The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Enough with all the shootouts, imagining an all warm-market Stanley Cup Final, and more!

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Every Wednesday we publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We call it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so you know how they say it’s important to have a purpose in life? I’m excited to say that I think I found mine. Something that will get me out of bed every day. Something that will drive me every hour I’m awake. And that something is…KILLING THE SHOOTOUT. Or, at the very least, making sure it’s not deciding so many games. Because it really is getting ridiculous. Did you know that one of the teams we’ll see tonight on NBCSN, the Washington Capitals, has gone to the shootout 14 times this season? That’s almost a third of their games being decided by hockey’s version of the home-run derby, or basketball’s version of the 3-point contest, or golf’s version of the long-drive competition, or football’s version of…I dunno…what do they do at the Pro Bowl — surfing? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the actual act of the shootout, which can be quite entertaining. I just have a huge problem with so many valuable points being awarded to the winner of a competition that proves nothing about the quality of a hockey team.

Mike Halford: Not to be ageist, but that made you sound super old. Like, there’s a good chance you dictated that for your grandson to type out, then wrote him a $13 check for his birthday. I just don’t get what the big deal is. I’ve yet to hear a coach or player from a non-playoff team say, “Our downfall this year? Shootout, 100 percent.” And what’s the alternative? While I greatly respect the opinions of you and John Tortorella, saying you hate something without suggesting a viable alternative is a bit like complaining about the weather. What instead of the shootout — 4-on-4 followed by 3-on-3, then 2-on-2, then bubble hockey?

JB: Like I said, if shootouts can’t be eliminated outright, I would settle for fewer of them. Five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime, if it’s not settled 4-on-4, would accomplish that. Is 3-on-3 still gimmicky? Yeah, maybe a bit. But at least it involves all the elements of hockey, like skating, passing and defending. And while I’m at it, I’d also like to see a different points system, one that gives teams more of an incentive to win in regulation. Give them three points for getting the job done in 60 minutes. Just imagine how fun that would be down the stretch. Picture a team that needs to climb the standings going all out to get the full three points. Am I holding my breath waiting for that to happen? Nope, because that sort of system could lead to a wider gap in the standings between the haves and have-nots. The NHL’s worked so hard to achieve its parity; it probably doesn’t want to be like the English Premier League, where three points are awarded for a win and — let’s see here — after 21 games, first-place Arsenal has three times as many points as last-place Crystal Palace. As an English football announcer might say in his English-football-announcer way, all hope is surely lost now for Palace.

MH: There might be less parity in the NHL than you think, old boy. Anaheim is on 75 points, top of the league, while Buffalo sits bottom of the table with 31. Meanwhile, can Florida escape the relegation zone? One thinks they’ll have to be busy in the transfer window to make a push. (We should write more in English-football-announcer speak. You could call me Nigel if it helps.) Anyway, let’s steer this back towards hockey — well, sort of hockey. Have you seen what they’re putting in Dodger Stadium for the outdoor game between the Kings and Ducks? An ice rink, a street hockey rink, a beach volleyball court, two music stages and a bunch of palm trees. Here’s a rendering:

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The NHL also booked KISS as the headline act. KISS! That’s pretty indicative of how much the league is thriving now compared to a few years ago when, y’know, it had Chaka Khan doing the awards show.

JB: I absolutely love the planned set-up at Dodger Stadium. It’s basically a huge middle finger to everyone back east struggling through awful weather. They should have a tanning area too. And girls walking around in bikinis. Everyone always rips the warm-weather markets for not being true hockey markets anyway. Might as well embrace it. Get a load of the forecast for Jan. 25, the day of the game:

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Sunny with a high of 73 and a low of 54. Just a nice comfortable day. Aaaaaaaand cue all the terrible jokes about the ice melting. The game isn’t until the evening, so I’m pretty sure it’ll be fine. And if the ice does melt, oh well, everyone can just hang out and drink some margaritas.

MH: Now take it a step further and imagine an all warm-market Stanley Cup Final. Because if there’s a year for it to happen, this might be it. The California contingent is obviously in the mix — all three are in the NHL’s top seven — and Tampa Bay has played really well since the Stamkos injury (16-10-4). I think we should be talking much, much more about the Lightning. This is a team that’s played nine rookies and remains neck-and-neck with Boston for second place in the conference. It’s not by fluke, either. According to those fancy nerd stats you’re always droning on about, the Bolts rank pretty high.

