Nick, Connor, Cap’n and Pete reveal their top-10 centers in their lifetime and talk about the week’s biggest stories in the NHL, ignoring the 2018 Draft altogether.
Only a few more teams’ offseason previews remain before the 2018 NHL Entry Draft gets started this Friday. First up today is the Pittsburgh Penguins!
The chance to become the NHL’s first official dynasty since the 1983-90 Edmonton Oilers is still available to C Sidney Crosby‘s Penguins, but falling in the second round of the playoffs to the eventual champion Washington Capitals has forced them into a situation that requires another title in 2019.
Among others, the major flaw in this Penguins club during the postseason was clearly a disappearance of the depth scoring that became so expected during their previous two Stanley Cup runs, as well as a defense that – while playing well overall (their 26.6 shots against per game in the playoffs was best of all 16 teams) – had a habit of allowing its few mistakes to become major problems.
Was this just a result of a tired squad, or is General Manager Jim Rutherford going to have to make some major adjustments?
2018 NHL Entry Draft
For any Pittsburgh fans planning on addressing these issues in the draft, you’re in for some bad news: the Penguins’ first round pick belongs to Ottawa as a result of the trade that yielded C Derick Brassard.
Slated to turn 31-years-old this September, Brassard certainly does not provide the Penguins the scoring youth they would have received in the draft (speaking of, I’d expect Ottawa to select C Benoit-Olivier Groulx [Halifax Mooseheads], RW Martin Kaut [HC Dynamo Pardubice], F Isac Lundeström [Luleå HF] or RW Serron Noel [Oshawa Generals] with Pittsburgh’s pick). However, there’s a reason Columbus selected him sixth-overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
Under contract for one more year, Brassard is still capable of providing the depth scoring Pittsburgh needs, as he’s notched at least .64 points per game in three of his last four seasons. After a summer off the ice to fully recover from his groin injury, I have no doubt Brassard will make Rutherford’s trade look like an excellent idea.
Pending free agents
With almost $4.8 million to play with, Pittsburgh needs to sign or trade for a minimum of three players just to reach the minimum 20-man roster required by the NHL. That’s not very much wiggle room, especially since that would leave the Pens without a 13th forward and a seventh defenseman.
To put it simply, Rutherford is going to need to put in some serious work if he wants to get his club back to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in four years.
With nine forwards on the current roster, it’s a no-brainer that a minimum of three rosters are going to be added into the mix. If the Penguins elect to change things up in their bottom-six, they’re certainly going to have that option, as W Tom Kuhnhackl, F Carter Rowney, W Bryan Rust, C Riley Sheahan and F Dominik Simon are all pending free agents, with all but Rowney being of the restricted variety.
Of the five, Rust is clearly the most talented offensively, as his 13-25-38 totals in 69 games played are the most of the group. Making him more impressive, Rust bounced all over the Pens’ lineup this season, proving that his numbers weren’t just a result of playing with Crosby or F Evgeni Malkin.
With unrestricted free agency only one year away, odds are very slim of seeing Rust settle for much of a team-friendly deal given his two championship rings. If I were a gambling man, I’d put my chips on Rutherford shipping Rust’s rights to a team that has cap space and needs a proven winner (perhaps F Ryan Dzingel or W Micheal Ferland would be available if Pittsburgh could find an acceptable package).
Sheahan is another player that I wouldn’t be surprised to be wearing a different sweater next season. Though he is still excellent at the face-off dot (he won 54.2 percent of draws this season), it’s hard to justify his 11-21-32 totals (.4 points per game) at the $2.075 million price tag he was awarded in 2016 by Detroit. Unless Sheahan – who will be eligible to test unrestricted free agency following his next contract’s completion – is willing to take a pay cut, he might meet the same fate as Rust.
Of their free agents I’d actually expect the Penguins to resign, Simon looks to be the best bet. Turning 24-years-old in August, the Czech posted 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL appearances this season, spending time on the first and third lines. Considering how good Crosby has made young players look in the past (ex: F Jake Guentzel, W Conor Sheary and Rust), there’s a strong chance Rutherford gives Simon a slight raise to a three-year, $1 million AAV contract to keep him in town.
A resigning of Simon also makes Kuhnhackl expendable if the two parties cannot come to terms on a team-friendly deal. The German provided only 2-6-8 totals in 69 games played from his fourth-line role at a $625 thousand price tag. If he tries to leverage his two championships for a raise, Rutherford will likely go no higher than $1 million per season.
Lastly, if Rutherford resigns Rowney for a cent more than the league minimum ($700 thousand starting this season), he loses his job. It’s that plain and simple in my book. The Penguins simply don’t have the cap space to keep a player who’s averaged only .17 points per game for his career.
His only saving grace in staying with the team is the Pens not wanting to risk having too few players. He’s a known commodity, which makes him a better asset on the fourth line than a player from outside the organization.
One thing to keep in mind regarding the signing of any of these free agents is the fact that Guentzel will be looking for a contract this time next year. Given his 23 goals and 42 points in 37 Stanley Cup playoff games, the Nebraskan will fetch a pretty penny that Rutherford will need to plan for if he sees Guentzel as a longtime member of the organization.
With Pittsburgh set in net (G Matt Murray and G Casey DeSmith have respective two and one seasons remaining on their contracts), the only contract to focus on defensively is RFA D Jamie Oleksiak. Oleksiak’s 17:24 time on ice per game was seventh among Penguins defensemen, while his .3 points per game clocked in at fourth-best.
For the past three offseasons, Oleksiak has signed one-year deals of increasing value, the most recent of which was worth almost $965 thousand.
Figuring out if Oleksiak gets a new contract is a difficult task, as Pittsburgh could certainly save money by promoting from within. Since 2015, the Penguins have drafted eight defensemen – including three in the first three rounds – but none of those players have even been signed by the club.
