Five Q’s: Capitals-Rangers preview

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Will a happy Alex Ovechkin translate into team success?

Last year, when the Capitals faced the Rangers in the second round, Alex Ovechkin — one of the NHL’s biggest stars — played just 13:36 in a 3-2 Game 2 victory. The reason? Then-Washington coach Dale Hunter didn’t trust his captain defensively, often leaving Ovechkin on the bench when the Caps held a lead. This year, Ovechkin has thrived under new coach Adam Oates, moving from the the left wing to the right and leading the league in goals, with 32. But Ovechkin has gone into the playoffs as the league’s top sniper before, and it hasn’t translated into anything better than a second-round defeat.

Will Rick Nash make his mark?

Rick Nash has scored lots of goals in his career, but he’s still only played four playoff games. In his first season with the Rangers after being traded from Columbus, Nash had 21 goals in 44 games. Now comes the opportunity for the 28-year-old to make his mark in games that count. “It’s something all the great athletes have done,” he said. “It’s time to step up now.” With his big body and ability to shield defenders, Nash will also be key for a New York side that will want to control the puck in the Washington end as much as possible.

Will Marc Staal be back?

The Rangers’ defenseman has been out of the lineup since being struck in the eye with a puck in early March. It’s unlikely he’ll be ready for Game 1, but the fact he’s been practicing with the team is a sign he may be ready to play soon. Not only is Staal a good defensive defenseman, his return would mean fewer hard minutes for Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. Last year, two of the seven Caps-Rangers games went to overtime. By the time New York met the Devils in the conference finals, fatigue appeared to be a factor, even if John Tortorella refused to admit it.

Can the Rangers stay out of the penalty box?

Because the Capitals have the NHL’s best power play. Washington — armed with the likes of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green — scored on an impressive 26.8 percent of its man advantages during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Rangers’ had only an average penalty kill (15th, 81.1%). Of course, the best way to negate a good power play has always been to avoid taking penalties. New York is normally a disciplined team, and would be advised to remain that way.

Can Braden Holtby match Henrik Lundqvist?

Holtby was rock-solid in goal for the Caps down the stretch. In April, the 23-year-old had nine wins against just one regulation loss, registering a save percentage of .937. Still, he only has one postseason of experience compared to Lundqvist’s six. What does he think about that? “There are things that you can gain from experience in terms of your play but when it comes down to it that stuff is thrown out the window,” said Holtby. “You just have to perform, you have to believe that we’re the better team and you go from there. You throw experience out the window and you just play.”

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

Couture in ‘uncomfortable state’ after two facial fractures

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture played in the postseason despite two fractures in his face along with the plastic and wiring in his mouth that kept his teeth in place.

Couture revealed more details of the injuries sustained when a deflected slap shot from teammate Brent Burns hit him in the mouth in Nashville on March 25.

He said he had one fracture that went from his upper lip to the nose area that is still very sore and will take about six weeks to completely heal. The other fracture is below his bottom row of teeth.

“They’re not fun,” he said Tuesday. “It’s not extreme pain right now. Obviously it’s bearable to get by on a day-to-day basis. It’s still a struggle to eat and sleep and some of that stuff. It’s not comfortable. It’s an uncomfortable state to be in.”

Couture said he will meet with his dentist soon to figure out the next steps in recovery. He will need implants to get the teeth fixed and hopes to get that work done in the next few weeks so he can return home to Canada after that.

Couture said he is still “crushed” by San Jose’s first-round playoff loss in six games to the Edmonton Oilers and will need a few more days to get his mind right.

After San Jose made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, Couture said it was frustrating to enter the postseason with the team so banged up this year.

“You sit there and think, `Why is this happening to us?”‘ he said. “It’s the game of hockey and injuries happen. Teams that win, they battle through the adversity and the injuries and other guys step up and play big roles. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that as a team.”

Couture scored two goals in a Game 4 win but did not play up to his usual standards. The Sharks were also hurt by a serious injury to top-line center Joe Thornton, who tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee on April 2 and was back playing in Game 3 two weeks later.

Thornton had two assists in the final four games of the series before undergoing surgery to repair the knee on Monday.

