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Shawn Thornton ready to call it a career

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) For Shawn Thornton, getting to the NHL was not easy.

Same goes for leaving.

The last game of Thornton’s 20-year pro career – the first half spent grinding in the minors before he got to the NHL for good – comes Saturday night, when he and the Florida Panthers play host to the Buffalo Sabres. The Panthers play their season finale Sunday in Washington, and Thornton isn’t making the trip.

He’s going out on his terms, on home ice, with a tall glass of celebratory scotch in his postgame plans.

“A lot of years, a lot of punches in the face, a lot of miles on the bus,” Thornton said. “But then a lot of charter flights, a lot of filets on those charter flights. It’s the best job in the world.”

And now it’s ending.

He is one of two players to play more than 600 games in the American Hockey League and at least 700 games in the National Hockey League. The first was Jim Morrison, who logged 704 NHL games in a career that ended in the early 1970s.

Thornton’s last game will be his 705th.

“It’s been a good run,” Thornton said.

He’ll get a bit of a break after the season but he’s staying with the Panthers, in a somewhat still-to-be-determined capacity on the business side of the operation working with team president Matthew Caldwell. Thornton considered trading his skates for suits last year when he was weighing an offer to return to Boston – where he won one of his two Stanley Cups – and work in television and community relations.

Florida interim coach Tom Rowe raves about Thornton and knows the end of his playing days is an emotional time. Rowe paid tribute last week when he sent Thornton out for the opening shift in Boston so he could hear an ovation from Bruins’ fans one final time.

“I think he’ll be great,” Rowe said when asked about Thornton’s looming transition to front-office life. “The thing that’s impressed me the most about him is how intelligent he is. He’s a very, very smart guy and he’s got a real passion for business and I think he’s going to pick it up quickly.”

Thornton’s career was not a glamorous one, with far more fights than goals. Drafted 190th overall in 1997, he was a fourth-line guy, an enforcer, someone whose job it was to protect his teammates by any means necessary.

He never scored more than two goals in a game, never even had more than two points in a game. Thornton’s first fight came in his second NHL contest, and he once told an opponent – while trying to bait him into a fight – that he could pick which hand to punch with.

“He’s the epitome of a hockey player,” Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck said.

But off the ice, Thornton is a mild-mannered sort. He started a foundation that works with people affected by cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and is someone who was humbled by being nominated again this year for the Masterson Award that honors the player who best combines perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

“Definitely no complaints,” Thornton said. “I tried to give back when I could. Hopefully when it’s all said and done I’m remembered more for than the antics on the ice, because that was just a job.”

His next job awaits.

His parents and some close friends are coming in for Saturday night’s finale, and that glass of scotch – a bottle he’s been saving for a couple years – awaits afterward.

It’ll be a toast to a career well done.

“Saying he’s been a heart and soul guy, even that does him an injustice,” Panthers goaltender James Reimer said. “He’s beyond that. His whole career, he’s played the game the right way. He’s battled hard, he’s fought hard, he’s stuck up for his teammates. He’s just been the ultimate pro, the ultimate teammate.”

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.