Goal, fight, ripped jersey highlight wild first period in Game 7

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So, Alex Ovechkin isn’t a big game player, you say?

What say you, then, about Ovi’s goal 62 seconds into Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday?

Ovechkin called Game 7 the biggest game for himself, the team and the Capitals organization on Tuesday and he wasted no time putting an early stamp on it.

His shot was vintage Ovi, just slightly higher in his “office” than usual. But the result was the same: a seeing-eye clapper that sailed past Andrei Vasilevkiy for a 1-0 lead.

Ovi’s goal kicked off a wild first period.

Game 6 was a brilliant hockey game, and if we got even half that energy in Game 7, it was always going to be a doozy.

Devante Smith-Pelly, who was the hero in Game 6, made quite the sacrifice after getting drilled in the head with slapshot off the stick of Ryan McDonagh. Smith-Pelly remained down before getting helped off the ice and down the tunnel to the room.

He returned a short time later.

The period also featured a spirited scrap between Tom Wilson and Braydon Coburn. The two exchanged pleasantries earlier in the period in a scuffle after the whistle, where Coburn ripped off Wilson’s helmet and both were handed penalties.

When their time in the sin bin ran out, each exited the penalty box and immediately tried to knock each other’s head off.

Wilson and Coburn were involved in much of the fun in the first.

Wilson’s hit on Chris Kunitz helped set up the rush that led to Ovechkin’s goal.

Coburn, meanwhile, was trying to collect all the Capitals gear he could in the period. After ripping off Wilson’s helmet, he then stole Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s jersey right off his back in the same scuffle.

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


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

Flyers won’t rule out drafting a defenseman, but forward is ‘obvious’ need

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With plenty of talented, young defensemen already in the system, the Philadelphia Flyers seem likely to select a forward when they pick seventh overall at the upcoming draft.

But what if there happens to be a blue-liner they really, really like?

“From a needs standpoint, [a forward] would be obvious, but we’ve always had the philosophy of ‘best player available’ and [GM Ron Hextall has] been taking the same approach,” Flyers director of scouting Chris Pryor told the Daily News.

“A conversation is going to arise if there are two players you deem comparable, pretty close, and we’re going to have to make that call as a group at the table. But if there’s a discrepancy between the two and there’s a gap, you have to take the best player.”

Noah Hanifin and Ivan Pronorov are a couple of d-men that are expected to be snapped up early. But in what’s considered an especially deep draft, there won’t be any shortage of forwards after the first six players are off the board.

The Flyers also have Tampa Bay’s first-round pick from the Braydon Coburn trade.

Related: Difference of opinion: Craig Button has Hanifin 12th on final draft rankings

Tampa Bay’s cap situation is still pretty promising

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It’s only natural to look at some upcoming salary cap hurdles and wonder if the Tampa Bay Lightning will stumble while trying to justify all the “team of the future” talk.

Steven Stamkos will command a monster deal after next season. Victor Hedman’s $4 million bargain cap hit dries up after 2016-17. Yikes, right?

MORE: Debating Stamkos’ next contract

Actually, if you dig a little deeper, their opponents should panic instead. Just ponder these nuggets:

Note: As mentioned in the comments, the original version of this article had a mix-up regarding the Lightning’s available cap space. They’re actually closer to $1.1 million. This post has been modified with that in mind. Apologies for the error.

Almost unfair bargains

Just consider this: Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn carry a combined salary cap hit of about $10 million. Johnson and Palat are locked up at their bargain rates of $3.33 million apiece through 2016-17.

Jonathan Drouin didn’t make an impact at the NHL level, yet players of his ilk often make big jumps … and he’s just one of some impressive players Tampa Bay has in its pipeline.

Oh yeah, the Lightning also have 10 picks in the upcoming draft, even if the excess leans toward later rounds.

It almost feels like cheating, doesn’t it?

source: AP
Via AP

Evaporating deals

The flip side of that previous point is that said players will eventually get raises, but their RFA statuses could greatly reduce those worries, anyway.

Either way, relief could come in other forms. Braydon Coburn’s $4.5 million could very well be diverted into Stamkos’ bank account. Mattias Ohlund’s LTIR-bound deal ends after 2015-16. Heck, the Lightning may decide to save some cash and turn to Andrei Vasilevskiy over Ben Bishop long-term, as Bishop’s $5.95 million cap hit expires after 2016-17.

(And Bishop’s surplus could go to Hedman’s raise. Yup, GM Steve Yzerman is practicing some black magic …)

The unknown

What if the 2016-17 salary cap is a lot friendlier than what we expect from next season? Could a possible expansion help teams like the Lightning farm off less-than-friendly contracts? Yzerman may just have a deft hand in getting players to sign cheaper deals, too.

***

The Lightning aren’t necessarily on easy street – those young players and stars like Stamkos won’t be cheap – yet the team’s outlook indicates that they’ll remain a team to beat for some time.

As Bolts deal with illness, extra day of rest could prove beneficial

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There have been rumblings of a team-wide bug going through the Lightning over the last few days — Braydon Coburn, um, refunded during Game 5 and there were whispers of The Triplets falling ill — but for the most part, the team had stayed mum.

On Wednesday, though, forward Alex Killorn all but made it official during a media conference call.

“It’s tough,” Killorn said. “We had a few guys under the weather. Not that that’s any excuse. Most of the guys have been ready for games. Today is going to be huge, not only for injured guys, but guys feeling kind of sick.

“We’re going to use those kind of days to get healthy. We’re not going to use that as an excuse.”

Today, of course, is the first of two off prior to Friday’s Game 7 versus the Rangers at MSG. The scheduling quirk could definitely prove useful for a Tampa Bay team that looked flat and disjointed in the third period of Tuesday’s 7-3 home loss; the Lightning went into the final frame down just 2-1 but proceeded to surrender four goals in a span of 7:19, blowing their chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 11 years.

This is the first two-day break of the series. Last round, Tampa had a two-day break between Games 5 and 6 and proceeded to eliminate Montreal in the latter.

As for the club’s health, Lightning coach Jon Cooper danced around questions regarding it hinting that while players might be dealing with some sort of flu bug, we’d have to wait until the playoffs were over to get the full story.

“Maybe after it’s all said and done, more things will come out what happened in our room,” Cooper said. “We’re putting the best lineup we can possible.”

Bolts’ Coburn missed final two periods due to illness

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The Tampa Bay Lightning were reduced to six defensemen for the final two periods of Sunday’s 2-0 win because Braydon Coburn was sick.

The Bolts’, who dressed seven defensemen with Matt Carle returning from an undisclosed injury, lost Coburn after the first period.

Tampa head coach Jon Cooper suggested the blue liner was physically ill on the team’s bench.

“I don’t know what TV cameras picked stuff up. We had issues on the bench, so I’ve got to find out more of what’s going on,” said Cooper. “But, there was, yeah. Don’t walk on our bench. That’s what I’m going to say.”

Coburn, who has a goal and two assists while averaging 16:36 in ice time in 18 playoff games, was limited to just eight shifts and 5:43 of ice time on Sunday.