Five Thoughts: Lay off Alex Ovechkin; Bruce Boudreau’s future murky at worst

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After tonight, one top seed is in serious trouble while the other found a way to get things done in overtime. What kind of trouble lays ahead for the Capitals? Possibly a lot. Meanwhile the Canucks looked like they figured things out in a couple of ways. One thing we’re not lacking on is drama all around.

1. Game 3 was such a tough game for the Capitals and while they looked motivated and ready to get back into the series for the better part of the game, when Ryan Malone scored a goal off his skate just 15 seconds after Steven Stamkos tied the game at 3-3 you could see the life and the fire to compete disappear from the Caps’ eyes. They’d been victimized so much by goals against that either bounced in off their own defensemen or ones where it took a beneficial bounce off a Lightning player now that Malone’s goal may have been the one that broke them.

I don’t expect the Caps to lay down and get rolled over tonight in Game 4 but the way the Capitals are playing now is reminiscent of how they played during their eight game losing streak back in December. The way they’re playing they look resigned to losing. Accepting that fate well before a game is over is unacceptable.

2. Should the Caps be finished off soon we expect that Alex Ovechkin will end up taking a lot of the heat for such a second round failure and another season without Washington at least making the Stanley Cup final. It’s what happens when you’re the captain and that’s how things go, but if you’re a fan and you’re pointing at Ovechkin as a reason why the Caps lost, you’re nuts.

With so many guys on the Caps roster to choose from that either are playing poorly or looking like they’d rather be anywhere else than on the ice when they’re losing, singling out Ovechkin is wrong. There’s not another guy out on that ice, aside from maybe Mike Knuble, that is busting their tail harder than Ovechkin to try and will his team into winning. In the past Ovechkin has wilted a bit in the face of disaster, but not now. If anything, losing is pushing him to play even harder and considering the level he plays at in every game that’s a frightening thing.

Fans can question Ovechkin’s ability to lead all they want, but if they were following his example in how to get back into a game, the Caps would never be in this position in the first place.

3. If the Caps are swept the call for Bruce Boudreau to be fired will go up immediately if it hasn’t already started happening. Caps fans will want someone to suffer for another playoff failure and while series losses can happen, getting swept doesn’t. My thought on this is pretty straight forward. Boudreau won’t be fired because that’s not how GM George McPhee or owner Ted Leonsis works, but he’ll be officially on notice to get the Caps into the Eastern final or Stanley Cup final next year or else.

Dominating the regular season is all well and good, but coming up empty against teams like Montreal last year and Tampa Bay this year who are outworking and outcoaching him just will not do. With a team that’s as good as the Caps are, failing in the playoffs cannot continue and while Boudreau did well to get his team to adjust and be more of a playoff-ready team this year, getting snuffed out like this won’t sit well and Boudreau will be on the clock to get it done next year… Or else.

4. A lot was being made of Vancouver’s inability to take advantage of Nashville on the power play. The Canucks appeared to figure out a plan against Pekka Rinne as Ryan Kesler scored two power play goals including the overtime winner. Vancouver was able to crash the net and either get Rinne scrambling like they did on Kesler’s first goal, or park out in front of him so he couldn’t see the shot coming all and deflect it in as he did in overtime. It doesn’t always have to be a gigantic overhaul of what you’re doing to that gets you results, sometimes it just takes hard work to make it happen.

Lots of people are eager to dump on Vancouver for doing things the hard way rather than flat out dominating opponents. Domination doesn’t just happen in the playoffs though. Vancouver’s going to need to be rough like that the rest of the playoffs because nothing will come easy.

5. The one guy that might be the most terrifying to go up against in Game 4 of the Nashville-Vancouver series will be Shea Weber. The Predators captain got booked for hooking in overtime and that penalty led to Kesler’s game winner. If you think he’s going to take that and not use it as motivation to play harder and tougher than he ever has, you’re crazy. Expect Game 4 to be a physical war and Weber to be leading the charge to try and even the series up at 2-2. Weber’s a prideful guy and he’ll take all the responsibility for Game 3’s loss on his shoulders and use it to play harder the rest of the way.

