NHL on NBCSN: Devils host Capitals as both try to keep playoff hope alive

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NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the New Jersey Devils host the Washington Capitals at the Prudential Center at 7:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

People say desperate times call for desperate measures. If that’s the case tonight in Newark, the Devils and Capitals will both be reaching deep into their respective bags of tricks.

The Capitals are currently four points behind Columbus for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference and the Devils are five points back. Both teams need a win tonight to keep their fading hopes alive of reaching the playoffs and, likely, facing the Boston Bruins in the first round.

Both teams have had their issues lately.

For Washington, much of the grumbling has centered around Alex Ovechkin’s struggles at even strength. The reigning league MVP went the month of March without an even-strength point and has been getting crushed for his league-low plus/minus rating of minus-36.

While Ovechkin has 48 goals this season, he’s done the bulk of his damage on the power play. If the Capitals are going to stick around in the playoff race, they have to find a way to get Ovechkin and the rest of the top line working 5-on-5.

For now, at least, he won’t have Jay Beagle centering his line as coach Adam Oates has put Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom with Ovechkin. It’s the ultimate “put all your eggs in one basket” move.

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The Devils have their own problems to worry about. Despite Cory Schneider having played outstanding for most of the season, he’s been cold lately. With Martin Brodeur there to back him up, that would ideally mean things stayed steady. Instead, Schneider’s play has been equal with Brodeur’s and that’s not a good thing considering the future Hall of Famer is nearing the end of his career.

What that’s meant for New Jersey is they’ve needed to score more goals. That task has been fine for the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, and Adam Henrique but contributions from others have been a bit scattered. Travis Zajac netting a hat trick against Florida was a good sign, but they need more and from many others.

One thing the Devils have to find a way to do is avoid going to the shootout. They’re 0-11 in shootouts this season and while they’ve lost three of the past four games, all three losses came in the skills competition.

The biggest “What if” question Devils players and fans could wind up asking themselves is, “What if they won half of those shootouts?” If they did, they’d be right in the mix for the postseason with Columbus and Detroit instead of desperately needing a win to stay in the hunt.

Holtby ‘wasn’t as sharp as he can be,’ says Trotz

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Presidents’ Trophy winners once again in the regular season, the Capitals once again face an uphill climb if they are to advance beyond the rival Penguins and the second round of the playoffs.

What began with a strong first period for the Capitals in Game 2, albeit without a reward on the score board, faded into a frustrating 6-2 rout, as the Penguins took a commanding 2-0 series lead as it shifts back to Pittsburgh for a pivotal Game 3 on Monday.

Braden Holtby was pulled after the second period. He gave up three goals on 14 shots, while his opponent at the other end, Marc-Andre Fleury was brilliant with 34 saves.

“He’ll tell you that he can be better. He’s a straight up guy and he will be. I was just trying to change the mojo,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of his decision to sit Holtby.

“I thought some of the goals, he wasn’t as sharp as he can be for us. He’s a game-changer for us. So when he didn’t change the game, I just looked to change the mojo a little bit there. That’s all. Braden’s our backbone. He has been all year. We’ve got to find some goals for him, too. We can’t just put it on Braden Holtby.”

Now in a deep but not insurmountable hole against the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Capitals reportedly held a players’ only meeting following this latest defeat.

After failing to open the scoring in an otherwise dominant first period, Washington surrendered three goals in the second, as the Penguins broke it wide open with their transition game, led by two great plays from Sidney Crosby.

“We can’t get frustrated. I think that would be our biggest mistake is to get frustrated right now,” said T.J. Oshie, before expanding on the meeting between the players.

“It was things that people need to say and things that some people need to hear. We were very together with what we said. I don’t need to go into details. Sometimes in our game … you need to hear from your teammates more than your coach. And tonight was one of those nights.

“It was the players in here and what was said is what needed to be said.”

We’ll find out Monday if what was said actually has any impact on the ice.

Penguins rout Capitals to take commanding series lead

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The Washington Capitals are in trouble. Against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Again.

Despite a dominant first period, at least in terms of shots on Marc-Andre Fleury and puck possession, the Capitals saw this game go sideways in a hurry during the second period, on the way to a 6-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 2.

Washington is now in quite a hole, trailing its nemesis 2-0 in this second-round series.

Last year, Matt Murray stymied the Capitals. Though it’s only been two games this year, Fleury has stepped up in the absence of the injured Murray and given the Penguins solid goaltending and frustrated a dangerous Capitals lineup.

After withstanding the storm of pressure from the Capitals in the first period, the Penguins broke this game open with a trio of second-period goals. It started with a shorthanded goal from Matt Cullen, and later continued with a beautiful goal from Phil Kessel and then Jake Guentzel‘s sixth goal of these playoffs.

That led Barry Trotz to take Braden Holtby out of the game, after he gave up three goals on 14 shots, putting in Phillip Grubauer to begin the third period. The Penguins continued the onslaught.

For the Penguins, there are some injury concerns to keep an eye on.

Patric Hornqvist left the game in the first period after blocking a shot around his foot or ankle. He didn’t return. Ron Hainsey had to go to the locker room late in the third period after taking an Alex Ovechkin shot up around the head.

Game 3 goes Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘I wasn’t good enough,’ says Lundqvist after double OT loss to Senators

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The task wasn’t impossible, but certainly daunting.

The Ottawa Senators needed five goals on Henrik Lundqvist just to send Game 2 into overtime.

The Rangers goalie had been spectacular for most of this post-season entering Saturday’s contest, but the Senators, led by a sensational four-goal performance from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, found a way to break through for a 6-5 double overtime win to take a 2-0 series lead against New York.

They did so on just 34 shots through almost 83 minutes against Lundqvist.

“I wasn’t good enough,” said Lundqvist, per the New York Daily News. “Coming up with the extra save there in the end, that’s my job. Even though it’s tough plays on deflections, I’ve got to find a way.”

On three occasions, the Rangers held a two-goal lead. That includes with under five minutes remaining in regulation. They even had a pair of shorthanded goals. But they couldn’t hang on, as Pageau scored twice in the final 3:19 of regulation to record his hat trick.

That set the stage for the eventual winner, as he beat Lundqvist over the left shoulder with a shot from his off-wing on a two-on-one rush.

With the Senators in control, the series returns to New York for Game 3 on Tuesday and Game 4 on Thursday.

“We played well enough to win this game, there’s no question about it,” said Lundqvist. “It’s really tough to lose this one. Clearly they’ve gotten the bounces here in the first two games.”

Capitals’ Holtby begins third period on the bench, Grubauer takes over in net

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Braden Holtby began the third period of Saturday’s Game 2 on the bench, giving way to Philipp Grubauer.

The Washington Capitals fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 after two periods, with Holtby allowing three goals on just 14 shots. It will be interesting to hear the reason for this decision from coach Barry Trotz following the game.

The Capitals had dominated on the shot clock, but gave up a pair of quick goals to fall further behind Pittsburgh in this game, while trailing in the series 1-0.

Phil Kessel — on a great play from Sidney Crosby — and Jake Guentzel scored 3:10 apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead.