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Stanley Cup pressure on Ovechkin? ‘I’m sure he’s feeling it a little bit,’ says Kadri

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Barry Trotz is wondering aloud if Washington Capitals have been the victim of some bad bounces against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“They’ve got some strange goals, and that sometimes can play in your mind a little bit and we fought through that,” Trotz said Thursday. “We’re getting really mentally tough in this series because we’re working, and you create your own luck.”

With the series tied 2-2 going into Game 5 in Washington on Friday, the Capitals are facing a bigger test than anyone ever imagined. Morgan Rielly said the Maple Leafs have earned the right to feel confident, and players don’t believe they’re all even in this series because of luck.

Quite the opposite. Echoing their coach, who noted they weren’t at their best and still were within a goal in the Game 4 loss , defenseman Connor Carrick called Game 4 an “opportunity missed.”

“We didn’t play anywhere close to what we’re capable of,” goaltender Frederik Andersen said.

Had the Maple Leafs erased a 4-1 deficit to take command of the series, the pressure would have been squarely on the Presidents’ Trophy winners with the checkered playoff past.

Read more: Capitals flex muscles, tie series with Leafs, despite some Game 4 drama

Already the Capitals were looking tight and the expectation is still on them to win and advance.

“I think we got our heads on straight right now on how we want to play, and unfortunately it’s taken us a couple games to get there,” right winger T.J. Oshie said after the game. “So we want to improve on (Game 4) and get even better, but I think (Wednesday night) was a right step breathing-wise.

Breathing is essential for a team that hasn’t made it past the second round in the past decade with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and is facing major roster changes this summer no matter the result. This is Ovechkin’s best chance at the Stanley Cup, and everyone knows it.

“Yeah, I’m sure for him it’s hard not to think about that type of thing,” Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. “But I think he’s not the only desperate one that’s going to be out there. I think we’re going to be a desperate team fighting to bring the series back to Toronto up a game. It’s desperate for both groups, but yeah, I’m sure he’s feeling it a little bit.”

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs are at the start of their contending window. They’re playing with house money and sound like the more confident bunch.

“We’re capable of winning this series,” winger Matt Martin said. “We just have to stay the course.”

Washington defenseman Karl Alzner‘s status is unclear after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury. He skated with a handful of other players Thursday, and Trotz termed him “day to day.”

Braden Holtby, who has allowed 14 goals in four games and has a .902 save percentage, also skated. Trotz called it “a pinball machine out there” and said he wasn’t worried about Holtby but didn’t exactly give his reigning Vezina Trophy winning goaltender’s play in this series a ringing endorsement.

“It’s hard to gauge it because they’ve had a lot of strange stuff,” Trotz said, praising Holtby for being hard-nosed to handle bad bounces. “During the year, goalies, they do everything on predictability and there are a lot of things that aren’t very predictable right now and that’s what at times makes Braden look like he’s not there.”

Who’s actually not there are winger Brett Connolly, who played 4:26 in Game 4, and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who saw 12:18 of ice time with just one power-play shift. Depth was considered one of the Capitals’ advantages, but Trotz shortening his bench bears watching.

Sheary’s agent — who’s also Dumoulin’s agent — hoping to avoid arbitration

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Conor Sheary‘s agent is hopeful that an arbitration hearing won’t be needed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And that same agent has reason to be optimistic, since he’s also the agent for Brian Dumoulin, who settled at the last minute today.

“Each (case) is so different,” Andrew Gross told the Post-Gazette this morning. “Ultimately, though, team and player would like to avoid going in that room. It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Sheary’s hearing isn’t scheduled until Aug. 4. The 25-year-old forward is coming off a 53-point regular season. In his young NHL career, he’s already won two Stanley Cups.

That said, the Penguins can’t afford to break the bank on an extension. After all, a big reason for their success has been having players like Sheary on affordable deals — a necessity with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang taking up so much cap space.

Sheary wasn’t all that productive in the 2017 playoffs either, scoring just two goals with five assists in 22 games, while finishing a team-worst minus-5 for the postseason.

“We’re prepared to go to arbitration,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said last week.

Of course, Rutherford was also speaking about Dumoulin, and the two sides were able to reach an agreement on him.

You can probably expect a similar outcome with Sheary.

Just don’t bet the house on it.

Preds avoid arbitration with Austin Watson

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Another narrowly avoided arbitration to pass along.

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year, $3.3 million contract that will pay him $1 million next season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in 2019-20.

Watson’s hearing was scheduled for today.

From the press release:

Watson, 25 (1/13/92), set career highs in goals (5), assists (7), points (12), penalty minutes (99) and games played (77) during the 2016-17 season as he established himself as an integral member of the Nashville roster. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound winger then added four goals and nine points in 22 postseason contests as the Predators advanced to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Watson also appeared in 57 games for the Predators during the 2015-16 season, recording three goals and 10 points.

The Pittsburgh Penguins also avoided an arbitration hearing today by signing defenseman Brian Dumoulin to a six-year contract.

Spooner seeking $3.85 million in arbitration

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Ryan Spooner‘s arbitration hearing with the Boston Bruins is scheduled for Wednesday. And if it goes ahead, it could be a rather contentious one.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Spooner is seeking $3.85 million on a one-year deal, while the B’s are thinking almost half that at $2 million.

Spooner, a 25-year-old forward, will certainly be able to sell his offensive statistics. He had 49 points in 2015-16, then 39 points last season.

“Ryan’s a talented player,” said GM Don Sweeney, per CSNNE.com. “He’s had a lot of success. Our power play is better when he plays as well as he’s capable of playing, and he can really be a good complement to our group.”

But the knock on Spooner has always been his defensive play. The past two seasons, he’s a combined minus-17. Back in May, it was reported that the B’s were entertaining trade offers for him.

Spooner’s last contract paid him $1.9 million over two years.

Dumoulin agrees to six-year contract with Penguins

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Brian Dumoulin won’t need his arbitration hearing today.

The Pittsburgh Penguins announced this morning that the 25-year-old defenseman has agreed to terms on a six-year contract with a $4.1 million cap hit.

From the press release:

Dumoulin, 25, has been a key component to the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, as he played in all 49 playoff games in that span, and recorded 14 points (3G-11A). In the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin had an average ice time of 21:59 minutes, the most of any Penguins skater, and his plus-9 paced all team defenders. He assisted on Carl Hagelin‘s empty-net goal that sealed the 2-0 victory in the decisive Game 6 of the Cup Final against Nashville. 

Dumoulin is coming off of a contract that paid him just $800,000 in each of the past two seasons.

With Dumoulin signed, Pittsburgh now has five defenseman under contract for at least the next three seasons, the other four being Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, Olli Maatta, and Matt Hunwick.

The Pens still have one more arbitration case in forward Conor Sheary. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 4.

Related: Without Letang, the ‘simple bunch’ gets it done for Penguins