Capitals cruise to 3-0 win against Penguins; game ends with more bad blood

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The Washington Capitals’ regular season dominance of the Pittsburgh Penguins continues with their 3-0 win this afternoon, as the game ended with the teams’ hatred boiling over in some ugly ways.

Washington 3, Pittsburgh 0

The game concluded with some controversy, as Matt Cooke delivered a dirty knee-to-knee hit on Alex Ovechkin with a few minutes left in the third period. Many Penguins fans were quick to point out the fact that Ovechkin delivered a knee-to-knee hit of his own on former Pittsburgh defenseman Sergei Gonchar during the teams’ 2009 playoff series, but such “eye for an eye” logic is dangerous. Ovechkin was able to play in the game’s waning moments, which might reduce the chances that Cooke will face some discipline from the NHL.

Cooke’s actions were both unfortunate and typical, but it wasn’t the only moment of tension in the game. While Nate Ewell explained that the fight was actually rooted in a college hockey rivalry, others will view Tim Wallace’s fight with David Steckel as payback for a Winter Classic collision between Steckel and Penguins star Sidney Crosby. You might remember that the much-debated check contributed greatly to Crosby’s current concussion conundrum.

While the Penguins and Capitals were feisty during the game, the Pittsburgh offensive attack was absolutely punch-less. Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth was sturdy when called upon, even if he wasn’t tested particularly often during the game. He made 22 saves to shut out the Pens.

Brooks Laich scored the first (and game winning) goal in the final minutes of the first period and Marcus Johansson gave the Caps a nice cushion by fluttering a backhanded shot past Marc-Andre Fleury on the penalty kill. Mike Knuble got revenge for goal disallowed by a goalie interference penalty and a missed high stick calling by icing the game with an empty-netter.

Fleury made some big saves to keep his team in the game, but they rarely punctured the Capitals’ stingy defense in this contest. If anyone wants proof that Washington is adapting their game to conform to the type of hockey that commonly works in the playoffs, this would be a good contest to point to.

It will be wise to keep an eye on two of the Capitals’ biggest stars over the next two days, as Ovechkin was shaken up by that knee-to-knee hit while Mike Green never returned to the game after taking a puck to the ear (or side of his head) in the closing seconds of the first period.

This win places Washington one point behind the Southeast Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, although the Bolts have more wins (32 to 29) and one game in hand. Still, the Caps must feel confident after beating the Penguins and Lightning in one strong weekend.

The Penguins remain three points behind the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference’s top team, the Philadelphia Flyers. Pittsburgh came into the game riding a five-game winning streak, but you have to wonder if this is the first sign of struggles for a team that won’t score many easy goals without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Ducks deny rally, end Penguins’ winning streak

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When Ondrej Kase cashed in on another breakaway opportunity for the Ducks to make it 4-1 in the second period, it looked like that goal would be icing on the cake for Anaheim. Even if it would be especially pretty frosting.

Instead, that stylish goal ended up being critical, as the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly rallied in the third period to at least send Wednesday’s game to overtime. John Gibson ended up holding down the fort, and with an empty-netter in the dying seconds, the Ducks ended up beating the Penguins 5-3.

You could call it a game of periods and close calls.

The Penguins entered the first intermission thanks to a 1-0 Evgeni Malkin goal, but the Ducks dominated the middle frame with their first four-goal period of 2017-18. The Penguins’ prolific power play helped them stay in the game (2-for-4, with both goals coming during that third-period comeback bid), but the rally fell short. Pittsburgh’s winning streak ended at four victories.

Some bounces went both ways, as Antoine Vermette nearly scored for the Ducks while Carl Hagelin suffered a near-miss. So maybe those missed opportunities cancel each other out?

From the Ducks’ perspective, this is the latest argument in favor of this team being a threat now that key pieces have returned to the lineup. This win begins what they hope is a successful five-game homestand, as Anaheim still needs to battle for its own playoff hopes.

The Penguins can’t ruminate on this loss for very long. They head to Los Angeles to face what must be a frustrated Kings team (four straight defeats, only two wins in their last eight games) on Thursday, with little reason to expect any mercy.

This last stretch of wins improved the Penguins’ outlook, but dropping games in back-to-back nights could make things tense again in a hurry. You can check out that Penguins – Kings game on NBCSN Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Willie O’Ree celebrates 60th anniversary of debut with Bruins

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BOSTON (AP) Hockey pioneer Willie O’Ree was honored in Boston on Wednesday on the 60th anniversary of the Bruins forward breaking the NHL’s color barrier.

At a news conference at the TD Garden before the Bruins game against the Montreal Canadiens, Mayor Marty Walsh declared Jan. 18, 2018 to be “Willie O’Ree Day”. O’Ree made his debut in 1958 during a 3-0 victory against the Canadiens at the Forum in Montreal.

Walsh called O’Ree a Boston legend who changed the city for the better and thanked him for his courage. As part of the celebration, the city dedicated a new street hockey rink in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to be known as Willie O’Ree Rink.

A native of Canada, O’Ree, 82, had four goals and 10 assists in 45 games over parts of two NHL seasons. He spent a total of 21 years in pro hockey.

For the past two decades, O’Ree has served as the NHL’s Diversity Ambassador, spreading the message that hockey is for everyone.

More AP NHL hockey at https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins cruise vs. Canadiens in Julien’s return to Boston

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Don’t blame Claude Julien if Wednesday made him think of better times, and not just because it was his welcome back night in Boston.

Coming into this one, it was a tale of two teams going in opposite directions, and the teams stuck to their scripts. The Boston Bruins remain red-hot with a 4-1 win, while the Montreal Canadiens are mired in mediocrity .. or worse?

When you’re as disappointing as the Canadiens have been, plenty of things are going wrong. It was a weak start even with a 1-0 lead and 1-1 first period in mind, and it obviously didn’t get any better.

Nights like these have to sting for Julien, a coach known for his sophisticated systems and eye for defensive detail.

There are questions about Max Pacioretty possibly being trade bait. People wonder if Jonathan Drouin or Alex Galchenyuk fit as centers, or if neither work that way. Yet, these performances make you realize that as exasperated as management must be, they may also appreciate more specific distractions.

Because, frankly, this was a team … non-effort.

Then again, the Bruins are a red-hot squad, so maybe they shine an especially harsh light on the Habs’ haplessness?

Boston generated a 32-22 shots on goal advantage in this one, with multiple contributors stepping up. Big guns came through (Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were among the goal scorers, Patrice Bergeron collected two assists), while David Backes and others added to the fun.

It was the kind of effort Julien would have been very happy with, if it didn’t come at his expense.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Anaheim Ducks

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PROJECTED LINEUPS

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dominik SimonSidney Crosby — Daniel Sprong

Carl HagelinEvgeni MalkinPatric Hornqvist

Conor ShearyJake GuentzelPhil Kessel

Tom KuhnhacklRiley SheahanRyan Reaves

Brian DumoulinKris Letang

Olli MaattaJustin Schultz

Matt HunwickJamie Oleksiak

Starting goalie: Tristan Jarry

[NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks]

Ducks

Rickard RakellRyan GetzlafCorey Perry

Derek GrantRyan KeslerJakob Silfverberg

Nick RitchieAdam HenriqueOndrej Kase

Chris WagnerAntoine VermetteJ.T. Brown

Cam FowlerKevin Bieksa

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson

Francois BeaucheminBrandon Montour

Starting goalie: John Gibson