If promotion is in fact the route Pittsburgh elects to take, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s best option, D Andrey Pedan, is no longer on the table due to his decision to take his talents to Russia. Similarly, both D Frank Corrado and D Kevin Czuczman are in the same position as Oleksiak, as their identical one-year, $650 thousand contracts expired following the Charlotte Checkers’ three-game sweep against the Pens.
If Rutherford can pull off the signings listed above, he’ll have approximately $2 million to play with to keep Oleksiak around and/or acquire additional skaters.
Nick and Connor fear living in a world where the Washington Capitals are Stanley Cup champions and lament the end of the hockey season that was 2017-18. For the first time ever, the duo tackles a suggestion from a fan of the show (‘sup Gorms).
15,948 days after their first puck drop in franchise history, 3,701 games (regular season and postseason combined), 1,124 games played by Alex Ovechkin, 44 years, 20 years between Stanley Cup Final appearances and 1 Stanley Cup championship— their first in franchise history— the Washington Capitals are your 2018 Stanley Cup champions.
The Capitals won Game 5 on the road, 4-3, Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-1, in the series.
Washington wasn’t one of the teams expected to win the Cup from day one back in October, unlike the last four or five years, but they won it anyway— clinching every series on the road and as the best road team this postseason.
Oh yeah, in case you haven’t already heard, Ovechkin finally won the Cup in his 13th NHL season. The captain of the Caps, Ovechkin was also named the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— becoming just the 2nd Russian born NHL player in league history to capture the MVP award.
Washington netminder Braden Holtby made 28 saves on 31 shots against for a .903 save percentage in the Cup clinching win, while Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made 29 saves on 33 shots faced for an .879 SV% in 57:56 time on ice in the loss.
Lars Eller scored the game-winning goal with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the game after Devante Smith-Pelly scored the game-tying goal while falling in what’s sure to become the most iconic photo in D.C. hockey history.
David Perron, Tomas Tatar and William Carrier were in the lineup for the Golden Knights on Thursday, with Ryan Reaves and Ryan Carpenter as a couple of healthy scratches after playing in prior Stanley Cup Final games leading up to Thursday’s Game 5 action.
Colin Miller was guilty of the action’s first penalty, having received an infraction for interference against Washington defender, Michal Kempny, at 11:44 of the first period. Vegas killed off the penalty, however, and the score remained, 0-0, despite Ovechkin having dented the post on the ensuing power play.
After one period, the score remained tied, 0-0, with the Capitals leading in shots on goal, 9-7. Both teams had four blocked shots aside and the Golden Knights had the advantage in just about everything else, including hits (18-10), takeaways (5-1), giveaways (7-1) and faceoff win percentage (62-39).
There was only one penalty called after 20 minutes. As a result, the Caps were 0/1 on the power play entering the first intermission.
Teetering with danger isn’t normally advised, but it’s what Vegas goers live for in forms of entertainment— like magicians, acrobats and the like— but hockey? Maybe not a great idea, though Shea Theodore put the dangerous Capitals power play unit on the ice without him as the Golden Knights defender was guilty of tripping T.J. Oshie 21 seconds into the second period.
Nevertheless, the home team prevailed unscathed.
The Golden Knights went on the power play themselves for the first time Thursday night when Christian Djoos delivered a high-stick to Reilly Smith moments later at 3:19. Vegas did not convert on their first player advantage of the game.
A few minutes later, after Las Vegas resident Deryk Engelland fired a shot high over the crossbar, Jakub Vrana had the puck on his stick, transitioning from the center redline into the attacking zone on a breakaway for Washington.
Vrana (3) sniped a shot upstairs— top-shelf, glove side— on Fleury, giving the Capitals the 1-0 lead and scoring the game’s first goal.
Wilson (10) and leading point scorer in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Evgeny Kuznetsov (20), had the assists on Vrana’s goal at 6:24 of the second period. Depth scoring remained a major key to Washington’s success and ultimate victory.
But the Golden Knights weren’t going down without a fight, having reached back into their young franchise history of comebacks and quick responses to being scored on in the postseason.
Nate Schmidt (3) tied the game, 1-1, with a slap shot at 9:40 of the second period. Smith (17) and Jon Marchessault (13) had the assists and Vegas came alive— not just the team, but the entire home crowd.
With their backs against the wall, there was no backing down from the immense pressure of elimination.
But with pressure comes susceptibility to making costly errors.
Brayden McNabb yanked down Ovechkin with a trip on a breakaway 11 seconds after Schmidt scored, giving Washington’s deadly power play another chance. This time the Capitals wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to capitalize on the player advantage.
In stereotypical fashion, it was Ovechkin (15) breaking the hearts of Vegas’s penalty killing unit, rocketing his 15th goal of the playoffs past Fleury on the power play at 10:14. Not only did he set a franchise record for most goals in one postseason with the goal, but he became the first player to score 15 goals in a postseason since his biggest rival, Sidney Crosby, did so in 2009 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
It seemed like poetic justice. It seemed like fate. Perhaps to the Hockey Gods, it was destiny.
Almost a few minutes later, Vegas was rocking again on a double deflection, ultimately put in the back of the net by Perron (1)— the healthy scratch for most of the Stanley Cup Final, that had yet to score this postseason.
Perron’s goal was challenged for goaltender interference by Capitals head coach, Barry Trotz, but after review, the call on the ice was confirmed; it was a good goal.
Video replay indicated Washington defender Djoos pushed Perron into the crease and made no difference on the play as Holtby was already in desperation, scrambling outside of the crease to get back square to the shooter.
The Golden Knights had tied it, 2-2, in part, thanks to the assists on Perron’s goal from Tatar (1) and Miller (4) at 12:56.
Having lost the coach’s challenge, Washington forfeited their timeout.
