Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom

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


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.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”