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PHT Morning Skate: Should the Stars be concerned about Spezza’s slow start?

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Andreas Athanasiou‘s holdout probably cost him a few dollars. The Wings forward admits that he learned a lot about the business side of the sport over the last few months. (Detroit Free Press)

Bobby Ryan has now suffered broken fingers in back-to-back seasons and it has him pretty frustrated. “It’s deflating,” said Ryan. “I felt like we were off to a good start as a line, the team was going a little bit and then this happens. You work all summer and you want to have a good start and (eight) games into it, this happens.” (Ottawa Citizen)

–If you’ve been searching for an in-depth analysis of Jaromir Jagr‘s haircuts over the years, you’ve come to the right place. Nothing beats the mullet. Nothing! (jagrihardlyknowher.com)

–Blackhawks forward Ryan Hartman was fined $2,320.79 (I wonder how they got to that specific number) for slashing Golden Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb. (NHL.com)

–The Lightning, the NHL and the NHLPA are committed to growing the game in Tampa Bay, so they’re planning on building 10 outdoor street hockey rinks over the next three years. (NHL.com/Lightning)

–Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson came into this season averaging just over 21 minutes of ice time per game. This season, he’s been playing a lot more minutes (he’s averaging more than 26 minutes per night). “I like it,” Johnson said. “I have to sacrifice a little bit on the offensive side, but the only points I care about are the two at the end of the night.” (BSNDenver.com)

–A British Columbia man is suing David Booth and his wife for a barbecue incident gone wrong. The man rented a vacation home from the Booths. When he went to light up the barbecue, it burst into flames. He suffered some awful burns. (global.ca)

–The NWHL season kicks off this weekend and Last Word on Sports previews the upcoming campaign. Interestingly enough, the New Jersey Devils and the Metropolitan Riveters have formed a partnership. (lastwordonhockey.com)

Ryan Kesler has been a useful player for the Ducks, but his contract will be a cap-killer for the them going forward. There were other players available when Anaheim signed Kesler. Did they make the right call by giving him big money and big term. (anaheimcalling.com)

–The Boston Bruins have faced their share of injuries early on this season, which means that their depth in the minors has been tested. Kenny Agostino, Rob O'Gara, Zane McIntyre and Peter Cehlarik have all contributed this season. If injuries strike again, the Bruins have shown that they have plenty of depth. (bruinsdaily.com)

Jacob Markstrom has a chance to set an obscure, unwanted record this season. Markstrom has played in 116 career games without recording a shutout. That’s 16 games away from tying the record Eldon Reddick set for most career games without blanking another team. (vancourier.com)

–The Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the worst puck possession teams in the NHL, but some of their former players, who now play for Carolina, have been terrific in those categories. (blackhawksup.com)

Jason Spezza is off to a painfully slow start this season. Can he pull himself out of it? His ice time has diminished significantly compared to last season and he isn’t getting as much even-strength time with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. That’s a problem. (defendingbigd.com)

–Despite being well into his thirties, Pekka Rinne hasn’t slowed down this season. He’s been the backbone of the Predators team, again, in 2017-18. (predlines.com)

Tom Kuhnhackl had a difficult season in 2016-17, but he’s emerged as a key depth player for the Penguins this season. There’s a noticeable difference in his condifence level, which has resulted in him getting more ice time. (pensinitiative.com)

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.

Goal, fight, ripped jersey highlight wild first period in Game 7

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So, Alex Ovechkin isn’t a big game player, you say?

What say you, then, about Ovi’s goal 62 seconds into Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday?

Ovechkin called Game 7 the biggest game for himself, the team and the Capitals organization on Tuesday and he wasted no time putting an early stamp on it.

His shot was vintage Ovi, just slightly higher in his “office” than usual. But the result was the same: a seeing-eye clapper that sailed past Andrei Vasilevkiy for a 1-0 lead.

Ovi’s goal kicked off a wild first period.

Game 6 was a brilliant hockey game, and if we got even half that energy in Game 7, it was always going to be a doozy.

Devante Smith-Pelly, who was the hero in Game 6, made quite the sacrifice after getting drilled in the head with slapshot off the stick of Ryan McDonagh. Smith-Pelly remained down before getting helped off the ice and down the tunnel to the room.