For the next five minutes, the game descended into organized chaos. Shift changes on-the-fly, shots ringing off the iron, save-after-save was made and bodies were flying either by contact or by propulsion on skates.
Then Ovechkin was guilty himself— guilty of tripping Karlsson late in the period as the Golden Knights were surging.
Vegas’s power play took their time to set up the perfect play. Holtby was out of position as a result of second, third and fourth chances, leaving an open net for Smith (5) to cash in the power play goal on a pass across the low slot from Alex Tuch, giving the Golden Knights their first lead of the night, 3-2.
Tuch (4) and Theodore (7) had the assists on the Smith’s goal at 19:31 of the second period and as the home crowd experienced euphoria, gloves and shoves were being exchanged after the goal horn.
Washington’s Brooks Orpik and Jay Beagle picked up matching roughing minors with Vegas’s Smith and Tuch. Both teams remained at full strength and headed into the second intermission with the Golden Knights holding on to a one-goal lead.
Entering Thursday night, the Golden Knights were 10-0 when leading after 40 minutes this postseason. Exiting Thursday night, they’d finish their Stanley Cup Final run, 10-1.
But through two periods of intense action, Vegas led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 20-20. The Golden Knights led in everything else, including blocked shots (9-6), hits (29-16), takeaways (13-8), giveaways (11-3) and faceoff win percentage (51-49). Both teams had scored a power play goal entering the second intermission. Washington was 1/3 and Vegas was 1/2 on the man advantage.
Tatar opened the third period with a hooking minor against Eller at 5:37.
Once again the Capitals set up Ovechkin on the ensuing power play, but this time Fleury was able to slam the door shut on the prolific goal scorer and keep his team ahead.
Yet Washington’s onslaught lasted longer than the power play, pressing as hard as ever to tie the game and take back momentum as the midway point of the third period approached.
Orpik kept the puck in the zone at the blue line and threw the rubber biscuit to the front of the net where Smith-Pelly (7) gained possession, dangled as Fleury went through the routine of doing the splits to go from one side of the goal to the other, but Smith-Pelly had just enough to muster a shot while falling, past Fleury’s leg pad and in.
The Caps forward tied it, 3-3, at 9:52 of the third period, matching his goal scoring output from the regular season (seven goals in 75 games played) in just 24 postseason games. Orpik (4) notched the only assist on the now iconic goal in Washington sports lore.
Then Eller (7) pocketed the go-ahead goal and game-winner, as a result of yet another scramble in front of the net, traffic, pounding and collecting a garbage goal— Washington led, 4-3, with a little more than seven-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.
After a stoppage in play with 2:04 remaining in their season, Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant used his team’s timeout to rally his troops and pulled Fleury for an extra attacker.
Washington kept getting the puck out of their own zone, sometimes icing it, sometimes just sending it wide of the empty net, but as long as time ticked down and it didn’t end up behind Holtby, nothing else mattered.
Not even a score-clock malfunction inside the arena, whereby (thankfully) the backup timekeeping apparatus was still working and kept the officials on top of everything, right down until the very last second.
For D.C. sports fans, the agony was over. Their Capitals had won.
For the first time in franchise history— dating back to 1974— Washington is home to Stanley Cup champions and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis can celebrate.
After a 60-minute effort in Game 5, the Capitals won, 4-3, and led in final shots on goal, 33-31. Washington also finished the night leading in blocked shots (13-11), while Vegas held the advantage in hits (39-27) and giveaways (15-6). Both teams finished the night scoring a power play goal, with Washington (1/4) and the Golden Knights (1/2).
The teams shook hands, Ovechkin was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the fans wearing Vegas gold and Caps red both booed league commissioner, Gary Bettman, and finally, Ovechkin was presented with the hardest trophy to win in all professional sports— the Stanley Cup— for the first time in his career.
Entering Thursday night, Washington had lost nine out of their last 10 Game 5s on the road. That didn’t matter. Teams leading the series 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final were 32-1 all-time, until the Capitals made them 33-1.
Veteran forward Jay Beagle became the first player to win the ECHL’s Kelly Cup, AHL’s Calder Cup and NHL’s Stanley Cup in a professional career, while Ovechkin became just the first Russian captain to lead his team to a Cup victory in NHL history.
Ovechkin also became the 16th player in league history to play at least 1,000 regular season games before winning his first Cup (joining legendary Detroit Red Wings star and current Tampa Bay Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman, to do so all with one team).
Kuznetsov finished the postseason as the third Russian-born player to lead the NHL in playoff scoring during the league’s modern era (since 1943-44), joining Sergei Fedorov (1995) and Evgeni Malkin (2009, 2017) in doing so.
As for Barry Trotz, the Washington Capitals head coach who is now technically a free agent in search of his next contract (and just won his first Cup in his 20th year as an NHL head coach), Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters after the game, “if he wants to be back, he’ll be back.”
The house always wins in Vegas and that was once again apparent as the Vegas Golden Knights took down the Winnipeg Jets, 4-2, on Wednesday night at T-Mobile Arena.
The Golden Knights lead the 2018 Western Conference Final, 2-1, thanks to the efforts of Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal and their superstar since the 2017 Expansion Draft, Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 3.
For the first time in about nine weeks, the Jets have lost back-to-back games (dating back to a string of three losses in mid-March during the regular season).
Fleury made 33 saves on 35 shots against for a .943 save percentage in the win, while Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck stopped 26 shots out of 29 shots faced for an .897 SV% in 58:58 time on ice in the loss.
Quick goals were a theme Wednesday night as Jonathan Marchessault (7) kicked things off with a beautiful backhand goal, beating Hellebuyck with just a tap-in after the Jets netminder overcommitted 35 seconds into the action.
Brayden McNabb (2) had the only assist on the goal and the Golden Knights led, 1-0.
