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WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Lightning on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning head to the nation’s capital to take on the defending champion Capitals in Tampa Bay’s first game since clinching the franchise’s first Presidents’ Trophy. A reminder, the Capitals beat the Lightning in seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference Final on their way to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title.

Last night, Washington won at New Jersey, 4-1, for its ninth win in the last 11 games (9-2-0). With the victory and the loss by the Islanders, the Caps overtook New York for the top spot in the Metro Division. Tied 1-1 after the first, Washington outscored New Jersey 3-0 in the second period. Four different players scored for the Capitals – Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson – while Alex Ovechkin added one assist to extend his point streak to four games (2G-3A). Ovi now has 1,204 career points. Pheonix Copley stopped 20 of 21 shots for Washington in his sixth straight win. Nicklas Backstrom had one assist to total 50 for the season – his sixth straight 50-assist campaign – no other player has an active streak longer than three.

The Lightning secured the NHL’s best regular-season record in their 73rd game, the second-fewest games to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy since it was introduced in 1985-86. The 1995-96 Red Wings accomplished the feat in 71 games. Tampa Bay also clinched the Presidents’ Trophy before any other team in the Eastern Conference clinched a playoff spot.

Clinching the Presidents’ Trophy wasn’t the only thing that was accomplished Monday. Steven Stamkos scored his 36th goal of the season, bringing his career total to 384 goals. With that goal, Stamkos passed Vincent Lecavalier for most goals in franchise history.

This is the second of three meetings between these two teams this season. The Lightning topped the Caps 6-3 last Saturday in Tampa in a game that saw Alex Killorn record his first career hat trick. They’ll play their third and final meeting on March 30 in Tampa, their third matchup in 15 days.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Wednesday, March 20, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Ondrej Palat – Steven Stamkos – J.T. Miller
Tyler JohnsonBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Anthony Cirelli – Mathieu Joseph
Yanni GourdeCedric PaquetteAdam Erne

Victor HedmanMikhail Sergachev
Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Braydon CoburnJan Rutta

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana – Nicklas Backstrom – T.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic DowdChandler Stephenson

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikNick Jensen

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

MORE: Nikita Kucherov is a master of deception

John Forslund (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Bob McKenzie.

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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.

Capitals prepare for Lightning test with warm-up win against Devils

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The Washington Capitals didn’t have to expend a lot of energy on Tuesday night, and that’s a good thing.

Washington will play the second half of a back to back against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday (live on NBCSN), so the New Jersey Devils were the warmup, and Washington made quick work of them in a 4-1 win.

Washington led just 2:52 into the first period before giving up a goal with one second left in the frame. The late adversity didn’t phase the defending Stanley Cup winners, however. Brett Connolly regained the lead 5:57 into the second with his 20th (which stood as the eventual game-winner) and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson scored a 1:12 apart to ice the game with a period to play.

The rest of the game was a cure for insomnia.

Pheonix Copley got the start in this one as the Caps rested Braden Holtby for Wednesday’s big game. Copley made 19 saves for his sixth straight win. He barely looked like he broke a sweat.

With the New York Islanders losing 5-0 to the Boston Bruins, the Capitals moved two points ahead of their Metropolitan Division rivals for first place. The Caps have won nine of their past 11 as they try to win another division title.

Much of the game was centered around Alex Ovechkin and if he’d hit 50 on the night.

He came into the game with 48 career goals and faced a mouthwatering matchup against a poor Devils team. But Ovi was held at bay, collecting just an assist in the game on a nice dish to Wilson.

The Devils have had a rough March thus far.

They’ve won just twice and have been shutout three times as the race for Jack Hughes (or Kaapo Kakko) continues for them. They’re on 63 points, fifth worst in the NHL and entered Tuesday with a 9.5 percent chance of taking down the first pick on April 9’s NHL Draft Lottery.

Kenny Agostino, who scored New Jersey’s lone goal, now has six points in his past six games — in a bright spot in a lot of darkness this season for the Devils.


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

Stanley Cup champion Capitals to visit Trump at White House

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By Stephen Whyno (AP Hockey Writer)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will get a chance to celebrate their Stanley Cup championship with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday. One player has already said he won’t attend.

Minutes after the Capitals beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 on Tuesday night, forward Brett Connolly said he would skip the ceremony.

”I said what I needed to say,” said Connolly, who had hinted that he would not attend before the White House sent the invitation. ”Respectfully, decline. That’s all I will say about it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It’s obviously a big deal and gains a lot of attention, but I have been in full support of an old teammate that I am really good friends with and I agreed with.”

