Marian Gaborik can probably breath a little easier now.
The winger won’t hear (as much?) about his $7.5 million annual cap hit for at least a few nights as he ended far-and-away the longest game of the 2012 playoffs so far. He finished a one-timer attempt to give the New York Rangers a 2-1 triple OT win and a 2-1 series lead to boot. Let’s ponder a few things, then.
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- The obvious but crucial question: is this a back-breaker for the Capitals? The franchise has lot plenty of lengthy overtimes in its history, but this isn’t a common thing in the Alex Ovechkin era. Do you think this was a knockout punch or a learning experience for Washington?
- Which Caps player will lose the most sleep? Ovechkin had a shot off the post that fooled the red light operator and Verizon Center. Plenty of players had their fair share of near-goals. My vote? Troy Brouwer missed a couple absolutely golden chances in the first OT; you can watch one of the missed ones here.
- From a fatigue standpoint, which team might bounce back stronger in Game 4? Both teams have plenty of younger players. One factor to consider is that the Rangers’ defense got banged up. Dan Girardi traveled to the locker room to get stitched up, Ryan McDonagh took a thunderous hit from Matt Hendricks and so on.
- Both goalies were great. While Henrik Lundqvist must be pleased, Braden Holtby had no chance on that game-winner and certainly didn’t seem like a rookie in the OT marathon. Can he shake off this loss, though?
- Is there any fear that the Rangers will treat their trip to the “phone booth” as a success already? Another lengthy series could put a dent in their long-term hopes.
Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.
Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.
The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.
“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told NJ.com. “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.
The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.
Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.