After taking a wild elbow to the face from a Winnipeg defender, James Neal left the ice for a short period of time in the first period. Neal would return by the end of the opening frame and proved to be a key component in Game 3 in the second period.
Erik Haula served a minor penalty for tripping about midway through the first period and the Jets did not convert on the ensuing power play.
Vegas was unable to convert on two man advantage opportunities of their own late in the third (Josh Morrissey for holding at 14:50 and Mathieu Perreault for tripping at 19:35 of the first period, respectively).
After one period of play, the Golden Knights led, 1-0, on the scoreboard and 10-3 in shots on goal. Vegas also led in takeaways (6-0), giveaways (5-1) and faceoff win percentage (71-29), while Winnipeg led in blocked shots (8-5) and hits (18-9). Both teams had yet to convert on the power play as the Jets were 0/1 and the Golden Knights were 0/2 after the first period.
Winnipeg opened scoring in the second period with a nifty deflection by Mark Scheifele (13) on a shot from Blake Wheeler at the goal line to the left of Fleury. Scheifele’s deflection beat the Vegas netminder on the short side and tied the game, 1-1, at 5:28 of the second period as the Jets looked to soar.
Wheeler (16) had the only assist on the goal and the game did not remain tied for long.
Not long at all, as 12 seconds after the Jets tied it, the Golden Knights untied it with a goal of their own from none other than James Neal.
Neal (4) pocketed the puck in the twine after Hellebuyck butchered a chance to handle the puck and promptly turned it over to Vegas forward, Erik Haula. Haula quickly threw the piece of vulcanized rubber in front of the goal where Neal was awaiting and Vegas took the lead, 2-1, at 5:40 of the second period.
Haula (4) had the only assist on the goal.
Less than three minutes later the Golden Knights were at it again with the same basic principle— get the puck down low, toss it to the guy in front of the net in the low slot, one-time it/deflect it and score.
So it came as no surprise when Neal collected his own rebound, then wrapped around the goal only to toss the puck to Alex Tuch (5) in the low slot for the redirection into the twine. Vegas had a two-goal lead just like that at 8:13 of the second period. Neal (5) and Nate Schmidt (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists and the Golden Knights led, 3-1.
About a minute later, Scheifele slashed McNabb and the home team went on the power play. Unfortunately for T-Mobile Arena goers, the Golden Knights did not score a goal on the ensuing power play.
Moments later, Vegas defender, Luca Sbisa, was guilty of holding Perreault and was sent to the sin bin. Winnipeg did not convert on the ensuing player advantage at 14:39 of the second period.
In the closing minutes of the second frame, a scrum resulted after the whistle had been blown on a routine cover up by Fleury. Every skater on the ice grabbed a hold of an opponent and exchanged some pleasantries while Fleury tickled Wheeler’s ear and Jets defender, Dustin Byfuglien latched on to two Golden Knights at once.
Scheifele, Ryan Carpenter, Wheeler and Cody Eakin were all sent to the box for their respective teams with matching roughing minors at 17:26 of the second period so there was no change in strength on the ice.
Through 40 minutes of play, Vegas held on to a 3-1 lead over Winnipeg. The Golden Knights still had advantages in shots on goal (22-19), blocked shots (14-13), takeaways (11-2), giveaways (8-4) and faceoff win percentage (51-49), while the Jets led in hits (38-24) after two periods. Neither team had scored on the power play, as Winnipeg was 0/2 and Vegas was 0/3 entering the second intermission.
Winnipeg came out strong in the third period.
So strong, in fact, that the Jets scored in the first 18 seconds of the period as Scheifele (14) scored his second goal of the night emulating Tuch on his goal for the Golden Knights.
The Jets won the opening faceoff of the third period and worked the puck down low in the attacking zone, where Kyle Connor then found Scheifele sneaking behind Vegas’s defense in open ice for a one-timer past Fleury as the Golden Knights goalie had to stretch across the crease.
Connor (7) and Wheeler (17) had the assists on the goal and Winnipeg pulled to within one, as the Golden Knights two-goal lead diminished to a 3-2 lead with plenty of time left in regulation.
Scheifele’s second goal of the night set an NHL record for most road goals in a postseason (11), previously held by Sidney Crosby (with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009) and Joe Mullen (with the Calgary Flames in 1989), who each had 10 road goals in their respective postseason runs.
Coincidentally, both the 2009 Penguins and 1989 Flames won the Stanley Cup.
The Jets dominated the pace of play throughout the third period, as Fleury was auditioning for a role in Cirque du Soleil by seemingly standing on his head making save-after-save for Vegas.
Fleury’s play culminated in a split across the crease followed by a desperation dive to deny Winnipeg of two quality scoring chances that for sure would have tied the game otherwise if it were not for Fleury’s superhuman ability.
After Hellebuyck covered the puck for a faceoff, Paul Maurice called a timeout to gather his team, draw up a plan and rally a way to forcing the issue.
Instead, Maruice’s Jets were no match for Gerard Gallant’s Golden Knights as the Winnipeg netminder was finally able to vacate the net with about a minute left in regulation.
Despite two blown chances at the empty net with about 25 seconds left in Game 3, Marchessault (8) was the one to get the job done on a wraparound with 2.7 seconds left in the game.
The Golden Knights forward beat out the icing call, raced to the puck and put it away for a 4-2 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 series lead as McNabb (3) and Fleury (1) picked up the assists. Yes, Fleury fittingly got an assist on the empty net goal.
At the final horn, Adam Lowry mixed things up a bit with Ryan Reaves and the rest of the skaters on the ice as both teams found partners in case they needed to go square dancing, but the linesmen got things under control after a shoving match and Vegas celebrated their victory.
Entering Wednesday, Winnipeg had not lost back-to-back games this postseason, nor had they trailed in a series. Until now.
