Washington Capitals v Toronto Maple Leafs

Ovechkin and Backstrom explode for four points each as Capitals take out Tampa Bay 5-2 in Southeast clash

It’s a bit early in the season for calling any game a “must-win” brand of game, but for the Capitals tonight against Tampa Bay, they had a few things to prove. They had to prove they could beat Dwayne Roloson and they had to prove they could score goals against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Mission accomplished for the Capitals as they crashed the net early and got both Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin rolling offensively in a 5-2 win over the Lightning.

Backstrom and Ovechkin each had four points, Backstrom with two goals and two helpers while Ovechkin tallied a goal and three assists, to pace the once-slumping Caps offense. The Lightning got on the board first as Teddy Purcell scored his 11th of the year at 3:21 of the first. It wouldn’t be much long after that that the Caps showed they wouldn’t take another one lying down.

At 8:21 of the first period, Matt Hendricks crashed the Lightning net colliding with Roloson causing Roloson to get angry about it. The two picked up matching minors but the play set the tone for the night that the Caps weren’t going to sit idly by and let the Lightning dictate the pace of the game.

Just 38 seconds after the matching minors, Backstrom picked up his first of two goals on the night to tie the game at 1-1. The Caps then scored two straight in the second period from Broooks Laich and Ovechkin before Tampa’s Brett Clark scored a power play goal to cut the lead to 3-2. In the third, Backstrom added his second of the  night while Jason Chimera later added an empty net goal to provide the final score.

Semyon Varlamov was steady in what proved to be a quiet night for him as he had to make just 21 saves in the win. Roloson was a bit busier as he stopped 31 shots in the loss. The story here though was about the Caps showing up in a big way playing their most complete game of the year. This win sets things up for a knock-down drag-out affair with the Penguins on Sunday afternoon on NBC as the Pens won their fifth straight tonight in a 3-2 comeback win over Buffalo. If the Caps offense is indeed back and firing on all cylinders, it should create quite the atmosphere at Verizon Center in Washington on Sunday.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.