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Game 7 history for Ovechkin’s Capitals, Stamkos’ Lightning

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There are few teams as “ready” for the stakes of Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN; stream it here) quite like the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Consider this: the Lightning are readying for their third Game 7 in a conference final in four years. While reaching the third round is a first for Alex Ovechkin‘s rendition of the Capitals (not to mention Barry Trotz’s coaching career), Washington is resoundingly seasoned when it comes to these decisive contests.

Actually, that brings up an idea: why don’t we take a chronological look at all the Game 7’s for the Lightning and Capitals during the Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin eras? You may enjoy this jog down history lane – much of which has been chronicled at PHT – while fans of these teams may find revived disdain for the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist, Penguins, and … Bryan Rust, specifically?

Hockey Reference was an excellent resource for this post, and it’s generally a recommended spot to nerd out about NHL history in general.

Oh, and before we get to the fun/trauma, here’s a fascinating find from Japers Rink. If this holds, the Capitals might need another big night from Braden Holtby.

2008

April 22: Flyers 3, Capitals 2 (OT)

first round

Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring with a power-play goal (Alex Ovechkin getting the primary assist, with short-term Cap Sergei Fedorov* getting the secondary assist). Ovechkin also scored the goal that sent the game to overtime, but Joffrey Lupul generated the clincher on the PP for Philly.

* – Yes, that really happened. No, you were not hallucinating. At least in that instance.

2009

April 28: Capitals 2, Rangers 1

first round

This was already an example of the type of playoff game the Capitals team of that era “wasn’t supposed to be able to win.” Semyon Varlamov only needed to make 14 of 15 saves. Backstrom assisted on an Alexander Semin goal, while Sergei Fedorov got the game-winner as basically his last true stand-out moment in the NHL.

May 13: Penguins 6, Capitals 2

second round

Ah, this is where the true torment began.

That Game 7 was the anticlimactic capper to what had been an epic second-round series, including a game where Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby exchanged hat tricks. Marc-Andre Fleury made a crucial save early on an Ovechkin semi-breakaway (after being tormented for much of the round), and the Penguins rattled off the first five goals to win in a laugher and make Ovechkin’s 11th goal of that postseason moot.

2010

April 28: Canadiens 2, Capitals 1

first round

For one summer, Jaroslav Halak looked like the superstar goalie of Montreal’s future, not Carey Price. (Give the Habs credit for making the right, and brave, call there.) The shots on goal count was 42-16 in Washington’s favor, but the Habs pulled off the upset. Ovechkin absorbed the criticism admirably.

2011

April 27: Lightning 1, Penguins 0

first round

Remember that season where the Penguins made the playoffs with Jordan Staal as their top center because Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were injured? That was this year. Despite lacking firepower, the Penguins fired 36 shots on Dwayne Roloson, and he stopped all of them. Sean Bergenheim scored the only goal. Stamkos only generated one shot on goal during 16:13 TOI.

May 27: Bruins 1, Lightning 0

conference finals

Nathan Horton went from bottle thrower to Game 7 clincher, scoring the only tally of this one. Stamkos received just under 19 minutes of ice time, firing one SOG, and was on the ice for that Horton goal.

Oh yeah, and Stamkos earned big kudos for this.

2012

April 25: Capitals 2, Bruins 1 (OT)

first round

Braden Holtby was in “beast mode” for maybe the first time while Ovechkin’s ice time was scrutinized. This was part of Dale Hunter’s brief run after Bruce Boudreau was fired. There were some successes, yet the hockey wasn’t exactly pretty.

May 12: Rangers 2, Capitals 1

second round

New York was able to gut out a win in which both Henrik Lundqvist and Holtby both played well. Was it mentioned that this wasn’t a pretty run?

2013

May 13: Rangers 5, Capitals 0

first round

This was the stretch where the Rangers – mainly Henrik Lundqvist – was really a nuisance for the Capitals. King Hank made 35 saves for this Game 7 shutout. Following this loss, Backstrom spoke about “learning to win in the playoffs.”

Neither team played a Game 7 in 2014, but they made up for it with four in 2015

April 27: Capitals 2, Islanders 1

first round

Evgeny Kuznetsov doesn’t just have a series-clinching goal against the Penguins to his name. He also generated the game-winner in Game 7 of this series. The slick center has a way to go before he elbows in on Justin Williams‘ clutch credentials, but the Lightning better keep an eye on him either way.

April 29: Lightning 2, Red Wings 0

first round

Ben Bishop pitched a 31-save shutout, helping the Lightning win despite only firing 15 shots on Petr Mrazek (who yielded a Braydon Coburn tally, while the other goal was an empty-netter). Hey, there were worries about Stamkos’ playoff scoring then, too.

May 13: Rangers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)

second round

Ovechkin scored the first goal of Game 7, giving Lundqvist an earful in the process. That was highly entertaining, but the Rangers got the last laugh after Derek Stepan ended the game in overtime. Both Holtby and Lundqvist put out great performances in this one.

May 29: Lightning 2, Rangers 0

conference finals

Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat scored Tampa Bay’s two goals while Bishop stopped all 22 shots in a very tight Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning would go on to fall in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks, yet this was quite the run for Tampa Bay.

2016

May 26: Penguins 2, Lightning 1

conference finals

The Bolts hope that tonight mirrors the 2015 Eastern Conference Final, rather than the following year, especially since their 2016 run began with the Lightning winning both of their first two series in five games.

Bryan Rust scored both of the Penguins’ goals while Andrei Vasilevskiy (37 out of 39 saves) helped to keep the Lightning in a game Pittsburgh often carried.

2017

May 10: Penguins 2, Capitals 0

second round

At the time, this seemed like the Capitals’ last great chance, falling to the Penguins for the second season in a row after a second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy. Washington pushed this series to Game 7 after falling into a 3-1 hole, but it was not to be.

Bryan Rust scored another big Game 7 against the Penguins, while Marc-Andre Fleury made this series is parting gift for Pittsburgh, making some huge stops against Ovechkin.

After that loss, Barry Trotz wasn’t “emotionally prepared” to critique Ovechkin and others. What a difference a year and a hot lap makes, huh?

***

So, how will the May 23, 2018 entry end up looking? You won’t need to wait long until you find out.

Also, don’t be surprised if the losing team mutters “At least it wasn’t the Penguins” on the handshake line …

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

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.

Guentzel scores four as Penguins eliminate Flyers in Game 6

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It took until the sixth game but the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers finally had their series turn into complete chaos.

The Penguins were able to close out the series on Sunday afternoon with an 8-5 win what was clearly the most physical, chippy, and just downright crazy game of the series.

What made it all so wild? Well let’s go through this piece by piece if we can.

First, the Penguins were trailing by a pair of goals with less than 10 minutes to play in the second period only to rally and tie the game before the intermission, with Jake Guentzel‘s third goal of the playoffs in the final minute being the equalizer.

From there, Guentzel took over, scoring three consecutive goals to open the third period to help the Penguins take a 7-4 lead.

The third goal, the one that completed the hat trick, came moments after the Penguins had to kill off a Kris Letang penalty after he attempted to cross-check Flyers forward Sean Couturier through the Penguins’ net. In any context it would have been a bad, selfish penalty, but given that the Penguins were only leading by one mid-way through the third period of a potential knockout game it was … bad. After coming out of the box Letang appeared to get away with a trip on Sean Couturier, allowing the Penguins to keep possession of the puck and Guentzel to score his third goal of the game.

Just 10 seconds later Guentzel scored again, capping off a 16-minute stretch of hockey where he scored four consecutive goals.

After leading the league in postseason goal scoring a season ago he is now tied for the league lead as of Sunday with his teammate, Sidney Crosby.

Crosby also scored his sixth goal of the playoffs on Sunday.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Including the playoffs, the Penguins played five games in Philadelphia this season and not only won all of them, but scored at least five goals in all of them.

They scored at least five goals in eight of their 10 games against the Flyers this season, losing the only two games they did not top the five-goal mark.

They did it on Sunday without the services of Evgeni Malkin who missed the game after being injured early in Game 5.

Along with Malkin’s absence, the Penguins also lost Carl Hagelin on Sunday after he exited the game due to a devastating hit from Flyers forward Claude Giroux.

That was just part of the physicality from this game, most of which went uncalled on both sides.

When it came to the actual game, the Penguins needed another offensive outburst in Philadelphia because Sean Couturier did everything in his power to try and single-handedly will his team to a win.

After returning from injury on Friday and scoring the game-winning goal, he recorded five points on Sunday — factoring in all five Flyers goals — and recorded his second career postseason hat trick.

It was not enough because, well, the Flyers just simply did not have an answer for the Penguins’ offense.

Defenseman Radko Gudas had a particularly brutal game and was guilty of costly plays on the two Penguins’ second period goals to tie the game.

They also had more issues in net.

Michal Neuvirth replaced Brian Elliott in Game 5 and played well enough to get the win, making a highlight last minute save on Crosby. He was not anywhere near as good on Sunday giving up seven goals on the 27 shots he faced (the Penguins’ eighth goal was an empty net goal).

The Flyers used three goalies in this series — Elliott, Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek — while none of them finished with a save percentage higher than .857.

All three of them gave up at least two goals to Crosby.

With that, the Penguins have now won nine consecutive playoff series. They will play the winner of the Washington Capitals-Columbus Blue Jackets series in the second round. They have played the Capitals in the second round in each of the past two seasons. The Capitals lead the series 3-2 entering Game 6 in Columbus on Monday night.

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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.

Michal Neuvirth gets Game 5 start for Flyers; Couturier returns to lineup

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With their season on the line on Friday night the Philadelphia Flyers are making a change in goal.

Michal Neuvirth, who has played just 59 minutes of NHL hockey since Feb. 18, will get the Game 5 start in goal when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Neuvirth replaced Brian Elliott in Philadelphia’s Game 4 loss on Wednesday night after Elliott gave up three goals on 17 shots, the second time he was benched in the first four games. The Flyers have already used three goalies in this series with Elliott, Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek all getting playing time. None of them have played well.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

When healthy Neuvirth had the best numbers out of the group during the regular season, but health has been a constant battle for him the past few years.

The other big lineup news for the Flyers on Friday will be the fact that center Sean Couturier will be returning after sitting out Game 4 with a lower body injury. He may not be 100 percent, however, given that he took pregame line rushes on the team’s third line between Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds. Valtteri Filppula was skating on the first line alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Among the other changes for the Flyers: Robert Hagg will replace Travis Sanheim on defense, while Dale Weise will play on the fourth-line instead of Oskar Lindblom.

Related: Penguins will not have Patric Hornqvist in Game 5

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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.

Should the Flyers stick with Brian Elliott for Game 2?

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PITTSBURGH — Well that was emphatic.

The Pittsburgh Penguins sent quite a message in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night with a 7-0 win that featured a Sidney Crosby hat trick, a highlight reel goal from Evgeni Malkin, a four-point night from Jake Guentzel, and, completely sliding under the radar in the midst of the offensive onslaught, a third consecutive playoff shutout for starting goalie Matt Murray.

While the Penguins were lighting up the scoreboard, the Flyers were searching for answers.

One of the questions they have to find answer for before Game 2 on Friday is a familiar one for anyone that has followed Flyers hockey for the better part of the past three decades: Just what in the heck are they going to do in goal?

It would be unfair to pin all of the blame for the Game 1 loss on goalies Brian Elliott and Petr Mrazek because the Flyers … well … they weren’t good.

Captain Claude Giroux called it “one of the worst games” he had ever been a part of.

Still, goaltending was a big part of the story and Elliott was not sharp on Wednesday, resulting in coach Dave Hakstol pulling him after giving up five goals on 19 shots. Some of the goals were a bit out of his control.

On one, Carl Hagelin was left alone in front of the net to perfectly redirect a Patric Hornqvist shot into the net.

On another, Crosby scored on a no-look mid-air swat that is just one of those things that happens when Sidney Crosby is on the ice. Not much a goalie can do about that stuff.

But the first goal was the result of a juicy rebound Elliott left for Bryan Rust in the middle of the ice, and while Malkin cut through the Flyers’ defense for the third goal in spectacular fashion, the shot itself was one that Elliott should probably stop.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The reason it is such a debate is because the Flyers are once again in a position without a clear-cut No. 1 starter with Elliott, Michael Neurvith, and Mrazek all splitting the time this season, and all providing equal levels of mediocre play.

It is a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself every single year. The names change. The story stays the same.

For Elliott, it was an up-and-down season when he was healthy. A brutal month of October was followed by him being one of the bright spots for the team in November and December, before his play dropped off significantly in January and early February. Then an injury sidelined him for 25 games only to have him return to the lineup for the final two games against teams well out of the playoffs to close out the season.

Then he had to face Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Quite a change in competition.

Elliott was not interested in using that layoff as an excuse and didn’t want to chalk his Game 1 struggles up to still trying to get up to speed.

“It’s always hard when you miss a lot of time,” said Elliott after the game. “But everybody is dealing with stuff this time of year so there’s no excuses in the playoffs.”

But it still leaves Hakstol with a big decision for Friday’s game.

[Related: Penguins, Crosby blow out Flyers, Elliott in Game 1]

Does he go back to Elliott after benching him just 30 minutes into Game 1, or does he make a change and go with Petr Mrazek who gave up two goals on the 14 shots he faced in relief?

Hakstol was asked about a potential change after the game and seemed to have confidence in going back to Elliott.

“Right now my first instinct is yeah,” Hakstol said. “It’s always different as you get into the playoffs, things are elevated a little bit. But coming back with Moose when he was coming off the injury, he’s our guy. He’s a huge reason why our team was able to put ourselves in a  position to be in the playoffs. In terms of his presence in our dressing room and the trust we all have him in that’s a pretty big factor. Like everything else we’ll look hard at it, but right now my first gut instinct is he that he is our guy and I don’t see a reason why we would go away from him.”

The other reason to potentially stick with Elliott: The alternative may not be any better.

Neuvirth is still listed as day-to-day with a lower body injury and has played just 28 minutes of hockey since Feb. 18.

That leaves Mrazek as the only other potential option for the time being. Since being acquired in a trade from the Detroit Red Wings (entirely due to injuries to Elliott and Neuvirth) Mrazek has had a .891 save percentage as a member of the Flyers. Since the start of the 2016-17 season is at .901 in 89 games. Not exactly the level of goaltending you want against one of the best offensive teams in hockey and one that just put a seven-spot on the scoreboard.

Not exactly a great spot to be in, and with everything being as it is, he may not have much of a choice but to stick with Elliott.

Then again, if the Penguins play like they did on Wednesday night it may not even matter who the goalie is.

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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.

 

Penguins, Crosby blow out Flyers, Elliott in Game 1

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So far, Adam Gretz’s PHT preview is correct: the Pittsburgh Penguins definitely have an advantage over the Philadelphia Flyers when it comes to goaltending.

Many believed that the Flyers would give Brian Elliott the hook after he allowed three goals in the first period. That didn’t happen, nor did Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol make the call after Jake Guentzel made it 4-0. It wasn’t until Sidney Crosby scored another baseball-style goal to make it 5-0 that Elliott finally was pulled/taken out of his misery.

Check out Crosby’s hat trick, which includes that baseball-style goal:

Elliott ended up allowing five goals on 19 shots before Petr Mrazek replaced him. The Penguins ultimately won Game 1 by the humiliating final score of 7-0.

Game 2 takes place on Friday, airing on NBCSN. Check out the series schedule below.

A tough start in the first period

Just 2:38 into the contest, Bryan Rust beat Brian Elliott to score the first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Flyers had an opportunity to make it 1-1, but perhaps because of a brief whiff on a one-timer, Matt Murray was able to get over and generate one of the best early stops of the playoffs. If you’re taking out your “Jump to Conclusions” mat, then maybe you’d say that this is as painful a reminder of the Penguins’ edge in net as any of the goals Elliott gave up:

Carl Hagelin made it 2-0 midway through the first period, but it was Evgeni Malkin who provided that “Oh no” moment for Flyers fans. Shortly after exiting the penalty box, Malkin got the puck, lowered his shoulder, tore through Philly’s defense, and scored the sort of sheer-will goal that typifies “beast mode Malkin.”

Check out the first three goals in this clip:

That third goal came with almost six minutes remaining in the opening frame, yet it almost felt like it was the final nail in the coffin for Elliott’s Game 1. Hakstol obviously disagreed.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

You wonder how healthy Elliott really is, and whether or not he’s rusty. The veteran goalie only played in two games after being sidelined since Feb. 10, and Elliott faced two non-playoff teams in the Hurricanes and Rangers.

***

This can be a “burn the tape” game for the Flyers, as the bottom line is that they’re merely down 1-0 in this series. Still, there are plenty of questions, including “How will Philly bounce back?” and “Who will start in Game 2 for the Flyers.”

The Penguins certainly didn’t welcome their cross-state rivals back to the playoffs in a friendly way.

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.