Stars give Lindell two-year extension

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More news out of Dallas, where the Stars have signed defenseman Esa Lindell to a two-year, $4.4-million contract extension.

From the release:

Lindell, 23, posted 18 points (6-12=18) in 73 games played for Dallas during the 2016-17 regular season, his first full season in the NHL. He finished second on the team by averaging 21:52 of time on ice per game and his +8 plus/minus rating finished third. Additionally, he finished second on the team with 119 blocked shots and tied for fifth with 93 hits.

The Stars still have a couple of restricted free agents on the back end. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak are arbitration-eligible. Lindell was not.

Earlier today, it was reported that the Stars were buying out goalie Antti Niemi.

Dallas also signed forward Mark McNeill to a one-year, two-way contract extension. The 24-year-old was acquired from Chicago in the Johnny Oduya trade on Feb. 28.

Lightning extend Gourde — two years, $2 million

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Yanni Gourde has cashed in on an impressive 20-game cameo with Tampa Bay this season.

Gourde signed a two-year, $2 million extension on Monday, the Bolts announced. The deal came after the 25-year-old scored six goals and eight points in 20 games, while averaging 15:22 TOI per night.

Undrafted out of the Quebec League, Gourde has been a terrific AHL player since catching on with the Tampa Bay organization a few years ago.

He was instrumental in Syracuse’s run to the Calder Cup final this year — scoring 27 points in 22 games — and, given his new deal is of the one-way variety, seems primed to spend next year with the Lightning.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to sign that kind of a deal knowing where I’ve come from,” Gourde said, per NHL.com. “It’s the organization that trusted me very early in my career, and I thank them for that.”

Carolina’s strategy of flipping picks for players ‘just didn’t pan out’

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In late May, the ‘Canes looked like a team primed to trade some draft picks.

GM Ron Francis kicked off proceedings by sending one of his 11 picks — a third-rounder — to Chicago for goalie Scott Darling. Shortly thereafter, Francis said his club had “the open for business sign out there,”suggesting he was ready to wheel and deal.

But said wheeling and dealing never occurred.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping to take a few less picks,” Francis said after he selected nine players at the draft, per ‘Canes Country. “We’d had a lot of discussions about trying to move picks for players, but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped.”

Prior to landing in Chicago, it was obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters was to add pieces that’d help get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

As many clubs experienced at the draft, trades weren’t easy to orchestrate. It was a stark contrast to the flurry of action that proceeded the event — Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, Jordan Eberle to the Islanders, huge shakeups in both Arizona and Chicago.

The perceived weakness of said draft could’ve played a role in the lack of movement. It’s also worth noting that Francis did use one of his picks, a fifth-rounder, for Vegas to select Connor Brickley at the expansion draft.

And, to be clear, this doesn’t mean Carolina still can’t add players. Free agency opens on Saturday. But draft weekend certainly feels like an opportunity missed, given this year’s UFA market doesn’t project to be very strong.

Report: Stars to buy out Antti Niemi

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The Antti Niemi era in Dallas is mercifully over.

Per Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, the Stars will place Niemi on waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract. The buyout will result in a $1.5 million cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Niemi, 33, joined the Stars in 2015 with the hope he’d form an effective tandem with Kari Lehtonen.

But the experiment was a dismal failure. In 85 games over two seasons, Niemi registered a .900 save percentage, and the Stars responded last month by signing Ben Bishop to a six-year contract worth almost $30 million.

GM Jim Nill had hoped that one of Niemi or Lehtonen could be traded in the wake of the Bishop signing.

Lehtonen, 33, is still under contract for another year at a cap hit of $5.9 million. He had a .902 save percentage last season, higher than Niemi’s .892.