Should Capitals be worried after loss to Stars?

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Stars.jpg

The mighty aren’t invincible at home after all.

Marty Turco’s
career-high 49 saves propelled the Dallas Stars to an improbable 4-3
overtime victory against the Washington Capitals, at the place everyone
believed they were unstoppable. And yet it happened, against a team that
had their backs against the wall and were reeling after three straight
losses.

So is there reason to panic in the nation’s capitol?

Not
really, but this does show that they are beatable (all teams are, of
course) and it has exposed the weakness that all Caps fans should be
worried about headed into the playoffs: the team defense is great, the
defense scores a lot of points but the goaltending is not at the same
level as the rest of the team.

The Capitals score at a higher rate
than any other team and it’s not even close. In fact, the offensive
firepower this team has is beyond ridiculous and frankly it’s not fair.
How can one team have so many talented players on one roster? The
scoring has managed overcome the team’s weakness in net and there’s
nothing to say they won’t continue to do so but when the Capitals lose
it’s usually not because of a lack of offense.

Look at their three
losses just before the Olympic break. Scored 13 goals in three games,
yet lost all three while allowing 15.

NBCSports.com contributor Kevin Dupont notes that the Caps won’t be able to depend on either goaltender once the playoffs begin.

O.K., most nights those three goalies are competent. The playoffs,
though, aren’t most nights. Theodore and Varlamov are a combined 26-33
in postsesaon play. Neuvirth doesn’t have a postseason minute on his
resume. In all likelihood, it will be Theodore or Varlamov in the
postseason and coach Bruce Boudreau will spend the next two months
figuring out which of those two will carry the load. Why do I think a
coin flip will be his ultimate decision-maker?

Now there’s nothing that
can be done now, and there really wasn’t much to do at the trade
deadline either. The goaltending is far from bad, but there’s no doubt
it’s the weakness of the team. Can a team win a Stanley Cup with the
offense as carrying the team? Can you imagine a Stanley Cup finals
matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Capitals? My blood
pressure instantly ratchets up just thinking about it.

Other
thoughts on the game:

  • The Dallas Stars were lucky just to have a chance in this game,
    and that’s all thanks to Marty Turco. The last time I witnessed such a
    masterful performance by Turco in net was during the 2008 playoffs. His
    athleticism, competitiveness and concentration were on full display
    tonight, and he showed that he still has the ability to be dominant.
    That he struggles with consistency speaks more to his mental
    conditioning than his actual physical ability.
  • Well, Alex Ovechkin is back. What an absolutely incredible goal he
    had to tie the game late in the third period, as he turned Stephane
    Robidas around and whipped a shot over Turco’s shoulder all in one
    motion. I’m not one to get involved in the Crosby vs. Ovechkin debate,
    but I have to admit he has to be the most exciting player in the NHL to
    watch.
  • That this game was decided by a shootout is a travesty. It was
    back and forth action all game long, and the overtime period was even
    better. Then the ultimate anticlimactic ending: all play stops for the
    shootout. I understand it’s more exciting than a tie — I guess — but
    the fact that an important two points are gained by a skills competition
    is beyond me. Of course, at this point it’s cliche to even mention
    being fed up with the shootout so I’ll just… move on.

Panthers rally, top Golden Knights 3-2 in OT of Game 3 of Stanley Cup final

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Carter Verhaeghe scored 4:27 into overtime and the Florida Panthers pulled off some more postseason dramatics to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 3-2 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night.

Matthew Tkachuk tied it with 2:13 left in the third period for the Panthers, who got the franchise’s first title-series game win in seven tries. Florida had to fend off a power play to start overtime, and Verhaeghe got the winner from the slot to get the Panthers within 2-1 in the series.

Game 4 is Saturday night.

Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 25 shots for Florida. Adin Hill made 20 saves for Vegas, but got beat on the only shot that came his way in overtime.

Brandon Montour also scored for Florida, which pulled Bobrovsky down 2-1 late in the third for the extra attacker and Tkachuk — who left for parts of the first and second periods after taking a big hit — made that move pay off when he tied the game.

His goal breathed life into a very nervous building. But the Panthers were furious — and replays showed they had a case — when Gustav Forsling was sent to the box with 11.2 seconds remaining for tripping. Florida survived that scare, and a few minutes later, had life in the series again.

