Goalies under siege in Game 1 shootout between Caps, Knights

LAS VEGAS — Marc-Andre Fleury and Braden Holtby have been two of the hottest goaltenders during the postseason. Vegas Final Odds

Their duel between the pipes looked more like survival in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as the Vegas Golden Knights outlasted the Washington Capitals, 6-4.

Fleury came into the series with a 1.68 goals-against average for Vegas with Holtby not far behind at 2.04. Giving up nine goals between them seemed unlikely but that’s exactly what happened Monday night as both goalies were screened relentlessly, caught out of position at times and left out to dry on occasion by defensemen trying to keep up with two swarming offenses.

For Washington, scoring against the Golden Knights was taking advantage of Vegas defenders failing to clog the slots and Fleury making his own mistakes.

Brett Connolly’s redirect that went through defenseman Colin Miller’s legs in the first period caught Fleury overcommitting on Michal Kempny’s shot from the point. Less than a minute later, Nicklas Backstrom backhanded a shot past Fleury, who couldn’t recover after sprawling to his right with T.J. Oshie coming around the back of the goal.

Fleury came into the series with a 1.68 goals-against average for Vegas with Holtby not far behind at 2.04. Giving up nine goals between them seemed unlikely but that’s exactly what happened Monday night as both goalies were screened relentlessly, caught out of position at times and left out to dry on occasion by defensemen trying to keep up with two swarming offenses.

For Washington, scoring against the Golden Knights was taking advantage of Vegas defenders failing to clog the slots and Fleury making his own mistakes.

Fleury didn’t stand a chance against John Carlson, who scored an easy backhander after a beautiful feed from Oshie, who wrapped a pass around defenseman Shea Theodore across the slot. And while Tom Wilson got credit for Washington’s fourth goal, the puck slid into the net after Fleury kicked it in himself after getting caught under his skate.

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Conn Smythe Watch: Fleury, Ovechkin leading MVP race

We’re down to the final four in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and the expansion darling Vegas Golden Knights are all seeking their first championship. The Tampa Bay Lightning are trying to win for the first time in 14 years.

Here’s a look at the individual players who have contributed to their success, and have put themselves in line for playoff MVP honors. Keep in mind this ranking isn’t based just on their stats so far but also on how the voters might view their cases should their teams hoist the Cup.

10. Dustin Byfuglien, D, Winnipeg Jets

It’s been a Big Buff lovefest this postseason, as fans rediscover the singular charms of the hulking Jets defenseman. He has 13 points in 12 games, four of them on the power play, to go along with 18 penalty minutes. His 26:17 of ice time per game is third most among players still active in the postseason.

9. Braden Holtby, G, Washington Capitals

Holty has the numbers, with a .929 even-strength save percentage in backstopping the Capitals to their first conference final in 20 years. But more importantly, he’s got the narrative: benched for the first two games of the playoffs, then reclaiming his starter’s mantle with series wins against Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Murray.

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By: Greg Wyshynski

Capitals giving Washington fans reason to believe as they take 2-0 lead vs. Lightning h

TAMPA — A running joke for Washington area sports fans for many years has been that every spring, in our nation’s capital, cherry blossoms bloom and the Washington Capitals wilt.

But this season’s Capitals appear determined to break the cycle of postseason failures. The Capitals turned in another strong overall game to down the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 and claim a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.

Two weeks ago, the story was the Capitals hadn’t been to the conference finals in the Alex Ovechkin era. Now, the Capitals are two wins from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.

“We are playing good,” said Brett Connolly, who scored one of Washington’s goals.  “They look like they are a frustrated a little over there, and we have to continue to play hard, keep playing fast, and stay on them.”

Forgive Washington fans if they don’t know how to act on Tuesday when the series shifts to D.C. for Games 3 and 4.

The Capitals aren’t just squeaking by against the Lightning. Despite missing key center Nicklas Backstrom because of an injury, the Capitals have outscored the Lightning 10-4 in the two games in Tampa. This is a Lightning team that boasted the league’s No. 1 offense in the regular season. The Lightning have one even-strength goal against Washington in two games.

