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Fleury’s past playoff dominance of Capitals not what it seems

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The 2018 Stanley Cup Final might be one of the most intriguing matchups the NHL has had in years given the number of different storylines both teams carry into it.

You have the absurd development that is a first-year expansion team playing in the series and having a chance to win the whole thing after not even existing at this time a year ago.

You have Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin playing in his first Stanley Cup Final.

Then there is the fact that Vegas general manager George McPhee spent years holding the same position with the Capitals and has had a hand in building both of these teams. It is remarkable theatre, all of it.

And then there is the Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals storyline.

Before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final I wrote about how the Capitals have had to face and overcome a lot of their previous postseason demons this year, from gut-punch losses, to having to once again face their arch-rival that had knocked them out in nine out of 10 previous postseason meetings, to being on the brink of letting a multiple-game series lead slip away.

To this point they have faced them all and conquered them all to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1998 and only the second time in franchise history.

It is in this series that they will have to face the goalie that has helped shut down and eliminate two of the best Capitals teams of the past 10 years with a couple of stellar Game 7 wins in Washington. In 2009 it was Fleury robbing Ovechkin with a glove save on an early first period breakaway to help set the tone for a Penguins’ rout on their way to a Stanley Cup. Just one year ago it was Fleury blanking the Capitals with a 29-save shutout in another Game 7 to help the Penguins on their way to another Stanley Cup.

Given those two games and the results of both series it would be easy to look at this matchup as the Capitals having to face another postseason demon that has tortured them in the past. To a point that is kind of true.

Here is the weird thing about this matchup: the Capitals — and Ovechkin — have been able to get to Fleury quite a bit in their previous playoff matchups.

A lot, actually.

Some numbers…

— In his 14 career playoff games against the Capitals Fleury has managed only a .902 save percentage and has allowed at least three goals in eight of those games and at least four goals in four of those games. Only once (the aforementioned Game 7 shutout a year ago) has he allowed less than two.

— That .902 save percentage in matchups with the Capitals is one of his lowest marks against teams that he has seen more than once in the playoffs. Throughout Fleury’s career he has played at least 10 playoff games against six different teams and that .902 mark against the Capitals is one of his worst against any opponent.

  • In 11 games over two series against the Columbus Blue Jackets he has a .920 mark.
  • In 13 games over two series against the Detroit Red Wings it is .918.
  • In 17 games against the New York Rangers it is .924.
  • In 18 games against the Ottawa Senators it is .906.
  • In 14 games against the Capitals it is .902.
  • In 17 games agains the Philadelphia Flyers it is .898.

If you look at it on an individual game basis, six of Fleury’s 30-worst individual save percentage games in the playoffs have come against the Capitals. That also includes two of his 10 worst.

— On an individual level Ovechkin has had more goal-scoring success against Fleury than he has against any other goalie/team he has faced more than once in the playoffs. In 14 games against Fleury in the playoffs Ovechkin has scored 10 goals, a .714 goals per game average (that would be a 58-goal pace over 82 games).

For comparisons sake, In 13 games against the Flyers over two series in his career he has seven goals (a .538 average). In 33 games against the Rangers over five series he has 13 goals (a .380 average). In two series against the Penguins with Matt Murray in net he has five goals in 12 games (a .416 average).

Basically all of Fleury’s success and dominance of the Capitals in the playoffs comes down to a breakaway early in one game, and a Game 7 shutout that featured an Ovechkin shot being an inch in either direction from potentially changing the course of the game, series, and season for both teams.

Obviously given the circumstances those performances and saves will stand out, especially in the context of Fleury and the Penguins going on to win and the Capitals … well … not winning.

But from a big picture perspective Ovechkin and the Capitals’ issue against Fleury hasn’t been their ability to beat him. Because they do. In the two series against him they’ve both scored more than enough goals to win only to have their own goaltenders implode on themselves, or the defense to fall apart, or something else to go wrong. That kind of goes back to what the whole Alex Ovechkin — and the Capitals — playoff story has been like until this season: No matter how good things seem for him and the team, there is always that one thing that goes wrong at the wrong time. In a sport where there is such a razor thin line between success or failure, one shot, one play, one call can completely change everything. Or one early breakaway or one shot off the butt end of a goalie’s stick.

