Capitals bits: Tomas Vokoun talks about taking less money, Jason Chimera asks for patience

In an age of parity, it’s often difficult for sports fans to be patient. Winning a lot of regular season games might be fun at the time, but there are situations where that only feeds the hunger for postseason success, which people often equate with matters of “resolve” or “heart” rather than less heroic elements such as luck and randomness.

So when a team like the Washington Capitals or San Jose Sharks wins division titles and a Presidents Trophy or two but cannot win the Stanley Cup, pundits occasionally rush to judgment about “clutchness” and sometimes demand dramatic changes. Sweeping alterations might sound appealing to jilted fans, but knee-jerk reactions aren’t wise when you’re dealing with players who are still in the prime of their careers, which is the case with the excessively criticized Capitals.

Yes, it must be disappointing to see such a dominant team get swept (as they did in the second round of the 2011 playoffs against Tampa Bay) or cough up solid series leads (which happened when they were up 3-1 against Montreal in 2010 and 2-0 against Pittsburgh in 2009), but Washington should still be considered a genuine contender in the NHL. Thankfully, the Capitals aren’t making radical renovations just to appease those who want change for change’s sake; sports fans only need to look at the Dallas Mavericks’ NBA title run to see why teams are wise to hold onto special players and hope that the bounces go their way.

Jason Chimera hopes that people can learn to be a little more patient with Alex Ovechkin & Co.

“Lots of people are pushing panic buttons over the Capitals, but you don’t win overnight,” said Chimera, 32. “There are learning curves with our kids, but these guys are getting older with more experience. We probably have the most skill of any team I’ve been on, but guys know now that skill doesn’t always win you games in the playoffs.”

Then again, one thing that could cover up that learning curve would be stellar goaltending. While the Capitals have enjoyed occasionally strong play from starting goalies such as Michal Neuvirth and departed netminder Semyon Varlamov, they’ve run into some brick walls with goalie pads before. Jaroslav Halak and Dwayne Roloson found ways to short circuit the Capitals’ attack in the last two seasons while their respective teams counter-punched Washington to submission.

There’s no guarantee that Tomas Vokoun will be that knight in shining armor, but his numbers often stack up with the league’s finest goalies. Any remaining doubt about their decision to sign him should have been removed by his ludicrously small price tag (relatively speaking) of $1.5 million.

Katie Carrera transcribed some of the most interesting bits from Vokoun’s interview with George Richards.

“I’m in the stage of my career [where] I don’t have to worry about my finances, my livelihood, my family, and I can just go out and enjoy hockey and play with great players,” Vokoun told the Miami Herald’s George Richards after a workout in Coral Springs.

(snip)

“It was something I was looking at as, you know, I want to enjoy hockey. I want to play in playoffs,” Vokoun said Monday. “It’s been really tough for me. I lost four years. I’ve been sitting every summer here in South Florida, which I love, in the afternoons swimming in the pool, and by 7:30 at night I put on the TV and watch playoff hockey every single year. If you care and love playing hockey, it’s not an easy thing to do.”

Vokoun is saying all the right things about the competitive advantages of the move, but as Carrera notes, the Czech-born goalie did switch agents this off-season. That being said, he’s not totally wrong about the benefits of playing on a great team since a strong season could help him earn a much bigger deal next summer.

Chimera might ask for patience, but it’s all about next season for many people in the Capitals organization and Vokoun is high on that list.

US tops Canada 4-1 to claim bronze at hockey worlds

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The United States topped Canada 4-1 to claim the bronze medal at the world ice hockey championship on Sunday.

Chris Kreider led the U.S. with two goals.

Forward Nick Bonino scored the winner on a rebound during a power play in the final period. Anders Lee and Kreider added empty-net insurance goals to give the U.S. its third bronze in six years.

”It’s important for the team but it’s also important for USA Hockey,” U.S. captain Patrick Kane said. ”Now, we can build up off this level and try to keep being better and better.”

Kane had an assist in the game to finish the tournament with 20 points for eight goals and 12 assists, the first player to do so since 2008.

”Obviously I’m here to produce and try to create offense and make plays out there,” Kane said. ”Overall, I’m happy … it was a fun tournament and a great experience for me and I hope it will help me with my career going forward too.”

Canada had to settle for a disappointing fourth-place finish.

”We wanted to win gold,” Canada forward Bo Horvat said. ”We wanted to be in the final. It’s not a result we wanted. But we have to take the positives from this experience and bring it to next year.”

Kreider scored the go-ahead goal for the U.S. in the second period, capitalizing on a mistake by Canada captain Connor McDavid.

Canada answered with a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot that went in between the pads of goaltender Keith Kinkaid.

Sweden plays Switzerland for gold later Sunday.

Captained by McDavid, the NHL scoring leader, Canada was considered a contender for gold.

Chasing its third title in four years, Canada suffered losses in the preliminary round to the U.S. and Finland and was stunned by Switzerland 3-2 in the semifinals.

The U.S. had a great start to the tournament with six straight wins. It knocked out the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals but was trashed 6-0 by Sweden in the semis.