JB: Oh man, Canada would lose its collective mind if there was an all warm-market final. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the last time a Canadian team won the Cup was 1993, when Montreal beat Gretzky and the Kings — since then, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Anaheim, and L.A. have each celebrated championships, and a team from Canada has lost in the final five times. I agree with you about Tampa Bay, by the way. The Lightning might be the most underrated team in the NHL. If I had to vote for a coach of the year right now, it would be Jon Cooper. And if I had to vote for the Vezina, it would be Ben Bishop. I was also pretty surprised Sweden left Victor Hedman off its Olympic roster. True, Pittsburgh and Boston probably have a better shot of coming out of the East than T-Bay, but does any Canadian squad have a better chance of making the final out of either conference? You could argue Montreal or even Ottawa in the East, but I don’t think so. Tom Sestito’s Vancouver Canucks are still probably the best Canadian team out of all seven, but their chances in the West look awfully grim.

MH: Even with Tom Sestito?

JB: Even with Tom Sestito.

Braden Holtby dominated when the Capitals needed him most

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WASHINGTON — The Washington Capitals weren’t ready for their season to come to an end.

By playing what might have been their most complete game of the playoffs, they were able to force a Game 7 (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in the Eastern Conference final with a 3-0 win in Washington on Monday night, picking up their first home win of the series in what was a total team effort.

While the Capitals were playing a relentlessly physical game and getting big performances from T.J. Oshie (two goals) and Devante Smith-Pelly, it was starting goalie Braden Holtby playing what might have been his best and biggest game of the season to help drive it the win and extend their season to a winner-take-all game in Tampa on Wednesday.

After the game Capitals coach Barry Trotz called Holtby “the backbone” of their team, and there were times on Monday night where they needed him to be exactly that.

[Related: PHT Three Stars]

While he didn’t have to face a ton of shots (Tampa Bay managed just 24 shots on goal for the game) he was still tested by a powerful Lightning attack and needed to be called upon to make some massive saves to record his first shutout of the season, a rather stunning stat considering he led the league in shutouts a year ago with nine.

“The only reason is it is good is you know you won,” said Holtby when asked about not recording a shutout this season until Monday. “Aside from that it’s just another statistic for you guys to write about. For us it is just that ‘W’ that matters.”

Well, they got that W in large part because of Holtby’s play. Even though they ended up with a three-goal edge on the scoreboard at the end of the night, it could have easily shifted in another direction numerous times.

With the game still scoreless in the second period, for example, he made a huge pad save on Anthony Cirelli when he broke in all alone on an odd-man rush.

In the third period he helped preserve what was at the time a one-goal lead when he made an incredible glove save on a wide open Nikita Kucherov as he flew down the middle of the ice after coming off the bench on a perfectly timed line change.

Holtby downplayed that save after the game.

“I think that save probably looks better than it actually is,” Holtby said.” There are some that are more difficult than that. I think it was just the positioning and where the puck was. I was just trying to stay in the moment, focus on the puck, and make the save.”

It turned out to be a massive save because just a few minutes later Smith-Pelly delivered what was probably the knockout punch for the game the when he scored his fourth goal of the playoffs to give the Capitals a two-goal lead.

Until that second goal was scored the Capitals had spent most of the period leaning on Holtby to stand tall and he was more than up to the task.

Overall this has been a bizarre season for Holtby.

In terms of his overall statistics it was probably his worst one since he became the Capitals’ starting goalie. After a so-so start he struggling mightily over the last two months and then ended up starting the playoffs on the bench in Games 1 and 2 of the first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in place of Philipp Grubauer.

But after Grubauer struggled and the Capitals were facing a two-game deficit, Holtby reclaimed his starting spot and has done what he has done throughout his career in the playoffs — give his team a chance just about every single night.

Given how well Holtby has played in his career in the postseason it is downright staggering that his team hasn’t had more success in the playoffs. His career save percentage in the playoffs is the second best all-time and he’s rarely, if ever, had a poor showing over an entire series. It has just always come down to there at times being a goalie at the other end of the ice that has been just a little bit better.

Goaltending has been the big story of this series and even if it’s oversimplifying things to say, the team with the best goalie has won every game.

After dropping three games in a row and sending their season to the brink of what could have been another soul-crushing end the Capitals needed their goalie to be the better one on Monday night.

He was.

Now they need him to do it one more time on Wednesday.

