Nashville Predators v Vancouver Canucks - Game Five

Capitals try to add playoff toughness by signing Joel Ward and Roman Hamrlik

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The Washington Capitals dealt with yet another playoff disappointment in 2011 after the Tampa Bay Lightning swept them from the second round. While many people were calling for Bruce Boudreau’s head, it seems like the team will give their bellicose head coach one more try.

One feeling was that Boudreau & Co. were committed to transitioning their system from a wide-open scheme to a more traditional defensive setup, but they didn’t really have the right ingredients to make that recipe work. It seems like GM George McPhee is doing his best to change that scenario this off-season, at least if his most recent moves are any indication.

McPhee recently landed unrestricted free agent forward Joel Ward with a four-year, $12 million contract. It almost seems too perfect that Ward will be with Washington since he’s been compared to former Capitals forward John Druce, a player who came out of nowhere to score a bunch of postseason goals. Obviously, Washington hopes that Ward simply experienced a breakthrough playoffs instead of being a one-hit wonder, though.

He’ll literally be capable of more than one hit, if nothing else. Ward plays a nice defensive game (just under two minutes of shorthanded time per game in the regular season) and will be well-equipped for responsible play after his time with the structured Nashville Predators. With Ward and recently added rugged forward Troy Brouwer in the mix, the Capitals’ team will enjoy an interesting hybrid between finesse wingers (Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin) and blue-collar guys (with Mike Knuble bridging that gap).

No doubt about it, the Caps want Ward to score quite a bit since they’re paying him $3 million per year. Having some talented teammates might make it easier for Ward to stay out of the Fernando Pisani One-Hit Wonder Club, though.

The Capitals didn’t just beef up their forward ranks, though. McPhee signed Roman Hamrlik to a two-year, $7 million deal as well. While Ward was an undrafted free agent who scrapped his way to the NHL, Hamrlik was the first overall pick of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft who managed to find his game even if he’s far from a superstar. In a way, Hamrlik seems like a replacement for Scott Hannan and in that regard, Hamrlik should be a solid upgrade. Hamrlik has a better scoring touch and is a bit less error-prone in his own end. He might even soak up some of those tough top-line minutes so the team can protect excessively-critiqued defenseman Mike Green a bit more.

Ward’s deal is risky because his breakout might have been a mirage while Hamrlik’s contract could be a short-term problem if he’s gotten too old. That being said, the Capitals have added some nice assets that might not make them a flashier team but could give them those “sandpaper” type guys who could help them get over the hump in the playoffs.

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.