After 60 minutes of play, the Golden Knights walked away with the 4-2 win and an advantage in faceoff win percentage (52-48). The Jets finished the night leading in shots on goal (35-30) and hits (48-41). There were no penalties called in the third period.
Game 4 is scheduled for Friday night at T-Mobile Arena with puck drop a little after 8 p.m. ET. Viewers in the United States can tune in once again to NBCSN, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC, SN1 or TVAS.
Nick and Connor roadmap the offseason for Pittsburgh and Boston, figure out why Washington has been so good (and Tampa), pick a winner in tonight’s Game 7 (WPG @ NSH) and explain how Vegas is going to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Also discussed, Jim Montgomery, Rod Brind’Amour, Don Waddell, the Charlotte Checkers (so Carolina as a whole) and Mark Hamill.
Washington Capitals forward, Evgeny Kuznetsov, had a tremendous chance to give Washington a two-goal lead in the second period, but couldn’t settle the puck as Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender, Matt Murray was down, leaving a mostly open net exposed.
Diehard D.C. sports fans in living rooms across Maryland and Virginia shrugged. They had seen their teams do this before, with all four major North American D.C. sports franchises having blown opportunities to advance to the conference finals in their respective sport since 1998.
But tonight would prove to be different. Kuznetsov would get his shot (literally) at redemption.
At 5:27 of overtime, Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal— ending Washington, D.C.’s 20-year Eastern Conference Finals appearance drought— as the Capitals defeated the Penguins 2-1 on the road in Game 6.
Braden Holtby made 21 saves on 22 shots against for a .955 save percentage in 65:27 time on ice in the win for Washington, while Murray stopped 28 shots out of 30 shots faced for a .933 SV% in 65:27 TOI in the loss.
Both teams got going in the first period— trading scoring chance for scoring chance— but neither team was able to score in the opening 20 minutes of Game 6 Monday night.
Instead, the only event sheet worthy action in the first period were a couple of minor penalties; one to Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta for high-sticking at 4:11 and the other to Washington’s Michal Kempny for tripping at 11:25.
After one period of play, the Capitals led in shots on goal (7-6) and hits (16-9), while the Penguins led in blocked shots (7-5), takeaways (3-2), giveaways (8-2) and faceoff win percentage (63-38). The score remained tied, 0-0, through 20 minutes of play and both teams were 0/1 on their respective power play opportunities.
Alex Chiasson (1) notched his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs— and a timely one at that— as the Capitals took the game’s first lead of the night, 1-0, just over two minutes into the second period. Nathan Walker (1) and Jay Beagle (3) had the assists on Chiasson’s goal, making Walker the fifth Washington rookie to amass a point in this postseason, as well as the first Australian born NHL player to record a point in a Stanley Cup Playoff game.
Kuzenetsov couldn’t bury the puck on a largely open net shortly thereafter.
The Penguins defender sent it along to his partner on the blueline, Kris Letang (3) who threw a shot towards the net, where, after deflecting off of a Capitals skater’s stick, the puck went past Holtby and hit the twine, tying the game, 1-1, as the home crowd at PPG Paints Arena erupted.
Dumoulin (6) and Crosby (12) were credited with the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on Letang’s game-tying goal at 11:52 of the second period.
They fired chance after chance at Holtby, only to end up providing the Washington netminder with a highlight reel save with about seven seconds left in the period.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Penguins and Capitals were tied, 1-1. Shots on goal were even too, 15-15. Pittsburgh led in blocked shots (15-11), takeaways (5-3) and giveaways (12-2), while Washington led in hits (29-21). The Pens continued to dominate the faceoff dot, with a 62-38 faceoff win percentage advantage. Neither team recorded a penalty in the second period, so both were still 0/1 on the skater advantage.
The Caps came out in the third period swinging. Then the Penguins responded. Neither team put the puck past their opponent’s goaltender, however.
Holtby made a desperation save with under three minutes to go in regulation and Murray made a desperation save with under one minute remaining in regulation to match Holtby’s effort.
At the end of 60 minutes, the score remained, 1-1, with the Capitals outshooting the Penguins, 24-20. Washington also led in hits (35-29), while Pittsburgh had an advantage in blocked shots (19-14), takeaways (9-3), giveaways (15-4) and faceoff win percentage (65-35).
There were no penalties assessed in the third period, so both teams remained 0/1 on the power play.
Entering overtime, the Capitals held an experience advantage in extra frames this postseason as Washington was taking part in their fifth overtime game of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs while Pittsburgh was seeing their first game past 60 minutes.
Penguins forward, Tom Kuhnhackl, rang the far left post early into the sudden death action shortly after the Capitals generated a couple quality scoring chances on Murray.
Alex Ovechkin sent Kuznetsov into the zone on a lead pass that turned into a breakaway as Penguins defender, Kris Letang, was caught out of position.
Kuznetsov (7) buried the puck past Murray and Washington propelled themselves over their biggest speed bump in the postseason in the Ovechkin era— the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Ovechkin (7) and Dmitry Orlov (5) notched the assists in poetic fashion, as Ovechkin is often subject to criticism for not doing enough to put his team over the edge. Monday night, his critics were rightfully silenced.
The Capitals won, 2-1, and led in shots on goal, 30-22. Pittsburgh finished the night leading in blocked shots (21-14), giveaways (15-4) and faceoff win percentage (62-38), while Washington finished the night with more hits (36-33). Both teams were 0/1 on the power play with no penalties called after the first period.
For the third time in franchise history (1990 vs. BOS, 1998 vs. BUF, 2018), Washington is in the Eastern Conference Finals. They will square off with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the chance to play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
Four unanswered goals in the third period, including Jakub Vrana’s game-winning goal, catapulted the Washington Capitals over the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 on home ice at Capital One Arena on Saturday night.
