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Stanley Cup pressure on Ovechkin? ‘I’m sure he’s feeling it a little bit,’ says Kadri

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Barry Trotz is wondering aloud if Washington Capitals have been the victim of some bad bounces against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“They’ve got some strange goals, and that sometimes can play in your mind a little bit and we fought through that,” Trotz said Thursday. “We’re getting really mentally tough in this series because we’re working, and you create your own luck.”

With the series tied 2-2 going into Game 5 in Washington on Friday, the Capitals are facing a bigger test than anyone ever imagined. Morgan Rielly said the Maple Leafs have earned the right to feel confident, and players don’t believe they’re all even in this series because of luck.

Quite the opposite. Echoing their coach, who noted they weren’t at their best and still were within a goal in the Game 4 loss , defenseman Connor Carrick called Game 4 an “opportunity missed.”

“We didn’t play anywhere close to what we’re capable of,” goaltender Frederik Andersen said.

Had the Maple Leafs erased a 4-1 deficit to take command of the series, the pressure would have been squarely on the Presidents’ Trophy winners with the checkered playoff past.

Read more: Capitals flex muscles, tie series with Leafs, despite some Game 4 drama

Already the Capitals were looking tight and the expectation is still on them to win and advance.

“I think we got our heads on straight right now on how we want to play, and unfortunately it’s taken us a couple games to get there,” right winger T.J. Oshie said after the game. “So we want to improve on (Game 4) and get even better, but I think (Wednesday night) was a right step breathing-wise.

Breathing is essential for a team that hasn’t made it past the second round in the past decade with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, and is facing major roster changes this summer no matter the result. This is Ovechkin’s best chance at the Stanley Cup, and everyone knows it.

“Yeah, I’m sure for him it’s hard not to think about that type of thing,” Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said. “But I think he’s not the only desperate one that’s going to be out there. I think we’re going to be a desperate team fighting to bring the series back to Toronto up a game. It’s desperate for both groups, but yeah, I’m sure he’s feeling it a little bit.”

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs are at the start of their contending window. They’re playing with house money and sound like the more confident bunch.

“We’re capable of winning this series,” winger Matt Martin said. “We just have to stay the course.”

Washington defenseman Karl Alzner‘s status is unclear after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury. He skated with a handful of other players Thursday, and Trotz termed him “day to day.”

Braden Holtby, who has allowed 14 goals in four games and has a .902 save percentage, also skated. Trotz called it “a pinball machine out there” and said he wasn’t worried about Holtby but didn’t exactly give his reigning Vezina Trophy winning goaltender’s play in this series a ringing endorsement.

“It’s hard to gauge it because they’ve had a lot of strange stuff,” Trotz said, praising Holtby for being hard-nosed to handle bad bounces. “During the year, goalies, they do everything on predictability and there are a lot of things that aren’t very predictable right now and that’s what at times makes Braden look like he’s not there.”

Who’s actually not there are winger Brett Connolly, who played 4:26 in Game 4, and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who saw 12:18 of ice time with just one power-play shift. Depth was considered one of the Capitals’ advantages, but Trotz shortening his bench bears watching.

Grade the Hurricanes’ new road uniform

Carolina Hurricanes
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On Tuesday morning Carolina Hurricanes unveiled a new road uniform for the 2019-20 NHL season, ditching their primary storm logo on the front for some diagonal lettering that spells out “Canes.”

It is a rather simplistic design, but it is clean and pretty sharp.

Along with the wording across the front, they also brought back the warning flags along the waistline of the jersey.

Have a look.

Other features as part of the new uniform: The new secondary logo (the hockey stick with the warning flags attached to it) appears on both shoulders, while the helmet will feature a raised 3-D sticker of the primary logo which you can see here.

You can check out all of the features at the Hurricanes’ website.

What do you think, hockey fans?

Is it a good look? Does the diagonal lettering work for a team that is not the New York Rangers? What is your grade for the Hurricanes’ new road uniform?

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Panarin changes everything for Rangers

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

The last time a New York Rangers player cracked the 80-point mark in the NHL was a decade ago.

Then, Marian Gaborik was a much younger version of his self and putting up impressive seasons as a marquee player.

Since then, the Rangers haven’t really had that sort of offensive pizazz. That hasn’t always stopped them from having success, of course. But adding a guy who has the potential to hit the 100-point plateau at just 27 years of age could figure in moving that success to the next level.

Being the team playing in an attractive destination and with mountains of cash on July 1 presents a wealth of opportunities in the free-agent market and for the Rangers, it was their lucky year.

Signing Artemi Panarin long-term as he just enters the prime of his career, is the single biggest get of the summer. For any team.

