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE LIGHTNING: Coach Jon Cooper shuffled his top three forward lines for Game 3, putting Ondrej Palat with Kucherov and Stamkos, flipping J.T. Miller to a unit with Anthony Cirelli and Alex KIllorn while moving Yanni Gourde in with Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson. “We needed to put guys in positions to succeed,” Cooper told reporters. “We probably needed to spring a little life into our group.” Point has four goals in his last five games and four of his 14 playoff points in the past two contests while Hedman owns a franchise-record eight-game point streak after scoring once and assisting on two Tuesday.

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Center Nicklas Backstrom (13 points, 11 playoff games) skated again Wednesday and could possibly return to the lineup Thursday after missing the last four contests with a hand injury. Kuznetsov boasts four goals and seven assists during a six-game point streak and owns 20 points overall – six in the series – while Ovechkin scored twice and set up two others in the first two contests against Tampa Bay. Goalie Braden Holtby owns an .899 save percentage in the series, but has stopped 57 of the 60 shots he has faced at even strength (.950) and leads the league with 10 playoffs wins entering Wednesday.

OVERTIME

1. Washington C Lars Eller has posted two goals and three assists in the series, taking Backstrom’s spot on the second line.

2. Stamkos needs one power-play goal to pass Martin St. Louis (10) for first on the franchise’s all-time playoff list.

3. Capitals RW Brett Connolly, who was drafted sixth overall by the Lightning in 2010, boasts a point in each of the first three games of the series.

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Posted in NHL

Lightning at Capitals Game 3 Preview

The suddenly struggling Tampa Bay Lightning look to begin digging out of a deep hole in the Eastern Conference final series when they visit the red-hot Washington Capitals for Game 3 on Tuesday night. The Lightning dropped the first two games of the series at home by a combined score of 10-4 and a team has not rebounded from down 2-0 to win a conference final since Pittsburgh beat Boston in 1991.

“I’m confident in our group,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper told reporters Monday. “They’ve got 113 points (in the regular season) for a reason. … They’ve got a ton of experience, and when their backs have been against the wall, they’ve shown the propensity to fight back. This is a tough one. We lost two at home and it’s definitely not an ideal situation. But we’re not done. It’s not over.” Washington lost the first two games at home in the first-round series against Columbus, but won four in a row to move on and are 10-2 in the last 12 games after scoring the final five goals of Sunday’s 6-2 triumph. The Capitals have scored seven of their 10 goals at even strength and Tampa Bay, which dominated Boston while playing 5-on-5 in the semifinal series, has scored three of its four on the power play in the opening two contests. “It’s huge, but it’s not over yet,” Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, who scored in each of the first two games, told reporters. “We’re going to (have to) come back home and do our thing and take another one. It’s going to be hard. They have tremendous players over there and we just have to play the same way and don’t give them anything.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA

ABOUT THE LIGHTNING: The team has plenty of confidence in Vezina finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has allowed 10 goals in five periods of hockey during this series with little help from his defense after posting a .927 save percentage in the first two rounds. “We all have tremendous belief in him, and he’s a rock for our team,” Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman told reporters. “He’s going to be back and be his best. We’re not making his job easier by executing our game plan defensively and offensively. The scoring chances are way up compared to the previous series and that’s on us, not him.” Captain Steven Stamkos has scored in four of his last five games while compiling seven points in that stretch.

ABOUT THE CAPITALS: Lars Eller is prospering after moving up to the second-line center role with Nicklas Backstrom (hand) missing the last three games, recording two goals and two assists in the first two contests of this series. “He’s got all the qualities of a playoff-type player,” Washington coach Barry Trotz told reporters of Eller. “He’s big. He’s strong. He’s got some experience. He’s very competitive. He’s got a good skill level. He’s playing to his ability right now. … He’s one of the guys that’s stepped up in a major way for us.” Ovechkin, who shares the team lead with Kuznetsov at 19 points in the playoffs, is the second Washington player to reach 10 goals in a postseason run by joining John Druce (14 in 1990).

OVERTIME

1. Washington D John Carlson has three assists in the series and 13 points in the playoffs, most by a Capitals blue liner in team history.

2. Tampa Bay D Victor Hedman boasts a seven-game point streak, passing Martin St. Louis (2004) for the franchise playoff record.

3. The Capitals are 0-2 in their playoff history when winning the first two games of a series on the road, including a loss to Tampa Bay in 2003.

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Posted in NHL

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Second-round previews

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Boston Bruins

The Lightning will come into this series as the more rested team after making quick work of the New Jersey Devils in Round 1. But after coming off an emotional high from a wild Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, don’t take the Bruins lightly. In fact, the Bruins owned the Lightning during the regular season after walking away with the W in three of their four meetings.

