Capitals outlast Rangers in shootout, regain Metropolitan lead

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It took a no-goal call on the ice and then a correction by the league for Alex Ovechkin to be awarded the shootout winner in a 3-2 victory against the New York Rangers on NBC on Sunday.

Ovechkin came down the ice for his attempt, deked Alexandar Georgiev to the right and then lost the puck after Georgiev hurled his stick at Ovechkin’s. The call was no goal. It was still no goal after a referee huddle, but then the call came in from the NHL and the review clearly showed Georgiev’s infraction.

Ovechkin’s shot, after getting stopped six times in regulation and overtime, counted and the Washington Capitals moved into first place in the Metropolitan Division for the first time since the middle of January with their fourth straight win (and fourth straight this season over the Rangers).

If not for Georgiev, the game never would have been in the shootout to begin with. He was the prime reason why the Rangers took a point off the Capitals. His saves on Ovechkin throughout the game were particularly impressive. He slid across the ice twice on Washington power plays to rob The Great 8, and then he stopped Ovechkin cold in overtime with this beauty:

For a Rangers team in rebuild mode, and with Henrik Lundqvist in the twilight of his career, it has be comforting to the Rangers to see The King’s heir-apparent doing this well against some of the top shooters in the game.

The Rangers have been plucky as of late, even with the losses of Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello and Adam McQuaid. They took a point of the Tampa Bay Lightning last week after playing them into overtime and did well once again on Sunday to take the Metropolitan-leading Capitals into deep waters.

Ryan Strome gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead 45 seconds into the game but it was quickly leveled by Carl Hagelin just 1:18 later as the swift forward scored his first for the Caps since being acquired last week.

The Capitals would take a 2-1 just after the midway point of the period, a score that would remain that way until 14:20 of the second frame, when Pavel Buchnevich found the back of the net behind Braden Holtby to tie the game.

Georgiev was front and center for the rest of the way, ultimately making 37 saves in 65 minutes as the Rangers lost their fourth straight.

Holtby’s save on Filip Chytil, however, would be the one needed to give Washington a chance and then Ovechkin ultimately scored to secure both points.

The Capitals will hold first place at least until the conclusion of the New York Islanders matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers, which is in progress.

For now, Washington can enjoy the view from the summit.


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

NHL on NBC: Capitals look to regain top spot in Metropolitan vs. Rangers

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Sunday’s matinee matchup between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It was Jan. 14 when the Washington Capitals last held first place in the Metropolitan Division. They will have a chance to regain the crown, if only for a short while on Sunday.

If the Caps can beat the New York Rangers for the fourth straight time this season, they will have also extended their current winning streak to four games and leapfrogged the New York Islanders for top spot. Whether they stay there will be determined by the Isles, who play later in the day.

For Washington, taking care of business against the Rangers has come easy in recent times. They’re 8-0-1 in their past nine meetings, including five straight wins, and their current three-game run at the moment started a week ago against the Blueshirts.

Washington has been going steady for longer than that, however, with five wins in their past six games and seven in their past 10. A big part of all their success has, of course, been thanks to Alex Ovechkin‘s torrid pace in the goal department.

He has eight goals in his past 10 games and hit 45 on Friday night to make a little history.

“His ability to score goals, create offense is something that I have never seen before,” Caps forward T.J. Oshie said. “There are greats in the league, but none that I have seen that are such a natural prolific goal scorer.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 p.m. ET – NBC]

Fellow Caps teammate Nicklas Backstrom will be featured as part of Star Sunday.

Since entering the league 12 years ago, Backstrom has the most assists (636) and power-play assists (282) among all NHLers and is second in power-play points with 353 and fifth in points with 860.

Mika Zibanejad will be the Rangers player featured.

Zibanejad has been the one Rangers constant this season, and he’s doing everything at a career-high rate having already established new bests in assists (36) and points (63). The forward’s 27 goals has tied a career-best mark he set last season and still has plenty of time to round out the career-high hat trick.

The Rangers are in rebuild mode and lost several key players at the trade deadline, including Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello. Still, Zibanejad feels the team is moving in the right direction.

“Our work ethic is completely different than it was last year,” he said after a 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Friday. “Even this game, with our first period, down 2-0, I think we would have collapsed against this kind of team and it would have been 6-1 in the third period. But we don’t do that this year… Obviously we are not where we want to be, but I think we can build off this for next year, and that’s something we are going to strive for over these last 19 games.”

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), Olczyk (analyst), and McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from New York. Liam McHugh, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones will handle studio coverage.


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

Which teams will win the West wild-card races?

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For quite some time, the Eastern Conference’s bubble races seemed confined to a few good teams, while the West wild-card skirmishes felt like they might come down to who would mess up the least.

As March begins, the West’s battles look a little more like those out East, even if the West teams are behind their bubble brothers by about four of five points.

With all due respect to the scrappiness of the Chicago Blackhawks (63 points, 64 games played) and Vancouver Canucks (63 points, 65 GP), the West’s two wild-card spots look like they’re going to come down to two of four teams, in order of their standings positions: the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, and Arizona Coyotes.

In all honesty, it’s extremely difficult to parse out who will win out, to the point that you’d probably be best wagering on the standings remaining in this order … mainly because it’s just that close.

All four teams have played 64 games. There’s not a huge disparity in home/road splits, as only the Wild have one extra road game (and thus one fewer home game).

Take a look at snapshots of each team to get an idea of how snug everything is. Again, teams are listed in order of their standings placement heading into Friday’s games.

WC1: Dallas Stars: 32-27-5, 69 points, 64 GP, 32 regulation/overtime wins.

Split: 10 homes remaining, eight left on the road.

Recent play: Won last game, 4-6-0 in last 10.

Trade deadline activity: Tragic, as Mats Zuccarello broke his arm 40 minutes into his first game as a Dallas Star.

Head-to-head contests remaining

  • Zero left against Coyotes.
  • Two remaining against Wild: @Min on March 14, close season home vs. MIN on April 6.
  • Two home games left against Avalanche: March 7 and 21.

Key stretch(es): From March 5-23, the Stars play eight of 10 games at home.

WC2: Minnesota Wild: 31-27-6, 68 points, 64 GP, 30 ROW

Split: Nine games left at home and on the road

Recent play: Four-game winning streak, 5-4-1 in last 10.

Trade deadline activity: On paper, you’d  think they’d be minuses, as they shipped out more established veterans in Mikael Granlund (for Kevin Fiala) and Charlie Coyle (for Ryan Donato). Yet, Donato’s off to such a hot start for his Wild career (six points in 4 games, one overtime game-winning goal) that those moves don’t seem like such subtractions at this moment. Shipping away Nino Niederreiter for Victor Rask a little further out, though? Not much is polishing that one.

Head-to-head contests remaining

  • Two remaining against Stars: Home on March 14, season-closer in Dallas on April 6.
  • One left against Coyotes: At Arizona on March 31.
  • One left against Avs: Home on March 19.

Key stretch(es): Five-game homestand from March 11-19.

Ninth: Avalanche: 28-24-12, 68 points, 64 GP, 27 ROW

Split: 10 home games remaining, eight left on the road.

Recent play: Won last game, 6-2-2 in last 10 games.

Trade deadline activity: Pretty quiet, as the Avs settled for a modest addition in oft-traded forward Derick Brassard. Then again, the Senators selling off means that Ottawa’s 2019 first-rounder figures to be quite the future “upgrade.”

Head-to-head contests remaining

  • Two road games against Stars: March 7 and 21.
  • One road game against Wild: March 19.
  • One home game versus Coyotes: March 29

Key stretch(es): After they get through a run that includes three of four road games starting on Friday, the Avs’ schedule is pretty home-heavy, including a four-game homestand from March 9-17.

Tenth: Coyotes: 31-28-5, 67 points, 64 GP, 27 ROW

Split: 10 home games remaining, eight left on the road.

Recent play: Five-game winning streak, 8-2-0 in last 10 games.

Trade deadline activity: Not much.

Considering how hot the Coyotes have been – they’re basically the West’s version of the Carolina Hurricanes – you’d think the ‘Yotes added a big name that “galvanized the locker room.” Sorry, Michael Chaput, but improvements seem to be internal, rather than external.

Head-to-head contests remaining

  • One road game versus Avs: March 29
  • One home game against Wild: March 31.
  • No games left against Stars.

Key stretch(es): The Coyotes are three games in (all wins) to a seven-game homestand, so they have four home games left from March 2-9. They play six of their next eight games at home from March 2-16. After that, they’ll go on a four-game road trip (March 18-24), which puts them at six of eight games on the road from March 11-24.

So, taking advantage of the upcoming opportunities (while mitigating the challenges that follow) will be key.

***

Again, if there are advantages, they are subtle. The Coyotes get the least amount of say, in that they only face the other three wild-card teams two times total, while the other three get four games to “control their destinies.”

Which two teams do you expect to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Could a team like the Blackhawks or Canucks defy considerable odds by leapfrogging into position? Can any of these teams threaten the Flames, Predators, or Jets in a potential first-round series?

There are quite a few questions to answer over the next five weeks (or so) of hockey, so expect a fascinating finish.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning set franchise mark with 10th straight win

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Make it 10 in a row.

The Tampa Bay Lightning just refuse to lose and their 10th straight victory on Wednesday, 4-3 in overtime against the New York Rangers, established a new franchise record for a team that seems to be setting new ones every time they touch the ice.

And like their ninth straight win on Monday night, the Lightning were once again made to work for it by a team all-but-mathematically eliminated form the playoffs, this time by a plucky Rangers team that was gutted at the trade deadline.

It took a Victor Hedman overtime winner (and a questionable pick play that went uncalled) for the Lightning to unseat the Rangers on NBSCN.

The Lightning jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, scoring goals seven minutes apart through Tyler Johnson and J.T. Miller in the first period. Like most nights, it seemed like the Lightning were destined for an easy rout.

But Mike Zibanejad injected some life into the Rangers just 56 seconds into the second period, taking a cross-ice feed from Jimmy Vesey and slotting it home on his backhand to pull the game to 2-1.

The Rangers’ high-flying, high-scoring top line was broken up when the team traded Mats Zuccarello to the Dallas Stars last week, but Vesey’s promotion seemed to keep the good times rolling.

After Dan Girardi scored on a one-timer to regain the two-goal lead, Vesey added a goal to his earlier assist. Boo Nieves then capped off New York’s three-goal second period to tie the game 3-3. The Rangers put up 17 shots in the frame after giving up 14 in the first period, and then limited the Lightning to six shots in the third to earn themselves a point.

The Rangers were also without forward Kevin Hayes, who was dealt to Winnipeg, and defenseman Adam McQuaid, who was shipped out to Columbus Blue Jackets. Brendan Lemieux, who made his debut with the Rangers after coming over in the Hayes deal, played 15:24 on the third line and seeing time on the team’s second power-play unit.

The Lightning came into Wednesday’s game having not lost in regulation in their past 13 games. That, of course, turned over to 14 as their remarkable run continues.

Speaking of notable runs, Nikita Kucherov added three more assists to his incredible point tally this season. Kucherov came into the game with an eight-point lead on Chicago’s Patrick Kane in the Art Ross race. He now leads the Blackhawks superstar by 11, with Kane in action later on Wednesday on NBSCN.


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

Wednesday Night Hockey: Where do Rangers go from here?

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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 New York Rangers. 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.

Onward with the rebuild.

The Rangers made it crystal clear last year that they were going to go through a re-tool. The fans were warned that popular players would be traded, but that didn’t make those changes any easier for them or the players remaining in that locker room.

It’s been an emotional week for the Rangers. As you’ve probably seen by now, Henrik Lundqvist was reduced to tears when he was asked about Mats Zuccarello no longer being on the roster. Losing pending unrestricted free agents Adam McQuaid and Kevin Hayes won’t be easier on them, either.

Zuccarello spent parts of nine seasons in New York before being traded to Dallas last weekend. In a short amount of time, he managed to become one of the franchise’s go-to offensive players. He accumulated 113 goals and 352 points in 509 games in the Big Apple. He added 31 more points in 60 postseason games. He was part of the Rangers squad that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014.

As for Hayes, he also became an integral part of the team’s top-six forward group. The 26-year-old managed to score a career-high 25 goals last season, but the two sides couldn’t agree to a contract extension, so he ended up going to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in Winnipeg.

Of course, nobody’s blaming general manager Jeff Gorton for pulling the trigger on these deals. The Rangers are 11 points out of a playoff spot and there’s no way they’ll be able to dig themselves out of that hole. So, instead of losing these players for nothing on July 1st, Gorton found a way to get assets for them.

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

Even though it’s sound business, it still can’t be easy for that locker room to fill that void in the room.

“I knew, we knew, we all knew the situation we were in,” head coach David Quinn said of his first season in New York. “It’s been everything I thought it would be and more. I knew it was going to be very challenging but these guys have been very receptive to the things we’re trying to do… I love New York. It’s a great city. This experience, this job, has been everything I thought it was going to be. And I’ve enjoyed it probably a little bit more than I thought.”

The Rangers have some nice pieces like Mika Zibanejad, Brady Skjei, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil. As it stands right now, they have two first-round draft picks and three second-round draft picks in next summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

The veterans in the room will have to just wait for some of the youngsters to take a step forward or two and they’ll need to hope that the front office is able to make the most of the draft picks they have at their disposal. Until then, there’s nothing they can really do.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.