AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Stanley Cup saying goodbye to names like Richard, Hull, Howe

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BOSTON (AP) — So long, Gordon Howe.

Bye-bye, Robert Hull.

Au revoir, M. Richard.

Those Hockey Hall of Famers and the rest of the players who won an NHL championship from 1954-65 are being stripped off the Stanley Cup this spring to create room for a new layer of names without making the trophy too big to be skated around the ice by the winning captain or checked on an airplane for its next journey.

”People in Saskatchewan are a little upset Gordie’s name is coming off, but that’s the tradition,” said Mike Bolt, one of the Hall of Fame staffers assigned to escort the Cup around the world. ”It can’t get any bigger. … We wouldn’t be able to do what we do.”

Perhaps the most iconic trophy in sports, the Stanley Cup is unique among major prizes because the NHL passes it from team to team instead of producing a new one for every champion. It’s also the only one that includes the name of every player to win it in each season – though the names come and go.

Since it was first donated in 1892 by Lord Stanley, the governor general of Canada, the Cup has grown from a 7-inch-high bowl to a 3-foot trophy more the size of a large wedding cake, with three small layers under the original bowl and five more bands under that that fit about 13 years of champions apiece.

The top one of those bands, honoring much of Toe Blake’s Montreal Canadiens dynasty and three of Punch Imlach’s four titles in Toronto, will be removed in a matter of weeks. It will be flattened and displayed along with two previously retired rings – covering the 1927-40 and ’41-53 championship teams – at the Hall of Fame in Toronto. (In place of the name-by-name listing, teams are engraved on the upper rings).

The process will need to be repeated every 13 years, meaning a player’s name lasts on the Cup a maximum of 65 years.

”I run into some of the older timers, like from the ’70s, even the ’80s. They’re always like, ‘Hey, Mike. How many years have I got left on the Cup?”’ Bolt said. ”Some guys start doing the math, ‘Oh, I won’t be around anyway.’ But if you win it when you’re young, you’re going to be around when your name comes off.”

On tour to promote the start of the NHL playoffs April 11, Bolt stopped at The Associated Press bureau in Boston this week after visiting a children’s hospital and before going to a hockey arena to surprise another group of kids. He dons white gloves and unsnaps the latches to reveal the Cup in its form-fitting, blue velvet travel sanctuary.

The black base is chipped and dinged from years of celebrations by joyous champions. There are also a few misspellings, and one name is crossed out. Still, seeing the trophy remains a thrill for many fans; earning a spot on it is the ultimate goal for every NHL player who has ever laced up a pair of skates.

”That’s the best part of the job, watching the reaction. That’s one of the things that does not get old,” said Bolt, who accompanies the Cup on its travels for the traditional summer tour that allows every player on the winning team to spend a day with it – often in his hometown, no matter where on the globe he grew up.

”I’ve seen grown men cry; They can’t believe they are this close to it,” Bolt said. ”It’s like a celebrity. Everybody’s always happy when the Cup’s around.”

Players like Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Maurice ”Rocket” Richard might not have known that their immortality has an expiration date, but modern players realize getting one’s name on the Cup isn’t forever any more.

”We knew it’s going to be there for about 40 years,” said Patrice Bergeron, a member of the Boston Bruins’ 2011 championship team who is hoping to extend his time on the Cup with another title this year. ”It’s still pretty special.”

Brad Marchand, who also won it all in 2011, was consoled by the knowledge that the band with his name will go on permanent display at the Hall of Fame after it is removed.

”You can’t take away the fact that we won,” he said. ”We’ll still have all the memories.”

VULCANIZED RUBBER SOUL

Fans in Nashville have come up with a way to pass the time while waiting for video reviews. When the referees skate over to check on a Predators goal, the in-house public address system plays the Beatles song ”Let It Be.” Fans sing along, waving their cellphone flashlights as if at a concert.

ZEBRA FAREWELL

Referee Tom Kowal worked his last game on Saturday when the Bruins played the Panthers in Boston. When the milestone was noted in the arena, fans gave him an ovation and both teams gave him the customary salute by banging their sticks on the ice or boards. After the final buzzer, the players remained on their ice to shake hands with him.

Kowal, who worked 1,094 regular-season games and 12 in the playoffs over 18 years, is the third and last official to retire this season, according to the NHL Officials Association. Thirty-year linesman Shane Heyer worked his last game on Friday, and referee Dave Jackson hung up his skates after 25 years in Los Angeles on Thursday.

LEADERS (Through Monday’s games)

Points: Connor McDavid (Edmonton), 103. Goals: Alex Ovechkin (Washington), 46. Goals-against average (minimum 40 games): Marc-Andre Fleury (Vegas), 2.14. Save percentage (min. 40 games): Fleury, .931.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Tantalizing matchups with postseason positioning and outright berths at stake in the final week of the season include: Pittsburgh at Columbus, Thursday, and St. Louis at Colorado, Saturday.

AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker contributed to this story from Nashville, Tennessee.

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

The Buzzer: Ovechkin is clutch

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Two games on Thursday

Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 3-1)

The Boston Bruins continue to show that they can survive – if not thrive – with key players out of the lineup. They don’t get much more “key” than Patrice Bergeron, who was unable to suit up for Game 4. Even so, Tuukka Rask made some crucial saves and the Bruins connected on two 2-on-1 rushes to snag a 3-1 series lead. The Maple Leafs must grapple with a lot of uncomfortable questions as they see their season slip to the brink of elimination.

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 1 (Series tied 2-2)

This game was all about patterns continuing, or breaking.

Continuing: The road team winning. The away team has won all four contests during this series, so this one returns to Washington with the two teams now tied up 2-2. It’s also another instance of Alex Ovechkin being sneaky-clutch, although many people will disagree because of team results. Washington’s starting to pull away in terms of puck possession during the series, and that continued on Thursday, too.

Breaking: For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Caps won 4-1 and were safe even considering one empty-netter.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – There will be talk of Bergeron, Auston Matthews not being able to score, Mike Babcock’s decisions, and other factors from Game 4. Rask helped to push those discussions to the forefront – rather than talk about which team has the edge if they ended up tied – as he was sharp on Thursday. Rask stopped 31 out of 32 shots, factoring heavily in Boston building a 3-1 series lead against Toronto.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – After scoring two goals in Game 1, Kuznetsov had been held silent by the Bruins in Games 2 and 3. The Russian center made up for lost time in Game 4, scoring an empty-netter and two assists in that 4-1 win. Both of his assists were primary helpers, while he checked many other boxes by winning more than half of his draws (10 of 18), generating a +3 rating, and firing four shots on goal.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – Ovechkin fired a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky, which created a rebound opportunity for T.J. Oshie during a Washington power play, a goal that ended up being the game-winner. Ovechkin also scored from the right face-off circle for an important insurance goal. Ovechkin fired five SOG and was a +1 in Game 4.

Factoids

There’s plenty of focus on Bergeron being out and Marchand scoring/agitating, but don’t forget about David Pastrnak‘s brilliance.

Again, Alex Ovechkin is more clutch than people realize. By scoring the 49th playoff goal of his career, Ovechkin tied Henri Richard for 60th in NHL history. You may remember Henri as a) Maurice Richard’s brother and b) the guy who won the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Friday’s games

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins push Leafs to brink

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The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.