Alex Ovechkin

Nash, St. Louis break out in a big way during Game 4

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After the Rangers’ 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, the question of if New York could keep this up was raised. To that point the Rangers had been averaging just two goals per game and while they had been getting results with that minimal offensive output, there hasn’t been a team dating back to 1998 that’s won the Stanley Cup with an offense that anemic.

The three contests that have followed have been wild and a complete deviation from the type of games that we saw in the Rangers’ first two rounds. The sheer number of offensive weapons at the Lightning’s disposal has made them hard for the Rangers to contain even after their strong showings against Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals. However, the Rangers were able to nearly match the Lightning blow-for-blow in Game 3 and then in Game 4 everything worked out for New York in a 5-1 victory.

The fact that the Rangers are scoring is big by itself, but it’s the players that stepped up that has to be particularly encouraging for them. Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis are star forwards, but they haven’t been major factors offensively in the playoffs. That changed in Game 4 when they combined for three goals and four points.

That has to be a relief for both of them.

“The games keep piling on, you get chances — of course you’re pressing,” said St. Louis, per the Tampa Bay Times. “The guys who tell you they don’t press, they’re lying.”

He also admitted that ended a goal drought gives him “a second wind,” per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.

The question now is if Nash and St. Louis can build off of Friday’s strong showing. If they can, then Tampa Bay will have a tough time winning this series. However, the Lightning remain a dangerous team and if two of the Rangers’ top forwards immediately go cold again, then that could be a serious problem for New York.

Coach Cooper explains why Stamkos is a winger now

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The best thing about playing the wing is that you don’t have the same defensive responsibilities that centers do.

That’s the lazy man’s take, at least. (And coming from a blogger, an appropriate one.)

But it’s also why Steven Stamkos has been shifted to the wing, according to Lightning coach Jon Cooper.

“The one thing I thought, he’s spending too much time in the [defensive] zone, and he’s spending way too much energy down there,” Cooper said this morning ahead of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final versus the Rangers.

“So to free him up a little bit, and let him get out of the zone a little faster and not have to play the whole 200 feet, I thought was something that was going to save his legs and give him a little more time.”

Lately, Stamkos has been centered by Valtteri Filppula, with Alex Killorn on the opposite wing.

“To have a player like Fil who can control the puck the way he does, ” said Cooper, “he sees the ice, he can get those pucks to Stammer. He’s somebody that transports the puck really well.”

Frankly, Stamkos has always struck me more as a winger than a center. The three forwards that had the most shots during the regular season (Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Max Pacioeretty) are all wingers. It’s a position that lends itself to players with good shots, and Stamkos certainly has one of those. He just needs more opportunities to use it.

Related: Stamkos doesn’t mind winging it

In case you haven’t noticed, the NHL is a young man’s game

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Just for the sake of the discussion — and since everyone’s talking about Tyler Johnson today — here are all the players who have scored at least five goals in these playoffs:

Johnson (11), Corey Perry (7), Patrick Kane (7), Nikita Kucherov (6), Chris Kreider (6), Vladimir Tarasenko (6), Alex Killorn (6), Derek Stepan (5), Alex Ovechkin (5), Derick Brassard (5), Evgeny Kuznetsov (5), Max Pacioretty (5), Matt Beleskey (5), and Colin Wilson (5).

That’s 14 players. Can you pick out the oldest?

The answer is Anaheim’s Perry, who turned 30 on Saturday. Only slightly younger than Perry, Ovechkin will turn 30 in September.

Otherwise, it’s all players who are comfortably in their 20s, their legs still full of burst, their bodies not yet worn down by the grind of taking hundreds of pucks hard to the net, and all the punishment that goes with scoring goals in today’s NHL.

This isn’t to say that once a goal-scorer turns 30 he should be put out to pasture, like the theory about running backs in the NFL. Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams, and Martin St. Louis all had productive postseasons last year. This year is perhaps an extreme case.

But it does show the importance of youth, and how quickly a player — especially a forward — can go from getting drafted to making a significant impact.

True, patience is required when developing prospects. You don’t want to rush them. There’s nothing wrong with learning the game in the AHL. But at the same time, there has to be a sense of urgency in getting prospects ready for the NHL so they can enjoy as many productive seasons as possible, before their peak years (at a relatively low cap hit) are over.

Hence, all the talk surrounding 20-year-old Jonathan Drouin. While it’s not like the Lightning should be hitting the panic button that he hasn’t yet gained the trust of his coach, it’s not unfair to wonder if he’s fallen a bit behind in his development.

In a related story, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan knows “the next three or four years is the window” in Washington. Because, where will Ovechkin’s game be after that? Where will Nicklas Backstrom’s? The Caps have an opportunity over the next few years to get production from both their veterans and their youth. That’s the sweet spot every GM aims for. And those sweet spots don’t last long.

Caps GM shares position that tops his UFA shopping list

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan already made some interesting comments about free agents who might leave town, but what about players who might join the fold?

The still-fairly-new-GM shared some interesting thoughts on the development of forwards such as Tom Wilson (he’s hoping to see the brutish winger become a top-six guy some day) and Andre Burakovsky, yet the position that tops his free-agent shopping list is awfully interesting. As he told the Washington Post’s Alex Prewitt, the Capitals are hoping to sign a first-line right wing.

Capitals fans are all-too-familiar with a revolving cast of linemates for the dynamic duo of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. It’s actually been a theme even before the Capitals changed their management combo.

Sometimes, the Capitals have rolled with a power forward-type such as Joel Ward or Wilson. Other times, a “finesse” player would compliment them, such as Burakovsky or Marcus Johansson. (These “With or Without You” stats show how erratic things got for Ovechkin + Backstrom.)

Naturally, there are plenty of questions that arise, including “are you sure there’s even a suitable right win out there?” As you can see from this list, the choices fall off fast after Justin Williams and Martin St. Louis, two players who could conceivably stick with their current teams.

Still, plenty of things can change, and you can’t blame MacLellan for pointing out an obvious hope.

Speaking of hoping, Japers’ Rink did an amusing job of cobbling together Prewitt’s findings into what would seem to be MacLellan’s ideal top-six scenario:

Oh man, Dude Not On Roster can play.

Russia to be punished for ‘completely out of order’ actions after Worlds final loss to Canada

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On Monday, IIHF president Rene Fasel had some choice — and ominous — remarks for Team Russia, which left the ice before Canada’s anthem was played following Sunday’s 6-1 loss in the World Hockey Championship final.

“The IIHF has its own protocol and some sort of punishment will be handed down,” Fasel told TASS, per Reuters. “When I saw what had happened, I was very upset. In the 29 world championships that I have had the honor of attending, this is the first time I have seen something like this.

“What the Russian team did was completely out of order.”

Watch full replay of championship final

Canada routed the Russians on the strength of four goals in 10 minutes spanning the first and second periods. The Canadians eventually pushed the lead to 6-0, before Evgeni Malkin scored a consolation marker for the Russians with under 10 minutes to play.

Following the game, the Russian team stayed out for the medal ceremony and individual award announcements, but left the surface prior to ‘O Canada’ being played.

According to various onlookers, former NHLer Ilya Kovalchuk reportedly waved his teammates off the ice (here’s a video from Russian sports writer Slava Malamud.) It’s worth noting that Washington captain Alex Ovechkin was trying to keep his Russian mates on:

Related: Canada creams Russia for WHC gold, Crosby joins ‘Triple Gold Club’