Connolly, who is Canadian, did not identify the player.

The most obvious choice is forward Devante Smith-Pelly, who is currently in the minors. He had told Postmedia in Canada during the Stanley Cup final that he wouldn’t go to the White House.

Ovechkin and his teammates are continuing the NHL tradition of visiting the sitting president after some recent champions in other leagues have chosen not to.

The Russian-born captain and playoff MVP said he was excited about the White House trip after the game and planned to attend.

”I can’t wait,” Ovechkin had said in June. ”I never been there. I want to take pictures around it. It will be fun.”

The Capitals are Washington’s first champions in the four major North American sports leagues since the NFL’s Redskins in 1992, also the last hometown pro team to visit the White House.

This visit has political undertones given that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. Ovechkin has been a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and fellow countrymen Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov are also on the team.

After posting on Instagram about Putin in November 2017, Ovechkin said it was not political while adding that he had a good relationship with Putin.

”I just support my president and just support my country because I’m from there, and you know, if people from U.S. came to Russia, they care about what happen in the U.S.,” Ovechkin said. ”So, I care about what happening in Russia because it’s my home and it’s where I’m from.”

The 2017 champion Pittsburgh Penguins visited the White House and Trump. Back-to-back Cup-winning coach Mike Sullivan said at the White House in October 2017 that the team’s visit was not political and the Penguins were ”simply honoring our championship and the accomplishments of this group of players over this season or the last two seasons.”

The NBA’s Golden State Warriors decided not to go to the White House after either of their past two championships. Several players met with former President Barack Obama before facing the Washington Wizards in February.

The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles had a visit planned, but only two players planned to go to the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win, and Trump rescinded their invitation on the eve of the gathering. After the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl in February, defensive back Devin McCourty said he wouldn’t go if the team visited Trump, which it did in 2017 – absent quarterback Tom Brady and others.

Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox are scheduled to celebrate their World Series championship at the White House on May 9.

They won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history last June against the Vegas Golden Knights.

”It will be fun,” center Nicklas Backstrom said of the White House trip on Tuesday night. ”It’s exciting. Any time you get an invitation from the president and be at the White House, it’s going to be a great experience, I think.”

Goaltender Braden Holtby said at the time the Capitals would make a team decision about the White House and ”weigh the positives and negatives of everything.”

”In any situation like that, you want to make sure you’re doing what’s right for what you believe in and that should take thought – and weigh a group decision,” Holtby said.

AP White House reporter Darlene Superville and AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in Newark, New Jersey, contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Malkin records 1,000th point as Penguins storm back against Capitals

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PITTSBURGH — It was a night of personal milestones in Pittsburgh on Tuesday as Evgeni Malkin became the 88th player in NHL history to record his 1,000th career point, while Alex Ovechkin became just the 49th player to hit the 1,200 point plateau.

In the end, it was Malkin’s team that ended up getting the two important points in the standings in a 5-3 win that was highlighted by a quick flurry of goals in the second period to completely swing the game, snapping what had been a seven-game winning streak for the defending Stanley Cup champions.

With just under eight minutes to play in the second period the Penguins were not only trailing by a pair of goals, but were not even really generating any sort of a consistent threat offensively against Capitals goalie Braden Holtby. They badly needed a spark, and it was Jared McCann, one of their big mid-season acquisitions, that was able to help provide it.

[Related: Bjugstad, McCann filling much-needed roles for Penguins]

McCann, who would also add an empty-net goal to help put the game away, sparked a ferocious Penguins rally when he stripped Evgeny Kuznetsov of the puck just inside the Capitals’ blue line and set up Jake Guentzel for his 35th goal of the season to get the Penguins on the board.

It was a completely different game from that point on, with Penguins coach Mike Sullivan saying after the game his team was “standing a foot taller” after that shift.

Less than a minute later Penguins captain Sidney Crosby chased down a perfectly placed lob-pass from Justin Schultz to get behind the Capitals’ defense and beat Holtby through the five-hole to tie the game.

Crosby struck again just one minute later on the power — on a set-up from Malkin for his 999th point — to give the Penguins their first lead of the game.

Malkin would later collect point No. 1,000 when he set up Phil Kessel for another power play goal at the 11:56 mark of the third period.

“We were all thrilled, his teammates were so excited for him, the coaches as well,” said Sullivan. “He’s been anxious to reach the milestone, so when he was finally able to get it everybody was excited and thrilled for him. You could see the raw emotion from the players on the ice and on the bench. It’s cool to be a part of that.”

