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Riding the Zamboni – March 15; Sharks, Kings, Coyotes win and keep West wild

Los Angeles 4 – Nashville 2

Anze Kopitar celebrated breaking the franchise record for consecutive games played by scoring a goal and adding an assist in helping the Kings climb to fourth in the West. Captain Dustin Brown also had a goal and a helper while Jonathan Bernier stopped 30 shots to earn the win. The Kings didn’t put a lot of shots on goal, but were able to get tough around the net and score. Pekka Rinne stopped just 14 shots in the loss as the Predators failed to gain any ground on the eighth spot in the conference. For the Kings, it wrapped up a four game road trip in which they went 4-0-0 on.

San Jose 6 – Dallas 3

A rough loss for Dallas as they looked to slide up the standings in the West and catch up to the Sharks in the Division. Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley each had a pair of goals (with an empty netter for each of them) while Joe Pavelski had four assists. The Sharks maintain a three point lead on L.A. and Phoenix while Dallas remains in seventh place in the West six points behind San Jose in the division race. Jamie Benn continued to carry the offense for Dallas with a goal and two assists. The goal was his 20th of the season. Antti Niemi made 34 saves in the win.

Phoenix 4 – Calgary 3

The Coyotes are staying hot in the West and delivered a punch to the Flames as they cling to the eighth seed in the West. Lee Stempniak, Keith Yandle, Michal Rozsival, and Eric Belanger each had a goal while Vernon Fiddler had two assists as the Coyotes held off a late flurry by Calgary to win. Ilya Bryzgalov had 24 saves in the win. Calgary leads Nashville by one point and Anaheim by two points for the eighth spot in the West. Phoenix is tied with Los Angeles and in fifth place.

Carolina 1 – Buffalo 0

Cam Ward was out of his mind tonight stopping 40 shots on his way to earning his third shutout of the season and bringing the Hurricanes to within two points of the Sabres for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Brandon Sutter had the game’s lone goal late in the first period as the Sabres were unable to put anything by Ward. With the Rangers win, the Sabres were left alone in eighth place and allowed Carolina to sneak a bit closer to them in the standings. A chance for Buffalo to put some distance between themselves and the pack of teams chasing them went by the wayside tonight with the loss.

New Jersey 4 – Atlanta 2

Philadelphia 3 – Florida 2

It was harrowing at times, but the Flyers were able to stay on top of the Eastern Conference by eking out a win thanks to a two goal game from Jeff Carter. Carter’s two second period goals helped them over come a short-lived 2-1 Panthers lead. Brian Boucher stopped 20 shots in the win. Stephen Weiss and Dmitry Kulikov scored for Florida while Tomas Vokoun stopped 28 shots in the loss.

Boston 3 – Columbus 2 (F/SO)

Rich Peverley’s late short-handed goal tied things up for the Bruins as they struggled with Columbus all night long and helped the overcome Scottie Upshall’s third period goal that put the Jackets ahead for just a few minutes. In the shootout, Tyler Seguin would score the deciding goal to give Boston the win that snapped their four game losing skid. Tuukka Rask was outstanding in goal for Boston stopping 34 shots and everything he saw in the shootout. David Krejci had a goal in regulation for the Bruins as did Grant Clitsome for Columbus. Steve Mason stopped 27 shots in the loss. Boston forward Brad Marchand may be facing league discipline for delivering an elbow to the back of R.J. Umberger’s head. No penalty was called on the play.

Washington 4 – Montreal 2

NY Rangers 6 – NY Islanders 3

Marian Gaborik got the monkey off his back scoring two goals in helping the Rangers gain ground on Buffalo in the Eastern Conference race and take sole possession of seventh place. For Gaborik it gives him 20 goals on the season and perhaps hope that he can keep the offense going the rest of the way. Erik Christensen, Ryan Callahan, and Bryan McCabe each had a goal and an assist as the Rangers peppered both Al Montoya and Nathan Lawson in this game with 47 shots on goal. Matt Moulson scored his 30th goal of the year for the Isles while John Tavares added his 26th of the year. Tavares and Moulson each had two assists as well.

