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.

Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

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Arizona Senate President Steve Yarbrough does not expect a piece of legislation to pass that would give the Coyotes millions of dollars in public financing to build a new arena.

That being said, Yarbrough thinks the Coyotes may be able to gain some “traction” if they offer to put in more of their own money.

Under the current plan, the team has pledged $170 million of the arena’s total cost, which is estimated at almost $400 million. The difference would be made up by new sales taxes, plus $55 million from the still-to-be-determined host city.

“If you are getting no traction the way the bill is designed, you could see if the hockey team paid a greater portion,” Yarbrough told the Arizona Republic yesterday. “I have been around this business long enough to know that if it’s not working in this format, you change the format to make it more attractive.”

For their part, the Coyotes have not said whether they’d be willing to pay a greater portion of the project, only that they’ll continue to “work hard to find a viable arena solution in the greater Phoenix area, a market that both the club and the NHL believe is a strong hockey market capable of supporting a successful NHL franchise.”

Related: Bettman says Coyotes “cannot and will not remain in Glendale”

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.