The odds are still long, but the Panthers at least have a bit more statistical hope now. Of the previous 55 teams to trail 2-1 at this point of the Stanley Cup Final, 11 have actually rallied to hoist the trophy.

It’s improbable, sure. So are the Panthers, who were the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, were down 3-1 to Boston in Round 1, were 133 seconds away from trailing this series 3-0 — and now have tons of reasons for optimism.

Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone each had power-play goals for Vegas.

Marchessault’s goal was his 13th in his last 13 playoff games, his fourth of this series and his third with the man advantage.

As if all that wasn’t enough, there was a little history in there as well. Vegas joined the 1980 New York Islanders as the only team with at least two power-play goals in three consecutive games in the Cup final. And Marchessault became the third player in the last 35 years to score in each of the first three games of a title series — joining Steve Yzerman in 1997 with Detroit and Jake Guentzel with Pittsburgh in 2017.

But it wasn’t enough to give Vegas a 3-0 lead in the series.

AROUND THE RINK

Before Thursday, Florida’s last home game in the title series was June 10, 1996, when Uwe Krupp scored in the third overtime for a 1-0 win as Colorado finished off a four-game sweep of the Panthers for the Cup. … Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was in the crowd, as was NBA great Charles Barkley, and former Dolphins star Dan Marino was the celebrity drummer to welcome the Panthers onto the ice.

Blackhawks, Athanasiou agree to 2-year, $8.5 million contract

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CHICAGO — The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks locked in one of their top scorers, agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

The 28-year-old Athanasiou tied for the team lead with 20 goals and ranked third with 40 points in his first season with Chicago. He matched career highs with four game-winning goals and three power-play goals.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Athanasiou has 125 goals and 111 assists in 459 games with the Detroit Red Wings (2015-20), Edmonton Oilers (2020), Los Angeles Kings (2020-22) and Blackhawks.

Chicago went 26-49-7 and finished last in the Central Division. The Blackhawks dealt Patrick Kane to the New York Rangers prior to the trade deadline and announced in April they would not re-sign Jonathan Toews, parting with two players who led them to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

Florida Panthers in familiar territory, backs to the wall once again down 0-2 in Stanley Cup Final

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Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sport
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SUNRISE, Fla. — The Panthers need a miracle. Again.

Such is the story of Florida’s season, and it makes all the sense in the world that the plot has reappeared in the Stanley Cup Final. The Panthers needed a furious late-season push just to get into the playoffs as the lowest seed, then needed to win three consecutive elimination games to oust a record-setting Boston team in Round 1.

And now, another huge challenge awaits. Down 2-0 in the title series to the Vegas Golden Knights, the Panthers return to home ice on Thursday night looking to spark one more epic turnaround and get right back in the hunt for hockey’s biggest prize.

“Desperation and winning a game,” Florida veteran Marc Staal said. “We’ve approached every game in the playoffs the same way. We just try to take it – like everyone says – one at a time. But our backs are against the wall, obviously. We’re down by two. But we’re coming home. Love our team, love our resiliency. We’re going to go out and give our best effort and play our best game tomorrow and go from there.”

To say the odds are stacked high against the Panthers is a bit of an understatement.

– They’ve beaten Vegas in four of 12 all-time meetings between the franchises. And now they’ve got to beat them in four of the next five games to win the Cup.

– They’ve been outscored 10-2 in the last four periods against Vegas.

Matthew Tkachuk has two more misconduct penalties (three) than he has points (one, a goal) in the series.

– Former Panthers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith have as many goals so far in the series (four) as all the current Panthers do in the series, combined.

– Vegas hasn’t dropped four out of five games since going 1-2-2 to start a six-game road swing that began in late January.

– Teams that start a Stanley Cup Final with two home wins have won the Cup 38 times in 41 past instances.

But by now, Florida’s penchant for pulling off the improbable is well-known. Almost expected, really.

“Of course, we’ve had three really tough series,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Boston is a good example. We were down, we found a way, we started playing a little better, we found a way to come back and get out of there. Same thing here – we’ve just got to work a little harder, work a little smarter and find a way to win games.”

They’ve done it before.

There was the 6-0-1 stretch late in the season to hold off Pittsburgh for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The winning three elimination games against a Boston team that had the best regular season in NHL history in Round 1; Game 5 there was on the road in overtime, Game 6 required a rally late in the third period to erase a 5-4 deficit and Game 7 was another road OT victory. There was a four-overtime win at Carolina in the East final, setting the table for a sweep where the Panthers got four one-goal wins and allowed only six goals.