Enthusiasm abounds for the Capitals. It’s as if the Washington players, now with a huge weight lifted off their shoulders by escaping the second round, are now playing with unbridled confidence. The Capitals are 3-0 without Backstrom, who is among the NHL’s best centers. They are 7-1 on the road. They overcame a blown officiating call that led to a Lightning power-play goal.

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By. Kevin Allen


Penguins Score in OT to Take 2-0 Lead

Written by Kevin Allen at USAToday.com

In addition to performing his duties as a superstar, captain and key man on faceoffs, Sidney Crosby apparently can also foretell the future.

Right before winning a game-deciding overtime faceoff, Crosby predicted the faceoff win, a perfect drop to Letang and the fact that rookie Conor Sheary would be wide open for a pass. The only detail he didn’t provide was that Sheary would rip a shot high into the net at 2:35 of OT to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a 2-1 win and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final. The series now shifts to San Jose for Games 3 and 4.

“(Crosby’s) a smart guy with a very high hockey IQ,” Penguins winger Carl Hagelin said.  “That’s why he’s the best player in the world.”

It’s not necessarily a high percentage move to draw up a play seconds before execution.

“It usually doesn’t work out like that when you draw up a play or even talk about a play,” Sheary said. “I think they kind of lost me when I came off the wall. I had a lot of time to shoot.”

The Penguins have been a better faceoff team (50.7% to 46.7%) than the Sharks in these playoffs, and Wednesday’s win was an illustration of why that is important.

Crosby was 17-7 in the faceoff circle in Game 2, one day after he stayed late at an optional practice to work on his faceoffs. He beat San Jose’s Joel Ward on the draw.

“He is inspiring for our group and I know the players recognize the effort he is putting in,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

According to Sullivan, the reason for Crosby’s success is more about sweat than skill.

“His work ethic is unmatched,” Sullivan said. “He has an insatiable appetite to get better and be the best.”

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Pens Narrowly Edge Sharks in Game 1

Written by Alex Prewitt at SI.com

Penguins forward Nick Bonino stood in place with both hands raised high, spinning slowly like a holiday display in a department store window, shining bright for everyone to see. The unclaimed stick of San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns lay just outside the blue paint, nestled underneath the pads of his goaltender Martin Jones, and nearby Paul Martin dropped to one knee in defeat. Into the celebration from the far corner charged Kris Letang, the Pittsburgh defenseman who had no business being that deep, at least not this late into the third period of a tie game. And yet here was the opener of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, decided by a bold rush, a smart read, and a chip shot by the center with the Civil War chinstrap.

“It was a flipper or something like that,” Letang said. “I’m just glad he put that in.”

Two minutes and 33 seconds later, after the Penguins snuffed defenseman Ben Lovejoy’s hooking minor and survived a two-man disadvantage when Jones fled to the bench, Consol Energy Center was a roaring frenzy as the horn blared on Pittsburgh’s 3–2 victory, the first by an Eastern Conference team in a Stanley Cup Final Game 1 since 2006. That was the year the Carolina Hurricanes, helmed by current Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, began the final push to the first Cup in their franchise history. On Tuesday night, with Rutherford watching his new team, several of his shrewd moves pushed Pittsburgh to a 1-0 series lead.

The third-period goal by Bonino, acquired from Vancouver last July, was merely the climax. The backhanded feed that sprung Letang at the offensive blue line came via speedster Carl Hagelin, who Rutherford re-imported to the Metropolitan Division from Anaheim at mid-season. In the opening frame, forwards Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary had become the first pair of rookies to open the Stanley Cup Final scoring since 1924, or roughly when forward Matt Cullen, the grizzled $800,000 summer signee of considerably greater value, was born. Before the game, television cameras captured coach Mike Sullivan, promoted by Rutherford from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Dec. 12 after Mike Johnston’s firing, instructing his charges to play “fast and fearless.”

Message heard.

“We certainly didn’t want to go into this series with a wait-and-see approach,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t want to go through a feeling-out process. We wanted to try to go out and dictate the terms right away. That’s when we play our best, when we’re on our toes and we skate. We try to do it in a calculated way.