So what does this all mean for this series? Probably not much. Each series is its own independent event and what happened a year ago or 10 years ago really does not matter this season.

Maybe Fleury keeps playing the way he has through the first three rounds and stones the Capitals. Maybe Ovechkin scores five or six goals and Vegas lignts up Holtby for five goals a game and it happens to the Capitals again. Maybe Ovechkin scores five or six goals in the series and Braden Holtby is able to do is job at the other end and help the Capitals finally win hockey’s ultimate prize. Who is to know?

In the end it is just another intriguing storyline in what is probably one of the more fascinating Stanley Cup Final matchups we have ever seen. Ovechkin and the Capitals have arrived on the biggest stage after successfully rewriting their postseason narrative … and they have to face one of the key guys that has seemingly helped make that narrative what it is.

So far this postseason the Capitals have consistently been able to face those razor thin margins and previous postseason demons and come away on the right side of them.

It is kind of fitting that they get one more chance to completely change their story against one of their long-time foes.

2018 STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
• Who has the better forwards?
• Who has better defense?
• Who has better goaltending?
• Who has better special teams?

• Who has better coaching?
• How Golden Knights were built
• How Capitals were built

MORE:
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
• Stanley Cup Final 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.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Bo knows goals; Avalanche, Islanders take control

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  • Bo Horvat shines again as the Vancouver Canucks take a 2-0 series lead.
  • The Montreal Canadiens win big against the Philadelphia Flyers.
  • Cam Talbot shines for the Calgary Flames.

Colorado Avalanche 3, Arizona Coyotes 2 (Avalanche lead series 2-0)

It was not easy, but the Avalanche were able to get a 3-2 win over the Coyotes to take a 2-0 series lead in their First Round matchup. Andre Burakovsky scored the game-winning goal with just under three minutes to play in regulation to break a 2-2 tie. Nathan MacKinnon also scored a spectacular goal (see it below) to open the scoring in the first period that showed off his incredible gamebreaking speed. The Avalanche are now 4-0-1 in the return to play.

Montreal Canadiens 5, Philadelphia Flyers 0 (Series tied 1-1)

The Canadiens absolutely dominated the Flyers in their first game without head coach Claude Julien to tie their First Round series at one game each. Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tomas Tatar both scored two goals for Montreal, while Carey Price stopped all 30 shots he faced for his second shutout of the playoffs. The Canadiens angered Flyers coach Alain Vigneault by putting their top power play out on the ice late in a 5-0 game, but hey, this is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. No mercy here.

Vancouver Canucks 4, St. Louis Blues 3 (OT) (Canucks lead series 2-0)

The Canucks young stars shined again on Friday as they beat the defending Stanley Cup champions to take a stunning 2-0 lead in their First Round series. Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson were the driving forces behind the offense, with Horvat scoring a pair of goals including the game-winning goal in overtime. The Blues might be considering a goaltending change going into Game 3 of the series this weekend.

New York Islanders 5, Washington Capitals 2 (Islanders lead series 2-0)

Alex Ovechkin finally got on the board this postseason with a pair of goals, including one in the first minute of the game on the game’s first shift, but it was not enough for an otherwise lackluster Capitals offense. The Islanders shut them down for the second game in a row and took a commanding 2-0 series lead. The Islanders are in complete control of the series and have completely turned their season around from the way they were playing during the stretch run of the regular season. The Capitals are still trying to find that next level.

Calgary Flames 2, Dallas Stars 0 (Flames lead series 2-1)

There is nothing wrong with the way the Stars played in this game. They just happened to run into a white hot goalie in Cam Talbot that played out of his mind. Mikael Backlund and T.J. Brodie scored goals for the Flames while Talbot stopped 35 shots to record his second shutout of the postseason. The Flames were able to get this win without the services of star forward Matthew Tkachuk who did not play after being injured in Game 2 on Thursday night.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks. Another huge game for the Canucks’ captain as he scored two more goals. He already had six goals this postseason, including four in the first two games of their First Round series against the Blues. His two goals on Friday were highlight reel goals, scoring a ridiculous shorthanded goal to start the game and then getting the game-winner in overtime.

2. Cam Talbot, Calgary Flames. Goaltending was one of the big issues for the Flames a year ago, and it has turned into one of their biggest strengths this postseason thanks entirely to the play of Talbot. He was a wall on Friday night in stopping all 35 shots he faced to help steal Game 3 of their First Round series against the Dallas Stars. Without him this game could have gone very, very differently.

3. Tomas Tatar, Montreal Canadiens. The Max Pacioretty trade has become one of the rare win-win trades for both teams involved. The Golden Knights get an impact player. The Canadiens got an outstanding two-way veteran in Tatar and an outstanding young player to build around in Nick Suzuki. Both have been excellent at times this postseason, and on Friday it was Tatar’s turn to shine. He scored two goals in the Canadiens’ 5-0 win and was a huge part of their series-tying victory.

Highlights of the Night

Horvat’s first goal of the game was a highlight reel play as he flew through the Blues’ power play to score a shorthanded goal.

Nathan MacKinnon got things started early on for the Avalanche, showing off his speed to beat Darcy Kuemper for the game’s first goal.

Ovechkin scored two goals for the Capitals but it was not enough because of sequences like this from Brock Nelson and the Islanders.

Factoids

  • Horvat is the third different player in Canucks franchise history to score at least two goals in consecutive playoff games. [NHL PR]
  • The New York Islanders are 12-1 when they hold a 2-0 series lead in their franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • Carey Price has seven career postseason shutouts, trailing only Jacques Plante and Ken Dryden (10 each) for most in Montreal Canadiens franchise history. [NHL PR]

Saturday Schedule

Game 3: Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET, NBC (Series tied 1-1)
Game 3: Colorado Avalanche vs. Arizona Coyotes, 3 p.m. ET, CNBC (Avalanche lead series 2-0)
Game 3: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:30 p.m ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)
Game 3: Vegas Golden Knights vs. Chicago Blackhawks, 8 p.m, ET, NBC (Golden Knights lead series 2-0)

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round 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.

Talbot shuts out Stars as Flames take 2-1 series lead

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The Calgary Flames may not have had Matthew Tkachuk in the lineup for Game 3 of their First Round series against the Dallas Stars on Friday night, but they did have Cam Talbot.

Turns out, that was all they needed.

Talbot turned aside all 35 shots he faced to record a shutout in a 2-0 Flames win that gives them a 2-1 series leads.

Mikael Backlund‘s shorthanded goal goes in the books as the game-winner for the Flames, while T.J. Brodie added a late insurance marker on a booming slap shot. But even with those two goal scorers, Talbot was the star of this game for Calgary in what was a big bounceback performance for the starting goalie.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Talbot got the start in the Flames’ Game 2 loss on Thursday, surrendering five goals in what was probably his worst game of the postseason so far.

Despite that, Flames coach Geoff Ward decided to stick with his starter in the back-to-back situation (sometimes a risky call) and Talbot was more than up to the task by recording his second shutout of the playoffs (and the fourth of his career).

It continues what has been an outstanding performance for him in the NHL return to play. Outside of Game 2 on Thursday he has been one of the Flames’ most valuable players and has played his way into the (very) early Conn Smythe discussion.

It is not an exaggeration to say he was the single biggest difference maker on Friday.

Even though the Flames ended up getting the upper hand on the scoreboard, they were probably not the better team overall as the Stars carried the play for much of the night. Dallas held a pretty commanding territorial edge and seemed to get the best of the chances. But sometimes all you need to get a win in the playoffs is to have the better goalie, and that is what the Flames had on Friday.

