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Ovechkin returns after being badly bloodied by puck to face

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It’s still relatively early on Saturday night, and both the Chicago Blackhawks and Washington Capitals could eventually provide further updates that derail this optimism.

With that out of the way, at the moment, the theme of the night might just be teams dodging big injury bullets, even if the star players in question can’t dodge actual damage.

In the case of Corey Crawford, he bounced back for the Blackhawks after Evgeni Malkin‘s thigh area clipped him in the head. Maybe it looked worse than it was?

Now, any time you see people scrape blood off the ice, you get a reminder of how dangerous – and yeah, occasionally strange – hockey can be. That only becomes more disturbing when that blood is coming from a player as important as Alex Ovechkin:

Remarkably, Ovechkin is returning for the third period of the Capitals’ game against the Minnesota Wild.

So:

  • This is a reminder that Ovechkin is tough, in case you foolishly think he isn’t because … his teams have lost in big games or something? Considering how recklessly he often throws his body around, and how infrequently he misses games due to to injury, you’d think that debate would have died a long time ago. Moments like this make it seem that much sillier.
  • Ovechkin must really want to help the struggling Capitals turn things around.
  • Maybe he wants to hang an L on his old boss Bruce Boudreau?

Anyway, PHT will keep an eye on these situations. Sometimes there are more answers the night of events, and sometimes it takes a little longer.

Right now, it’s reasonable for Capitals fans and Blackhawks fans to feel some relative, even if it’s only in the interim.

Update: The Capitals ended up winning 3-1, thanks in large part to Braden Holtby‘s strong night.

Ovechkin logged 8:18 TOI in the third period, so it seems like he’s OK. This post will be updated if he shares a nasty battle scar.

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.

Boudreau predicts the Caps will get it done tonight

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Game 7 may be the most exciting phrase in sports to a lot of people. Probably not for the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks.

The Capitals have lost six of nine Game 7s in the Alex Ovechkin era, and the Ducks have lost five in a row with stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, including a heartbreaker in each of the last four years. Wednesday night is the chance for each team to confront its Game 7 demons as Washington hosts the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim hosts the Edmonton Oilers with spots in the conference finals at stake.

“I don’t know whether from coaching or playing whether you get into a mental block or not,” said Bruce Boudreau, who coached in Game 7 four times with the Capitals and four times with the Ducks. “I think Washington for sure is due to win. I’ve said it for four years in Anaheim we’re due to win, but in the end your best players have got to be your best players.”

For the Capitals, that means more production from Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, and strong goaltending from Braden Holtby when the puck drops for Game 7 against the Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). In those nine Game 7s, Ovechkin has three goals and three assists, and at the moment he is earning praise from teammates and coach Barry Trotz in this series for accepting a demotion to the third line.

Getzlaf and Perry have combined for only seven points in six chances in Game 7 going into another one at home against Edmonton (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Goaltender John Gibson was pulled from his only Game 7 start in 2014 after allowing four goals on 18 shots, and he’s coming off another hook after three goals on six shots in a 7-1 drubbing in Game 6 on Sunday.

Ducks coach Randy Carlyle didn’t blame Gibson and said it’s about the entire team being better.

“Obviously there’s more at stake when it’s the final game,” said Carlyle, who won the Cup in 2007 but hasn’t won a Game 7 since 2006. “Now it boils down to one. … I’m sure that you could poll 100 people, and 99 of them would say they’d rather play at home. It’s our turn to serve, and holding serve means that we go on. If we don’t hold serve, then it’s not what we’re looking for.”

Boudreau, who is 1-7 in his NHL coaching career in Game 7 after success in that spot in the minors, thinks goaltending will be the difference. Trotz doesn’t think it’ll have anything to do with history.

“I don’t know if there’s any hump to get over,” said Trotz, who is 1-1 with the Capitals in two Game 7 opportunities in 2015. “I just think with this group that I’ve been with, our Game 7s have been pretty solid. You’re not going to win every one. But I thought our game was really, really quite good in both those Game 7s.”

Whether it was Marc-Andre Fleury stopping Ovechkin on a breakaway in 2009, Jaroslav Halak stopping 41 of 42 shots in 2010, losing by one goal to the New York Rangers in 2012, getting shut out by the Rangers in 2013 or losing in overtime at the Rangers in 2015, Game 7 just hasn’t been kind to the Capitals.

“At the end of the day they’re a different team,” said Adam Oates, who coached the Capitals’ 5-0 Game 7 loss in 2013. “I think they’re the better team right now, so hopefully they play that way. Based on (Monday) night I don’t see any reason why they won’t.”

Beating the Penguins emphatically 5-2 in Game 6 in Pittsburgh is why Boudreau believes the Capitals will win Game 7. Their last Game 7 victory at home came in the first round in 2009 with Boudreau behind the bench when Sergei Fedorov scored the OT winner to knock off the Rangers.

“I’ve got to believe that (the momentum from Game 6 is) going to roll over, that they’re finally sick and tired of hearing that they haven’t gone to the third round and will break through,” Boudreau said.