The winner of Game 5 in all-time seven game series’s in NHL history has gone on to win the series 79-percent of the time. Maybe, just maybe, this is the Caps year (though they led the Penguins, 3-1 and 3-2 in the series in 2015 and, well…).
Braden Holtby made 36 saves on 39 shots against for the home team with a .923 save percentage in the win for the Capitals, while Penguins netminder, Matt Murray, stopped 26 shots out of 30 shots faced for an .867 SV% in 58:36 time on ice.
Early in the action, Jamie Oleksiak (1) scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal as he fired a shot from the point that beat Holtby thanks to a screen in front of the Washington netminder by his Penguins teammate, Conor Sheary.
Derick Brassard (3) and Sheary (3) had the assists on Oleksiak’s goal and Pittsburgh led, 1-0, at 2:23 of the first period.
Almost five minutes later, Capitals defender, Matt Niskanen, took the game’s first penalty as he was called for holding Penguins forward, Phil Kessel. Pittsburgh did not score on the ensuing player advantage.
Chad Ruhwedel hooked Alex Ovechkin past the midway point of the first period and the Caps went on their first power play of the night— though it was to no avail. Washington spent too much time on their first special teams advantage making passes and looking to set up the perfect play.
Late in the period, Dominik Simon tripped Niskanen and the Capitals went back on the power play at 17:11.
Carlson (3) winded up and let go of a rocket of a slap shot, high-glove side, past Murray and tied the game, 1-1, with a power play goal. Kuznetsov (6) and T.J. Oshie (3) notched the assists on Carlson’s goal at 18:22 of the first period.
Washington kept pressing as play resumed even strength and Brett Connolly (2) sent one through Murray’s five-hole thanks, in part, to a deflection off of a Pens player and the Capitals had their first lead of the night, 2-1, 33 seconds after Carlson’s tying goal.
Jakub Vrana (2) and Lars Eller (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Connolly’s goal.
In the closing seconds of the period, Ovechkin caught Pittsburgh defender, Brian Dumoulin, with a slash and was sent to the sin bin at 19:58 of the first. The Penguins power play would carry into the second period as the first period came to a close on the ensuing faceoff in Pittsburgh’s attacking zone.
After one period, Washington had a 2-1 lead on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 13-13. Pittsburgh led in blocked shots (7-4), takeaways (3-2) and giveaways (6-3), while the Caps led in hits (8-6). The Pens had an advantage in the faceoff circle, having won 56 percent of faceoffs taken in the first 20 minutes of play.
Pittsburgh was 0/2 on the power play and the Capitals were 1/2 on the man advantage heading into the first intermission.
After being released from the sin bin from carry over time at the end of the first period, Ovechkin slashed Evgeni Malkin 4:24 into the second period and the Penguins went on their third power play of the night as a result.
It didn’t take long for them to convert.
Kessel fired a wrist shot from the faceoff circle to Holtby’s right in the attacking zone and Sidney Crosby (9) got enough of his stick on it to deflect the puck past the Washington goaltender, tying the game, 2-2, at 4:43 of the second period. Kessel (7) and Justin Schultz (6) had the assists on Crosby’s power play goal.
Devante Smith-Pelly followed up with the run of penalties by Washington, having tripped up Penguins defenseman, Brian Dumoulin at 6:57 of the second period.
Less than a minute into the power play, Pittsburgh forced a scramble in front of Holtby’s net, wherein Patric Hornqvist (5) poked away and potted the puck in the back of the twine to give the Penguins a one-goal lead with their second power play goal of the night.
Malkin (4) and Kessel (8) notched the assists on the goal that made it, 3-2, Pens with over half a game left to be played.
Smith-Pelly took another trip— ironically for tripping Carl Hagelin— to the penalty box late in the second period, but Pittsburgh was not able to convert on the ensuing 5-on-4 advantage.
Crosby took a quick trip to the sin bin for hooking Eller late in the period and the Capitals were not able to muster anything on the power play as the minutes winded down in the second period.
After 40 minutes of play, Pittsburgh led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 31-18. The Penguins also dominated blocked shots (15-6) and led in hits (17-15) and takeaways (5-2). Washington had an advantage in giveaways (10-9) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). The Pens were 2/5 on the power play and the Caps were 1/3 on the skater advantage through two periods.
Kuznetsov (6) didn’t waste any time coming out of the gates in the third period, receiving a stretch pass and leading the charge on his own breakaway that resulted in a goal just 52 seconds into the third.
Vrana (3) and Niskanen (3) had the assists on the goal and the game was tied, 3-3.
Late in the third, after both goaltenders made save-after-save, Holtby made a desperation save that led to the Capitals taking advantage of a goofy line change by the Penguins as Ovechkin was tearing throw the neutral zone.
Pulling Murray far from the center of the crease, Ovechkin slid the puck back to Vrana (2) who had a gaping hole in the goal to put the puck in the back of the twine. Ovechkin (6) and Kuznetsov (7) had the assists on Vrana’s lead change inducing goal at 15:22 of the third period and Washington was in control of the scoreboard, 4-3.
Mike Sullivan pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with under two minutes remaining in regulation in search of a spark that could lead to a goal for Pittsburgh.
Things did not go as planned as Oshie (5) stripped Kessel of the puck in Washington’s defensive zone and fired a laser into the empty net from center ice to give the Capitals a two-goal lead, 5-3, at 18:29 of the third.
Sullivan then used his only timeout to settle his veteran team, recollect everyone’s thoughts and find a way to score two goals (at least) in the final 91 seconds of regulation play.
With 80 seconds left, Murray was once again able to vacate the goal for the extra skater.
With six seconds left, Eller (3)– having already jumped on a loose puck– put the game away on an empty net goal, 6-3, for Washington.
