The Washington Capitals are going through such a profound defense-oriented transformation that people have developed the habit of calling them the “Trapitals.” As a person who enjoys splicing two words together to make puns, I approve of the nickname. (The method, however, makes one worry about the entertainment value of the playoffs. If the Capitals really decide to ditch their all-out attack for the same old shell, we might be in store for some real clutching-and-grabbing come April.)
Then again, you cannot go into a shell unless you have a goalie who’s up to the task. Michal Neuvirth once again refuted Dan Bylsma’s “shaky” claims from the HBO “24/7” series as he shut out the Penguins offense for the second game in a row. Of course, it could be that the Caps simply have their media-fed rival’s number, as Pittsburgh has only scored three goals in their four games against the Caps this season.
Washington 1, Pittsburgh 0
Neuvirth made 39 saves to earn that goose egg, while Alex Ovechkin unleashed an absolute howler to beat Marc-Andre Fleury for the game’s only tally. Fleury was pretty alert in making 23 stops, but had no chance against that Ovechkin shot.
This win places the Capitals one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Southeast Division crown, although the Bolts hold two more wins and two more games in hand. Washington finished a challenging five-game road trip 3-2.
It’s tough to question the Penguins’ hustle, but they better hope that the acquisition of James Neal helps spark their offense. They showed a lot of grit and hard work in this game, giving the Capitals a run for their money while pounding pucks at Neuvirth, but there has been a glaring lack of offense without their go-to centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. On the bright side, Pittsburgh remains in fourth place with 77 points, the second highest total in the East.
For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.
Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.
But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.
Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.
When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.
Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.
The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.
Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.
This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.
In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.
Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.
Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.
Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.
Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?
Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.
Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.
Official update on the really important story of the evening:
The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.
Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.
As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.
The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.
Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.
Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.
Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.