 

Pre-game reading: On Ovechkin’s sweet spot, and why he’s so hard to stop

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— Up top, watch Alex Ovechkin score his 30th goal of the season Saturday against the Coyotes. They call that spot on the ice — right around the top of the left faceoff circle — Ovechkin’s “office,” just like Wayne Gretzky’s office used to be behind the net.

— So, how is it that Ovechkin can keep scoring from the same spot without opponents being able to stop him? The Washington Post asked his old coach, Bruce Boudreau, who said: “He’s scored 250 goals like that from that spot. Every team has designed things to do, but if he gets the shot away, if it doesn’t hit you, it’s in the net. … He’s that good.” (Washington Post)

— At 40 years old, retirement is looming for Shane Doan. Maybe not this year. But soon. Just don’t expect him to stop thinking about the Coyotes when he hangs up the skates. The way he talks, it sounds like he’ll still be quite involved. “We have to get it turned around. We’ve had moments in our organization where things have looked like they’re going in the right direction, and some key steps got missed, and we had to turn it back and start over again. Looks like right now we’ve got some things in place. But the next few years are going to be very important with the steps we take to do things right.”(Sports Illustrated)

— New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung hit the ice with the Boston Bruins Friday. And you know what? He wasn’t too bad. (CSN New England)

— An appreciation of Cam Talbot‘s season, by Dave Lozo of Vice Sports: “A consistent workhorse for a team lacking a reliable backup goaltender, he is one of the biggest reasons the Edmonton Oilers are returning to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.” Indeed, Talbot has been by far the busiest goalie in the NHL this season, logging 555 more minutes and making 71 more saves than the next busiest, Toronto’s Frederik Andersen. (Vice Sports)

— Last year, the Chicago Blackhawks’ blue line was considered their biggest weakness. But not this year. Said returnee Johnny Oduya: ‘‘This is the deepest team on the back end I think we’ve ever had. You never know what happens down the road with injuries or different things, so that’s a positive for us. It gives us more options. Certain nights, some guys might be more on fire than others, so we can lean on different guys on different nights.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

Enjoy the games!

PHT Morning Skate: Is Alex Ovechkin’s production on the decline?

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–After scoring over 50 goals in each of the last three seasons, Alex Ovechkin is “only’ on pace to score 33 in 2016-17. Based on his Sportsnet’s Andrew Berkshire believes that this could be the start of the 31-year-old’s decline. (Sportsnet)

–Yvan Cournoyer won 10 Stanley Cups during his career, but he still thinks about the one that got away. In 1967, Cournoyer’s Canadiens dropped a six-game series to the underdog Toronto Maple Leafs. “When you’ve already won the Cup (which the Canadiens had the previous two years), you think you’re going to win it again. The mistake we made is that we didn’t respect the Leafs. It was a good lesson for me to think, ‘Hey, I know you can win the Stanley Cup, but you’re going to have to work harder for it.'” (NHL.com)

–It’s no secret that the Avalanche have been brutal this season. The people at BarDown have accumulated four stats that show just how bad they’ve been. For example, they’re on pace to lose more games in regulation (56) since the Atlanta Thrashers lost 57 games in their expansion season. (BarDown)

–The Chicago Blackhawks picked up a big 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens last night. The victory allowed the ‘Hawks to jump ahead of the Minnesota Wild for top spot in the Central Division. You can watch the highlights from the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Wild coach Bruce Boudreau had some tie troubles during last night’s game against the Washington Capitals, and the internet totally freaked out. (The Score)

–Islanders minority owner Charles Wang believes that to grow the game in China, kids need to be playing the sport. “The love of any sport…it really starts with the children playing the sport. When they play the sport, they become the best.” Check out Wang’s one-on-one interview with ESPN.

–Hockey players are known for their weird superstitions and Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw is no exception. Between periods, Shaw is always the first one out of the locker room. He does some stretching, performs a few phantom faceoffs and he lunges out with his stick. “I guess I started it about eight years ago back in juniors. I just smash my stick on my shin pads seven times. Go down and get in the faceoff position, do two on the backhand, one on the forehand. Spin the stick to loosen up the wrists. Get a good stick going … just trying to loosen up everything.” (Montreal Gazette)

Back to normal? Capitals win and Ovechkin scores vs. Wild

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Things had not been quite right for the Washington Capitals lately.

The team, which had run roughshod over the NHL for much of this season, had lost four games in a row. Alex Ovechkin was on the sort of goal slump that usually only affects mere mortal goal-scorers. The goals, in general, hadn’t been coming.

So Tuesday stands as a huge relief for the Capitals, who also enjoyed the bonus of beating former head coach Bruce Boudreau and the Minnesota Wild 4-2.

Ovechkin? He scored the sort of goal he generates when someone asks you to close your eyes and imagine an Ovechkin goal.

For Capitals fans, Ovechkin scoring from “his office” is almost as comforting as the team getting back on the winning track.