They’ve given up 12 goals in two games against Vegas. And it’s not all on Sergei Bobrovsky, either. Panthers coach Paul Maurice found it funny that it was considered a surprise to some that Bobrovsky – who carried Florida to the final round – will remain the starter for Game 3.

“He was outstanding in Game 1,” Maurice said. “And he was as good as our team was in Game 2.”

The message was simple: Everyone has to be better. The Panthers have a history of rising to those moments.

“We never lose doubt in this room,” Florida forward Ryan Lomberg said. “Obviously, they’re a good team. They got here for a reason. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s kind of the theme of our whole year is we make it tough. Whether we wanted it this way or not, it’s this way, so we’ve got to play the hand we’re dealt now.”

NOTES: Maurice said he expects D Radko Gudas, who left Game 2 injured, to play in Game 3. Forward Eetu Luostarinen will remain out. Maurice declined to offer specifics on Luostarinen’s injury, but quipped “he’s a good human.” … Thursday will be Florida’s first Stanley Cup Final game on home ice in FLA Live Arena. The Panthers’ 1996 final appearance was at a long-demolished arena in Miami.

Flyers trade Pride-night boycott defenseman Provorov in 3-team deal

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PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Flyers have traded Ivan Provorov, sending away the defenseman who boycotted the team’s Pride night as part of a three-team trade that included the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings.

The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, the 26-year-old Provorov lands in Columbus and is set to enter the fifth season of a $40.5 million, six-year contract. He was the centerpiece Tuesday of the first major move under new Flyers’ leadership.

There were plenty of moving parts in the three-team deal.

— Philadelphia traded Provorov and forward Hayden Hodgson to Los Angeles in exchange for goalie Cal Petersen, defenseman Sean Walker, defenseman Helge Grans and the Kings’ 2024 second-round pick. The Kings lost in the first round of the playoffs.

— Columbus acquired defenseman Kevin Connauton from Philadelphia in exchange for a 2023 first-round pick (22nd overall) and a conditional second-round pick in either the 2024 or 2025 NHL Draft. Columbus acquired Provorov from Los Angeles in exchange for Connauton.

The Flyers already hold the No. 7 pick in this season’s draft and now also have the 23rd pick as they start accumulating key assets for long-range success in what is expected to be a deep draft.

Flyers general manager Danny Briere had said no player was untouchable after the Flyers missed the playoffs for the third straight season and went to work with the Stanley Cup Final still underway. The Flyers named broadcaster Keith Jones team president last month and he is still working the Final for TNT. But it’s clear the overdue rebuild is underway for a franchise that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 48 years.

“We felt that the picks and the direction that we wanted to go in, it was really enticing, very exciting,” Briere said. “We have a chance to really start building the team the way we wanted. The right way.”

Briere said the Flyers are “open for business” this summer and that included potentially listening to offers for No. 1 goalie Carter Hart. Coach John Tortorella, Briere and Jones have all tempered offseason expectations for any fan looking for a quick fix. The trio all insist the Flyers have a cohesive plan for the future.

Provorov had 65 goals and 217 points in 532 career games with the Flyers. The Russian was widely criticized in January when he cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in pregame warmups when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow Pride tape.

“I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said after the game. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”

Now, he’s traded during Pride month.

Briere said the backlash over Pride night had nothing to do with trading Provorov.

The Blue Jackets, who missed the playoffs this season, were ready to take a flier on a defenseman seemingly with many productive years ahead.

“Improving our blue line has been a priority for us and acquiring Ivan gives us an established left-shot defenseman who is still a young player with his best seasons in front of him,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He immediately improves our group on defense as he is durable, has great skill, skates well, is an excellent passer with an accurate shot and can effectively play at both ends of the ice.”

Provorov said at the end of the season he wasn’t necessarily happy the Flyers planned to rebuild but understood the decision. Briere declined to say if Provorov wanted out of Philadelphia.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the most positive news you can hear, but there’s a bright future here, and there’s a lot of great players that can keep growing,” Provorov said in April. “Obviously, it depends on how quick everybody gets better and how quickly the team game gets better. I think that’s what determines the length of the rebuild.”

Turns out, the potential success out of the haul the Flyers got for Provorov just may determine the length of the rebuild.