Evgeni Kuznetsov

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PHT’s Three Stars: Kuznetsov does it again

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1st star: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals

Four assists in Game 4. Thirty-one playoff points this season.

Kuznetsov is having a historic run and he is showing no signs of slowing down.

He was a question mark to even play in Game 3, but did and had a goal and an assist, and he kept on rolling along in Game 4 as he makes one heck of a case for the Conn Smythe Trophy, should Washington close this out.

2nd star: T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals

The power-play goal that started the barrage and two assists on Washington’s fourth and fifth goals of the game.

Oshie has six points in four games in this series now and has provided the Capitals with some offensive help outside of Kuznetsov and Ovechkin. It’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the series.

3rd star: Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

It sure is tempting to put the posts behind Holtby here. They played a part, that’s for sure, but Holtby continued to be everything Marc-Andre Fleury had been coming into the series.

Holtby has taken on the role of being the best goalie in the playoffs at the best possible time.

Yeah, he got lucky on a few attempts, but he also made 28 saves, including six while Vegas was on the power play.

He’s been the better goalie in the series by far and was the wall Washington needed him to be once again.

Highlight of the Night

There are several candidates here — a lot of nice goals scored tonight — but Devante Smith-Pelly‘s stands above the rest, 1. because it was the game winner, and 2. the footwork he displayed to get the puck to his stick was simply stunning.

Key Factoids

It’s been nearly 80 years since a team came back from a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final.

And…

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


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

Lightning survive barrage to even series with Capitals

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The Eastern Conference Final is now a best-of-3 series after the Tampa Bay Lightning survived a third-period onslaught by the Washington Capitals to even things at 2-2 with a 4-2 win on Thursday night.

The Capitals have been laying siege on Andrei Vasilevskiy and Co. over the past two games, but after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead on the road in Tampa, all of their best efforts have been for naught as the Lightning found a way to gain a lead and then manage to hold onto it for dear life.

The Caps have simply been the better team 5-on-5, but the Lightning picked a good night to figure out how to put pucks in the net in that situation.

Coming into the game, the Lightning’s even strength play produced only three goals. Nearly all of their damage came with the man-advantage and it didn’t help them as they fell in a 0-2 rut and through three games they had been outscored 8-3 at 5-on-5.

[PHT’s Three Stars: Killorn’s goal, Vasilevskiy’s saves lead Lightning in Game 4]

Tampa was a good even strength team during the regular season and their overall CF% has been quite good in the playoffs so far, but they’ve taken a step back in that department in this series.

Brayden Point‘s game-tying goal in the first period and Alex Killorn‘s game-winner in the third were just what the doctor ordered, then.

Killorn’s tally may have been at 5-on-5, but the Caps had just barelykilled off a penalty when the Lightning forward scored.

The goal broke the deadlock after Evgeny Kuzenetsov provided the equalizer in the second frame thanks to some dirty backhand sauce from Alex Ovechkin, who hasn’t scored in either of the losses.

An empty-net goal later and the Lightning fly back home having stolen two from under the Caps’ noses.

Given the volume of shots being thrown Vasilevskiy’s way during Washington’s two home games, the Capitals are probably a little unlucky at the moment.

Vasilevskiy has stopped 36 shots in each of the past two games, both 4-2 wins for the Lightning.

Nicklas Backstrom returned after missing the first three games of the series (and four total) with a hand injury. He played 18:51 and was a minus-one with four shots on goal. Not the return the Capitals would have hoped for from one of the league’s premier set-up men.

It’s going to be a long 48 hours in Washington, a lot of time for both players and fans to stew over what’s happened in this series. The Caps have never won a series when they won the first two games on the road.

They’ve managed to fend off one curse this postseason. It appears a second one awaits now.

The race to two begins on Saturday night in Game 5 (7:15 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
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

Trotz: ‘We weren’t good enough to win this hockey game’

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The Washington Capitals were out-shot 15-4 and fell behind 2-0 in the opening period of Game 2 on Saturday afternoon – that was the difference in the eyes of coach Barry Trotz.

“We didn’t play our best game for 60 minutes. You can’t get away with that. You can’t get around that. You’ve got to go through those things so full credit to them,” said Trotz. “We weren’t good enough to win this hockey game. The Rangers deserved to win the hockey game.

