Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin

Alexes Semin and Ovechkin briefly silence critics as Capitals beat Rangers 2-1 in OT

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Almost anyone eager to criticize the Washington Capitals for their playoff troubles will blame their defense, goaltending and two star Russian wingers: Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin.

Whether it’s their carefree attitudes, perceived lack of production* or the simple sports writing formula of “Team doesn’t win = player is a choker,” there are many hockey people who revel in the “failures” of Semin and Ovechkin. Those people probably weren’t very happy with the results of Game 1, as Ovechkin tied the game up in the third period while Semin scored the overtime game-winner and assisted on Ovechkin’s tally as well.

Washington 2, NY Rangers 1 (OT); Capitals lead 1-0

This was the tight-checking, rugged defensive game that some assumed would be too much for Washington. Anyone who’s been following this team during the 2010-11 season (rather than leaning on outdated opinions) would know that they’ve grown quite a bit in that area, something they showed by grinding out a tough win against a resilient team.

The first two periods went without a goal as Henrik Lundqvist and Michal Neuvirth kept both teams off the board. Matt Gilroy finally gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead about two minutes into the third period, followed by that video-reviewed Ovechkin goal at the 13:44 mark. The game then went into overtime, putting greater pressure on the Capitals.

It looked like that pressure would increase that much more as the two teams slugged it out deep into the first (and only) overtime period, but Semin scored a resounding goal with about a minute and a half left to win it for Washington. Marc Staal is a great defensive defenseman, but he coughed up the puck to Jason Arnott, who made a nice play to keep the puck in the Rangers’ zone before setting up Semin’s winner.

Lundqvist made 33 saves in the game, often frustrating the Capitals shooters with his world-class netminding, but it wasn’t enough. Neuvirth had a comparatively easy night, passing his first test as Washington’s No. 1 goalie by stopping 24 out of 25 shots.

Obviously, it’s erroneous to judge an entire two month playoff schedule by one night of action, but Wednesday’s game does force the question: is it time to take Semin and Ovechkin seriously? If they keep it up, their detractors will have to eat some playoff crow.

* Semin has 26 points in 29 career playoff games, while Ovechkin has a whopping 41 in 29. They might not have blemish-free games, but calling them chokers seems downright silly.

Announcing USA versus Canada, outdoors in Buffalo

ORCHARD PARK , NY - JANUARY 01:  Photo 210 hours into a nine day time lapse on the conversion of Ralph Willson Stadium from football to an ice rink for the 2008 NHL Winter Classic played on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium, in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images for the NHL)
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It’s official — outdoor hockey is returning to the home of the Buffalo Bills, and it’s a great matchup to boot.

From USA Hockey:

The U.S. and Canada will make history when the two rivals battle outdoors on Dec. 29, 2017, in a preliminary round game of the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.

The outdoor game, one of 31 total in the 2018 World Juniors, will be staged at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, home of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Never before has an outdoor game been played at any top-level IIHF world championship.

This game has been rumored since late last year when Buffalo was awarded the 2018 World Juniors. Ticket packages for the tournament will go on sale to the general public on Nov. 28. Expect plenty of Canadians to make the quick trip over the border to attend.

The first NHL Winter Classic was played on Jan. 1, 2008, at New Era Field, then called Ralph Wilson Stadium. Attendance was 71,217 for the Sabres-Penguins affair, won 2-1 in a shootout by Pittsburgh.

Help on the way? Rask practices, could return during Bruins road trip

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 20:  Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in goal against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 20, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) The Boston Bruins have been outscored 14-4 during their current three-game losing streak. Help might be on the way just in time for the Bruins to start a difficult road trip against three Atlantic Division rivals.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask practiced with the Bruins on Friday and should be available to at least serve as the backup against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Rask hadn’t been on the ice with his teammates because of an undisclosed injury since he made 28 saves in a 2-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 20.

Rask isn’t completely healed so he and the Bruins are trying to strike a balance between being able to play and not risking further damage.

“That’s the thing we’re kind of talking about, we talked about last week, risk/reward, what it is and how should be proceed,” Rask said. “It feels good enough now that I can comfortably practice.”