Sullivan later added that Malkin does not get enough credit outside of Pittsburgh in the hockey world for “being an elite player for more than a decade.”

Ovechkin would record his 1,200th point just three minute later when he assisted on a John Carlson power play goal to bring the Capitals back to within one.

That was as close as they would end up getting.

For the Penguins, it continues what is now an impressive 6-1-1 run over their past eight games.

That stretch has seen them beat Columbus, Boston, Montreal, and Washington to drastically improve their position in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It looked to be a daunting stretch of games when it began, especially given their current injury situation, but thanks to some strong goaltending, a simplified approach on defense to cover for the players that are out of the lineup, and some outstanding play from their superstars they have managed to elevate their game just when they needed to.

With Tuesday’s result the Penguins are back into the third spot in the Metropolitan Division and maintain a four-point lead over both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens.

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.

Recent Cup champs show small trades can make big difference

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Nick Jensen was just a Minnesota boy who played his first three seasons in Detroit.

Then he walked into the Washington Capitals’ locker room and saw the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, who welcomed their newest defenseman with open arms.

”I never knew them before this and I just see them on TV, and it’s a little star-striking right away,” Jensen said.

Jensen isn’t a star, but he and winger Carl Hagelin sure fit the mold of low key trade-deadline acquisitions who can pay big dividends during a long playoff run. The Capitals learned last year in getting defenseman Michal Kempny how a seemingly small trade can make a big difference, and the defending Stanley Cup champions are among the teams that made low-risk moves at last month’s trade deadline in hopes of reaping a high reward.

Vegas paid a big price to land winger Mark Stone, Winnipeg gave up its first-rounder for center Kevin Hayes and both teams are better for those pickups. Yet recent history shows contenders who tinkered rather than making a splash at the deadline got it right.

”To bring in people that are going to take major roles from some of your core guys, it starts to create some issues,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. ”Any time you have a chance to improve your players and acquire depth and give them a better opportunity to win, you don’t ever pass it up. But it’s something that seems like it’s been a successful one for us last year with a little bit of an under the radar acquisition and then this year the same thing.”

Before the 2018 Capitals, the 2016 Penguins got Hagelin and defenseman Justin Schultz before the deadline, and a year later added Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit for blue line depth and repeated as champions even without Kris Letang. The 2015 Blackhawks similarly added forwards Antoine Vermette and Andrew Desjardins and defenseman Kimmo Timonen before winning their third championship in six seasons.

While Columbus went all in to get forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel even with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky set to be free agents, other playoff teams tweaked to fill existing holes. Nashville paid reasonable prices to upgrade up front with Wayne Simmonds and Mikael Granlund. Winnipeg made perhaps its most important pickup with unheralded defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and Pittsburgh responded to injuries by trading for defensemen Erik Gudbranson and Chris Wideman.

”We feel like we picked up some good pieces,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. ”But for the most part, this is the group that we’ve got to get on the page and get going in the right direction.”

Perhaps one reason minor deadline moves have as big an impact as substantial ones is there’s only a quarter of a season for players to get acclimated to their new teammates. It’s an ongoing process of watching video, studying and adjusting and it all happens on the fly in the midst of valuable games.

”You have to make an impact pretty quickly,” Gudbranson said. ”Just play my game, be physical, make the simple play, be solid and just communicate quite a bit.”

TICKING CLOCKS

NHL general managers have approved adding small digital clocks embedded in rink boards in all four corners beginning next season, an improvement that could add the odd goal or two because players won’t have to look up at a scoreboard for the time anymore.

”It’s a good idea,” Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk said. ”You have an awareness of how much time is on the clock no matter what, but to see it, especially toward the end of a period or whatever may be happening, I think it’s only a good thing for players to have that.”

The league’s Board of Governors must approve the idea first for it to become a reality in all arenas.

HITCH’S MEMORY

The goal that haunts Buffalo Sabres fans isn’t etched in Ken Hitchcock’s memory. Twenty years since he coached the Dallas Stars to the Cup – a series that ended with Brett Hull’s infamous ”skate in the crease” overtime goal – Hitchcock has barely watched the game.

”I watched the game that we lost to New Jersey (in the 2000 Final) 20 times, and I know every shift,” said Hitchcock, who now coaches Edmonton. ”I know everything that went on in that Jersey game. But I never looked at (Game 6 in 1999) until it came up in the summer on the NHL Network, and there was a one-hour highlight package that they show on games. That’s the first time I saw it.”

GAME OF THE WEEK

The Blue Jackets need all the points they can get as they claw for a playoff spot, and it doesn’t get much bigger than their game against the Penguins on Saturday night.