They also should not apologize for it. This was a tough spot to be in playing a back-to-back without one of their best players. Maybe it was not their best overall effort, but if you are going to go on a deep run into the playoffs you sometimes need to find ways to steal games where you do not have your “A” game.

Tkachuk did not play for Calgary after being a game-time decision. He was injured on Thursday when he was hit by Jamie Benn and Jamie Oleksiak. There is no word on his status for Game 4 on Sunday.

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (Flames lead series 2-1)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Stars 5, Flames 4 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Flames 2, Stars 0
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round 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.

Islanders take 2-0 series lead as Capitals look flat again

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The New York Islanders look to be in complete control of their First Round matchup with the Washington Capitals following their 5-2 win in Game 2 on Friday night.

The win gives the Islanders a commanding 2-0 series lead, as they have completely shut down the Capitals’ offense through the first two games of the series.

For the second game in a row the Capitals scored first — Alex Ovechkin scored his first of the playoffs on the game’s first shift — but were unable to hold on. The Islanders received goals from five different players (Nick Leddy, Matt Martin, Brock Nelson, Cal Clutterbuck, and Anders Lee) and played their frustrating brand of defense that at times rendered the Capitals’ offense completely useless.

That was pretty much the story of this game.

Other than a great showing Ovechkin — two goals, a near-miss in the third period, and six total shots on goal — the Capitals’ offense looked like it was skating in mud all night. They struggled to get to dangerous scoring areas, they could not get any kind of a consistent push in the offensive zone, and when Ovechkin was not driving things there was nobody that even looked to be a threat to score.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Not having top center Nicklas Backstrom certainly hurt, and the other team on the ice absolutely has a role in the outcome, but the Capitals have not yet been able to find their game since the 2019-20 season resumed.

They won only one of their three Round-Robin games and so far have not scored more than two goals in any of the five postseason games they have played. It has been a carryover from the way they played during the stretch run of the regular season.

What has to be especially frustrating is that this is the second game in a row they started off with the lead only to allow the Islanders to later take over. In Game 1 they held a 2-0 lead until the final minute of the second period, only to watch Braden Holtby allow a soft goal and the Islanders pour in four unanswered goals for the win.

On Friday, they got the early goal from Ovechkin and allowed the Islanders to strike for two goals to take the lead. When Ovechkin tied the game in the second period, they allowed the Islanders to reclaim the lead just 15 seconds later when Jakub Vrana turned the puck over at the Islanders’ blue line, giving Nelson a clear breakaway.

For the Islanders this entire postseason remains a complete 180 turnaround from the team we saw at the end of the regular season. That team was a sinking ship trending in the wrong direction as they had lost 11 of 13 and seven in a row. Since the restart they have gone 5-1 and have put themselves in a great position to advance.

No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (NYI lead 2-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Islanders 5, Capitals 2
Sunday, Aug. 16: Washington at NY Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Washington at NY Islanders, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Thursday, Aug. 20: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Washington at NY Islanders – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round 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.

Matthew Tkachuk out for Flames in Game 3

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Some bad injury news for the Calgary Flames going into Game 3 of their First Round playoff series against the Dallas Stars.

Matthew Tkachuk will not play on Friday night after being listed as a game-time decision earlier in the day.

He will be replaced on the second line by Tobias Rieder.

Tkachuk was injured early in the third period of Thursday’s game (a 5-4 Stars win) when he was sandwiched between Jamie Oleksiak and Jamie Benn. It was the third different time during the game that Tkachuk had to exit the game and go down the tunnel. That time, he did not return to the game.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

There is no easy way to replace a player like Tkachuk. While he has the reputation for being a pest that always plays right on the line (and sometimes over it) to infuriate his opponents, he is also a legit first-line player and one of the Flames’ go-to offensive players.

He finished the regular season with 61 points (23 goals, 38 assists) in 68 games.

So far this postseason he has a goal and an assist for the Flames.

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (Series tied 1-1)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Stars 5, Flames 4 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round 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.