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Marcus Johansson ready for ‘underdog’ role after Caps trade him to Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) After winning Presidents’ Trophy and losing in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs two years in a row, Marcus Johansson knew the Washington Capitals were going to make changes.

Coming off a career-best season, the 26-year-old Swede just didn’t think he would be one the guys leaving Washington.

After being surprised Sunday by a deal that sent him to the New Jersey Devils for two 2018 draft picks, Johansson said Friday he’s looking forward to the chance to play for a rebuilding franchise that finished last in the conference this past season.

Johansson was asleep when the trade was made, admitting it took him time to come to grips with it.

“I was still half asleep when I saw it. At first you are in shock, and you have to try to figure out what is going on,” he said in a conference call from Sweden. “You try to go through all the texts and everything to see what is happening.”

Devils general manager Ray Shero picked up Johansson because the Capitals faced a salary cap crisis after signing center Evgeny Kuznetsov to a $62.4 million, eight-year deal.

That made Johansson expendable and the deal was made.

Washington also re-signed right wings T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky, defenseman Dmitry Orlov and backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer.

“I didn’t get the sense that I would be moved. But you never know what is going to happen and there were a lot of guys that had to be- re-signed,” Johansson said.

Once the shock wore off, Johansson got down to basics. He started thinking about selling his home and moving his family.

“As soon as it sunk in, you see all the positives, all the chances and opportunities to go somewhere else and create new memories for the family and new hockey memories as well, and be a part of something that I think is moving in the right direction,” he said.

The Devils are not the Capitals. Washington has made the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons, missing only in 2014. New Jersey has missed the playoffs the past five seasons, and they are coming off a 28-40-14 record, their worst in nearly three decades.

“I don’t mind sort of being an underdog,” Johansson said. “I think we have a great team and if we can put all the pieces together, I think we should surprise a lot of people. I am looking forward to that.”

Johansson had 24 goals and 34 assists last season, with his goal total and 58 points career highs. His up-tempo game fits into the style coach John Hynes is trying to establish.

Johansson can play any of the forward positions. He was a left side last season.

Johansson doesn’t know his new teammates, other than seeing them on the ice. New Jersey will have first overall draft pick Nico Hischier and it has three top forwards in Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri.

The Devils also signed veteran center Brian Boyle.

Looking back on his time with the Capitals, Johansson said the team’s biggest problem was not winning the big games. They were beaten 2-0 at home in Game 7 of the conference semifinals by the now two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We didn’t play very well in it and didn’t give ourselves a chance in it, where Pittsburgh maybe played their best game,” Johansson said. “That’s what it comes down to, you have to play your best game when it is needed the most, and we didn’t.”

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The Buzzer: Night of the goalies

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Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)


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

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


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

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

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The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row after Stephane Fiset (9) and Patrick Roy (11).

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.


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

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.