In all, nine different goal scorers combined led to a thrilling, offense-packed, Game 5 at Capital One Arena that saw the home team Capitals take a 3-2 series lead.
Washington had won the game, 6-3, and led in giveaways (15-12) after the 60 minute effort. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s going back home for Game 6 knowing they at least led in shots on goal (39-32), blocked shots (17-12), hits (28-26) and faceoff win percentage (51-49) in their loss in Game 5.
Barry Trotz’s Capitals can close out the series on the road at PPG Paints Arena in Game 6 on Monday. Puck drop is expected to be a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can see the game on Sportsnet or TVAS.
Despite saving 21-of-23 shots faced for a .913 save percentage, G Braden Holtby and the Washington Capitals fell 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in Game 4 of their Eastern Semifinals matchup, tying the series at 2-2.
After his hit against F Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3 that ended with the rookie suffering a concussion and broken jaw, RW Tom Wilson was suspended by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for three games (he’ll be eligible to play in Game 7 in Washington, if necessary). As such, many were interested to see which players would fill those holes in the lineups of their respective teams.
For Washington, the next man up was F Shane Gersich, who saw his Stanley Cup playoff debut after playing only three regular season games with the Capitals this season. He slid onto the fourth line with F Jay Beagle and RW Alex Chiasson, while W Devante Smith-Pelly earned a promotion into Wilson’s vacated role with the top-three.
Some might have been led to think F T.J. Oshie would slide from his second line spot into the vacancy, but Head Coach Barry Trotz elected to keep the Warroad graduate on C Nicklas Backstrom‘s line as he’d been all season.
As for the Penguins, they had the luxury of LW Carl Hagelin‘s upper-body injury healing just in time for him to rejoin the club in Aston-Reese’s place. Hagelin was slotted onto the second line with Third Star of the Game F Evgeni Malkin, who had only returned one match ago.
Of course, none of those lineup changes had any affect on Holtby or his black-and-gold clad counterpart in the first period, as they both refused to yield a goal.
While both Holtby and Second Star G Matt Murray performed valiantly in the opening 20 minutes, their success was due largely to the play of their defenses. Pittsburgh’s blue line allowed only seven shots to reach Murray, trailed only slightly by the nine offerings that came Holtby’s way.
Pittsburgh’s defense was a bit more subtle in its technique, but there was no hiding how the Capitals were keeping Holtby’s crease clean. In the first period alone, the Caps threw a whopping 22 hits- 11 more than Pittsburgh. Oshie was a major part of that effort, as his eight body checks accumulated by the end of regulation were a game-high between both clubs.
While we’re on the subject, one of his hits at the end of the game against D Kris Letang was highly questionable, as he clearly leaped at the defenseman with 61 seconds remaining on the clock. Letang was none too pleased and engaged Oshie in a quick fight, but it will be interesting to see what the Department of Player Safety does with this infraction after it just penalized Wilson.
Anyways, that defensive effort did not carry across the first intermission, as all three goals scored against a goaltender were registered in the middle frame.
First Star F Jake Guentzel (F Dominik Simon and C Sidney Crosby) got the scoring started at the 9:21 mark with the lone even-strength goal scored in the game. Simon attempted a shot on goal from the slot that deflected off D Matt Niskanen‘s knee right to Guentzel, who was waiting next to Holtby’s left goal post. After that, it was all the playoff’s leading scorer could do but sling a wrist shot towards the opposite post before receiving an un-penalized crosscheck frame from D Dmitry Orlov.
That advantage lasted only 3:34 before Oshie (Backstrom and F Evgeny Kuznetsov) converted a Guentzel tripping penalty against C Lars Eller into a power play goal. Backstrom waited and waited near the right face-off dot before sliding a pass to Oshie between the circles, and the former St. Louis Blue ripped a nasty snap shot over Murray’s glove hand to level the game at 1-1.
Pittsburgh’s game-winning goal was struck with 2:29 remaining before the second intermission, and it was due almost entirely to Oshie’s interference penalty against D Brian Dumoulin 1:21 earlier.
Making full use of their man-advantage, the Penguins’ eventual scoring possession spent a pass-filled 23 seconds in the offensive zone before Malkin (RW Patric Hornqvist and RW Phil Kessel) forced home a wrister to set the score at 2-1.
It was a case of deja vu for the Penguins when Malkin’s shot barely squeaked across the goal line before Holtby tried to sell that he’d made the save. Under the impression that he’d frozen the puck, play was halted before the officials, just like in Game 2, went to their monitors for further review.
Making matters even more excruciating for the home fans, even after the puck was ruled to have crossed the goal line, Head Coach Barry Trotz challenged the play once again, but this time for goaltender interference. Hornqvist did make contact with Holtby, but it was ruled he was pushed by D Brooks Orpik, acquitting the Swede of any crime.
Thus effectively ended the second period, but the Capitals were still far from defeated.
Unfortunately for them, the Penguins defense played incredibly in the final 20 minutes, allowing only three shots on goal – the last of which was an Orlov slap shot from the point with 9:11 remaining in regulation.
That forced Trotz to resort to drastic measures and pull Holtby with 1:23 remaining on the clock, but any positive energy the extra attacker was able to provide was swiftly ripped away only a dozen seconds later when the Caps were caught with seven skaters on the ice.
Holtby was pulled once again with 65 ticks remaining on the clock, eventually allowing Guentzel (Crosby and Letang) to score a power play empty netter for his league-leading 10th goal of the postseason.
Aptly scheduled on Cinco de Mayo at 7 p.m Eastern, Game 5 at Capital One Arena will determine which side has two opportunities to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The contest will be broadcast on NBC, SN and TVAS.
To reclaim home ice advantage, the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 at PPG Paints Arena in Game 3 of their Second Round matchup.