Panarin brings elite scoring to a club that needs it amidst their (now accelerated) rebuild. But Panarin is so much more than just premium point producer.

His possession numbers are off-the-charts good. He’s a responsible player at both ends of the ice, creates more goals than allowed when he’s on in five-on-five situations and creates more high-danger chances than are seen against him. Furthermore, in terms of goals above replacement, Panarin was 10th in NHL this past season.

And this season, Panarin doesn’t bring a bad full of distraction with him.

Last year, questions swirled all year about his future. There will be none of those this time around.

Instead, he’s likely to be paired with Mika Zibanejad and perhaps even Kaapo Kakko in what could be something of a mega line in terms of scoring and shutting down the opposition.

Panarin is that x-factor. He brings so much to a team and he’s now in a position to lead a much younger Rangers team into what appears to be a bright future.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC 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

It’s New York Rangers Day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.

2018-19
32-36-8, 78 points (7th in the Metropolitan Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Artemi Panarin
Jacob Trouba
Kaapo Kakko
Adam Fox
Greg McKegg

OUT: 
Neal Pionk
Kevin Hayes
Mats Zuccarello
Jimmy Vesey
Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan Spooner
Fredrik Claesson
Connor Brickley

RE-SIGNED:
Pavel Buchnevich

2018-19 Summary

It was understood going into this past season in the Big Apple that by the end of it, the New York Rangers would be on the outside looking in.

A sell-off during the end of the 2017-18 season pointed to a re-build that would likely take a couple of seasons to fully mature.

And thus, the on-ice product for the Rangers was much less about winning games as it was about putting some of their young guns in positions to grow.

Alexandar Georgiev, for instance, was given 30 starts between the pipes as the Rangers let Henrik Lundqvist‘s heir-apparent get well-acquainted with the No. 1 spot he will one day own.

He showed well on a poor team, with the 23-year-old posting a respectable .914 save percentage.

Others, too, were given a chance to develop. The likes of Pavel Buchnevich, 24, Tony DeAngelo, 23, Filip Chytil, 19, and Lias Andersson, 20, saw significant action.

Everything was following the simple stream that is a slow rebuilding process. Well, at least until June.

In June, the Rangers found out they’d be picking second overall in the 2019 NHL Draft after moving up four spots from the six-best odds at the draft lottery. Welcome, Kaapo Kakko.

They’d acquire the rights to Jacob Trouba (and eventually sign the blue line stalwart to a seven-year deal.)

And then July 1 came and Artemi Panarin was handed $81 million over the next seven years.

The rebuild that was rolling along at a typical methodical pace suddenly slammed into sixth gear. The Rangers now added a bona fide superstar forward, a potential superstar forward and a top-pairing defenseman to the mix.

General manager Jeff Gorton wasn’t messing around, announcing his intentions to the rest of the league with his wallet open wide.

So now, the Rangers have smashed the fast-forward button. There’s no talk anymore about another growing season. Instead, the narrative has shifted to a team that could compete for a playoff spot at minimum, especially if Lundqvist can bounce back and retain his crown as ‘King’ in one final hurrah in his storied career.

The Rangers have kept pace with the New Jersey Devils and their own aggressive summer. The Metro is quite the division — perhaps the best in hockey — and the Rangers should be right back in the mix in 2019-20.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC 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 Morning Skate: Aho reveals offer-sheet decision; Ristolainen to Red Wings?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Sebastian Aho reveals why he signed an offer sheet from the Canadiens. (Sportsnet)

• NHL farm system rankings: Best, worst prospect pipelines for 2019-20, from 1 to 31. (The Sporting News)

• Should the Red Wings trade for Rasmus Ristolainen? (The Hockey Writers)

Matthew Tkachuk‘s agent says they gave the Flames a fair offer back in June. (Sportsnet)

• Overlooked teams in fantasy for 2019-20. (NHL.com)

• The All-Decade Team for all 31 NHL teams. (ESPN)

• Breaking down the format for a potential 2021 World Cup of Hockey. (Sportsnet)

T.J. Oshie is healthy and ready to take another run at the Stanley Cup. (NHL.com)

• When adding staffers, NHL Seattle must navigate complex minefield with those currently under contract elsewhere. (Seattle Times)

• Once healthy, Shea Weber’s value to the Canadiens remained high. (Eyes on the Prize)

• Who are the biggest Penguin killers in the NHL today? (Pensburgh)

• NHL “nowhere near a resolution” on allowing players to compete at 2022 Winter Olympics. (Inside the Games)

• NHL teams as dog breeds: The complete list of hockey dogs. (FanSided)

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC 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