Jason Brough

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray (30) deflects a puck over the net during the first period of Game 3 against the Washington Capitals in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals in Pittsburgh, Monday, May 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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In case there was any doubt, Murray will start Game 6 for Penguins

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The answer is Matt Murray. That’s who’s going to start in goal tomorrow. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said so today.

Here are a couple of good reasons why:

1. Murray hasn’t exactly fallen apart. He only allowed three goals in Saturday’s loss. He was excellent in the three games before that, and he has a .937 save percentage in the playoffs.

2. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn’t played since March 31. Even if there was legitimate concern about Murray, it would be a heck of a risk to throw Fleury in there at this point.

Now, if Murray struggles in Game 6 and the Capitals force a Game 7, perhaps the argument for a change could be made. Though even then, the risk of playing Fleury would remain.

But that’s a decision for another day. So far, Murray has not deserved to lose the net. Without him, the Penguins could easily be behind in this series. Instead, they’re in the driver’s seat, with a chance to close out the Caps tomorrow at home.

Related: People are already calling for Fleury to replace Murray

With an aging core, the Wild could be Boudreau’s biggest challenge yet

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When the Minnesota Wild announced they’d agreed to terms with Bruce Boudreau, they made sure to note the great records he had in Washington (201-88-40) and Anaheim (208-104-40).

In the first paragraph of the press release, it mentioned how Boudreau became the fastest coach in NHL history to reach the 400-win mark and how he leads all active NHL coaches in winning percentage.

The Wild were not wrong to highlight all that. They’d just spent a lot of money on a new coach, and a 409-192-80 record is definitely something to be trumpeted.

That being said, what the press release didn’t mention is all the talent that Boudreau had been lucky enough to coach in his two previous NHL stops. When he took over in Washington, Alex Ovechkin was just entering his third season, and Nicklas Backstrom was only a rookie. When he got hired by Anaheim, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were still a few years away from 30.

In that sense, what’s he got now in Minnesota is different. The two core guys, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, are each 31 years old. The captain, Mikko Koivu, is 33. Those three can still play — they were the Wild’s top three scorers during the regular season — but hockey players don’t typically get better in their 30s.

It’s why questions like the following are being asked in the local newspaper:

In retrospect, would a coach like Boudreau have been a better fit four years ago — a year after Yeo was hired, when the Wild made a bold push forward by signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter — than he is now?

That is to say, do you have more confidence that the Wild’s window for winning a championship was wider in the past four years than it will be in the next four based on roster construction — including the fact that Parise and Suter will both be 32 by the middle of next season?

Fair questions, both of them. Unfortunately, time machines don’t exist, making them tough to answer.

But considering the aging core, perhaps Boudreau’s biggest challenge will be to take the young players on the roster — guys like Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, Jason Zucker, Nino Niederreiter, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba — and make them even better. Because for all the talk about making the Wild “accountable,” the real upside on most teams is found in their youth.

To illustrate, take a team like San Jose, where Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are each 36 years old. While those two can still play, a big reason for the Sharks’ success has been 27-year-old Logan Couture, their second-line center. Without him, where they would be? The answer is, probably not where they are right now.

So, can Coyle reach the level that Couture has reached? It’s a big ask, we realize that. But the Wild, as Thomas Vanek so helpfully pointed out in September, “don’t have maybe the strongest depth in the middle.”

Depth down the middle wasn’t the issue in Anaheim, where Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are the top two centers. 

Boudreau won’t have that luxury in Minnesota.

For that reason, and a few more, turning the Wild around might be his toughest task yet.

Related: In Minnesota, skepticism greets Fletcher’s optimism

Isles need ‘a short memory,’ can’t get hung up on Game 3 disappointment

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 03: Brian Boyle #11 of the Tampa Bay Lightning scores the game winning goal at 2:48 of the first overtime against Thomas Greiss #1 of the New York Islanders in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on May 03, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Lightning defeated the Islanders 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) – Despite a disappointing overtime loss in their last game, the New York Islanders were pleased with their improved play.

Now, after falling behind in their second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Islanders know they’ll have to keep it up to have a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

“It was our best game so far,” center Frans Nielsen said. “Just have to come out and try to be even better next game.”

After a bad loss in Game 2 in Tampa, the Islanders came out with the increased aggressive play coach Jack Capuano was looking for back in front of the raucous home crowd in Brooklyn. New York was 39 seconds from taking a 2-1 series lead, but the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov gave the seesaw game its fourth tie, and then Brian Boyle won it less than three minutes into the extra period.

That gave the Lightning the series lead with Game 4 on Friday night back at Barclays Center before shifting to Tampa for Game 5 on Sunday.

Capuano said the players need to forget the loss and just focus on the things they did well.

“It’s a short memory,” Capuano said. “It was probably one of the best games we played all year so there’s a lot of positives you can take. We finally got our D activating more than we want in the offense. … Hopefully, we can build on some of those things. That was Islander hockey, we played to our identity. And that’s the way that we’re going to have to play if we’re going to have success in this series.”

One of the things they did better was get more shots on goal, finishing with 39 in Game 3 after totaling 42 in the first two games.

