NHL to fine Maple Leafs for Ron Wilson’s locker room “bounty” against San Jose

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We’re not often privy to what goes on inside an NHL locker room. HBO’s 24/7 was a distinct change in that manner of doing business, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are learning a bit of a hard (and stupid) lesson about letting internal matters get published in the local papers.

When the Leafs beat the San Jose Sharks the other night, Leafs coach Ron Wilson was shown on camera breaking out a wad of cash, $600 worth, walking back to the Leafs locker room with Francois Beauchemin. That cash was destined to land in the wallet of Carl Gunnarsson who score the game-winning goal. $600 seems like a funny number to pick out, but in this case it was appropriate as the victory was Ron Wilson’s 600th in his career.

Why was Wilson making it rain during post game? It’s simple, the Sharks are the team Wilson used to coach before coming to Toronto and as is somewhat typical in games involving a player’s (or coach in this case) old team, getting the game winner nets you a bit of cash internally.

That locker room gamesmanship doesn’t usually get talked about in the papers or discussed in public and today, we’re discovering why that is because the NHL frowns upon seeing cash being bandied about after a game and will reportedly fine the Maple Leafs for the coach’s “bounty” for victory. Eric Duhatschek of the Globe & Mail discusses the league going a bit over the top in keeping up appearances.

The problem that I foresee is that the league has – to its everlasting peril – now decided to draw a line in the sand for an act that has been commonplace for years. Coaches do it occasionally, but 90 per cent of the time, it’s a player that puts the money up – say, when Dany Heatley goes back to play Ottawa for the first time, he would post an incentive for whichever new teammate helps them win against his old team. And while a player offering up dollars from his own pocket might not be a CBA or a salary-cap violation, surely it must contravene some internal gambling regulation within the league – and run afoul of NHL policy as well.

It’s a slippery slope indeed with the NHL cracking down on these silly side bet shenanigans. After all, Wilson offering up virtual pocket change for a professional athlete in netting the game-winner doesn’t compare to the bounty accusations we’ve seen in other sports.

In the early 1990s, then Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan faced criticism when he supposedly offered up a bounty to anyone on his defense who injured Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman during an upcoming game. At least with Wilson, there’s no actual harm being committed here. It’s not as if he turned into a modern-day Reggie Dunlop offering money to put Dany Heatley or Joe Thornton in the hospital.

These sorts of things go on in locker rooms all the time amongst players but when you’re a team that plays in a hockey-crazed city like Toronto every move, no matter how big it is, gets noticed and discussed and over-analyzed. In this case, seeing raw cash changing hands on camera raises more than a few eyebrows and the NHL is just looking to keep up appearances.  At the same time, I’d hope the league is smart enough to just let boys be boys when it comes to breaking up the monotony of a long season.

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.