Preds counting on Subban to be ‘big-time player’ in playoffs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The adjustment period is over for P.K. Subban along with the regular season, and now expectations for the All-Star defenseman could not be higher.

The Nashville Predators swapped their captain and own All-Star defenseman Shea Weber to Montreal last June , believing that Subban could provide both a boost to the offense and help a franchise that has never gotten out of the second round finally win its first Stanley Cup.

Well, the playoffs start Thursday night with the eighth-seeded Predators in Chicago against the Blackhawks.

Watch Predators vs. Blackhawks on NBC Sports

The former Norris Trophy winner, who had to get used to living in the United States for the first time in his life, understands that for all the fun of learning about Music City and his new teammates that the postseason is the biggest reason why he is here.

“Me coming into this team was about helping us win a Stanley Cup and being a part of that,” Subban said. “And now we have our opportunity, so I’m really excited about everything.”

So are the Predators and their fans. This franchise has reached the postseason 10 of the past 13 years, advancing to the second round three times.

They came closest to the Western Conference Final a year ago by pushing San Jose to seven games . The Predators start this postseason Thursday night in Game 1 against the West’s No. 1 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks.

With Subban, the Predators are scoring more goals (238) than a year ago (224), a two-spot jump to 11th in the league. Subban ranked 22nd among defensemen with 40 points in 66 games. Weber finished with 42 points over 78 games.

The Predators’ biggest improvement came after Subban returned from an upper-body injury that kept him out 16 games . After the All-Star break, the Predators were the NHL’s seventh-best scoring team with 102 goals.

Subban wasn’t the only injury Nashville dealt with in its defensive group. Roman Josi missed 10, while Ryan Ellis was out 11. Playing with new defensive partners also slowed the process.

“He’s been a great addition,” Josi said of Subban. “I mean we know he’s a big-time player, so we’re looking forward to him to be a big player for us in the playoffs.”

That’s where Subban is expected to make the biggest impact. He has 38 points in 55 playoff games – 10 more than Weber in 59 postseason games – and was nearly a point a game player for Montreal in 2014, scoring 14 points in 17 playoff games.

Nashville captain Mike Fisher said the Predators are excited to see that part of Subban.

“He brings a lot of enthusiasm and offensive ability to our team, and he’s had a great year,” Fisher said Monday. “I think he’s poised for an even better playoff.”

Nashville doesn’t see Subban only as an offensive threat. Coach Peter Laviolette has been impressed by Subban’s defensive skills too so much that the Predators regularly pit Subban and Mattias Ekholm against an opponent’s heaviest players.

“He’s delivered for us from an offensive standpoint, and our defensemen scoring is still in a good place and he’s a big part of it,” Laviolette said. “I think he and Eky have done a great job defensively handling the other team’s biggest customers.”

Now that the postseason is here, general manager David Poile and Laviolette want to make clear that this isn’t a one-man show.

“It’s not just hinging on him,” Laviolette said. “I’ve said Chicago has got a good team. We’re going to have to play good hockey. P.K.’s going to have to play well. All of our guys are going to have to play well.”

 

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.