Travis Zajac

Travis Zajac emerges as a leader after rocky season

Travis Zajac isn’t one of the big reasons why the New Jersey Devils made the playoffs in the first place. He couldn’t be. He was limited to just 15 regular season games because of his long road to recover from Achilles tendon surgery.

Still, he’s better now and helping the Devils when they need him the most. Through 17 playoff games, Zajac is tied with Zach Parise for the team lead in goals with seven.

“I knew how good a player he was,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said of Zajac. I got the reports from previous year how important he was to the team. It obviously took him a while to get in the rhythm, but once he got going, you know, he’s been outstanding for us this playoff, all situations. I think it’s almost been a benefit he didn’t play 82 games. He’s fresh.”

Given how long a road it’s been for New Jersey, it must be nice to have a key player who has a little less mileage on him this season. Zajac ranks third in Devils’ forwards in ice time during their playoff run.

Zajac scored key goals in the Devils’ last two games. Thanks in part to his efforts, New Jersey has an opportunity to eliminate the New York Rangers on Friday and advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

PHT Morning Skate: Nick Foligno pulled off an awesome prank on Cam Atkinson

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

John Tavares and Steven Stamkos once played on the same youth team. That team went 49-0-1. (Newsday)

–Which team deserves to win the NHL Draft lottery? (Winnipeg Sun)

–Rick DiPietro wasn’t happy about something Mike Francesca said. (BarDown)

–Watch the highlights from last night’s game between the Capitals and Penguins. (Top)

Nick Foligno pretended to be a season ticket holder and pranked Cam Atkinson. Funny stuff.

–Prior to Game 1 between the Penguins and Capitals, T.J. Oshie‘s daughter was filmed kicking a Penguins poster. Maybe she should do it more often because her father scored a hat trick just a few hours later. (Instagram)

–Brett Hull says “goals don’t matter” when you play for Ken Hitchcock. (Sportsnet)

Oshie’s hat trick lets Caps just barely squeak by Penguins in OT

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What a start.

This series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might be headlined by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but as many have said in the lead-up to tonight’s opener, there is so much more to this second round matchup than that. Washington’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 tonight could be offered up as Exhibit A.

This game had everything except big offensive showings from Crosby and Ovechkin. They had their moments, but in the end combined for just one assist.

What we got instead was a hat trick by T.J. Oshie that was completed with a game-winning goal that made it past the line by such a narrow margin that it warranted a video review:

This game also featured a sequence of three goals in 90 seconds and yet also some great saves by goaltenders Braden Holtby and Matt Murray. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a controversial hit by Tom Wilson that might lead to a suspension.

There was even some odd stuff. Like how Jay Beagle got a stick stuck in his equipment.

Twice:

If this game sets the tone for the rest of the series, then we should be in for a closely contested, highlight filled affair.

NOTES:

Nick Bonino had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin and Ben Lovejoy accounted for the Penguins’ other markers.

— Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky scored the game’s opening goal. It was his first marker of the 2016 playoffs.

— Washington outshot Pittsburgh 15-9 in the first period, but Pittsburgh ended up with a 45-35 edge.

— This is the first time in the 2016 playoffs that Braden Holtby has allowed more than two goals. He surrendered just five goals in six games to Philadelphia.

— Matt Murray suffered his first career postseason loss after winning three straight contests against the New York Rangers.

Video: Wilson delivers late, knee-on-knee hit to Sheary

Wilson hit
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Tom Wilson has already found himself in a controversy for delivering a late, knee-on-knee hit to Penguins forward Conor Sheary in the third period of Game 1 Thursday night.

You can see that incident below:

Wilson spent two minutes in the sin bin earlier in the contest for crosschecking Evgeni Malkin, but there was no penalty on this play.

Fortunately Conor Sheary was able to stay in the game. The question now is if Wilson’s actions will lead to him being suspended prior to Game 2.

This isn’t Wilson’s first brush with controversy. He delivered a big hit to Brayden Schenn in 2013, but Wilson wasn’t suspended for that incident. Lubomir Visnovsky’s final campaign was cut short due to a check by Wilson that angered the New York Islanders. More recently, Nikita Zadorov was concussed by a crushing blow from the Capitals forward.

In 231 career regular season games, Wilson has 50 points and 486 penalty minutes.

Related: Wilson says ‘I’ve never been a dirty hitter’ after teams voice complaints

Video: Penguins, Caps combine for three goals in 90 seconds

Oshie goal
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For the first 30 minutes of Game 1 between Pittsburgh and Washington it looked like goaltenders Matt Murray and Braden Holtby might outshine these star-studded offenses. Then the floodgates opened up, if only for a moment.

Washington already had a 1-0 lead going into the second frame courtesy of Andre Burakovsky‘s first marker of the 2016 playoffs, but Ben Lovejoy and Evgeni Malkin scored back-to-back goals within the span of 57 seconds midway through the second period to tilt the scale in Pittsburgh’s favor. That lead didn’t last for long though as Capitals forward T.J. Oshie got a breakaway opportunity and took full advantage of it.

In total, there were three goals scored in the span of just 90 seconds and you can see all of them below:

After that sequence, the 2-2 tie held for the remainder of the frame. However, Oshie was able to reassert Washington’s edge just 3:23 minutes into the third period.