Capitals offensive attack erupts to extend series vs. Penguins

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The Capitals are still alive.

They have extended this series to a sixth game thanks to a 4-2 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

On home ice for Game 5, the Capitals were 20 minutes away from another sudden, disappointing departure from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the second round against the rival Penguins — and all of the critical questions, second guessing, difficult decisions and possibly some very significant changes that can follow such a result.

The Penguins, with Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary back in the lineup after missing the last game due to concussions, held the lead going into the third period. They had stifled the Capitals in the second period. It was hardly exciting, but it did, up until then at least, have the desired impact.

As a result, they were on the verge of eliminating the Capitals and doing so in front of the Washington fans, which certainly would’ve added further insult to an organization that has been unable to escape the discussion about its past playoff failures.

Then, from almost out of nowhere, the Capitals offense erupted. Those star players that coach Barry Trotz was demanding more from emphatically answered the call.

The depth of their offensive attack had been lacking in terms of production, but that changed for at least one night with a two-point effort from Andre Burakovsky, who halted his playoff scoring drought at 10 games and his playoff point drought at six games.

Nicklas Backstrom started the onslaught. He beat Marc-Andre Fleury with a shot under his left arm. That tied the game 2:49 into the third period. The Capitals were just getting started. Evgeny Kuznetsov followed that up less than five minutes later with the go-ahead goal and Alex Ovechkin increased Washington’s lead just 27 seconds later.

That’s Ovechkin’s second goal of this series. He had a difficult performance in Game 4 and admitted as much afterwards. He responded with an inspired third period that also included a shot off the post.

The Capitals finally found an answer to Fleury. They had outplayed the Penguins in the second half of Game 4 but couldn’t find that tying goal in large part because of the play of Pittsburgh’s goalie, who had a .937 save percentage entering Saturday’s contest.

Fleury had outplayed Braden Holtby at the other end in this series. But not in Game 5. Holtby, who had an underwhelming .867 save percentage through four games against the Penguins, was much better when his team absolutely needed it.

Game 6 goes Monday in Pittsburgh. The Penguins still lead the series. The Capitals still have plenty of work remaining if they are to pull off what would be a tremendous comeback.

But for the Capitals, this was a pretty good start.

Swedish League champ sees another sign in NHL

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It’s an offseason of change for SHL champion HV71.

In the days following the league title, HV71 saw No. 1 goalie Linus Soderstrom sign his ELC with the Isles and d-man Andreas Borgman — the league’s rookie of the year — ink with the Leafs.

Earlier today, HV71 winger Filip Sandberg signed a two-year deal with San Jose. Shortly after that, Columbus announced it inked Sandberg’s running mate up front, Kevin Stenlund, to a three-year, entry-level deal.

Stenlund, 20, was the Blue Jackets’ second-round pick (58th overall) at the 2015 draft. He’s coming off a good year, setting career highs in goals, assists, points and games played during the regular season, then adding 10 points in 16 playoff appearances.

And he might have a chance to build on that campaign.

Per the Dispatch, the Blue Jackets expect Stenlund to play next year in Sweden, rather than try to make the move overseas. It’s possible the Isles could make the same decision with Soderstrom — meaning it’s not all bad for HV71.

 

Oilers re-sign Pakarinen for one year

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The Edmonton Oilers have given winger Iiro Pakarinen a one-year contract extension.

From the release:

Pakarinen just finished his third season with the Oilers organization, appearing in 14 regular season games in 2016-17, posting four points (2 goals, 2 assists).  The 25 year old forward missed 53 games due to an injury suffered during the pre-season. He appeared in one playoff game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Oilers brought Pakarinen over from Finland in 2014. Since then, he’s split his North American career between the AHL and NHL while drawing praise for his versatility and hard-nosed style.

Per CapFriendly, Pakarinen’s cap hit will be $750,000 in 2017-18. It’s a one-way deal.

Market heating up for prized Czech d-man Rutta

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Coming off an impressive performance for the Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, Jan Rutta is now being courted by a number of NHL clubs.

Per The Athletic, the Blackhawks are in contention for securing Rutta’s services. That comes on the heels of earlier reports from TSN’s Darren Dreger, who said there are “multiple” offers for the 26-year-old, including ones from Edmonton and Calgary.

“He’s a steady defenseman with size, and he had a strong finish of the season,” an NHL scout told The Athletic. “He was very good in the playoffs and played his best at the Worlds.”

Rutta, who was never drafted by an NHL club, has spent his professional career with Czech League outfit Pirati Chomutov. He’s blossomed into a talented offensive defenseman — finishing second among Czech League d-men with 32 points in 46 games this year — and, as mentioned above, has good size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds.

Last week, Rutta’s agent — longtime Octagon Hockey representative Allan Walsh — tweeted that his client would make a decision on NHL offers soon.

 

Sharks keep stockpiling European free agents, land Sandberg

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Doug Wilson is at it again.

On Thursday, the Sharks GM confirmed yesterday’s news — the signing of Czech d-man Radim Simek — and announced that Swedish forward Filip Sandberg had agreed to a two-year deal.

“Filip is a very creative player who sees the ice well and can create offense in limited space,” Wilson said in a release. “He plays a high-pressure, puck-pursuit game and his battle level is something we have been impressed with, especially against older players.

“We are excited for him to join our organization.”

Sandberg, 22, is fresh off a Swedish League title with HV71. The club announced Sandberg would be headed overseas last week, but didn’t divulge what team had signed him.

It wasn’t surprising NHL clubs had interest. Sandberg had a good offensive campaign in Sweden, scoring 25 points in 52 regular season games, then broke out for six goals and 14 points in 16 playoff contests.

Prior to this year, Sandberg twice represented Sweden at the World Juniors, including the 2013 tournament where the country won silver. He finished with two goals in six games playing alongside the likes of Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask.

As for Simek, he inked a one-year deal.

“Radim is a quick transition defenseman who drives the play offensively and plays with a physical edge,” said Wilson. “We like his offensive instincts especially on special teams and think his game will translate well in North America.”

Simek just finished representing his native Czech Republic at the World Hockey Championship, where he had two points in eight games.

According to a report from Radio Praha, the Sharks beat out the Rangers to acquire Simek. Passed over in his draft year, the 24-year-old has spent his entire pro career with Liberec Bili Tygri.

As mentioned above, Wilson has done well finding European skaters in their early-to-mid-20s, ones that can contribute right away at the NHL level: Melker Karlsson, Joonas Donskoi and Marcus Sorensen, most specifically.

The hope now is that Simek and Sandberg will continue that trend.