Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom

No repeat of last year: Capitals take out Rangers 3-1, win series 4-1

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The Capitals headed into today’s Game 5 working with the mindset that last year’s playoff failure after being up 3-1 in the series didn’t mean anything and that they’d take a more relaxed approach to how they came out in today’s Game 5. Whatever their game plan was, it worked perfectly as the Capitals ousted the Rangers from the playoffs with a 3-1 win this afternoon to take their series four games to one.

Much like it has been all series long, it’s been the big names helping to lead the way for Washington. Mike Green got it all started in the first period with his power play goal. Even though Green didn’t end up sticking around for the whole game thanks to being struck in the head by a puck later in the first period, his goal helped set the tone for Washington.

In the second period it was Alex Ovechkin dazzling the fans at Verizon Center with a highlight-reel goal that brought the house down and gave the Caps a 2-0 lead.

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While the Rangers power play sputtered again today, they were never a real threat to the Capitals all game as the Caps were more physical, won most of the puck battles along the boards and got tremendous goaltending from Michal Neuvirth.

Neuvirth stopped 26 out of 27 shots allowing just a very late goal to Wojtek Wolski in the final 40 seconds of the game to spoil the shutout. Neuvirth’s effort today was outstanding and he looked cool all game long and most especially at moments when the Rangers gained some momentum circling the Caps net. Alexander Semin’s late goal with just over three minutes to play to the short side past Henrik Lundqvist (24 saves) sealed the game up and sent the Caps faithful home happy and set to prepare for whoever the Caps may face in the second round.

For the Rangers it’s a disappointing finish but not all too surprising. New York had to expend so much effort and energy at the end of the season to get into the playoffs that you can’t exactly fault them for being out of gas and unable to keep up with an intense team like Washington. Not getting better performances from Marian Gaborik and being without Ryan Callahan were brutal blows to their offense. Henrik Lundqvist can really only do so much in New York without getting better help from his offense. Expect that to be addressed in some way in the offseason by GM Glen Sather.

The Capitals now look ahead to the second round of the playoffs and their next opponent could be any one of Buffalo, Montreal or Tampa Bay. If the Sabres knock off Philadelphia, the Caps will get to face Buffalo. That fate could be decided as soon as tomorrow afternoon as the Sabres lead Philadelphia 3-2 in their series and they’ll play Game 6 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals at Flyers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals checks Brandon Manning #23 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” on NBCSN features the Washington Capitals visiting the Philadelphia Flyers.

Both teams have been stumbling a bit here and there. The Flyers only have three wins since Jan. 31, though one of them came in their last game on Sunday. The Capitals lost both games since returning from their bye week.

The cost of struggles are easier for Washington to stomach, naturally. They’d rather make their Metropolitan Division lead insurmountable, but even so, they’re at least three points ahead of everyone else and have played the same or fewer games as their divisional peers.

The Flyers, on the other hand, are fighting for their playoff lives. Right now they’re on the outside looking in.

So both teams want this one, but the desperation level is higher for Philly. We’ll see how that impacts the game on NBCSN tonight. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Pre-game reading: NHLers sound off on poor ice conditions

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— Up top, Danny Briere recalls that famous line brawl between the Flyers and Penguins in the 2012 playoffs. The two Pennsylvania rivals meet again Saturday, outdoors at Heinz Field.

— It has not been a good year for NHL ice, and a number of players are starting to get fed up. For example, Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who said, “It’s been awful. I don’t know what it is. Even in our building this year. I thought it was really good [when we came] back for World Cup and right after that for the first little bit. But the last little bit, it’s been so bad. The puck’s all over the place.” Guess we know how he’ll be filling out his survey. (ESPN)

— The days leading up to the trade deadline can be pretty stressful for players who may get moved. And if they do get moved, the days after can be pretty tough, too. “I saw my daughters four days out of three months when I went to Pittsburgh,” said Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak, who’s been dealt three straight years at the deadline. “When I was traded to Winnipeg, I didn’t see my daughters for the two months or more I was there because of the schedule.” (The News & Observer)

— On the 2017 NHL draft, which may not have the star power of the last two drafts, but will still have some pretty good players available. Especially centers. (USA Today)

— San Jose’s Brent Burns is trying to become only the second defenseman in NHL history to win a scoring title. With 64 points, Burns is only three points back of Connor McDavid for the league lead, with Sidney Crosby in the mix as well. Bobby Orr won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the last time in 1974-75 when he piled up 135 points in 80 games for the Boston Bruins.  (Canadian Press)

— Another Shark, Joe Thornton, is just two assists from 1,000 in the NHL. Only 12 players have accomplished that, with Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963 helpers leading the way. Joe Sakic’s 1,016 are the closest to Thornton’s 998. (The Mercury News)

Enjoy the games!

Bolts rule out Callahan indefinitely following second hip surgery

Ryan Callahan
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Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan, who’s only played 18 games this year while recovering from offseason hip surgery, has undergone a follow-up procedure and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The Bolts made the announcement on Wednesday, just hours after a big 4-1 win over Edmonton. Callahan wasn’t in the lineup to face the Oilers — he hasn’t played since early January, when he skated just under 15 minutes in a loss to Philly.

The nature of this ailment has to be concerning.

Callahan, who turns 32 next month, is in the third of a six-year, $34.8 million deal with a $5.8M average annual cap hit. And this lingering hip problem comes on the heels of a disappointing ’15-16 campaign, in which Callahan scored just 10 goals and 28 points — the lowest marks since his rookie campaign.

As such, Tampa Bay is now bracing for an immediate future without a huge part of its leadership group. Captain Steve Stamkos has resumed skating, but there’s no set date for his return from major knee surgery.

Callahan, who’s been an alternate captain in each of the last three seasons, won’t be playing anytime soon either.

 

Kadri ‘not worried’ after Chiarot predicts revenge for big hit (Video)

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Toronto forward Nazem Kadri drew the ire of Jets d-man Ben Chiarot on Tuesday night for a big — albeit questionable — hit in the Leafs’ OT win.

Chiarot was visibly displeased following the game and alluded to getting even.

“It’s not the right time or place to chase him down, but there will be a time down the line,” he said, per Sportsnet. “Might not be this year, might not be next year.

“But there will be a time where the shoe will be on the other foot.”

Today, Kadri responded.

“I’m not worried at all,” Kadri said, per TSN. “I’ll be here for hopefully a few years. But like I said, if that was one of my teammates getting hit like that, I probably wouldn’t be too happy, so I expect that kind of reaction.”

Kadri’s hit, which went unpenalized, drew the ire of Chiarot’s head coach as well. Jets bench boss Paul Maurice was also visibly displeased following the game.

“He’s six inches in the air when he makes contact,” Maurice said, per Sportsnet. “In my mind, from the rear view, the first thing that moves on Benny is the helmet. Didn’t like it.”

Kadri’s been involved in a few high-profile collisions this season. He pasted Sabres captain Brian Gionta in a game earlier this month, and avoided suspension for a controversial hit on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin back in November.