The Islanders also were more physical with 44 hits, compared to 34 for the Lightning. Those included several punishing jolts, including the two that gained national attention. The first by New York’s Thomas Hickey on Jonathan Drouin, who was knocked out of the game in the second period before returning in the third and assisting on the tying score in the final minute of regulation.

The other was by Boyle on Hickey in the OT just before Boyle went down the ice and scored.

Capuano believed Boyle’s hit was too high and thought he could be suspended a game by the NHL. However, the defenseman was not sanctioned and the Lightning expect the physical play to continue. Tampa Bay, which reached the Stanley Cup Final last year, isn’t taking anything for granted.

“This series has so much more, so long to go,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Everybody that’s watching this series is looking forward to Game 4.”

Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman added: “We’re going to have to play at the same level the next game on Friday. It’s going to be a tough game again so we have to be ready.”

The Islanders are trailing in a series for the first time this postseason. They alternated wins with Florida in the first five games of the first round before closing it out in Game 6 at home for their first playoff series win in 23 years. Then, they won the opener against the Lightning, but have lost two straight since.

“We just got to keep pushing,” said forward Josh Bailey, who scored twice in Game 3. “I think we’ll tweak some things, refocus. … The next game is the most important now and our focus won’t change.”

New York needs a win to avoid going back to Tampa in a 3-1 hole.

“It’s for sure a must-win for us, it feels like now,” Nielsen said. “We just got to come out and play the way we did (Tuesday) and give ourselves a chance to win.”

One loss from elimination, the Caps say they’re ‘not afraid’

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After running away with the Presidents’ Trophy…

After going into the playoffs as the favorites to win it all…

After all the talk that this could finally be the year…

All of a sudden, the Washington Capitals must win three straight games to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive.

One more loss and it’s over until next year.

One more loss and it’s heartbreak, again, in D.C.

Well, well, well, it didn’t take long for the first column about Alex Ovechkin’s legacy to come out. Everyone knows the narrative: lose to Sidney Crosby‘s Pittsburgh Penguins and the Great 8 will suffer yet another painful, humiliating loss.

How much responsibility does Ovechkin bear? Why do his teams never win? Is it something about him?

You know those questions are coming. It doesn’t matter if they’re fair. Who says the questions have to be fair? One more loss and they’re coming. One more loss and the finger-pointing starts.

Because it was supposed to be different this time. Not only did the Caps have the world’s greatest goal-scorer, they had depth down the middle, depth on the back end, and a Vezina Trophy finalist in net. They could score. They could defend. They even brought in Mr. Game 7 himself.

On paper, they had it all.

And now?

Three straight wins to stave off elimination. That’s what they need now.

“This group is not afraid of where we’re at,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters Friday. “We know where we’re at. We’re realists. But at the same time, we know that we won a lot of games this year, and that didn’t happen by accident.”

Trotz is right, it didn’t happen by accident. The Caps are a very good team. They proved it during the regular season.

The problem is, so are the Penguins.

And the Penguins are proving it now.

Related: Game 5 will be ‘the most important game of our lives’

Frustrated by disallowed winner, Sharks coach calls goalie interference rule ‘clear as mud’

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The San Jose Sharks would’ve had a 3-1 series lead, if not for the referees’s decision to disallow Joe Pavelski‘s overtime goal last night in Nashville.

Instead, the Sharks are headed back to San Jose tied, 2-2, after Mike Fisher won Game 4 for the Predators in triple OT.

Not surprisingly, what happened last night didn’t sit too well with Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer, who offered a rather sardonic opinion of the referee’s decision — a decision that was upheld upon review — to disallow Pavelski’s goal due to “incidental contact” with Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne.

“I don’t understand. I guess incidental contact is you’re cross-checked from behind while you are in the air and you have the opportunity to stop. I guess that’s what it is,” DeBoer said, per Sportsnet.

“You know what? That rule has been clear as mud to every coach in the league all year, so why should it be different tonight?”

DeBoer is not wrong that there’s been confusion. What actually constitutes goalie interference has been a hot topic since the league allowed coaches to challenge it.

For the record, here’s what would’ve been reviewed last night:

b) Scoring Plays Involving Potential “Interference on the Goalkeeper”

(ii) A play that results in a “NO GOAL” call on the ice despite the puck having entered the net, where the on-ice Officials have determined that the attacking team was guilty of “Interference on the Goalkeeper” but where the attacking team asserts: (i) there was no actual contact of any kind initiated by an attacking Player with the goalkeeper; or (ii) the attacking Player was pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper; or (iii) the attacking Player’s positioning within the goal crease did not impair the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal and, in fact, had no discernible impact on the play.

So, based on that, it was decided that Pavelski was not “pushed” or “shoved” into Rinne by Nashville’s Paul Gaustad. Or, at the very least, it was decided that Pavelski, after he was pushed, failed to make a “reasonable effort” to avoid contact with the goalie.

Obviously, that’s not how DeBoer saw it. He didn’t think Pavelski had a chance to avoid crashing into Rinne.

Regardless, the Sharks will need to put last night behind them and get focused on Saturday’s Game 5. It’s a best-of-three to get to the Western Conference Final now, whether they like it or not.