Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers

Why tonight’s Capitals-Flyers match is (and isn’t) a statement game

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Some might frame tonight’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers (on Versus, 7:30 p.m. ET) as an opportunity for the second seed to overtake the first seed. Those people would be half-correct; while a regulation Washington win would tie the teams up at 96, Philly has two more games in hand and more non-shootout wins.

Others may call it a “statement game” that could determine the true power in the East. They would be partially right too. A late season game is often a great barometer for future success, but in some ways the Flyers should kick themselves if they drop this one. The Capitals are hobbling with mostly short-term injuries, from the week-plus problems ailing Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott to the nagging symptoms curtailing John Erskine and Eric Fehr all the way down to the troubling concussion issues that plague Mike Green. Maybe it’s still a statement game, but both teams would make very different statements than one might expect.

Two CSN insider perspectives cast this game in an insightful new light.

Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly reveals that this week, overall, could help the Flyers to decide whether or not they are ready to call themselves legitimate Stanley Cup favorites. Along with tonight’s game hosting the Capitals, Philadelphia will also play a home game against their hated cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Oddly enough, both the Caps and Pens represent “should-be” wins since they are both injury-marred, yet each team remains genuinely dangerous.

Meanwhile, Chase Hughes of CSN Washington soberly points out that the Capitals are aware that earning the top seed in the East isn’t some magic elixir that will guarantee success.

“It’s not the be-all, end-all,” forward Mike Knuble said Monday about landing the conference’s top seed.  “We’ve been there last year, and it didn’t work out great for us necessarily.”

Last season’s Capitals built their record on a high-scoring game plan. But the offensive Supermen met their kryptonite in Halak. This season, Washington has taken a more defensive approach, which has meant struggles while the team has adjusted. However, the Caps have turned a corner as the postseason approaches. Washington has won nine of its past 10 games and is the hottest team in the NHL.

“I think we feel pretty good about our team. I know all of our guys and me personally I just like where we’re at this point as a group, how our team’s made up much more than last year,” Knuble said.

“I think we have a much better balance and we’re more prepared.”

In a way, I cannot help but agree with Knuble and others who wonder if the Capitals might be in their best position for playoff success yet. While I lament the loss of their high-octane offensive attack, their impressive performance during the March 13th NBC Game of the Week against the Chicago Blackhawks revealed that they can mix an aggressive strategy with a competent defensive setup. It remains to be seen how consistently they can pull that off, but it was a promising sign nonetheless.

As usual with life and sports, the answer as to whether or not this is a true statement game is somewhere in the middle. This is definitely a big game for both teams and could reveal plenty about the Flyers and Capitals. That being said, with the Caps shorthanded by injuries and Philadelphia also lacking Chris Pronger, it’s probably hasty to say that this game is the hockey equivalent to a crystal ball reading.

There’s nothing wrong with hyping up this game – it’s possibly the most interesting of tonight’s 10, even if it’s far from the most crucial – but keep in mind it might not mean as much as you think. Which makes it a lot like the top seed, in some ways.

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.