Pittsburgh 5 – Ottawa 1

Safe to say that yes, Ottawa is that bad and the Penguins were more than happy to take advantage of that as they look to keep up in jockeying for position in the East playoffs. Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy each had a goal and an assist while Chris Kunitz had three assists and Paul Martin and Dustin Jeffrey had two helpers. Zbynek Michalek scored his third goal in the last four games bringing his season total to… Three. Brent Johnson made 21 saves to earn the win.

One loss from elimination, the Caps say they’re ‘not afraid’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 02:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on during the third period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 2, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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After running away with the Presidents’ Trophy…

After going into the playoffs as the favorites to win it all…

After all the talk that this could finally be the year…

All of a sudden, the Washington Capitals must win three straight games to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive.

One more loss and it’s over until next year.

One more loss and it’s heartbreak, again, in D.C.

Well, well, well, it didn’t take long for the first column about Alex Ovechkin’s legacy to come out. Everyone knows the narrative: lose to Sidney Crosby‘s Pittsburgh Penguins and the Great 8 will suffer yet another painful, humiliating loss.

How much responsibility does Ovechkin bear? Why do his teams never win? Is it something about him?

You know those questions are coming. It doesn’t matter if they’re fair. Who says the questions have to be fair? One more loss and they’re coming. One more loss and the finger-pointing starts.

Because it was supposed to be different this time. Not only did the Caps have the world’s greatest goal-scorer, they had depth down the middle, depth on the back end, and a Vezina Trophy finalist in net. They could score. They could defend. They even brought in Mr. Game 7 himself.

On paper, they had it all.

And now?

Three straight wins to stave off elimination. That’s what they need now.

“This group is not afraid of where we’re at,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters Friday. “We know where we’re at. We’re realists. But at the same time, we know that we won a lot of games this year, and that didn’t happen by accident.”

Trotz is right, it didn’t happen by accident. The Caps are a very good team. They proved it during the regular season.

The problem is, so are the Penguins.

And the Penguins are proving it now.

Related: Game 5 will be ‘the most important game of our lives’

Will Sutter take ‘punches in the gut’ and return to coach Kings?

Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter listens to a question during a news conference after Chicago Blackhawks' 4-3 win over the Kings in the second overtime period in Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Western Conference finals, Saturday, June 8, 2013, in Chicago. The Blackhawks advance to the Stanley Cup finals. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Darryl Sutter has an offer on the table to return as the Kings’ head coach, and GM Dean Lombardi isn’t concerned about him walking away.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing in Los Angeles.

In Friday’s conference call, Lombardi acknowledged the Kings are in a bit of a tough spot, and need to reevaluate things after missing the playoffs two years ago and getting bounced in five games this season.

“I think there’s an offer that’s certainly respectable, but I don’t think this is about money,” Lombardi said, per Yahoo. “I think it’s ‘are we ready to do this’ because it’s going to be a lot of work. And just like building it in the past, you stick with some tough times.

“We’re not going back to there, but to get this back on track there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut as we fight our way through.”

Sutter, 57, has been with L.A. for the last five seasons and enjoyed a tremendous amount of success, winning two Stanley Cups. His direct, no-nonsense approach is admired (even if his players locked him out of the dressing room once) and he’s incredibly tight with Lombardi, dating back from their time together in San Jose.

Sutter — from Viking, Alberta, population 1,041 — also enjoys life in L.A. He says living in Manhattan Beach is “awesome” and “basically a small town.”

But for all the good stuff, the last two years have been tumultuous off the ice — Slava Voynov’s domestic violence charge, Jarret Stoll‘s drug arrest, Mike Richards‘ contract termination — and underwhelming on it.