Jets tweak defense for Game 5 vs. Vegas

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As “stay the course” as Paul Maurice’s message seemed with the Winnipeg Jets facing elimination in Game 5, he’s making quite a few lineup changes against the Vegas Golden Knights.

In particular, their defense will look quite different. Ben Chiarot and Toby Enstrom are being replaced by Joe Morrow and Dmitry Kulikov (pictured). On the offensive side, Joel Armia is returning to the lineup in place of Andrew Copp.

While this might feel like swapping lower-end parts (especially in Armia taking Copp’s spot), it’s worth noting that Morrow is likely to pair with Dustin Byfuglien on what is technically Winnipeg’s first duo, so these changes could make a difference. They also shine a spotlight on the gulf in talent between Winnipeg’s left and right sides on defense.

Winnipeg will ask the two returning defensemen to shake off some significant rust. Morrow, 25, hasn’t played since April 20 during the Minnesota Wild series. Kulikov, 27, has been sidelined and/or scratched since March 8.

No pressure.

At least Morrow’s already contributed a big goal during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Game 5 is about to air on NBC (at 3 p.m. ET). You can also stream the action live here.

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

WATCH LIVE: Vegas eyes Stanley Cup Final berth with Game 5 win

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Game 5: Vegas Golden Knights at Winnipeg Jets, 3 p.m. ET (Golden Knights lead series 3-1)
NBC
Call: Kenny Albert, Joe Micheletti, Brian Boucher
• Stream here
Series preview

• Fleury, secondary scoring biggest issues facing Jets
Nate Schmidt is underrated star of Golden Knights
These playoffs belong to Marc-Andre Fleury
Jonathan Marchessault, Golden Knights enjoying lucky Lamborghini

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Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Vegas looks to continue fairy tale with conference title

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Just saying the Vegas Golden Knights are one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final has a magical ring to it.

But what’s even more mystical is thinking the Knights are a mere five wins from hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup in its inaugural season.

Five more wins, over a potential 10 games.

And while this might be a first-year team writing a fantastical Hollywood screenplay nobody could’ve scripted last summer when the roster was constructed, the NHL playoffs are nothing new to a core of characters in this cast.

Everybody knows about three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury, a key figure during Pittsburgh’s reign the last two years, and 10-year veteran James Neal, who was with Nashville for last year’s run to the final against the Penguins.

But between guys such as David Perron, Luca Sbisa, Deryk Engelland, Ryan Reaves, Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin and Tomas Tatar, the Golden Knights aren’t as new to the playoffs as people may believe.

The players’ individual postseason pedigree could be part of the reason the team is one game from clinching the Western Conference. Another reason is the eagerness of Fleury and Neal’s co-stars in this feel-good story.

”We don’t see ourselves as an expansion team for a long time now,” said Perron, a 13-year veteran who is playing in his seventh postseason. ”But at the same time, it’s always nice to keep proving people wrong and we know that even at this point, I don’t feel like people believe we’ll close it out. So, we’ve got to find a way.”

Coach Gerard Gallant has shown he has confidence in all his players, as they’ve all experienced pressure situations and performed well in all three round of the playoffs, including seven one-goal games. Not including Fleury’s 129 career playoff games, or Neal’s 94, the players who skated in Friday night’s 3-2 Game 4 victory now have a combined 489 games of postseason experience to their credit.

”It’s not new for those guys, I don’t think you get here if you don’t use your hockey players,” Gallant said. ”We’ve done it from Day One and there’s no reason not to use them because everybody competes, everybody battles and everybody’s a part of our team. That’s what we do. Guys work hard and compete hard and do your job and you’ll play. I feel comfortable putting most of our guys on the ice. There’s no issues there.”

And that’s because the Golden Knights have always done a good job of living in the moment, and not looking past each game.

Erik Haula spent his first four seasons in Minnesota and went to the playoffs every year, but it didn’t take long for him to realize he was with a special group of players.

”We got off to a great start, won two on the road (to open the season),” said Haula, who has three goals and four assists in the postseason. ”Right after that first home game, that was special. It was a special night for the whole community. Right there, I think we came together as a community, as a team. We never looked back. We just kept going.

”We just have a close group. We respect every single person in here. We need every single person in here.”

Luca Sbisa has been in the league nine years and been to the postseason five times. His presence on defense has bolstered the crew on the blueline, helping to neutralize Winnipeg’s depth on offense.

”Coming in I just wanted to help this team and do what I could, especially on the ice,” said Sbisa, who went to the playoffs in four of the five seasons he was with Anaheim. ”I wanted to give our team a chance to win every night and here we are. We can’t look too far ahead, you gotta take it one game at a time. If you think about the next game you’re probably going to shoot yourself in the foot. We just have to find the balance of being aggressive and being smart. It’s been a long and fun ride so far.”

The fun continues Sunday, when the Jets host Game 5 and will look to stay alive against the fairy tale Knights from Vegas.

”I would say that winning and having fun go hand-in-hand,” said Eakin, now in his seventh year and playing in his third postseason. ”I’ve been on a few teams that have been pretty good, won a few times. We know we got to play our best hockey. Especially this time of year, there’s not a team that is going to roll over and die.”