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Mid-July NHL Off-Season Analysis

Posted on 12 July 2009 by Ed Frankovic

This year I have had to wait a little longer to bring you my analysis of the NHL’s free agency signing period, which began on July 1, because with the salary cap not going up drastically for the first time since it was instituted coming out of the lock out in 2005, there are still general managers making moves, as evidenced by the Caps inking of center Brendan Morrison this past Friday night.

Despite the fact that the salary cap increased just $100,000 to $56.8M next season, there are still teams who have been very active and spent a lot of money, such as the Blackhawks, Rangers, Maple Leafs, and Canadiens. However, the interesting thing that is happening this summer that has not occurred in years past is there are some familiar players who have not been signed yet, such as forwards Alex Tanguay (made over $5M last season in Montreal and has had his named bantered about in Nashville) and Maxim Afinogenov (Buffalo), and those guys are running out of time to find a chair before the music eventually stops.

Below is a summary of what several teams have done so far and my thoughts on the impact of those moves. I am including in this analysis any trades and significant 2009 draft choices. In general, my opinion is that the teams that did not spend a lot of money this summer on free agents did well.

Chicago Blackhawks – GM Dale Tallon has been wildly active and his biggest move was the signing of former Detroit Red Wings forward Marian Hossa to a 12-year, $62.8M contract. Hossa has been on the losing end of the last two Stanley Cup Finals and will be playing with his fourth team (Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta) in the last three seasons. They also re-signed some of their current young players giving forward Kris Versteeg a three-year, $9.2M deal and defenseman Cam Barker a three-year, $9.25M extension. 23 year old forward David Bolland, who had 47 points and was +19 in 81 games for the Hawks in 2008-09, also received a five year contract at $3.375M a season. Tallon added forwards Tomas Kopecky ($1.2M) from Detroit and John Madden ($2.75M) from New Jersey. This all comes after the GM inked goalie Cristobal Huet to a four-year deal at $5.625M a season and defensemen Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal at $7.143M a season last summer. The biggest loss was goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who bolted to the Edmonton Oilers, and they also lost forwards Martin Havlat and Samuel Pahlsson in free agency to Minnesota and Columbus, respectively. Chicago went to the Western Conference finals last season before losing to the Red Wings and they should do well in the upcoming regular season, but I have serious doubts about Huet’s ability to carry a team deep into the playoffs. The other big problem for Chicago is after the 2009-10 season they will have to give their two best forwards, Patrick Kane  ($3.725M) and Jonathan Toews ($2.8M), long term contracts with significant raises in order to keep them. Kane and Toews will likely both command around $6M a season. Overall, I don’t like what Chicago did because they spent a lot of money that very well could impact their ability to lock up their two young superstars (Kane and Toews) long-term plus they still have questionable goaltending in Huet.

Montreal Canadiens – GM Bob Gainey came into this summer with 10 unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents on his roster. To date Gainey has not re-signed any of those 10 UFAs and included on that list were top name players Alexei Kovalev, Tanguay, Mike Komisarek, Robert Lang, and Saku Koivu. All but Tanguay are signed by other teams. Gainey has taken the unorthodox route of over turning his roster via trades and free agency. He traded forward Christopher Higgins to the Rangers for forward Scott Gomez, but at $7.35M over the next five seasons. He then gave $6M a season for five years to Mike Cammallieri (scored 39 goals in Calgary last season) and $5M a season for five years to Brian Gionta (spent his first 7 seasons in New Jersey). To quote an NHL scout, “Gainey basically replaced a bunch of small forwards with a bunch of small forwards.” On defense he lost Komisarek to the Leafs but added Hal Gill from the Penguins for $2.25M a year for two seasons and Jaroslav Spacek from the Sabres for three years at $3.833M a season. He also signed forward Travis Moen (third line player) and journeyman defenseman Paul Mara. Overall, I am not sure what Gainey’s long term plan is as this team has gone from a early round playoff out to one that I see just fighting to get into the post season in 2009-10, at best. If I am a Habs fan I view this off-season as a colossal disaster and with the long term contracts this organization has gotten themselves into I don’t see a bright future any time soon.