“He’s incredible,” Couture said. “I don’t know if he feels pain because it can’t be fun. The fact that he skated three days after it happened was shocking. I don’t think anyone expected that in our room. It shows how badly he wants to win that he was able to get back out there. The steps that he was going through to play was pretty remarkable. Everyone in our dressing room respects the heck out of that guy. He really wants to win.”

Among other injured players for San Jose were forward Patrick Marleau (broken left thumb), forward Tomas Hertl (broken foot), and forward Joonas Donskoi (separated shoulder).

You can see a picture of Couture’s damaged mouth here, but a warning — it’s pretty gross.

Bergeron may need surgery for sports hernia

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Patrice Bergeron says he may need offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia that he dealt with all year.

Bergeron missed the Bruins’ first three games of the 82-game schedule with a lower-body injury; however, he managed to play the next 79, plus six more in the playoffs as Boston fell to Ottawa in the first round.

Typically, a sports hernia is first treated with rest and physical therapy. Then, if that doesn’t solve the problem, surgery may be required.

It was a frustrating start to the season for the 31-year-old center. Bergeron had just 24 points in 49 games before the All-Star break, but he finished with a respectable 53 points in 79 games, including 21 goals.

Bergeron could win his fourth Selke Trophy in June. He’s a finalist for the award, along with Ryan Kesler and Mikko Koivu.

In other Bruins injury news, Brandon Carlo had a concussion and Torey Krug an MCL injury. Neither d-man was able to suit up for the B’s in the postseason, though Krug was close to returning.

Defenseman Adam McQuaid, hurt in Game 2 against the Sens, had a neck injury.

No Patrick Kane for U.S. at Worlds

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Tough day for USA Hockey.

After learning that prized Toronto rookie Auston Matthews was skipping the World Hockey Championships, the organization was informed Chicago star Patrick Kane would also be passing on the event.

Kane hasn’t often been able to participate in the Worlds, given he and the Blackhawks have advanced past the first playoff round in five of the last nine years. In fact, the last time Kane played at the Worlds was in 2008, when Chicago missed the playoffs entirely.

(Kane had 10 points in seven games for the Americans that year, en route to a sixth-place finish.)

Matthews cited fatigue as one of the main reasons he passed on this year’s tourney, and it’s safe to assume Kane did the same. He appeared in all 82 games for the ‘Hawks this year, four more in the playoffs, and also represented the U.S. at the World Cup of Hockey.

USA Hockey did manage to secure the services of two important players last week, however. Both Calgary sniper Johnny Gaudreau and Buffalo sophomore Jack Eichel agreed to come aboard.

Gaborik has procedure for ‘chronic’ knee issue, questionable for camp

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Yesterday, new Kings GM Rob Blake told reporters the club wouldn’t be buying out Marian Gaborik’s contract, because the veteran winger had undergone a medical procedure.

Today, the club shed more light on the situation.

L.A. announced that Gaborik recently underwent an “in-depth medical procedure for a chronic issue related to his left knee,” adding the 35-year-old would be questionable for the start of training camp.

Gaborik’s had left knee problems dating back to 2013, when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed nearly 20 games during the ’13-14 campaign, then had more knee troubles at the tail end of ’15-16 (with the Kings).

Since injured players can’t be bought out of their contracts, Gaborik could very well open the year on LTIR, providing the Kings with some much-needed cap space.

And though Blake said next season would “be a clean slate for Marian to come in and prove himself,” there has to be some question if he’ll return.

Gaborik struggled through this season, scoring just 10 goals in 56 games while missing extensive time with a foot injury suffered at the World Cup. Health issues have dogged him throughout his 17-year career, and he’s only dressed in 110 of 164 games over the last two seasons.

Because of this, his contract has become an albatross. Signed by ex-GM Dean Lombardi, Gaborik’s seven-year, $34.125 million deal still has four years remaining, at a $4.875M cap hit. Gaborik would be 39 by the time the deal expires on July 1, 2021.

In other L.A. injury news, three players also underwent medical procedures recently. Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort had knee surgery, while Alec Martinez had “a minor medical procedure for a chronic issue related to his groin.” All three are expected to be ready for camp, however.