Alex Ovechkin

Milbury: ‘I’ve never been against Ovechkin’

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One of Alex Ovechkin’s most outspoken critics never doubted the Capitals’ captain could rediscover his superstar form. And now that Ovechkin has done just that, NBC analyst Mike Milbury is happy for him.

But Milbury’s words weren’t very kind on Feb. 27, when he said Ovechkin “should be ashamed of himself” and “embarrassed” for his performance against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Today, Ovechkin is tied with Steven Stamkos for the most goals in the NHL and, not coincidentally, the Caps are a good bet to win the Southeast Division.

“It’s funny, that day [NBC studio host] Liam McHugh asked me if I thought he could turn it around and I said, ‘Yeah, he’s got the physical attributes to be a superstar again,” Milbury told CSN Washington.

“The game in Philly was alarming for the reasons that I illustrated. He seemed lost and who knows why. The lockout; time off; new coach; [Nicklas] Backstrom not playing very well; he’s not playing with Backstrom; they got him playing in a different position. But the fact of the matter was that he was nowhere near what he was capable of being.

“There’s nothing more frustrating for me as a former coach and manager watching a guy with abilities like that to fall short, particularly when it comes to paying attention to detail or mental or physical effort. He was falling short there. I have no idea what happened in the interim but I’m glad for him and for the Capitals that it has. They’re in a much better place with this Alex than the other one. It’s a tribute to him.

“So many people attribute the coaches with the credit, but it’s always the player that has to bear the brunt of the criticism and reap the rewards of success, and whatever he’s doing I applaud him for it. I think it’s great because he was in a dark place a couple months ago.”

Milbury added that he’s “never been against Ovechkin,” but at the time, “it seemed like there was less care than there should have been, whether it was physically or mentally, it looked to me to be both. But God bless him, he’s turned it around and so have the Capitals.”

The next step for Ovechkin, according to Milbury, is to perform in the postseason.

“All great players have to establish themselves as clutch playoff performers if they really want to achieve greatness,” said Milbury. “Last year his ice time was cut in the playoffs and now it’s time he steps up in the playoffs. As Adam Oates said, he’s gotta be the man.”

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Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”