Alex Ovechkin is putting the Capitals on his back

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PITTSBURGH — Thanks to their come-from-behind win on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the Washington Capitals find themselves up 2-1 in their second-round series against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Penguins. It is worth keeping in mind that their only loss in this series so far — Game 1 — was a game where they mostly carried the play and only lost because of a five-minute meltdown in the third period that saw the Penguins score three consecutive goals. They are that close to being up 3-0 in the series, and outside of that five-minute stretch have been hands down the better team.

Their penalty kill has shut down the Penguins’ high powered play, and they have had the overall edge in the special teams battle.

Braden Holtby is outplaying Matt Murray in net.

They are feasting on the Penguins’ aggressiveness and getting what seems to be countless odd-man rushes.

Then there is Alex Ovechkin. Oh, man, is he playing great right now.

On Tuesday, he scored what is already his eighth goal of the playoffs, putting him in a three-way tie with Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel for the league lead in these playoffs. It was his fourth consecutive game with a goal and the fifth in the past six games.

This one was especially big because it broke a 3-3 tie with just over a minute to play in regulation, finishing an odd-man rush with Nicklas Backstrom that saw him knock a rebound off the post out of mid-air to put the Capitals back in front.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

He did not end up as a finalist in the Hart Trophy voting this season as league MVP, but he did make my ballot in the top-five for his impact on the Capitals. He not only led the league in goal-scoring for the seventh time in his career (and the fifth time in the past six years), but the Capitals were a completely different team when he was on the ice versus when he was off of it. After losing several players from last year’s Presidents’ Trophy team without really having the salary cap flexibility to replace them, the Capitals obviously took a bit of a step backwards. At times they did not look as good as their record might have indicated, but they were still good enough to win the Metropolitan Division again. A lot of that was because of the way Ovechkin bounced back from what was a “down” year (by his standards).

During 5-on-5 play during the regular season the Capitals outscored teams by a 67-54 margin with Ovechkin on the ice (plus-13) and attempted 51 percent of the total shot attempts. Without him on the ice, they were only a plus-four in the goal department (101-97) and attempted just a paltry 46 percent of the total shot attempts. Forty-six percent is the level lottery teams — bad ones — play at. It was basically a tale of two different teams all season — the  Ovechkin team, and the non-Ovechkin team.

That same storyline has continued over into the playoffs.

Through the Capitals’ first nine playoff games with Ovechkin on the ice at 5-on-5 the Capitals own a 9-6 goal advantage and are attempting more than 55 percent of the total shot attempts. Without him, they are being outscored in those same situations by a 10-11 margin and have attempted just 47 percent of the total shot attempts. If anything, the gap between the Capitals with Ovechkin and the Capitals without him has grown in the playoffs.

The thing about Ovechkin and the playoffs is that he has always produced in these situations. There has never been a postseason series in his career where he has failed to score at least one goal. After Tuesday, he is now up to 54 goals and 103 total points in 106 career playoff games.

[Related: Ovechkin’s heroics have Capitals up 2-1 in series]

As I pointed out after the Capital’s first-round win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he is second among all active players (minimum 40 playoff games played) in postseason goals per game, trailing only Nikita Kucherov, and fifth in points per game, trailing only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, and Kucherov.

But because there has always been one reason another for the Capitals being unable to advance beyond the second round, the lack of a championship is always the elephant in the room when it comes to Ovechkin and his legacy.

Sometimes it has been because the Capitals’ goalie — whoever it may have been in past playoff runs, from Jose Theodore, to Semyon Varlamov, to even Braden Holtby in the past two Pittsburgh series’ — forgetting how to stop the puck. Sometimes it has been because the other team’s goalie refuses to give up anything. Sometimes in the playoffs you just fall short to a better team and there is no one really to blame. Sometimes you just lose.

But through it all Ovechkin has always been there producing.

He is doing it again this postseason and, perhaps most importantly for the Capitals, some of the other stuff is starting to go their way.

They may not be playing great when he is off the ice overall, but they are getting the superior goaltending. Some of the breaks that used to work against them in these situations are starting to fall in their favor. That is the type of stuff a team needs to win in the playoffs. It is not just great players playing great. Every winning team needs some breaks. The fact some of it is starting to go the Capitals’ way has to be encouraging for them.

Every year until they actually get over the hurdle we are going to wonder if this year is finally the year. Every year we keep saying it, thinking this really will be it. This time it really is starting to feel like it could be the year. For real. At least a little bit.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

More Penguins-Capitals:
Tom Wilson enrages Penguins with another controversial hit
Penguins coach: At some point we hope the league might do something

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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.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.