Defenseman Kris Letang showed how value he is to the Pittsburgh Penguins throughout Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Washington Capitals.
With Olli Maatta knocked out of the game 4:13 in thanks to a questionable hit by former Penguin Brooks Orpik, Letang was forced to be a workhorse in the 2-1 win – a win that evened the series. Letang skated for well more than half the game – 35:22 to be exact – as Pittsburgh’s blueline depth was shredded. He played almost 10 minutes more than his regular season average of 26:56, which was fourth highest in the NHL.
With the 29-year-old rearguard patrolling the ice, the Penguins held the Capitals high-powered offense to 24 shots on goal on Saturday, including just 10 through the first two periods. That the Capitals came on during the third can be partially explained by Letang’s short absence. Letang was called for tripping 2:56 into the frame when he knocked Caps right winger Justin Williams off the puck, a call he vehemently disagreed with. Marcus Johansson scored on the power play to tie the game barely a minute later. It was one of only two power plays the Capitals were afforded in the contest.
Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson has a knack for getting under the skin of opponents, and he definitely falls into the category of players that are beloved by their own team but hated by opponents. But in being a pest, Wilson plays on the edge and he may have crossed the line in Game 1 of the second round.
In the third period of Thursday’s game, Wilson was heading for a line change while approaching Pittsburgh Penguins winger Conor Sheary. As Sheary moved the deflected the puck into the Washington zone, Wilson continued to speed toward Sheary. The Penguins rookie braced for contact, but Wilson moved out of the way and instead went knee-on-knee with Sheary before being pulled off the ice by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin: Read more
The 2009 second-round series between the Penguins and Capitals stands up as one of the most memorable post-lockout playoff matchups. That series featured three games that went to overtime and five one-goal games in a series that went seven games before Pittsburgh emerged victorious. With that series in mind, 2016’s second-round meeting between the two clubs had a lot to live up to. However, if Game 1 is any indication, the two sides shouldn’t have any problem meeting or surpassing the hype.
And it’s fitting that in a series most remembered for a game with duelling hat tricks from Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the 2016 meeting opened with a hat trick that will be remembered and talked about for some time. But it wasn’t Crosby or Ovechkin who found the back of the net three times Thursday. It was T.J. Oshie, and he picked the perfect time to score the his third tally to complete the hat trick: overtime.
Each of Oshie’s goals on the night were great, too. The first came on a perfect shot over the glove of Penguins goaltender Matt Murray, the second on a deke that slipped under Murray’s pad and the third on a wraparound that didn’t come without controversy. Oshie’s overtime winner came as he showed an incredible bit of patience to pull Murray out of position before slipping around the back of the net and tucking the puck in the far side. But the wraparound barely — seriously, it’s by no more than a quarter of an inch — crossed the goal line. Read more
SERIES STARTS: Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, in Washington.
THE CAPITALS WIN IF…
It’s almost hard to believe this needs to be said, but the Capitals really need to get their offense going in the second round. Washington scored twice in the final three games of the first round, and while that was against an admittedly stingy Philadelphia Flyers club that had otherworldly goaltending from Michal Neuvirth, that’s uncharacteristic of this Capitals team and now isn’t the time for the offense to start to sputter. Alex Ovechkin came to life early, but he was actually held off the board in two straight elimination games as the Flyers made the series much closer than it should have been. If it wasn’t for Nicklas Backstrom’s Game 6 goal, the Capitals very well could have gone to seven games.
Unlike a year ago when Montreal’s Carey Price was the no-doubt-about-it winner of the Vezina Trophy, the 2015-16 season had no sure thing.
Three weeks ago, THN made the case for the 10 goalies who were deserving of votes. On Wednesday, the NHL unveiled the three finalists for the award given to “the goalkeeper adjudged to be the best at this position.” They are Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, Washington’s Braden Holtby, and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick.
The Philadelphia Flyers put a scare into the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals, but Washington is moving on to the second round for the second consecutive season thanks to a 1-0 win in Game 6.
In a series that was lopsided, no matter what the scoreboard might tell you, the Capitals simply overpowered the Flyers much like they had nearly every opponent during the regular season. Washington’s top players looked like their top players, and it was fitting that when the Capitals desperately needed a goal, it was the two undeniable faces of the franchise — Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom — that teamed up to make it happen.
Backstrom’s goal, which was the lone marker of the contest, came midway through the second frame after Ovechkin made an impressive play to hold the puck inside the Flyers’ zone. Ovechkin fought off a check from Philadelphia blueliner Radko Gudas, moved the puck to Marcus Johansson, who then made a quick move to shift the puck over to Backstrom. His one-timer found the back of the net behind Michal Neuvirth, and that’s all Washington needed: Read more
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth was drafted 34th overall by the Capitals in 2006, but he was never able to make it as a full-time starting netminder in Washington. Over six seasons with the Capitals, he started 116 games, had a 59-41-13 record, .910 save percentage and 2.67 goals-against average. But he was traded away two seasons ago and hasn’t looked back.
In the time since leaving Washington, Neuvirth, 28, has started games for the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and, after signing a two-year deal in the off-season, the Flyers. And it’s in Philadelphia that Neuvirth is showing that maybe he had more to give than the Capitals, Sabres and Islanders ever believed. Through his past two games — two must-win contests to keep the Flyers alive — Neuvirth has been nothing short of sensational.
Neuvirth has stopped 75 of the 76 shots he’s faced in two games against the Capitals, and he had one of those jaw-dropping efforts Friday night where it looked like nothing short of a literal cannon blast would be able to get by him. Through one period, Neuvirth had seen and stopped 14 shots. He blocked another 16 in the second frame. And by the time the final buzzer went, Neuvirth turned aside 44 pucks in Philadelphia’s 2-0 victory. He’s the first goaltender since Craig Anderson in 2010 to make 44-plus saves in a playoff shutout. Read more
The first round of the post-season won’t see any series end before Game 5, and the Philadelphia Flyers made sure of that Wednesday with a crucial 2-1 win to avoid elimination and stave off the sweep.
The Flyers again clicked early, and in many ways Philadelphia’s Game 4 victory was what one would have expected from Dave Hakstol’s team in Game 3 when the Flyers returned to the Wells Fargo Center for their first game since the passing of owner Ed Snider. Less than six minutes into the game, rookie sensation Shayne Gostisbehere got on the board with a blast from the blueline on the power play to put Philadelphia ahead, but it was a goal from an unexpected source that gave the Flyers their first win of the series.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who was buried in the AHL earlier in the season, absolutely hammered a pass from Wayne Simmonds to put the Flyers up 2-0. MacDonald’s second career playoff goal marked the first time all series Philadelphia scored twice in a single game. Read more