He returned a short time later.

The period also featured a spirited scrap between Tom Wilson and Braydon Coburn. The two exchanged pleasantries earlier in the period in a scuffle after the whistle, where Coburn ripped off Wilson’s helmet and both were handed penalties.

When their time in the sin bin ran out, each exited the penalty box and immediately tried to knock each other’s head off.

Wilson and Coburn were involved in much of the fun in the first.

Wilson’s hit on Chris Kunitz helped set up the rush that led to Ovechkin’s goal.

Coburn, meanwhile, was trying to collect all the Capitals gear he could in the period. After ripping off Wilson’s helmet, he then stole Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s jersey right off his back in the same scuffle.

MORE:
• Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options
• Lightning need to ‘push back’ after missed opportunity in Game 6
• 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

WATCH LIVE: Capitals, Lightning meet in Game 7

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Game 7: Washington Capitals at Tampa Bay Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
• Stream here
Series preview
Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team

Braden Holtby dominated when the Capitals needed him most
Lightning don’t expect Kucherov to be ‘invisible’ in Game 7
Lightning need to ‘push back’ after missed opportunity in Game 6
Oshie, Ovechkin give Capitals’ power play unique options
Barry Trotz takes his turn at the Capitals’ hot lap ahead of Game 7
Ovechkin, Capitals prepare for ‘biggest game of life’
Game 7 history for Ovechkin’s Capitals, Stamkos’ Lightning
•  What the Capitals mean to the D.C. community

MORE:
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Ovechkin, Capitals prepare for ‘biggest game of life’

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin is closer than ever to playing for the Stanley Cup, and he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity.

”I’ve never been in this position before,” he said Tuesday, looking ahead to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The winner Wednesday night earns a berth in the Stanley Cup Final opposite the Vegas Golden Knights, who will try for hockey’s biggest prize in their inaugural season.

Ovechkin and the Caps are hoping to shed a label as playoff underachievers, a franchise that dazzles during the regular season only to disappoint at the most important time of the year.

”I’m excited. We’re all excited. … We all want to be in this position and move forward,” said Ovechkin, who is playing in the conference final for the first time during his prolific 13-year career.

”(Wednesday night) is probably biggest game in my life, this team, organization probably. … We still haven’t reached our goal. Tomorrow is going to be a huge step forward.”

Not if the Lightning have their way.

Tampa Bay is playing Game 7 in the conference final for the third time in four years. It beat the New York Rangers on the road to advance to the 2015 Cup Final, but fell short the following year against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

”Experience is always a good thing, but it’s nothing I’m going to sit and lean on,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman, who is 7-1 in Game 7s during his career. ”It’s about doing your job at the highest level you possibly can.”

Washington forced Wednesday’s winner-take-all matchup with a dominating 3-0 victory in Game 6.

In a series where home ice has not been a clear advantage, the Lightning are hoping it provides an edge in Game 7.

Washington won Games 1 and 2 in Tampa, then dropped the next two at home. The Capitals are 7-2 on the road this postseason.

”When you get this deep into a series, everyone knows each other by heart. Now it really comes down to a little bit of will. You have to will yourself for this moment,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

”I do like the fact there will be 19,000 people helping us, to will us to victory. I want the guys to enjoy the game. It will be a phenomenal experience. … You just have to remember, don’t let the game get bigger than it really is. Go out there, execute, leave everything out there and we’ll see what happens.”

This will be Washington’s 11th Game 7 since the start of the 2008 playoffs, most among all NHL teams in that span. None of them, however, have been for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz said after Monday night’s win in Washington that there’s no other team he has coached that he would rather lead into a seventh game.

”We just keep taking whatever challenge is thrown at us and build off it. This group doesn’t waver. It has a spirit about it, a strong spirit,” he said.

”This team has done a lot of special things this year, it’s grown, it continues to do that,” Trotz added. ”What an opportunity going into Tampa. … We’ll see if we can earn the right to keep playing.”

And while that undoubtedly would be a major breakthrough for Ovechkin, Trotz reiterated the Capitals all have a lot invested.

”The opportunity is not only for Alex, but for everybody,” he said. ”Everybody that gets a chance to be in a Game 7, which will allow you to go to the finals. It’s exciting, it’s fun.”

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey