Alex Ovechkin fought through knee injury, will continue to do so in World Championships

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The one silver lining about an early exit from the playoffs is the added time off to recover from injuries.

Yet in the summer of 2010, three superstar players chose to play for Russia in the World Championships tournament right after their teams were knocked out of the playoffs. Those three players would be Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin.

It’s excessive to say that all three suffered injuries because they didn’t take that time off, but I can’t say I’m shocked that all three dealt with wear and tear from playing a ton of hockey during the last few years. Datsyuk was limited to 56 regular season games in 2010-11, Malkin was forced to undergo knee surgery that cut his season in half and Ovechkin fought through issues of his own.

While Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals didn’t give many specifics about the severity of his knee injury (beyond saying it was more serious than many realized), the team admitted that he dealt with problems for about two months, according to CSN Washington.

“I don’t want to say too much but it was way more serious than all you people were thinking,” Boudreau said. “There was a reason why he wasn’t practicing to save himself for the game. You know that when something’s wrong, something’s [really] wrong and he’s never going to be one of those guys that sits there and takes days off. He would take a practice off so he could play in the game.”

Ovechkin admitted to being hurt and intimated it could be more than one injury.

“I have a couple of injuries,” he said.  “But it is what it is, I get hurt, everybody gets hurt.”

OK, so he admits that he was playing hurt … but that was just for the playoffs, right? One can only imagine how much Ovechkin could benefit from the time off he could get this summer if he said “No” to the invitation to play for Team Russia once again.

Unfortunately, pride and loyalty swept logic in this case. Despite admitting that he doesn’t really want to go, Ovechkin will make the baffling – perhaps downright ludicrous – decision to play in the World Championships for Russia once again.

“Yea, I talked to President Tretiak, he asked me if I’m going and I said yes,” he said.

“I don’t want to go there but I will.  I want to play in the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup but the situation is the situation.  I’m going to play for my country and try to win gold.”

Look, I understand the urge to honor one’s country, but how do the Capitals feel about their $9.5 million per year man risking further injury in that tournament? It made some sense for Ovechkin to seek redemption in last year’s WC after Russia’s embarrassment in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but why now?

A lot of the criticisms lobbed at the Capitals organization are done simply because they lost games, even if their decisions were often logical. This, however, seems like an obvious situation in which the team needs to stand its ground. Ovechkin should rest his knee (and other possible ailments), period. After all, there are plenty of gold medals he can fight for in the future when he’s in a healthier state.

Hopefully another bid for a gold medal will be worth the Capitals organization holding their breath.

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.