Why it might not be safe to expect a significantly improved Rangers team

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People love to trot out the Albert Einstein quote that insanity involves “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yet in some ways, it’s almost as dangerous to assume the flip side of that: doing the same thing and expecting the same results.

Many New York Rangers fans probably had this thought at least a few times last year: “If only our team had more talent.” The 2010-11 squad seemed short on talent – and arguably their most gifted skater Marian Gaborik experienced one of the worst years of his career – but they hustled and scrapped their way to a playoff spot (along with a surprising +35 goal differential).

Those same fans must have been delighted when GM Glen Sather tried to answer that hypothetical question by hauling in the biggest fish of free agency: Brad Richards. Even weary Rangers fans likely rejoiced because unlike Chris Drury or Bobby Holik, Richards already showed that he could produce as a top-line forward.

It’s tempting to think that Brad Richards + 2010-11 Rangers = division title (or more), but there are a few crucial reasons why that’s a risky assumption. Let’s count them down, then.

Why Richards might struggle

Signing a 31-year-old playmaker to a nine-year deal is always risky, even if it’s a cap-circumventing contract. There are two other reasons that the Richards deal is even more worrisome, though:

  • Richards and Gaborik’s health: As you may remember, Richards dealt with concussion issues right as rumors heated up the most around last season’s trade deadline. One can only assume that he’s OK, but it’s not exactly the most promising sign – especially since his partner in crime is renowned for being wildly injury prone.
  • The inherent problems with free agents: Richards developed fantastic chemistry with Loui Eriksson during his time with the Dallas Stars. A passer like Richards should make most linemates better, but there’s no guarantee he’ll make the same great music with Gabby.

That being said, the Rangers should feel happy that they landed a player as talented as Richards. Most likely, he’ll be a difference-maker on most nights. He might be asked to do too much, though.

Breakout players already got paidsource: Getty Images

The Rangers saw a staggering array of important players hit free agency this summer. Mysteriously enough, they experienced career years just in time for their next contracts.

The most notable players who received fat raises were Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle. Most expected Staal to be in line for a huge bump entering the 10-11 campaign, but the other three – particularly Boyle – raised their profile considerably.

How sure can we be that they’ll be able to achieve at the same rate next season? Dubinsky and Callahan were particularly vital to the Rangers and certainly bring some great energy to the ice (especially Callahan), but it might be a little tougher for them to lay down in front of a slap shot now that their mortgages are settled. Then again, in Callahan’s case, that might be a good thing; he suffered two injuries after blocking shots last season.

Staal’s concussion issues

The Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t the only Atlantic Division team whose outlook is blurry because of a major player’s concussion problems. Staal might not be a marquee player like Sidney Crosby, but he’s extremely valuable to the Rangers. Their defense drops off substantially from their top guys to depth defenders, so his current prognosis is very troubling.

Henrik Lundqvist is used to bailing his over-matched teammates out, but with Staal sidelined for an unknown amount of time, the Swedish stopper will need to be even better than last season. (Unless Richards & Co. meet some lofty expectations on offense, that is.)

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This doesn’t mean that the Rangers are hopeless. Still, it might be wise to temper expectations about a team who overachieved last season, even if they added a hugely talented player.

Full Schedule: 2018 Stanley Cup Final

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The 2018 Stanley Cup Final matchup is set and it will be the Washington Capitals against the Vegas Golden Knights.

So many different storylines to consider. George McPhee vs. his old team. Alex Ovechkin going for his first ever Cup ring. Former Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury against the Capitals. And the obvious one with the Golden Knights and their inaugural season success. It should be a fun one.

Here’s the full schedule:

Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 5* Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
* = If necessary

MORE:
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Ovechkin, Capitals headed to Stanley Cup Final after Game 7 triumph

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Alex Ovechkin will get his chance.

The Great 8 will contest for the Stanley Cup after his Washington Capitals defeated their past demons and the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday.

Yes, the Capitals — a team that had to overcome a horrific playoff record against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and then had to deal the disappointment of beginning the Conference Final with wins in Games 1 and 2 only to drop three straight to trail 3-2.

They took care of business in Game 6, and that train kept chugging along into Game 7.

Ovi put his stamp on Game 7 just 62 seconds in as he wired a one-timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The first period was a wild affair, filled with scuffles, a fight and stolen jersey.

And then Andre Burakovsky arrived.

Burakovsky missed the first 12 games of the plays because of injury and then followed that up with seven games without a point.

He revealed earlier in the series that he lays a mental beating on himself too often. So Game 7 must have felt pretty good.

Burakovsky scored on two separate breakaways in the second period.

The first came off a brutal giveaway from Dan Girardi in his own zone. His second came after the Lightning got caught on a bad change.

Tampa looked like a shell of their former selves. They dusted themselves off after dropping the first two at home, but simply stopped scoring after the 33-second mark in the second period of Game 5.

[PHT’s Three Stars]

Braden Holtby showed up at precisely the right moment in the series, posting consecutive shutouts to close out the series.

Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, meanwhile, were far from brilliant. No one over the last seven periods and change was on the Lightning.

The Lightning went 159:33 without scoring. Ouch.

You can’t win games when you don’t score, something the Lightning will have all summer to ponder. They led the NHL with 296 goals this season, all of which means sweet nothing now.

And now the attention turns to one of the more intriguing Cup Finals in a long time.

One of the greatest players of all-time with a chance to win his first Cup silence his critics after years of disappointment against the best story in sports, period.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final begins Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

In the words of Bart Scott, “Can’t wait.”

MORE:
NHL Playoffs 2018: Stanley Cup Final TV Schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT’s Three Stars: Burakovsky’s goals push Capitals into Stanley Cup Final

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1st Star: Andre Burakovsky, Washington Capitals

After being benched earlier in the series, Burakovsky responded in a big way in Game 7 scoring twice as the Capitals moved on to the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

2nd Star: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Holtby finished the Eastern Conference Final in a strong way, posting a second straight shutout while making 29 saves. The Capitals netminder has not allowed a goal since 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5.

3rd Star: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

The captain only needed 62 seconds to open the scoring and quiet the AMALIE Arena crowd.

[Ovechkin, Capitals headed to Stanley Cup Final after Game 7 triumph]

Highlight of the Night:

A wild first period included a tilt between Tom Wilson and Braydon Coburn:

Factoid of the Night:

Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 5* Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
* = If necessary

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brooks Orpik leaves Game 7 after Paquette’s hit from behind

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While the Washington Capitals built up a lead in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday, they lost two players before the end of the second period.

First, Devante Smith-Pelly blocked a Ryan McDonagh shot with the back of his neck in the first period. After returning to the game, he would leave the Capitals’ bench late in the second period.

Joining him would be Orpik, who took a big hit from behind along the boards from Lightning forward Cedric Paquette. As Orpik was being tended to, the officials got together and determined that there would no penalty on the play, which is an odd decision.

As Orpik goes to get the puck in the corner, he does peek over his shoulder and sees Paquette a ways away, but he doesn’t change his body position as Paquette drills him. He’s probably not expecting to get hit even with the Lightning forward in the area. That would have easily been at least a major, maybe even a game misconduct (Remember Steve Bernier?).

The Capitals would respond to the hit two minutes later. On the scoreboard. Andre Burakovsky potted his second goal of the night to give Washington a commanding 3-0 lead heading into the third period.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.