The Kings’ defensive depth has been whittled away, and was exposed in this year’s postseason loss to the Sharks. Veterans Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik — who combine for nearly $11 million in cap space — have struggled, and both are on the wrong side of 30.

The club wants to retain power forward Milan Lucic, and are working towards a contract extension. But with a tight cap situation, it wasn’t surprising to hear Lombardi explain he doesn’t see a deal getting done anytime soon.

Lombardi later admitted the Kings are in “uncharted waters,” and “not where we want to be.”

As for Sutter, he’s yet to speak publicly to reporters about his plans for next year.

Jagr mum on World Cup participation

Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) reacts after a play during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Though he wasn’t named to the initial 16-man roster, Jaromir Jagr has an open invitation to join the Czech Republic team for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Now he needs to decide if he’ll take it.

Jagr was non-committal about his participation during a Friday conference call to discuss his new one-year contract with the Panthers. He declined to answer questions, explaining that he needed to speak with Czech GM Martin Rucinsky before reaching any conclusions.

“I think we’re going to make a decision after that,” Jagr said, per NHL.com. “We have a lot of time to go.”

Rucinsky is on record saying Jagr has a spot on the team, if he wants it. That comes as no surprise — Jagr’s a living legend and one of the most productive Czech NHLers this year, leading the Panthers in scoring with 66 points.

The issue, though, is how much stress the 44-year-old wants to put on his body.

Jagr played a ton this year — 79 games — and it showed in the postseason, when a compacted opening-round schedule against the Islanders (they played six games in 10 nights) seemed to hamper him.

Jagr finished the series with no goals and just two assists.

The World Cup runs Sept. 17 to Oct. 1, and the Czechs will play a minimum of three round-robin preliminary games. They also have three pre-tournament exhibition games.

Rucinsky needs to submit his final roster by June 1.

 

Frustrated by disallowed winner, Sharks coach calls goalie interference rule ‘clear as mud’

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The San Jose Sharks would’ve had a 3-1 series lead, if not for the referees’s decision to disallow Joe Pavelski‘s overtime goal last night in Nashville.

Instead, the Sharks are headed back to San Jose tied, 2-2, after Mike Fisher won Game 4 for the Predators in triple OT.

Not surprisingly, what happened last night didn’t sit too well with Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer, who offered a rather sardonic opinion of the referee’s decision — a decision that was upheld upon review — to disallow Pavelski’s goal due to “incidental contact” with Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne.

“I don’t understand. I guess incidental contact is you’re cross-checked from behind while you are in the air and you have the opportunity to stop. I guess that’s what it is,” DeBoer said, per Sportsnet.

“You know what? That rule has been clear as mud to every coach in the league all year, so why should it be different tonight?”

DeBoer is not wrong that there’s been confusion. What actually constitutes goalie interference has been a hot topic since the league allowed coaches to challenge it.

For the record, here’s what would’ve been reviewed last night:

b) Scoring Plays Involving Potential “Interference on the Goalkeeper”

(ii) A play that results in a “NO GOAL” call on the ice despite the puck having entered the net, where the on-ice Officials have determined that the attacking team was guilty of “Interference on the Goalkeeper” but where the attacking team asserts: (i) there was no actual contact of any kind initiated by an attacking Player with the goalkeeper; or (ii) the attacking Player was pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper; or (iii) the attacking Player’s positioning within the goal crease did not impair the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal and, in fact, had no discernible impact on the play.

So, based on that, it was decided that Pavelski was not “pushed” or “shoved” into Rinne by Nashville’s Paul Gaustad. Or, at the very least, it was decided that Pavelski, after he was pushed, failed to make a “reasonable effort” to avoid contact with the goalie.

Obviously, that’s not how DeBoer saw it. He didn’t think Pavelski had a chance to avoid crashing into Rinne.

Regardless, the Sharks will need to put last night behind them and get focused on Saturday’s Game 5. It’s a best-of-three to get to the Western Conference Final now, whether they like it or not.