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Controversial Perron goal counts; Capitals brawl after Vegas gains lead

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Perhaps it’s fitting that the adrenaline is pumping big time and luck seems to be shifting dramatically moment to moment as the 2018 Stanley Cup Final shifted back to Vegas for Game 5.

There’s plenty of time for the script to flip, but the bounces were really going the Golden Knights’ way during the second period. (All five of the goals happened during a busy middle frame.)

The Golden Knights enter the third period of Game 5 with a 3-2 lead thanks to a power-play goal, but there’s room to debate if the 2-2 goal should have counted.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH GAME 5 LIVE]

The tally survived a review, even though the Washington Capitals unsuccessfully challenged David Perron‘s tying goal for goalie interference. Ultimately, the call on the ice stood, so apparently Christian Djoos contact was enough to get Perron off the hook for impeding Braden Holtby.

Here’s the official verdict from the NHL:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Referee, the Situation Room confirmed that the actions of Washington’s Christian Djoos caused Perron to contact Holtby before the puck crossed the goal line. The decision was made in accordance with Note 2 of Rule 78.7 (ii) which states, in part, that the goal should be allowed because “the attacking Player was pushed, shoved or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper.”

Therefore, the original call stands – good goal Vegas Golden Knights.

Since the Coach’s Challenge did not result in the original call being overturned, the Washington Capitals forfeit their time-out.

Watch the replays in the video above this post’s headline and decide for yourself: should the 2-2 goal count or was the wrong call made?

So far, Washington has managed 1-0 and 2-1 leads, but Vegas has been able to respond. The Golden Knights have had their best success creating havoc in front of Holtby and getting some positive bounces. They’ve also avoided some near-goals by Washington before finally getting a lead thanks to a 3-2 goal by Reilly Smith thanks to a brilliant Alex Tuch feed.

After that 3-2 goal was scored, a wild scuffle ensued. With all the frenetic energy being created in front of Washington’s net lately, it’s not shocking that tensions boiled over:

Expect more fireworks during the third period. Will the Capitals rally to win their first Stanley Cup, or will the Golden Knights force a Game 6 in Washington?

Fleury-Ovechkin get heated, Golden Knights put on show before Game 5

Not wanting the season to end is already a good reason to hope that the 2018 Stanley Cup Final extends beyond Game 5, at least if you’re not a Washington Capitals fan.

Fans of the sport as a whole received a few other reasons to hope that this series goes as long as possible thanks to entertaining events before the real action even began. (You can watch that real action via this livestream link.)

The juiciest bit was the part that (probably) wasn’t choreographed. You know, assuming that Marc-Andre Fleury and Alex Ovechkin aren’t keeping kayfabe as part of a pro wrestling-style fake feud.

Before Game 2, Fleury and Ovechkin were quite playful:

With the Capitals a win away from their first Stanley Cup and Vegas in a must-win situation, it’s unclear if their exchange was “playful” or at least a little bit hateful. Judge for yourself, but it sure looks like Fleury wasn’t happy with Ovechkin’s antics:

Well, isn’t that interesting?

Speaking of dramas that felt downright episodic, the Golden Knights provided quite the rendition of their over-the-top, “Game of Thrones” meets Medieval Times presentation. Watch as the Capitals Crusader (just made that one up) and the Golden Knight battle, with the Caps’ soldier briefly getting the upper hand.

And, well, the rest is worth watching if you enjoy some corniness. Enjoy that specific clip in the video above this post’s headline.

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Circling back to the earlier point: if you don’t have a horse in the race, wouldn’t you want to see what the Golden Knights might have up their sleeves if the series went to a Game 7 for all of the marbles? Would they be able to lure Brittney Spears in to do the show? Maybe there could be another sequel for “The Hangover” to lead in? The possibilities are endless and endlessly fun.

Plus we’d get more Fleury vs. Ovechkin. And more hockey.

Maybe this Vegas team is inspiring a bit of greediness here …

Stanley Cup Final schedule
Game 1 Monday, May 28 – Golden Knights 6, Capitals 4
Game 2 Wednesday, May 30 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 2
Game 3 Saturday, June 2 – Capitals 3, Golden Knights 1 
Game 4 Monday, June 4 – Capitals 6, Golden Knights 2 (Washington leads series 3-1)
Game 5 Thursday, June 7 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 6* Sunday, June 10 – Golden Knights at Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)
Game 7* Wednesday, June 13 – Capitals at Golden Knights, 8 p.m. ET (NBC)

* = If necessary

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

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.

Capitals’ Stanley Cup Final run is Trotz’s masterpiece

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This Washington Capitals team is a testament to people taking things for granted.

Think of all of the the achievements that were met, ridiculously, with a shoulder shrug:

  • Yet another Maurice Richard Trophy for Alex Ovechkin thanks to 49 goals. It will be his seventh such title.
  • Yawn: another division title, marking the eighth of the Ovechkin era.
  • Sheesh, they didn’t even win the Presidents’ Trophy this time around.

Hockey fans and pundits are probably also guilty of far-too-easily dismissing the brilliant work of Barry Trotz. Such things tend to happen for a bench boss who, much like the Capitals, never advanced beyond the second round before this magical run to 3-1 series lead in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Maybe it’s too easy to forget the uncertainty Washington faced before Trotz took over.

Consider that, during the three seasons pre-Trotz, the Capitals missed the postseason once (in 2013-14) and failed to win a single playoff series. Perhaps it was easy to get lost in the “Pittsburgh Penguins curse” narrative and forget just how seamlessly they shot back up the ranks of the NHL. Washington won the Presidents’ Trophy during Trotz’s first two seasons – only to fall to the eventual champions – and owned the Metropolitan Division crown during his reign.

With the benefit of hindsight, this playoff run might honestly be the perfect way for Trotz to receive at least some of the credit he so richly deserves.

Seamless transition

There might have been temptation to dismiss Trotz’s achievements because of all the talent on hand. Capitals GM Brian MacLellan viewed 2015-16 and 2016-17 as the Washington’s two-year championship window, or at least its biggest window for breakthrough success, only to face heartbreak and a hangover.

But maybe those letdowns and fewer roster riches allowed for some focus, and the release of some of the tension of “Oh, but you have to win with this team.”

Despite losing Nate Schmidt, Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Capitals maintained a high level of postseason success. While this postseason run has been about Alex Ovechkin turning back the clock, Evgeny Kuznetsov finding another gear, and Braden Holtby rekindling his Vezina form, it’s also spotlighted the structural genius of Trotz’s system.

Consider that:

  • The Capitals stood toe-to-toe with a strong possession team in Columbus to win that series.
  • Clearly outplayed the Penguins during that redemptive meeting in the semifinal round. Considering how lucky Pittsburgh’s Game 1 win felt, it’s fair to say that the right team – not just the fortunate one – advanced and justified it being called a “rivalry.”

  • Washington proved to be a riddle the Tampa Bay Lightning failed to solve, too. Andrei Vasilevskiy was able to help Tampa Bay steal some games, yet the Bolts failed to score against Holtby during the final two games of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning’s top line of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov generally lived off of the power play, as the Bolts had few answers for the Caps at five-on-five.

While the Vegas Golden Knights justifiably carry a “Cinderella” narrative with them, they also presented a fascinating stylistic challenge for the Capitals.

Through three rounds of the postseason, the Golden Knights have been able to create unyielding pressure on the opposition thanks to a ferocious forecheck and impressive team speed. Even the tight four-game sweep of the Kings was misleading, as Los Angeles was often hanging on for dear life, asking Jonathan Quick to carry a huge burden just to stay in games.

An experienced San Jose Sharks team was rattled early in their series via a 7-0 loss in Game 1, and Vegas kept rolling along. With all their waves of talent, the Winnipeg Jets never really found an answer for the Golden Knights’ gauntlet, falling in just five games.

Jonathan Marchessault and the rest of the Golden Knights’ top line made a strong argument that it was “for real” during the postseason.

The Capitals, in turn, made them feel a lot like Tampa’s top combo of Kucherov and Stamkos. Vegas had to feel a bit shackled and negated, not to mention frustrated. Some of that comes down to Washington’s talent, depth, and versatility. Still, it’s the Trotz blueprint that stands as the primary explanation for why the Golden Knights’ freight train approach screeched to a halt.

And, again, that unyielding structure is something people just came to expect from Trotz.

Beautiful hockey mind

Maybe we merely needed to see the game evolve to truly appreciate his work? The NHL is clearly (and from an entertainment standpoint, delightfully) turning to a more attacking, “modern” style. To some, it seems like coaches’ ability to kill all fun and offense hit a critical mass in recent years, and now it’s time for offenses to take over.

Trotz’s work stands as a counterpoint to that thought.

On the other hand, much of his genius is finding the right combination of offense and responsibility. Washington has shown an ability to be able to trade punches with the best of them when needed -Game 4 saw the adrenaline go through the roof, and the Caps were just fine, thank you – yet they’ve also thrived in the kind of grinding games people expect from the postseason.

Through some combination of design and necessity, Trotz has helped the Capitals transform into a hockey chameleon, and that versatility leaves them one win from the franchise’s – and coach’s – first Stanley Cup victory.

The beauty of it all is that Trotz is so widely loved and respected. His acumen and love of the sport can be seen in how he’d hold court with Nashville media, not unlike Herb Brooks going out of his way to teach sports reporters the finer points of hockey.

As you may remember, reporters including Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman wondered if Trotz said that he was on his way out of Washington during a handshake line chat with Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella.

That moment came as the Capitals were heading into the uncertainty that was another second-round series with the Penguins. There have been denials about that statement being made, but if there was a kernel of truth to such scuttlebutt, maybe the drive behind such feelings was that Trotz didn’t feel appreciated. Maybe he felt taken for granted.

(And, sure, there also might be a succession plan involving assistant Todd Reirden.)

Maybe such feelings leave the door open ever so slightly that, even if the Capitals win it all, Trotz might be somewhere else. It’s tough to imagine that actually happening, but stranger things have happened in sports.

Whatever the case may be, Barry Trotz has now earned the right to call his shot, and reminded us all of how brilliant he truly is along the way.

Now he just needs to make sure the Capitals don’t take that next win for granted.

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

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.

Highs and lows for Garth Snow as Islanders GM

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When the New York Islanders promoted backup goalie Garth Snow to the position of GM in July 2006, you could almost hear the cackles from around the NHL.

It’s honestly a shame that Twitter only technically existed back then, sort of like how Snow technically wasn’t fired from the Islanders even though he was “relieved of his duties” as Isles GM on Tuesday. In retrospect, the decision to name Snow as Islanders GM wasn’t quite “laugh out loud” material; instead, his tenure stands as a mixed bag.

If you have to give a sweeping review? Yes, you’d probably deem it not good enough. Simply put, NHL teams need to strike quickly when they essentially hit the lottery, as they did by selecting John Tavares first overall in 2009. And, really, the Islanders failed to take advantage of another gift: Tavares’ second contract, which carried a ludicrously low cap hit of $5.5 million from 2012-13 until this past season.

Let’s take a look back at the mixed bag that was Snow’s 12-year(!) tenure as Islanders GM. Keep in mind this isn’t meant to be totally comprehensive, so feel free to comment on other moves and moments.

Steps in the right direction, just not enough

During Snow’s tenure as GM, the Islanders managed to make the playoffs four times (out of 12 attempts, which doesn’t feel redundant since, you know, lockouts).

In 2015-16, the Islanders’ most recent postseason run, they won their first series since shocking the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins (who were repeat champions). As you might expect, Tavares played a key role in eliminating the Florida Panthers during that competitive 2016 series.

At the time, it seemed like the Islanders were finally, truly ascendant. Instead, their progress stalled, as they failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the final two seasons of Snow’s tenure.

The good and bad news is that, relatively speaking, Snow leaves Lou Lamoriello with a relatively clean slate. Yes, there are some regrettable deals (looking at you, Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck), but Cap Friendly estimates the Isles’ cap spending at $46.74 million.

Of course, the ideal scenario is that John Tavares pushes that up closer to $60M. Either way, Lamoriello can put his mark on this team without spending too much time sending people to “Robidas Island.”

Peaks and valleys

The fascinating thing about Snow’s tenure is that you can look at various significant players and often see the good and the bad.

(Let’s go ahead and skate past most of his earlier moves, merely noting that some give him a pass for the notorious Rick DiPietro contract.)

Take Kyle Okposo, the last first-round pick selected before Snow’s watch.

On one hand, hindsight indicates that the Islanders probably made the right choice in letting him leave via free agency. Unfortunately, they essentially chose Andrew Ladd over Okposo, so it was still a situation they’d seek a mulligan for.

Travis Hamonic is another interesting example. He was a solid steal in the draft (53rd overall in 2008), and Snow waited through some drama to trade him when the time was right for the Islanders, landing some serious draft capital from the Calgary Flames. Hamonic struggled for a Calgary team that missed the playoffs, setting the stage for the Islanders to hold picks 11 and 12 for this upcoming draft.

Then again, even a struggling Hamonic might have helped them stop some of the bleeding on defense …

Trading away high picks

From a drafting perspective, Snow showed some ability to find some gems (Anders Lee, sixth round in 2009) and also was able to fix some mistakes by way of clever trades. OK, to be more specific, he bamboozled Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli to help him turn Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome into Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, and Anthony Beauvillier. Considering how the Reinhart/Barzal scenario looks, it truly is remarkable that Chiarelli took Snow’s call regarding Eberle.

(Snow also memorably offered the Columbus Blue Jackets a Mike Ditka sending everything for Ricky Williams-type deal to move up in the 2012 NHL Draft, yet was turned down. Now that was quite the “what if?” scenario.)

Granted, things didn’t always work out when Snow was guilty of a misstep.

Michael Dal Colle, the fifth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, has only played four games with the Islanders to this date. Masochists could scroll down that draft to see the likes of Nikolaj Ehlers (ninth), Dylan Larkin (15th), and David Pastrnak (25th) selected after him.

Now, sure, just about every NHL GM curses a bad-in-retrospect selection, but some of Snow’s biggest swing-and-misses do sting.

That’s especially true with the high draft pick trade that didn’t work out. While Cal Clutterbuck clutters the Islanders’ cap with a shaky contract, Nino Niederreiter is a key forward for the Minnesota Wild. Niederreiter only played 64 games for the Islanders before being shipped off in that one-sided trade.

That big summer and the breakthrough that never happened

While it didn’t produce the breakthrough many hoped for, October 4, 2014 remains Snow’s biggest and maybe best day as Islanders GM.

During that memorable afternoon, Snow landed Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins and Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Leddy deal still looks pretty spiffy today, but either way, it was a prime example of an up-and-coming team leveraging contenders’ cap conundrums to get better. The Islanders simply didn’t improve enough.

One might attribute that inability to go from good to great (and eventually the malaise to slip from good to mediocre?) on Snow’s coaching choices. Snow stuck with Jack Capuano for quite some time, and the decision to promote Doug Weight ended up being a failure.

For all we know, a more experienced or innovative coach might have been able to optimize a group that, while imperfect, certainly boasted some talent. Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins under Mike Sullivan vs. a similar Penguins team held back by Mike Johnston’s ill-fitting system if you want an example of what a difference that can make.

Snow frequently showed patience, something that paid off for similarly long-tenured Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. Sometimes, too much of a good thing like patience can really be a detriment in sports. It’s fair to wonder if that was the case with Garth Snow.

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You could kill hours pouring over the highs and lows of Snow’s days. Really, it’s a testament to how tough it can be to run an NHL team, especially one trying to shake a bad reputation like the Islanders fought.

Snow worked past the days of trading for a player’s negotiating rights, only to realize they wouldn’t sign with his team. He recognized under-the-radar talent on the waiver wire and boasted draft-day hits amid the misses.

Still, he was unable to get over the hump for a variety of reasons, including (wait for it) goaltending.

Of all the things that went wrong for the former NHL backup, that might be the factor that stings the most.

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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.

Snow, Weight ‘relieved of duties’ with Islanders

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The New York Islanders will look drastically different next season, even if John Tavares decides not to leave via free agency.

In resounding – if inevitable? – news on Tuesday, the Islanders announced that Garth Snow and Doug Weight have been “relieved of their duties” as GM and head coach. The least surprising part is that Lou Lamoriello will act as GM after recently taking on an all-encompassing role with the Isles.

The weird part is in the wording of the press release, as there’s a stench of legalese to this “not” amounting to them both being fired. Officially speaking.

After the typical copy-and-paste quote featuring Lamoriello thanking them both, the Islanders noted that … Weight and Snow will remain with the team? So, technically, they haven’t been fired as much as they’ve been demoted. But they have functionally been fired:

/Nominates this for “the most Islanders thing of the day.”

Here’s a guess: Snow is being soft-fired because of his contract. About a week ago, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks made mention of a “poison pill” that might have been part of Snow’s deal as GM. That might explain this discordant element of the franchise’s makeover.

This change comes not all that long after Islanders fans raised funds to put up “Snow Must Go” billboards close to Barclays Center. Snow acted as Isles GM since July 2006, so he certainly enjoyed ample opportunities to turn things around, particularly when the franchise landed John Tavares.

(And then Snow enjoyed the luxury of Tavares’ ridiculous bargain of a second contract, which is just now expiring.)

[MORE: Lamoriello has his hands full with these Islanders.]

In Weight’s case, the former veteran NHL player had his strengths as a coach, yet the Islanders seemed like a structural mess. Their defensive issues were most memorably highlighted by Washington Capitals winger Andre Burakovsky.

Lamoriello is now tasked with finding a coach who can better optimize the Islanders roster … which remains the biggest wild card of them all.

Will Lamoriello find a coach that might entice Tavares to return, if that’s much of a factor? Would luring in Ilya Kovalchuk make the difference (or would re-signing Tavares increase their chances of landing Kovalchuk)?

The Islanders face a ton of huge questions during this upcoming off-season, and the biggest one might be out of their hands. Lamoriello & Co. just made necessary calls on the second and third most important choices by “relieving” Weight and Snow “of their duties.”

Now, as far as these moves making it more or less likely to keep Tavares? Well, that’s clearly up to debate.

Buckle up, Isles fans.

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.