Southeast Division Watch (January 31)

With the All-Star break over, it’s time for the NHL playoff races to intensify. Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division’s outlook. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Southeast Division outlook

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (31-15-5 for 67 pts; 51 Games Played)

Current streak: five wins in a row

Week ahead: three home games – Philadelphia (Tuesday), Washington (Friday) and St. Louis (Sunday).

Thoughts: The Lightning started off their epic 12-game homestand with two wins. This week won’t be easy with a game against the top team in the East and their biggest divisional threat, but at least they get plenty of time to rest.

2. Washington Capitals (27-15-9 for 63 pts; 51 GP)

Current streak: two straight losses

Week ahead: home vs. Montreal (Tues), away vs. Tampa Bay (Fri) and home vs. Pittsburgh (Sun).

Thoughts: Their schedule is similar to Tampa Bay’s week, at least in the way the games are tough but spread out in a friendly way. Friday’s game is the biggest, but they should be mad at themselves if they don’t win at least two of these games considering the fact that the Penguins are banged up.

3. Atlanta Thrashers (24-19-9 for 57 pts; 52 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Islanders (Tues), home vs. Calgary (Thurs) and road vs. Carolina (Sat).

Thoughts: The Thrashers stumbled into the break before winning their last game, but this week presents an opportunity for them to strengthen their playoff foothold. Winnable home games against the Islanders and Flames give way to an important game against the hard-charging Hurricanes, their biggest playoff threat.

4. Carolina Hurricanes (26-19-6 for 56 pts; 50 GP)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Boston (Tues), road vs. Toronto (Thurs) and home vs. Atlanta on Saturday.

Thoughts: The Bruins are going to be a tough out, but perhaps the Hurricanes will be pumped up after hosting a successful All-Star weekend? Carolina needs to take Toronto seriously to give themselves a great chance at earning at least two wins this week. If they could beat Atlanta in regulation, they might find themselves in the top eight by Saturday night.

5. Florida Panthers (22-22-5 for 49 pts; 49 GP)

Current streak: Lost their last game.

Week ahead: Three road games – Toronto (Tues), Montreal (Wed) and New Jersey (Fri).

Thoughts: The Panthers’ optimism can be gauged by how they look at this week. There is the half-empty: three road games and a back-to-back to start things off. Then there’s the half-full: they play against two cellar dwelling teams in the Maple Leafs and Devils, so the games are winnable. If they flop this week, they might want to begin eye-balling a lottery pick.

Ovechkin shrugs off Caps’ Game 1 loss in very Ovechkin way

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You know, it happens. Maybe not always in those exact words.

The Washington Capitals carried the play during portions of their 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and even down 1-0 in the series, just about every player seemed happy with their overall game.

(Granted, Braden Holtby picked apart two of the three goals he allowed, and so on.)

Still, Alex Ovechkin shrugged off the disappointment in a way that wasn’t quite Rated R, but probably ranks in the PG-13 range:

The penalty element is interesting, though.

When asked after the loss about the lack of power plays, Matt Niskanen merely offered a “no comment.”

The Penguins experienced some sprawling moments, yet they avoided taking a penalty each time. Often, when a team carries long sequences of play, they’ll go on the PP (especially with home-ice advantage) … but not the Capitals in Game 1.

via Natural Stat Trick

It’s a situation to watch as the Capitals hope to even the series against the Penguins with Game 2 coming on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (You can watch online, via the NBC Sports App and follow the livestream here).

Holtby takes blame for two big goals in Caps’ loss to Pens

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It’s just about a consensus that the Washington Capitals believed that they generally played a strong game despite falling 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Braden Holtby‘s teammates likely wouldn’t agree with his assessment that the Game 1 loss is on his shoulders, but the perennial Vezina candidate took the blame for Sidney Crosby‘s first goal of the night and Nick Bonino‘s game-winner.

Noting that the Penguins are a dangerous rush team – making them a different threat than the Toronto Maple Leafs – Holtby believes that he should have had his glove in position to stop the 1-0 goal. He said he’s capable of making such a stop and “will next time.” Check out Crosby’s two goals below, with Holtby having a beef with the first one:

It’s really difficult to place too much blame on Holtby for giving up Nick Bonino’s game-winner, as it seemed like a great rush play that few goalies would be able to stop.

Judge for yourself in the highlights:

The Penguins were ultimately able to take a 1-0 series lead, but the Capitals seem capable of shrugging off questions about frustrations, even with naysayers starting to gain confidence in claiming that there will be more than the same.

If Washington’s going to get over this big hurdle, Holtby is likely to be a big part in doing so.

Fleury, Penguins hang on for Game 1 win against Capitals

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The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled off a 3-2 Game 1 win against the Washington Capitals, but Thursday’s thriller probably prompted a sigh of relief.

(Washington, meanwhile, might have uttered a sigh at such unpleasantly familiar feelings.)

The first period ended 0-0 in part thanks to Jake Guentzel‘s sprawling “kick save.” Business really picked up in the second after Sidney Crosby raced off to two quick goals, only for Alex Ovechkin to give Washington a shot thanks to a booming goal and some physical play.

It sure felt like this one might head to overtime, especially after Evgeny Kuznetsov was tying things up and flapping his arms like wings. That was not to be, however, as Nick Bonino took advantage of a pretty area pass to beat Braden Holtby for the decisive tally.

Now, it was only decisive because Marc-Andre Fleury was at the top of his game. Oh, and also because the Penguins did a collective Guentzel impression in frantically denying a tying tally.

Makes you want to wipe some sweat from your brow, eh?

The Capitals dominated by just about every statistical measure … except, of course, goals on the scoreboard. Pittsburgh will gladly take that 1-0 series lead, then.

Expect a desperate Washington team in Game 2, which airs at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can watch it online and via the NBC Sports App (click here for the livestream link).

Karlsson makes difference for Senators vs. Lundqvist, Rangers

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Swedish superstars Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson were both stupendous in Game 1 between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.

Still, it was Karlsson’s game-winning goal (from a seemingly impossible angle) against Lundqvist that made the difference as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 on Thursday. With that, the Senators are up 1-0 in the series.

That Karlsson goal really deserves a special look.

Whether you blame that 2-1 tally on Lundqvist or not, the Rangers would be foolish to do anything but praise their red-hot franchise goalie. He stopped all 21 Senators shots in the first period and ultimately made 41 out of 43 stops in defeat.

Craig Anderson was strong in his own right, mind you, stopping 34 out of 35 shots (including all 28 at even-strength) to help Ottawa take that tight contest.

Anderson’s strong play highlights the fact that Rangers – Senators doesn’t merely come down to Lundqvist vs. Karlsson … but even so, both Swedish superstars really did stand out in this one.

Game 2 airs on NBC at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; click here for the livestream link.