The biggest headline coming into this evening was that D Brian Dumoulin and F Evgeni Malkin would both be active for this game. Dumoulin was questionable after taking a hit up high from RW Tom Wilson in Game 2, while Malkin had been out since a Flyer landed awkwardly on his leg in Game 5 of the Pens’ First Round series.
A similar note pertaining to F Zach Aston-Reese will be necessary proceeding Game 4, and the fact that his perpetrator is the same as Dumoulin’s has resulted in Wilson drawing even more ire from Pittsburgh fans (if that was even possible). There’s no arguing that Wilson threw a high hit against Aston-Reese, but the referees were unable to make the determination if the Capital’s left shoulder met the rookie’s shoulder or head first, resulting in no penalty being called.
A particularly incriminating piece of evidence should Wilson receive any sort of discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will be the fact that not only was Aston-Reese dazed and bleeding on the ice even before knowledge of his injuries became known (according to the Penguins’ official Twitter account, Head Coach Mike Sullivan has since confirmed that Aston-Reese suffered a broken jaw, which will require surgery, and a concussion as a result of the hit), but also that Wilson’s follow-through on the blow ended with him seated on the sideboards in front of Washington’s bench.
To this amateur official, that indicates that the 6-foot-4 Wilson was intentionally trying to throw a high hit on the 6-foot Aston-Reese, but the only opinion that matters now is George Parros‘ – the man that heads the player safety office.
As for the occurrences of this game that actually showed up on the scoreboard, the Penguins did everything short of score a goal in the first period as they effectively dominated the first 16:21 of action. With the help of two power plays before the midway point of the period, Pittsburgh led in shots on goal (9-7) and face-off wins (61 percent) at the first intermission to keep play almost exclusively in its offensive zone.
Fortunately for the Caps, G Braden Holtby was back to his usual Vezina-winning self after casting doubt on his performance for much of the regular season. Of the offerings that weren’t blocked (D Brooks Orpik took credit for two of the Caps’ three blocks in the frame), Holtby saved all of the Pens’ nine shots on goal to keep the game scoreless.
However, the Pens’ dominance began to fade with 3:39 remaining in the period when First Star of the Game W Alex Ovechkin ripped the puck off D Kris Letang‘s stick to set up a one-on-one opportunity against G Matt Murray. Similar to Holtby, Murray was able to make that save, but Letang’s interference against Wilson at the resolution of Ovechkin’s play started to turn the tables in Washington’s favor.
The Capitals didn’t manage a shot on goal with that man-advantage, but Malkin tripping D Matt Niskanen only 20 seconds after Letang was released from the penalty box didn’t let the Pens capitalize on that positive energy. Instead, Washington fired the final three shots on goal to close the period with a bang.
Since Malkin’s foul had occurred with 1:10 remaining in the first period, he remained in the penalty box at the start of the second frame. Two seconds before he was released, D John Carlson (Second Star C Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin) converted the penalty into the Caps’ league-leading 11th power play goal of the postseason.
Washington didn’t enjoy that lead too long though, as Third Star F Jake Guentzel (D Justin Schultz and C Sidney Crosby) leveled the game only 3:45 later by batting down Schultz’ long-range wrist shot from the blue line.
The Penguins took two one-goal leads in this game, and the first of those scoring plays started at the 5:36 mark of the second period when Orpik was caught hooking RW Patric Hornqvist. 1:13 later, Hornqvist (Malkin and RW Phil Kessel) struck back to convert the infraction into a goal, setting the score at 2-1 with the Pens’ first power play marker of the series.
The high-scoring second period found its fourth goal with 8:56 remaining before the second intermission, courtesy of F Chandler Stephenson (F T.J. Oshie and Backstrom). This goal in particular was one that made the home crowd very upset, as it occurred only 1:17 after play was stopped for Wilson’s hit on Aston-Reese. Had Wilson been charged with a penalty for his hit, the shorthanded Capitals would likely not have been able to level the game at two-all – at least at that moment.
Crosby (Guentzel and Letang) and the Penguins had one goal left in them to set the score at 3-2 before the close of the second period, but Washington’s solid defense ensured that the captain’s four-on-four snap shot with 3:33 remaining in the frame was the last strike they had in them for the rest of the game.
Pittsburgh managed only three shots on goal in the third period, due in large part to the Capitals’ five blocked shots in the frame (including two by D Dmitry Orlov) and a combined total of 28 hits thrown by both teams (the Penguins out-hit Washington 52-41 for the entire game).
Meanwhile, the Capitals’ attack just kept right on chugging along. Niskanen (Orlov and Wilson) leveled the game at three-all at the 5:06 mark of the third period with his first playoff goal since April 29, 2017 (coincidentally against Pittsburgh, of course).
Play proceeded under a tied score for much of the frame, to the point that many in the Steel City were prepared to settle in for an overtime game. However, Ovechkin (Backstrom) did not seem so interested in that, as he provided Washington’s game-winning goal with only 1:07 remaining in regulation by batting his initial shot that bounced off the right post out of mid-air and into the back of Murray’s net.
That forced Sullivan to pull Murray, but the Penguins couldn’t even manage one shot on goal with the sixth attacker to affect the 4-3 final score.
Holtby saved 19-of-22 shots faced (.864 save percentage) in the victory, while Murray saved only 18-of-22 (.818) in the loss.
Beyond needing better goalkeeping from Murray, the Penguins desperately need another line than their top-three to produce some offense. Malkin getting back into the swing of things is a valid-enough excuse for the second line, but Kessel and C Derick Brassard managed only two combined shots on goal in the entire game from the third line. Until Pittsburgh can get back to having three potent attacking lines like they’ve had the last two seasons, these dreams of a three-peat will need to be put on the back burner.
Game 4 between these clubs will be right back at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. at 7 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, March 3. To catch the match, viewers should tune their televisions to NBCSN, SN or TVAS.