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Sharks Advance to Cup Final After Beating Blues

Written by the AP at CBC.ca

Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the rest of the San Jose Sharks gathered around the Campbell Bowl for a celebratory picture after winning the Western Conference final.

In that moment, all those past playoff disappointments and collapses were forgotten. It will take four more wins to put to rest those questions about if they had the fortitude to win it all.

Captain Joe Pavelski scored an early goal, Joel Ward added two more and the Sharks advanced to their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history by beating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Wednesday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

“It’s a pretty cool feeling,” Thornton said. “Obviously it’s our first time. It was pretty neat to get this done at home. The fans here have waited so long, 25 years. We’ve waited 18 years or so. So it’s a great feeling.”

Joonas Donskoi also scored, Logan Couture had an empty-netter and Martin Jones made 24 saves as a Sharks team notorious for post-season letdowns will play for the championship that has eluded Thornton and Marleau since they entered the league as the top two picks in 1997.

Thornton assisted on Pavelski’s goal less than four minutes into the game to set the tone and Marleau had two assists in the third period that set off chants of “We Want The Cup! We Want The Cup!”

“We’re just enjoying the ride right now,” Marleau said. “We’ve had some really good teams over the years.”

Despite making the playoffs 16 times in 18 seasons and winning the second-most games in the NHL since the start of the 2003-04 season, the Sharks have been known for their soul-crushing playoff disappointments.

They won just three games in three previous trips to the conference final, were knocked out twice in four seasons by a No. 8 seed and most notably blew a 3-0 series lead to lose in the first round to Los Angeles in 2014.

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Penguins Win Game 6, Force Finale in Game 7

Written by Corey Long at NHL.com

The Pittsburgh Penguins extended the Eastern Conference Final with a 5-2, Game 6 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Tuesday.

Game 7 is at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The winner will advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray made 28 saves, 17 in the third period. Murray, who turns 22 on Wednesday, was back in net after Marc-Andre Fleury played in a 4-3, Game 5 overtime loss.

“He doesn’t get rattled,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Murray. “If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. … Usually it takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive. That’s always impressed us about him. Certainly it’s impressed me since I’ve got to know him and watch him as a goaltender but also as a person.”

Murray, who was pulled from a 4-3, Game 4 loss after giving up four goals in two periods, had to survive a push from the Lightning before the Penguins scored two late goals.

“It’s not my job to worry about [coach’s] decision,” Murray said. “It’s my job to be ready if my name is called, and if my name is called, to go out and play my heart out and compete.”

Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino scored for Pittsburgh.

Brian Boyle scored twice for the Lightning, who lost Game 6 in a series for the third consecutive time. Tampa Bay also lost Game 6 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final at home to the New York Rangers before winning Game 7 on the road (2-0).

“We had a great chance tonight and kind of tiptoed around it a little bit,” Boyle said. “We were tentative and weren’t aggressive. We weren’t on top. We weren’t skating.”

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Sharks Down Blues, One Win Away From Finals

Written by Kristen Shilton at USAToday.com

When facing adversity in this postseason, the San Jose Sharks have a habit of responding big. Whether bouncing back from a loss or rallying during a game, they’re nothing if not resilient.

That pattern continued in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the St. Louis Blues. Rocked 6-3 in Game 4, the Sharks rallied from a deficit twice Monday through two back-and-forth periods to take control in the third and shut down the Blues for a 6-3 win.

The Sharks take a 3-2 series lead back to San Jose, where a win would put the team in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time.

“There have been times throughout the regular season where we gained that confidence to come back; guys have done a good job,” captain Joe Pavelski, who scored twice, said. “There’s going to be nights where we don’t have it, and we have to realize a little bit better where we don’t have it and change it. We don’t need to change it the next game; (we can) try to start changing it mid-game maybe.”

After getting on the board first with a point blast from defender Marc-Edouard Vlasicearly in the opening period, the Blues immediately answered with a goal from Jaden Schwartz, profiting off a rebound from Patrik Berglund’s wrister.

Then it was Troy Brouwer’s turn. Borrowing a page from Matt Carpenter, he tracked a flying puck and batted it out of midair to drive home a Blues go-ahead goal at 15:08.