The matchup should be highlighted by a battle between two of the best lines in hockey: Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak versus Kucherov-Stamkos-Miller. The Bruins’ trio combined for 30 points in Round 1, while the Lightning’s top three had 20 points in its five-game series with the Devils.

Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins

What would a second round be without the Capitals and Penguins going head to head?

The Capitals will be looking for revenge after being eliminated by their Metropolitan rivals the past two postseasons. And, of course, the spotlight will once again shine brightest on the renewed showdown between the teams’ respective captains. While Sidney Crosby (10 goals, 22 points) historically comes out on top in terms of series wins, Alex Ovechkin (12 goals, 26 points) has statistically fared better between the two in their 20 playoff contests against one another.

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Nashville Predators vs Winnipeg Jets

It’ll be a Battle of the Titans in this second-round series. The Predators and Jets finished first and second league-wide, while their regular-season meet ups were always competitive. One key to the series could be the Predators’ Pekka Rinne, who was only average in Round 1 against the Colorado Avalanche, while Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck put up a far superior performance in eliminating the Minnesota Wild.

Vegas Golden Knights vs San Jose Sharks

Both sides made quick work in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, sweeping away the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, respectively. If Vegas isn’t already getting its due credit, it should after taking out a two-time Cup champion. Netminder Marc-Andre Fleury played like a virtual wall, while Sharks goalie Martin Jones was no slouch either. San Jose could also get a boost in the second round should Joe Thornton return from injury.

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Posted in NHL

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs

First-round previews

Tampa Bay Lightning vs New Jersey Devils

From first overall pick to first playoff berth in six seasons, the surprising New Jersey Devils are set to take on the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning. The series features a pair of Hart Trophy candidates in Nikita Kucherov and Taylor Hall, but the X-factor should be Devils netminder Keith Kinkaid, who emerged as the starter down the stretch and played phenomenally, but will now be tasked with shutting down one of the league’s most potent attacks.

Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs

The cruelty of the playoff format pitted two of the top teams in the conference against each other in Round 1, but this one should be a doozy. The Maple Leafs won three of four contests versus Boston this season, and Mitch Marner led the way with nine points. However, the red-hot Bruins were merely one point away from capturing the East’s top seed. Don’t be shocked if this one goes the distance.

Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets

Metropolitan Division adversaries are poised to do battle in what should be an evenly contested matchup. The biggest questions for this series lie between the pipes, as Washington has elected to lean on backup Philipp Grubauer as its starter, while Sergei Bobrovsky’s career postseason save percentage is a dreadful .887. Whoever wins out in goal is likely moving on.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Philadelphia Flyers

The defending champs begin their quest for a three-peat against their most bitter rivals, a spectacle that was can’t-miss television last time they met in the playoffs in 2012. Pittsburgh holds a notable depth advantage, emphasized by the acquisition of Derick Brassard before the trade deadline. That said, five of the NHL’s top 15 scorers are in this series, so buckle up.

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Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche were dreadful a season ago, but, to the surprise of just about everybody, have qualified for the playoffs in a year when nobody gave them a chance. Their reward? A matchup with the NHL’s most complete team, which is looking to avenge last season’s Stanley Cup disappointment. If the task wasn’t already tall enough, the Avs will have to get by without starter Semyon Varlamov, who was ruled out for the season.

Winnipeg Jets vs Minnesota Wild

The Jets concluded the season with the second-most points in the NHL (114), and have plans far beyond earning their first series win in franchise history. To do so, though, they’ll need to take down a Wild squad that went 14-6-5 down the stretch. While they’re missing their top blue-liner in Ryan Suter, the animosity between these Northern rivals should make for quite an entertaining series.

Vegas Golden Knights vs Los Angeles Kings

Even though it’s been decided for weeks, the Golden Knights making the playoffs in their inaugural season is nothing short of astonishing. The atmosphere in Vegas should be rocking to get things started, but the NHL’s 31st franchise has a tall order on its hands. Shutting down MVP candidate Anze Kopitar will be tough, but it could make the difference in what promises to be a fast-paced, intense series.

Anaheim Ducks vs San Jose Sharks

The start times are late, but this West Coast battle should be fought tooth and nail. Both the Ducks and Sharks match up quite evenly and know each other quite well, but health will be a big factor. San Jose is doubtful to have Joe Thornton in the lineup, while Anaheim starter John Gibson is banged up as well. Regardless of who’s in and who’s out, expect this one to be neck-and-neck.

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Posted in NHL