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

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals force Game 7 vs. Lightning with all-around effort

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The Washington Capitals needed the best version of themselves to force a deciding game in the Eastern Conference Final, and that’s exactly what they got at home on Monday.

Hockey fans will be treated to a Game 7 (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to determine who will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final, which will begin Monday, May 28.

And if that game is half as good as Game 6 was, a treat is exactly what fans will get.

Yes, Game 6 between the Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning might have been the most exciting game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far — not bad for a 3-0 final score.

The scoreline was far from indicative of what happened on the ice. Washington was desperate, but not reckless. Calm and composed, they controlled much of the game and were finally rewarded in the second period via T.J. Oshie‘s power-play marker from the slot — Oshie’s first of two in the game as he added an empty-netter to seal the win late in the third.

The Capitals probably should have won by more, but Andrei Vasilevskiy was in the zone for most of the night.

Down 3-2 coming into Monday, and losers of three straight after taking a 2-0 series lead, the Capitals needed a hero to avoid another humiliating exit from the playoffs.

[PHT’s Three Stars: Holtby, Smith-Pelly help Capitals force Game 7]

Oshie stepped up, for sure.

Braden Holtby looked determined, evidenced by his 24-save shutout with the stakes never higher.

And while Alex Ovechkin looked like a man-possessed in early on — finishing with five shots on goal, one of three Capitals players to do so — it was Devante Smith-Pelly who really shined.

Smith-Pelly put on a physical masterclass early — finishing the game with five hits, including the massacre above.

Then, Smith-Pelly helped the Caps out on the scoresheet.

Chandler Stephenson won a race to beat out the icing call. The puck made its way around the back of Tampa’s net, and Jay Beagle pushed it back to Stephenson, whose backhand pass from behind Vasilevskiy found a streaking Smith-Pelly for a 2-0 lead.

And man, did that goal mean something to DSP. Watch the celly:

It was a heroic effort from Smith-Pelly, Oshie and Holtby, and they’ll need one more before they can truly say they’ve exorcised their playoff demons.

They’ll have 48 hours from now to figure out their course of attack for Game 7, and Tampa will have the same amount of time to pick themselves back up again after the beating they took in the game.

Bring on Game 7, we’re all ready.

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

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: Holtby, Smith-Pelly help Capitals force Game 7

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1st Star: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

The Capitals netminder played outstanding Monday night as they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 to force a Game 7. Holtby made 24 saves for his first shutout of the season and fifth career in the postseason.

2nd Star: Devante Smith-Pelly, Washington Capitals

Smith-Pelly had himself a game. First, he took out two players, including Jay Beagle, in a big hit behind the Tampa net. Later, he scored the Capitals’ second goal after Chandler Stephenson negated an icing and sent a sweet pass to the front of the net to find a charging DSP.

3rd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning

In keeping the game close, the Lightning netminder did all he could as his offense tried to find a way to beat Holtby. Vasilevskiy stopped 31 shots in a losing effort.

[Capitals force Game 7 vs. Lightning with all-around effort]

Highlight of the Night: Like we said, Vasilevskiy did what he could:

Factoid of the Night: The 2018 Stanley Cup Final will begin Monday, May 28 in either Las Vegas or Tampa Bay. Here’s the full schedule as we await the matchup:

Game 1 Monday, May 28
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30
Game 3 Saturday, June 2
Game 4 Monday, June 4
Game 5* Thursday, June 7
Game 6* Sunday, June 10
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13
* = If necessary

Wednesday’s schedule: Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 3-3)

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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.

Andrei Vasilevskiy robs Evgeny Kuznetsov (Video)

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Surely, the Washington Capitals should be leading Game 6.

They came out on fire, led by Alex Ovechkin, and stayed that way throughout the first period.

Their only problem? Andrei Vasilevskiy and the wall he put up.

Vasilevskiy needed to be solid to stop on the Capitals’ onslaught and he was, write down to the final moments of the period and his best save, a sprawling glove-hand effort to stop Evgeny Kuznetsov in his tracks on the doorstep to keep the game tied 1-1.

Fatigued? Vasilevskiy wasn’t showing any of that in the first period.

After two sub .850 outings in Games 1 and 2, Vasilevskiy has stormed back to spark the Lightning to three straight wins behind his strong play.

• Stream here
Series preview
Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team

Capitals have to conquer postseason demons one more time
Lightning ready for a ‘desperate’ Capitals team in Game 6
Vasilevskiy turns East final around for Lightning

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


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