Winger Joel Ward capitalized on a power play with a bunt to Brouwer’s home run swing, tapping an elevated puck past netminder Jake Allen to tie the game at 2. Ward added an empty-netter in the final minute of the game to close out the scoring.

“That’s just part of playoff hockey,” Sharks forward Joe Thornton, who had three assists, said of the ups and downs. “We’ve handled it very, very well so far in this postseason and that’s probably why we’ve been successful.”

After Robby Fabbri and Pavelski traded power play goals, the score was knotted 3-3 when the third period began. Sixteen seconds in, Pavelski beautifully deflected a pass to give San Jose a lead they would not relinquish.

“When we face an elimination game, our best game seems to come out, and that shouldn’t be different coming in to Game 6,” Blues captain David Backes said. “We get it back here for Game 7, all bets are off. But we have to work our butts off and bring our best game of the series in the next one.”

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Blues Tie Series With Another Dominant Performance

Written by Jeremy Rutherford at St.Louis Post Dispatch

Whatever it was, turning to goaltender Jake Allen or switching up the line combinations, it worked for the Blues in Game 4.

A club that had been dominated by San Jose in Games 2 and 3, shut out in both, woke up with a 6-3 win over the Sharks at SAP Center Saturday.

The best-of-seven series looked like it was on the verge of being busted wide open, but suddenly it’s tied at two games apiece and headed back to St. Louis for Game 5 Monday.

There was some doubt back home about whether fans had seen the last of a team that looked capable of hoisting the Stanley Cup, but with their backs against the boards, they responded with their sixth road win of the playoffs in a game that had a must-win feel.

“There was (some doubt)?” Blues forward Alexander Steen asked. “We’ve dealt with this for a long time, it’s nothing new to us. What’s important is what we can control inside the boards and in this room. We faced a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. We had a good meeting yesterday and talked about the adjustments we want to make and came out and made them.”

The Blues broke out with six goals, tripling their offensive output in the first three games of the series. They had two goals in each period Saturday, with Troy Brouwer and Kyle Brodziak accounting for two apiece and Jori Lehtera and Alex Pietrangelo adding the others in a game in which San Jose goalie Martin Jones was sent to the showers early.

But the story going into Game 4 was in the other net, where a controversial coaching move put Allen in the crease in place of Brian Elliott and seemed to get the Blues’ attention. Allen finished with 31 saves Saturday, losing his shutout in the third period when the Sharks struck for all three of their goals.

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Lightning Have 3-2 Lead Over Pens In ECF

Written by Chris Adamski at New York Times.com

Two days after taking a puck to the face before the start of a game, Tyler Johnson took a puck to his back to end one.

Jason Garrison’s wrist shot deflected off Johnson as he stood in the slot facing the net, and the puck flew into the net 53 seconds into overtime to pull the Tampa Bay Lightning to within a win of their second consecutive Stanley Cup finals with a 4-3 win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night.

Johnson quipped that he thought Garrison was “going for my head again, so I just turned around.”

“I got lucky; I guess it hit me,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t really sure if it hit me or not — I was just excited when I saw it in back of the net.”

Tampa Bay leads the best-of-seven series, three games to two, and has a chance to close out the series in Game 6 Tuesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

Nikita Kucherov’s second goal of the game tied it with 3 minutes 16 seconds left in regulation, and Alex Killorn also scored for Tampa Bay, which rode the momentum of Game 4’s home victory Friday.

Johnson was bleeding before faceoff of that contest after a teammate’s shot hit him during warm-ups. He played in the game anyway, with a protective grille over his face — one that was absent Sunday.

Johnson’s injuries, he noted casually, were some stitches and some missing teeth. “We will know more when everything settles down, but no, I don’t want to play with anything on my face,” he said. “That was an easy decision for me. As soon as they let me make the decision, I made it.”

Johnson was seemingly in the middle of everything Sunday — taking two penalties, delivering four hits, attempting a team-high-tying eight shots and assisting on Kucherov’s late tying goal before his lower back was the final thing to touch the puck an instant before it went past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for the winner.

“No shot’s a bad shot in overtime,” Garrison said. “So we will take the outcome of that.”

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