Mike Knuble, Corey Crawford

Game of the Week: Capitals win overtime thriller against Blackhawks 4-3

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If the NBC Game of the Week between the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals really ends up being a preview of the Stanley Cup finals, then hockey fans are in for an absolute treat. The two teams played a fast-paced, feisty game that ended with an electric overtime frenzy capped by a Mike Knuble game-winner.

Capitals fans must be delighted to see the team catching fire at the right time, as they are on an eight-game winning streak with the playoffs about a month away.

Washington 4, Chicago 3 (OT)

For a moment it seemed like the Blackhawks might have been able to steal a game in which they were generally outplayed, as Jonathan Toews scored a brilliant power-play goal with only 39 seconds left in the third period. Duncan Keith shot wide on purpose, forcing the puck to carom off the boards and onto Toews’ stick for the tying goal.

The Capitals didn’t let that goal take the wind out of their sails, though, as they came out charging in the overtime period. Although there was plenty of end-to-end action (I only counted one whistle for offsides during a frantic four minutes of four-on-four hockey), Washington out-shot Chicago 6-0 in overtime.

Knuble showed excellent patience in moving the puck from his backhand to forehand and then raised it just high enough to put it past Corey Crawford’s glove for the winning goal.

Brooks Laich gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead in the third after Eric Fehr set him up with a gorgeous feed from behind the Hawks’ net. Boyd Gordon and Jason Arnott scored Washington’s other goals while Tomas Kopecky and Nick Leddy joined Toews as the Blackhawks’ goal scorers.

Braden Holtby had some shaky moments in this game (particularly with the Kopecky goal in the second period), but he still earned his fourth straight win after stopping 27 out of 30 shots. Crawford was pretty strong at times for the Hawks, keeping them in the game by making 38 out of 42 saves.

While their transition to a more defensive-minded approach has been noticeable during most of the 2010-11 season, this game provided one of Washington’s best all-around efforts since they were dangerous on offense and responsible on defense. They also played pretty well on special teams, earning a goal on the power play and penalty kill.

The Caps improved their Southeast Division lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning to five points while they moved within one point of the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the East. (It’s important at this point in the season to note that the Lightning hold a game in hand while the Flyers have two more games remaining than Washington, though.)

Chicago probably has mixed feelings about this game. The negative side is that the Blackhawks are now on a three-game losing streak after reeling off eight straight wins. That being said, two of those losses included “charity points” so their current road trip probably won’t bury their chances. Toews & Co. remain in fifth place in the West, at least as of this writing.

It’s starting to look like the “old” Capitals are back, only this time they might be a whole lot tougher on defense, making the Eastern Conference playoffs that much more intriguing.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.