Capitals talk about need to ‘loosen up a bit’ heading into Game 5


If you’re a Washington Capitals fan you have no doubt seen this movie before.

Entering Game 5 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, the team is facing elimination against its long-time arch nemesis and postseason tormenter after what was a wildly successful regular season. It is a scene that has played several times over the years, and if the Capitals are going to flip the script and erase all of those disappointing memories they are going to have to win three consecutive games starting tonight.

Before Saturday’s game several members of the Capitals talked about the need to clear their heads, stay loose, and not grip their sticks too tight heading into what is, at the moment, their biggest game of the season.

Said defenseman Matt Niskanen, via Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press, “you can’t play well if you’re tight. Those sprinters, they’re loose. Your body works better. You have to clear your head.”

Starting goalie Braden Holtby said it is still a confident group and that the team realizes they are “gripping our sticks a bit tight and we just need to loosen up a bit.”

The most interesting comment, though, may have come from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.

“With the history in this locker room, what’s happened in the past, it can cause you to grip your stick a little bit tighter.”

You might be noticing a theme in those comments.

What is so fascinating about Shattenkirk’s comment referencing the past is that he has only been a Capital for a couple of months and never experienced the things that happened to the team in the past. The fact that he’s referencing the past is, if nothing else, interesting and would seem to suggest that all of that stuff is at least on the minds of the players.

It’s also interesting because following the Capitals’ Game 4 loss in Pittsburgh (a game where the Capitals once again seemed to carry the play only to lose thanks to a great goaltending effort from Marc-Andre Fleury and a handful of self inflicted mistakes on the part of the Capitals) coach Barry Trotz was asked if his team’s struggles against the Penguins come down to “something mental.”

“Not really,” said Trotz. “I just think it’s more right now we have to find a way to get an extra goal. We have to get An extra save. I thought our top guys weren’t as good as they needed to be tonight.”

The Capitals have tried pretty much everything in this series to this point to get that extra goal or save. They benched their Vezina Trophy winning goalie in Game 2. They have used seven defensemen. They benched Brett Connolly, a 15-goal scorer during the regular season, for Paul Carey. They are apparently going to play Alex Ovechkin on the third-line on Saturday, most likely in an effort to double-shift him. They have outshot and outchanced the Penguins by a significant margin in just about every game. The results, so far, remain the same.

NHL On NBCSN: Blues look to continue playoff push against Blackhawks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Sunday night when the St. Louis Blues take on the Chicago Blackhawks. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

The St. Louis Blues are one of the many teams in the middle of the free-for-all playoff race that is the Western Conference and are in desperate need of wins. They got a huge one on Saturday night by defeating the New York Rangers in overtime, and now they need to come back 24 hours later and try to get another one when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks.

The only downside to Saturday’s win is that star winger Vladimir Tarasenko left the game due to an injury.

His status for Sunday is uncertain at this point, but it would obviously be a pretty significant blow to the Blues’ lineup if he is unable to go.

He is the team’s leading goal-scorer (27) and is second in total points with 57, trailing only the 59 that Brayden Schenn has.

The Blues enter the day three points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and have a chance to pick up a couple of more points in that race if they can knock off a Blackhawks team that is, if we are being completely honest, going in the tank down the stretch.

After losing to Buffalo on Saturday the Blackhawks are just 8-18-2 in their past 28 games.

This is one of three games that the Blues have remaining with the Blackhawks down the stretch.

St. Louis has been through a pretty tumultuous couple of weeks recently. It is a stretch that included a pretty significant collapse in the standings, a major trade (Paul Stastny), and some significant injuries. But they are still alive in the playoff race, barely, thanks to wins in three of their past four games.

They desperately need another one on Sunday night.


Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Shutouts for three, Dubnyk gets win No. 200

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Players of the Night:

Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins, Keith Kinkaid, New Jersey Devils and Curtis McElhinney, Toronto Maple Leafs: Where do we begin on the night of the shutout? Rask didn’t have a particularly busy night making 23 saves, but when you’re facing names like Kucherov and Stamkos, it’s always dangerous. Still, Rask kept rolling along. He is 27-3-2 in his past 32 starts. That’s just silly. … Kinkaid, meanwhile stopped 38 — including 19 in the first period — in a 3-0 win against the Kings for his fourth career shutout. … No Frederik Andersen for Toronto? No problem. McElhinney stepped in and pitched a 33-save performance as the Leafs down the Montreal Canadiens 4-0.

Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues: The Blues defenseman scored twice in regulation and then assisted on Brayden Schenn‘s overtime winner to cap off a three-point night.

Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild: While he didn’t get a shutout, Dubnyk did stop 30 of 31 en route to his 200th career NHL win. The win was also important for the Wild, who moved to within five points of the Winnipeg Jets for second place in the Central Division, and moved five points ahead of the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche for third place.

Highlights of the Night:

Filthy pass:

First-goal celebrations are always the best:

Voracek with a slick move in front:

Save of the year candidate:

Factoids of the Night:

Home is where the wins are:

A legend passes a legend:

Believe in McJesus:

Scary Scenes of the Night:


Sabres 5, Blackhawks 3

Oilers 4, Panthers 2

Devils 3, Kings 0

Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 0

Bruins 3, Lightning 0

Flyers 4, Hurricanes 2

Blue Jackets 2, Senators 1

Blue 4, Rangers 3 (OT)

Wild 3, Coyotes 1

Sharks 5, Canucks 3

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Senators’ Ryan Dzingel drilled in the head with a puck (video)

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We already saw one lacerated leg, and now we have a one-timer drilling a player in the back of the helmet.

Saturday night hasn’t been so kind.

Ottawa Senators forward Ryan Dzingel was forced to leave the game after some friendly fire against the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 2-1 loss.

Dzingel was drilled in the back of the head from teammate Mike Hoffman‘s one-timer of the back of his helmet around the mid-way point of the third period.

Dzingel remained down for a time but was able to skate off the ice with some assistance from Ottawa’s trainers.

He did not return to the game.

If you watch this closely, you will see Dzingel’s No. 8 on the back of his helmet fly off after contact with the puck.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Bruins’ David Backes suffers leg laceration in collision (video)


A scary scene unfolded in the first period between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

David Backes and Yanni Gourde came together in the Lightning crease, with Gourde’s skate appearing to cut Backes on the outside of his right leg.

Backes was able to make his way to the Bruins bench on his own, but he was clutching the back of his leg before getting some help down the tunnel.

Backes did not return to the game.

The Bruins said that Backes suffered a laceration above his right knee, which required several stitches to close.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck