Five Thoughts: Lay off Alex Ovechkin; Bruce Boudreau’s future murky at worst

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After tonight, one top seed is in serious trouble while the other found a way to get things done in overtime. What kind of trouble lays ahead for the Capitals? Possibly a lot. Meanwhile the Canucks looked like they figured things out in a couple of ways. One thing we’re not lacking on is drama all around.

1. Game 3 was such a tough game for the Capitals and while they looked motivated and ready to get back into the series for the better part of the game, when Ryan Malone scored a goal off his skate just 15 seconds after Steven Stamkos tied the game at 3-3 you could see the life and the fire to compete disappear from the Caps’ eyes. They’d been victimized so much by goals against that either bounced in off their own defensemen or ones where it took a beneficial bounce off a Lightning player now that Malone’s goal may have been the one that broke them.

I don’t expect the Caps to lay down and get rolled over tonight in Game 4 but the way the Capitals are playing now is reminiscent of how they played during their eight game losing streak back in December. The way they’re playing they look resigned to losing. Accepting that fate well before a game is over is unacceptable.

2. Should the Caps be finished off soon we expect that Alex Ovechkin will end up taking a lot of the heat for such a second round failure and another season without Washington at least making the Stanley Cup final. It’s what happens when you’re the captain and that’s how things go, but if you’re a fan and you’re pointing at Ovechkin as a reason why the Caps lost, you’re nuts.

With so many guys on the Caps roster to choose from that either are playing poorly or looking like they’d rather be anywhere else than on the ice when they’re losing, singling out Ovechkin is wrong. There’s not another guy out on that ice, aside from maybe Mike Knuble, that is busting their tail harder than Ovechkin to try and will his team into winning. In the past Ovechkin has wilted a bit in the face of disaster, but not now. If anything, losing is pushing him to play even harder and considering the level he plays at in every game that’s a frightening thing.

Fans can question Ovechkin’s ability to lead all they want, but if they were following his example in how to get back into a game, the Caps would never be in this position in the first place.

3. If the Caps are swept the call for Bruce Boudreau to be fired will go up immediately if it hasn’t already started happening. Caps fans will want someone to suffer for another playoff failure and while series losses can happen, getting swept doesn’t. My thought on this is pretty straight forward. Boudreau won’t be fired because that’s not how GM George McPhee or owner Ted Leonsis works, but he’ll be officially on notice to get the Caps into the Eastern final or Stanley Cup final next year or else.

Dominating the regular season is all well and good, but coming up empty against teams like Montreal last year and Tampa Bay this year who are outworking and outcoaching him just will not do. With a team that’s as good as the Caps are, failing in the playoffs cannot continue and while Boudreau did well to get his team to adjust and be more of a playoff-ready team this year, getting snuffed out like this won’t sit well and Boudreau will be on the clock to get it done next year… Or else.

4. A lot was being made of Vancouver’s inability to take advantage of Nashville on the power play. The Canucks appeared to figure out a plan against Pekka Rinne as Ryan Kesler scored two power play goals including the overtime winner. Vancouver was able to crash the net and either get Rinne scrambling like they did on Kesler’s first goal, or park out in front of him so he couldn’t see the shot coming all and deflect it in as he did in overtime. It doesn’t always have to be a gigantic overhaul of what you’re doing to that gets you results, sometimes it just takes hard work to make it happen.

Lots of people are eager to dump on Vancouver for doing things the hard way rather than flat out dominating opponents. Domination doesn’t just happen in the playoffs though. Vancouver’s going to need to be rough like that the rest of the playoffs because nothing will come easy.

5. The one guy that might be the most terrifying to go up against in Game 4 of the Nashville-Vancouver series will be Shea Weber. The Predators captain got booked for hooking in overtime and that penalty led to Kesler’s game winner. If you think he’s going to take that and not use it as motivation to play harder and tougher than he ever has, you’re crazy. Expect Game 4 to be a physical war and Weber to be leading the charge to try and even the series up at 2-2. Weber’s a prideful guy and he’ll take all the responsibility for Game 3’s loss on his shoulders and use it to play harder the rest of the way.

Bruce Boudreau on Alex Ovechkin: “Big stink about a non-story”

Controversy and apparent drama can certainly help make a day fly by and in Washington this morning, we certainly had our fair share of things to talk about. If you missed it this morning, there were some curious eyebrows turned up thanks to Caps coach Bruce Boudreau’s post-game chat with reporters in which Caps captain Alexander Ovechkin was overheard laughing it up when talking with Russian countryman and opponent from that night Ilya Kovalchuk. Boudreau seemed perturbed by the whole thing leading to speculation that there could be an issue with Ovechkin.

When hearing a player, and a team captain, laughing it up after a game which his team lost badly 5-0, some folks got upset with seeing Ovechkin seemingly not bothered by his team’s lack of success. With the Caps in the middle of a three-game losing streak, some fans are a bit sensitive over things. With the uproar circling all over the place today, Bruce Boudreau addressed the situation to let us know that everyone got a bit excited over nothing. Katie Carrera of The Washington Post shares the straight talk from Boudreau.

“We make big things about nothing,” Boudreau said. “We want to make big things about nothing. After every game in every arena you will see in the new hockey that people will be talking to their countrymen and it happens everywhere.

“When we win at the Verizon, I don’t see anybody reporting when they come over and have guys waiting at the door to talk to any of our guys. Just because I looked over, now all of a sudden we make a big stink about a non-story.”

As we said this morning, it seemed to be a bit much to read into things as far as this goes but if people are going to be talking about it, we’re in on the discussion as well. Fans getting worked up about things more than the players do can generally be commonplace but doubting how serious Ovechkin takes things is presumptuous at best. As for what Ovechkin thinks, Carrera heard from him too and he’s more focused on what he can do to help the Caps win.

“Sometimes you feel good, you just have to work harder, when things are going wrong,” Ovechkin said this morning when asked about his game lately. “I think about it all the time, what I have to do better and what’s not working. I’ve talked to Bruce about it too. It will be okay. Things happen. I make mistakes but they will be better.”

Why so serious, everyone? Bumps in the road happen and the Caps have been dealing with goaltending and defensive injuries all season long now. It’s a long season and somehow the Caps are doing just fine atop the Southeast Division. Things will turn around, Ovechkin will pile on goals and the Caps will continue to be very good. Yukking it up after the game with your friends isn’t really something to get excited about. Players are human after all.

Caps coach Boudreau upset with Ovechkin and Semin yukking it up after Caps 5-0 loss

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How would you conduct yourself after your team lost their third straight game, two of which were 5-0 blowouts? If you were just about any player in the world you’d be angry, upset, and likely frustrated about that. If you’re Alexander Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals superstar and team captain, you would feel the same way. But for Ovechkin, feeling down and out about a team struggling doesn’t last long and seeking out friends from the opposing team to share a laugh and a chat with is part of the norm… Just not usually right where the team’s coach is standing by conducting press scrum.

We’ve got drama in Washington and Corey Masisak of CSNWashington has the details of what happens when Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Ilya Kovalchuk start yukking it up near Bruce Boudreau who is trying to figure out how to get his Caps out of an ugly funk.

A minute or so later, Boudreau walked out to assume his place in front of the media. Already upset, he glanced to where Ovechkin, Semin and Kovalchuk were standing and he looked displeased.

During the course of Boudreau’s press conference, one of the three players let out a hearty laugh. Boudreau stuttered in the middle of an answer he was giving about the goaltending situation and had to recollect his thoughts. He was clearly steamed.

Semin eventually left for the bus but Ovechkin and Kovalchuk continued. At the end of Boudreau’s press conference, he was asked if “that” bothered him – that being the interaction between the Russian players.

“I’ll reserve my thoughts on that, if you don’t mind,” he said after a pause.

You can see how this whole thing might get blown out of proportion. A bad loss, a bad stretch of games, a frustrated coach and players seemingly not taking things as seriously as they’re supposed to.

The Russian countrymen are a pretty tightly knit community so having this mega-troika of talent get together briefly after a game isn’t too shocking. Obviously the Caps are going through a tough stretch right now but so are the Devils and Kovalchuk has been having his fair share of struggles as well. In this situation though, it’s about appearances and having the captain of the team appear to not take things seriously is a reason to raise your eyebrows a bit. Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy throws in his two cents on this matter succinctly.

And it’s frankly unacceptable for Ovechkin to put himself in a situation where this becomes a story. Boudreau dropped him to the third line against Jersey. He hasn’t scored a goal in four straight, and has two goals in nine games. It’s not the best run for Ovechkin right now.

But above all that: He’s the captain. And the impression left on his coach and on his fans this morning is that a 6-4 block of granite named John Erskine handled himself better after this defeat than the guy with the ‘C’.

While I don’t believe this is as big a deal as it could be construed as, when the fans take things more serious than players do upsetting them doesn’t do much to help keep them cool. These sorts of post-game meetings aren’t uncommon and for players getting a moment to chat with pals you don’t see so often is a rare opportunity. These types of things don’t usually end up within earshot of the coach or a media scrum is what’s the issue here. Sometimes getting a peek behind the curtain of what goes on with the players when they’re not in game mode can give you a look at something you’d rather not see and potentially give you the wrong impression.

Ovechkin’s love of the game has never been questioned in his career, but now he’ll have to deal with questions about whether he cares enough to get mad about things when losing badly. Whether or not he can handle the added pressure and speculation that will go into that will present a new twist into Ovechkin’s life as captain of a Stanley Cup contender.

Boudreau, Knuble reflect on Ovechkin hit

gabbyandovie.jpgAmid the deluge of opinions on blogs, Twitter and newspapers, certain voices standout. Fellow teammates of the “victim” will usually make safe but critical comments. The most interesting perspectives often come from teammates and coaches of the “accused” though.

First, let’s take a look at Bruce “Gabby” Boudreau’s perspective on Alex Ovechkin’s two game suspension. Tarik El-Bashir caught up with the Capitals’ coach in the late afternoon. Here are some excerpts from Boudreau’s reactions. (H/T to Puck Daddy by way of Chris Burton)

“The decision has been made. I don’t agree with it. But maybe if I was [Chicago Coach] Joel Quenneville, I wouldn’t think it wasn’t enough …”

“I watched [the hit] frame by frame, trying to think what they would think. To me, there’s no way that was anywhere near a vicious as [Colorado enforcer David] Koci’s hit on Mike [Green on Dec. 15].”Alex pushed [Campbell]. He pushed him. If he doesn’t fall awkwardly into the boards, a) Is it a penalty? b) Are we having this discussion? … Alex is so much stronger than everyone else. So we’re penalizing him for being strong. …

“I was so upset for him. I told [GM George McPhee], ‘I can’t tell him.’ I feel so bad for the guy. All he wants to do is play hockey and play the game hard.”

On the other hand, Mike Knuble seemed to pull a mild “Bill Guerin” by sharing some mild concerns about his teammate’s style of play. Read more about his comments after the jump.

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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?

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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.