Five Thoughts: Caps toughness, Ryan Miller’s sass talk, Coyotes future all in focus

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A night filled with five games provided us with a lot of talking points this morning. A huge collapse in New York, a stirring shutout from Ryan Miller, a pair of double-overtime thrillers and the playoffs first team eliminated all happened last night. What are we busy thinking about today? Here’s five thoughts to chew on.

1. I realize that a lot of you will want to focus in on a handful of things from the Rangers-Capitals game. You’ll want to talk about the crowd giving it to Bruce Boudreau, you’ll want to talk about the Rangers choking on a 3-0 lead in the third period, you’ll want to pick on Marian Gaborik for having too much of a presence in the game for New York. The part that’s flying under the radar is the guts of this Capitals team.

With how the crowd was and the inspired play of the Rangers through most of that game, it’s a game most teams would fold up under the pressure of. The Caps found another gear in the third period though and fought back to tie it up and force overtime where they went on to win. Caps teams of the past don’t win that game, this year’s version is a lot different and much more hard-headed.

2. Teams in the Eastern Conference may want to start officially worrying about the Pittsburgh Penguins. We’ve talked about their toughness a lot but their offense without the likes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is an issue. After James Neal scored the game-winner in double overtime last night to put the Pens up 3-1 in their series with Tampa Bay, getting that weight off his shoulders could help their offense turn the corner.

Neal’s struggles to score a goal at all over the last month (Neal hadn’t scored since March 8) had him stressing and perhaps squeezing the stick a bit too tight. Sometimes all it takes is one and Neal’s streakiness is something that could give the Pens the lift they’re looking for.

3. Ryan Miller pitched his second shutout of the playoffs and while he hasn’t been consistently awesome all year for the Sabres, his quotes after the game make him a bit of a quirky folk hero of sorts. After some reporters were challenging his play of late Miller responded saying, “I don’t need to listen to all the B.S. that’s out there from people who don’t know how to play goalie. I really don’t give an expletive.”

No, we didn’t edit his quote, he did actually say “expletive” in making sure that his soundbyte would be able to be heard by anyone without any pesky bleeps. Best part is, when Miller is playing like he did in helping the Sabres tie the series up he doesn’t need to do anything other than point at the scoreboard to show he means business. Of course, if he’s going to keep sounding off like that, we’ll give him a soapbox to stand on whenever he wants.

4. You can’t help but think the Predators feel like they really let a golden opportunity slip away by splitting their two home games with the Ducks. The Ducks went into those games without an offensive weapon like Bobby Ryan to help them out and still the Ducks piled up nine goals on Pekka Rinne in two games and now head back to Anaheim tied 2-2 in the series. With Ryan returning from his stomping suspension and Rinne playing not up to par, the confidence should be beaming from Anaheim, especially with how big Corey Perry stepped up in Game 4 with a goal and two assists in their 6-3 Game 4 win. Seeing Teemu Selanne continue to pile up goals is encouraging as well for what’s a pretty young Ducks team. The Predators have more than a few things to get figured out before Game 5 on Friday night.

5. Detroit’s domination of the Coyotes in spite of injuries (they were without Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen in Game 4) is worthy of further analysis for sure, but the shadow casting a pall over the conclusion of the series in the wake of Detroit’s 6-3 win and sweep is obvious. With the Coyotes future in Arizona in serious doubt and the NHL continuing to say that things are progressing even in the light of even further negative reports is concerning.

At the very least, prospective buyer Matthew Hulsizer was in attendance for Game 4 with a Coyotes hat and jersey on to support the team as the suits in Glendale will now work diligently to get things figured out. You can’t help but feel bad for everyone involved with the team from the players on down to the fans not knowing if this was indeed the last time they’d see them. If the team does head to Winnipeg this summer, the fans in Arizona have every right to be angry at everyone involved for screwing this deal up. Let’s hope they don’t have to move forward as bitter, angry fans with no one left to root for anymore.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin is clutch

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Two games on Thursday

Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 3-1)

The Boston Bruins continue to show that they can survive – if not thrive – with key players out of the lineup. They don’t get much more “key” than Patrice Bergeron, who was unable to suit up for Game 4. Even so, Tuukka Rask made some crucial saves and the Bruins connected on two 2-on-1 rushes to snag a 3-1 series lead. The Maple Leafs must grapple with a lot of uncomfortable questions as they see their season slip to the brink of elimination.

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 1 (Series tied 2-2)

This game was all about patterns continuing, or breaking.

Continuing: The road team winning. The away team has won all four contests during this series, so this one returns to Washington with the two teams now tied up 2-2. It’s also another instance of Alex Ovechkin being sneaky-clutch, although many people will disagree because of team results. Washington’s starting to pull away in terms of puck possession during the series, and that continued on Thursday, too.

Breaking: For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Caps won 4-1 and were safe even considering one empty-netter.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – There will be talk of Bergeron, Auston Matthews not being able to score, Mike Babcock’s decisions, and other factors from Game 4. Rask helped to push those discussions to the forefront – rather than talk about which team has the edge if they ended up tied – as he was sharp on Thursday. Rask stopped 31 out of 32 shots, factoring heavily in Boston building a 3-1 series lead against Toronto.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – After scoring two goals in Game 1, Kuznetsov had been held silent by the Bruins in Games 2 and 3. The Russian center made up for lost time in Game 4, scoring an empty-netter and two assists in that 4-1 win. Both of his assists were primary helpers, while he checked many other boxes by winning more than half of his draws (10 of 18), generating a +3 rating, and firing four shots on goal.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – Ovechkin fired a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky, which created a rebound opportunity for T.J. Oshie during a Washington power play, a goal that ended up being the game-winner. Ovechkin also scored from the right face-off circle for an important insurance goal. Ovechkin fired five SOG and was a +1 in Game 4.

Factoids

There’s plenty of focus on Bergeron being out and Marchand scoring/agitating, but don’t forget about David Pastrnak‘s brilliance.

Again, Alex Ovechkin is more clutch than people realize. By scoring the 49th playoff goal of his career, Ovechkin tied Henri Richard for 60th in NHL history. You may remember Henri as a) Maurice Richard’s brother and b) the guy who won the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Friday’s games

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins push Leafs to brink

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The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.