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Final episode of 24/7 fills us with pride and sadness that it’s all over

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Last night’s final episode was the crowning glory to what’s been a thrilling ride and it gave appropriate credence and attention to the game which this series was building up to.  HBO spent appropriate amounts of effort showing the tremendous work Dan Craig and his crew put into building and preparing the rink at Heinz Field for use during the Winter Classic. The efforts of him and his crew can’t be stated enough and HBO did them a great service to show off what they would do.

One of our highlights to last night’s episode was getting the inside look at the NHL phone conference to make the decision to postpone the game to 8 p.m. It’s a shining example to how serious the ice crews were about doing it right. It also showed us that Colin Campbell isn’t much of a talker on the phone. Perhaps he’s just a wordier guy through e-mail.

Having been in Pittsburgh during the days leading up to the Winter Classic it afforded me the chance to see how the HBO crews work behind the scenes and seeing how they were trailing every possible storyline and everyone involved was impressive.

For instance, they were tailing Caps GM George McPhee and a handful of Caps players at the AHL game held at CONSOL Energy Center on December 30. They hovered over McPhee for a good long time before moving on to guys like Karl Alzner and John Carlson who were there to watch the game and see former AHL teammates take on the Penguins farm team. There wasn’t a single rock left unturned which makes us cross our fingers that we’ll see a Blu Ray DVD set in the future with plenty of extras.

As for their coverage of the game, much like everything else that’s been done in this series, it was spectacular. Every in-game storyline that erupted was given the right amount of attention from Mike Rupp’s fight with John Erskine, to Sidney Crosby’s complaints about being hauled down on what was very nearly a breakaway, to hearing both teams do their bit of politicking to get more calls in their favor. Nothing was muted and nothing was underplayed. In a word it was all just perfect.

Being given access to both teams’ locker rooms between periods was a true treat and provided a bit of hands-on attention to the wicked hit Crosby took from David Steckel at the end of the second period. We’re no doctors here but it was clear that Crosby was stunned by the shot.

The closing was a beautiful end piece to what’s been a masterful production to help give hockey the glorious spotlight we know it deserves as fans and one that casual fans or never-were fans were able to latch on to and say, “Hey, maybe we should check this out.”

Seeing Caps coach Bruce Boudreau break out a Bud Light tallboy can to celebrate the win with his coaches or seeing Pens coach Dan Bylsma look just pained declaring how bad he wanted to win that game shows that even though the Winter Classic is still just a regular season game played on a grand and glorious stage, winning is the important thing.

We’re going to miss not having more 24/7 to look forward to and whether or not HBO chooses to do more work with hockey (a 24/7 following the Stanley Cup finals would be about the greatest thing we can think of) we’ve at least gotten this taste of life behind the scenes. Getting a closer look at the players in the more natural state in the locker rooms as well as at home made for a tremendous luxury we’ll not soon forget.

Sharks scratch Flames’ big lead, Calgary wins anyway

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) chases down the puck against San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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If you turned off Thursday’s Calgary Flames – San Jose Sharks game early, you’ll probably be stunned to see that Calgary won 6-5 via a shootout.

For instance:

  • A Sharks fan may have bitterly called it a night when Calgary went up 4-1.
  • Conversely, a Flames devotee might have retired after San Jose took a 5-4 lead, possibly with a broken remote.

The Flames only trailed for about two minutes before scoring the last “real” goal of the game, eventually taking their third straight win thanks to a shootout triumph.

It’s been a strange ride for Calgary, with its most recent win happening after Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma were punished with a healthy scratch. As strange as this game was, the “charity point” can leave both teams looking through a lot of film, yet with something gained as well.

Ultimately, the message may very well be: don’t sleep on these teams.

(In less positive news, Karri Ramo is injured, and it doesn’t look good.

Jonas Hiller closing out the game on a hot streak could be pretty important if Ramo’s out for some time.)

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.