“To me, it was our start, it was our degree of desperation level… it was higher on their side than it was on ours. They capitalized on that.”

Chris Kreider opened the scoring 38-seconds into the first and Dan Boyle had his first of the playoffs giving New York an early lead at MSG.

“I think after what happened [Thursday], we were all upset,” said Henrik Lundqvist. “I was really annoyed and it really bothered me, so you try to use that energy to bring it over into this game and be determined that we need this one. I think the first period we played one of our better periods.”

Washington out-shot New York 28-20 in the final 40 minutes including 12-8 in the third period, but was unable to find the equalizer falling 3-2.

“I think we matchup very well, I think there’s some things that they do extremely well, I think there’s some things we can do a little bit better, if we do that, then who knows? The series can turn on a dime some times,” said Trotz.

“I think we’re two teams that are quite evenly matched. It’ll be interesting coming back in our building.”

Jason Chimera, who assisted on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s fourth of the playoffs, agreed the start was the difference.

“A slow start hurt us,” Chimera said. “Anytime you dig yourself a 2-0 hole in a building like this, it’s hard to come back. (In) afternoon games, you have to get up for them. You have to get ready.

“You have to have a short memory in the playoffs. Hopefully we can come back in our barn. We have home ice and we have to take advantage of that.”

Game 3 goes Monday night at the Verizon Center.

Rangers hang on, even series with Caps

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Entering Saturday’s game between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers much of the talk centered around the standard of officiating in the playoffs.

Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t happy with how things ended in Game 1 following Nicklas Backstrom’s hit on Dan Boyle. Barry Trotz told reporters on Saturday morning he didn’t feel things changed much in the postseason.

Officiating took a back seat to the goaltending performances by Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist in Game 2.

Lundqvist made 30 saves back-stopping the Rangers to a 3-2 win evening the series at 1-1.

Holtby finished with 32 saves in the loss.

“(Holtby) kept us in the first. We weren’t good, we weren’t winning any races, but he’s grown as a goaltender, and he will continue to grow,” said Trotz.”He’s just entering the prime of his career right now. There’s a lot of good things that he’s learned this year and he will to continue to learn.”

The win snapped a six-game losing streak for the Rangers in Game 2s on home ice dating back to 1996.

Chris Kreider and Boyle gave New York a 2-0 lead after one period.

Boyle’s goal, which came with Joel Ward off for hooking, was the first power play goal allowed by the Capitals in these playoffs.

Evgeny Kuznetsov’s fourth of the playoffs got the Caps on the board in the second period.

Derick Brassard scored the eventual game-winner at 6:07 of the third.

Alex Ovechkin scored in highlight-reel fashion to pull the Caps to within one midway through the third; however, there were no last-second heroics from Washington on Saturday afternoon.

“I thought they had some good looks at the end there. Hank had to come up with a couple big saves,” said Vigneault of the final minutes. “They pulled their goaltender and they were coming at us with everything they’ve got.

“Our guys were working real hard and every time we were real close to getting it out, they were finding a way to pull it back in. It was a tough last couple minutes.”

New York’s last eight playoff wins have all been by one goal.

Game 3 goes Monday night at the Verizon Center in Washington. You can catch the game at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Caps edge Wings, inch closer to playoff berth

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The Washington Capitals moved closer to clinching a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

The Caps will clinch if Ottawa loses to the Toronto tonight.

Washington’s win moves them into second in the Metropolitan Division one point up on the New York Islanders.

Detroit’s loss leaves a log jam in the Atlantic Division as three points separate the Wings, Bruins and Sens.

Mike Green had a goal and an assist in the win. Evgeny Kuznetsov had Washington’s other goal. Braden Holtby, who made a franchise-high 23rd straight start, stopped 35 shots for the win. Holtby’s win was his 40th of the season and the 100th of his career.

The 25-year-old is the second goaltender in Caps’ history to record 40 wins in a single season joining Olaf Kolzig.

With his assist on Green’s goal, Alex Ovechkin has 80 points tying him for second place with John Tavares in the Art Ross race.

Darren Helm had the lone Wings goal. Petr Mrazek made 26 saves in the loss.

There was a scary moment in the third.

Protecting a one-goal lead, Caps’ forward Tom Wilson went down to block a Niklas Kronwall slap shot and took it off the side of the head. Wilson stayed down momentarily, but was able to skate off under his own strength. He left the game and did not return.