Coach Claude Julien saw enough Friday to have confidence Rask could dress against the Red Wings and be in consideration to start. The Bruins were expected to send one of their other goaltenders, Zane McIntyre or Malcolm Subban, to Providence of the American Hockey League before departing for Detroit.

“If he’s great, and he practiced well today, and if he’s good (Saturday) and there’s no issues there (he can play),” Julien said. “He looked good to me today. So we’ll make that decision but I think we’ve gone this far, we’re going to make sure we make the right decision, not the reckless one.”

Rask started the season 3-0-0 for the first time in his career and had a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. But he was hardly healthy. The injury began to bother him on opening night in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 13. Two nights later he didn’t start against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rask said he felt fine when made 34 saves in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 17. But he had to battle through the injury against the Devils three nights later.

“The Jersey game was the toughest one. It wasn’t too tough. It’s just nagging, painful sometimes, but I didn’t feel like I hurt anything,” he said.

With forward David Backes still out after elbow surgery and forward David Pastrnak suspended two games for an illegal check to the head in the 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the Bruins needed some positive news before leaving for their road trip, which continues against the Florida Panthers (Tuesday) and Tampa Bay Lightning (Thursday) after Detroit.

“I’m excited to get back out on the road with this team,” Julien said. “You control what you can and we can control our enthusiasm, our commitment and everything else. And then go about our business that way and I think that’s all we can do right now.”

Blues to retire Bob Plager’s No. 5

ST. LOUIS - APRIL 9:  Former St. Louis Blues defenseman Al MacInnis #2 and his family watch his banner being raised during his jersey retirement ceremony prior to the game between the Blues and Edmonton Oilers at the Savvis Center on April 9, 2006 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The St. Louis Blues will commemorate their 50th anniversary with a special ceremony on Feb. 2, retiring the No. 5 jersey worn by longtime defenseman Bob Plager.

More, from the club:

Plager, who was acquired by the Blues on June 6, 1967 and has been with the organization for all 50 years, will become the seventh player in Blues history to have his number retired, joining No. 2 Al MacInnis, No. 3 Bob Gassoff, No. 11 Brian Sutter, No. 16 Brett Hull, No. 24 Bernie Federko and his brother, No. 8 Barclay Plager.

Bob and Barclay Plager join Maurice and Henri Richard (Montreal Canadiens) as the only brothers to have their numbers retired by the same team in NHL history.

Plager played 10 seasons with the Blues, then transitioned to a number of front office and coaching roles within the organization.

In a unique twist, his No. 5 was never taken out of circulation and subsequently worn by another staple of the Blues organization — Barret Jackman, who recently retired after spending 16 years in St. Louis, appearing in over 800 games.

Prior to the February retirement ceremony, Blues fans will be able to recognize Plager this Saturday when St. Louis hosts Los Angeles at Scottrade.

Flames can get back to .500 with win over Sens

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24: Matt Stajan #18 and Lance Bouma #17 of the Calgary Flames congratulate Brian Elliott #1 after a shootout win against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Flames defeated the Blachawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Calgary Flames have won two in a row, but they’re still a losing hockey club heading into tonight’s home game against Ottawa.

That’s the message head coach Glen Gulutzan has been preaching after encouraging back-to-back victories in Chicago and St. Louis.

“We’re still below .500,” Gulutzan said. “We can’t rest at all. We haven’t accomplished anything yet. We’ve played two good games. That’s what we’ve accomplished. You need to get on a roll and you need to keep pushing. Keep the focus and keep pushing.”

The Flames (3-4-1) did not just get lucky in their last two games. They were especially good Tuesday in St. Louis, outshooting the Blues, 30-24, in a 4-1 win. Meanwhile, goalie Brian Elliott has bounced back after a tough debut for his new team; he’ll get a third straight start tonight.

Suffice to say, the mood around the team has improved considerably.

“My lips were getting sore from sucking on the exhaust pipe,” GM Brad Treliving jokingly told the Calgary Sun. “It was never as bad as it seemed, but it’s a stark change to how we played. … It’s a relief to stop the bleeding. We were disciplined, the power play worked, we limited chances, we didn’t turn the puck over and the goalie found his groove.”

Related: The Flames are still learning their new system, and it shows