New York Rangers – When GM Glen Sather worked in Edmonton he routinely complained about having to manage a small market team. However, Sather always seemed to overcome those problems and annually had the Oilers in contention for the playoffs and often with a decent chance to go deep into them. In 2000 the former great Oilers coach became President and GM of the Rangers and the Blueshirts promptly missed the playoffs their first four seasons despite the fact that the GM took advantage of the large budget afforded him. With the salary cap in place since 2005 Sather would appear to be more constrained but that hasn’t stopped him from getting the Rangers tied up in some outrageous contracts such as the deals given to Gomez, Wade Redden, and Chris Drury. New York was basically in salary cap jail coming into this off-season but thanks to Marcus Naslund retiring and the Gomez trade it looked like Sather might finally be able to back up his statements about giving the younger Rangers players a chance to develop and play. That plan lasted less than a day as Sather couldn’t resist throwing around more money and signed often injured forward Marian Gaborik, formerly of the Minnesota Wild, to a 5 year deal worth $37.5Million. Gaborik, when healthy and motivated, can be one of the best players in the league but the problem is that doesn’t happen very often. Sather also overpaid for former Sabres forward Ales Kotalik (three -year, $9M deal) and former Caps enforcer Donald Brashear (2 years for $2.8M total). Higgins, obtained in the Gomez trade, should do well in New York given that he is a Long Island native. The Rangers also lost Mara, Nik Antropov, and Colton Orr via free agency. I didn’t like the Rangers team last season and I don’t like it for 2009-10 either. The best thing they have going for them is goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who single-handidly took the Caps to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs – When Brian Burke took over as GM of the Leafs mid-season in one of the worst kept secrets ever, you knew he wasn’t going to stand pat and just build through the draft. Toronto has a massive fan base,  loads of financial resources, and with that comes the pressure to win right away. Fortunately for Burke he inherited arguably the Leafs best draft pick of the last 10 years in defenseman Luke Schenn (drafted fifth overall in 2008). After that Burke was smart to announce that anyone else was available via trade. The savvy GM then was able to get Thrashers GM Don Waddell to take on defenseman Pavel Kubina and his $5M salary for next season and in return received 1999 first round Atlanta draft pick in Garnet Exelby (he also received Colin Stuart in the deal). Then Burke used the cap room afforded him to sign former Canadiens defenseman Komisarek to a five-year, $22M deal and former Ducks d-man Francois Beauchemin for three years at $3.8M a season. In Tomas Kaberle, Schenn, Komisarek, and Beauchemin the Leafs have a very good top four group of defensemen. The next three best defensemen on the roster are Exelby, Mike Van Ryn and Jeff Finger but those seven total close to $23M in salary cap space so look for Burke to deal another one of that crew either before October or during the season. The Leafs still have the expensive Vesa Toskala (one more season at $4M)  in net but Burke also just signed Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who led Farjestads to the Swedish Elite League championship this past spring, to a one year deal at $810,000. This could turn out to be a major steal in the long run. Of course the Leafs still are weak up front. They drafted forward Nazem Kadri of the London Knights with the 7th overall pick in the 2009 draft and he could turn out to be a first line player, although I have concerns about his size. Overall I think the Leafs really improved their team and you can bet that Burke will continue to make changes. But Leafs fans, who are prone to overestimating their own team, should not even think about a parade on Yonge street any time in the next two seasons, at least. Making the playoffs in 2009-10 would be a major step up for Toronto and with head coach Ron Wilson’s defensive philosophy they could pull it off.

Philadelphia Flyers – Approaching the 2008-09 season trade deadline back in February there were talks that Philadelphia was making a run for a front line defenseman and Jay Bouwmeester of Florida was the name frequently linked to them. Then on the eve of the 2009 NHL Entry draft GM Paul Holmgren sent forward Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Luca Sbisa (Philly’s first round pick in the 2008 draft), their 2009 and 2010 first round draft picks, and a conditional 3rd round pick to Anaheim for defenseman Chris Pronger and forward Ryan Dingle. Next Philadelphia promptly signed the soon to be 35 year old Pronger to a seven year contract extension that averages $4.9M a season. Pronger will count $6.25M against the salary cap in 2009-10 since he is still in the last year of his previous deal. With a big three on defense of Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn the Flyers have an outstanding trio on the backend but they are still weak in net. Holmgrem gave up on free agent goalies Martin Biron and Anterro Niittymaki and signed former Senators goalie (and some would say head case) Ray Emery for one year at $1.5M and the aging Brian Boucher at $925K a season for the next two years. Those moves are head scratchers, if you ask me. The Flyers also added bottom six forward Ian Laperrierre, who can mix it up when needed, for three years at $1.16M a season. Because of salary cap issues the Flyers had to let Mike Knuble go in free agency (Washington). Still on the books is the injury prone and pesky Danny Briere at $6.5M a season for six more years, something Flyer fans can’t be happy about. Overall the Pronger move makes Philly Stanley Cup contenders next season but the price in the long term may be too costly given that they will likely go three years (counting Sbisa) without a number one pick in a salary cap era where building through the draft is a must.

Calgary Flames – Calgary was in such salary cap jail last spring that when they suffered a rash of injuries in March and April they could not field a full team in several games down the stretch which cost them the Northwest Division title and helped put them on their way to a first round playoff exit. GM Darryl Sutter, who is starting to feel some pressure to get his team into at least the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004, took a lot of heat for what some see as salary cap mismanagement. However, Sutter has continued to be aggressive in the off-season and fired coach Mike Keenan and replaced him with his brother and former Devils coach, Brent. Then he pulled off a major coup by trading a third round pick and Jordan Leopold to Florida for the rights to Bouwmeester. Sutter subsequently signed one of the best defenseman in the league to a five year deal at $6.68M a season. To make salary cap room for Bouwmeester they traded defenseman Jim Vandermeer to Phoenix in return for forward Brandon Prust and they didn’t attempt to re-sign Cammalleri. Calgary now has a top four defense of Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf (who struggled under Keenan but should return to top form under his former junior coach at Red Deer in Sutter), Robyn Regehr, and Cory Sarich but it comes at a price of almost $21M in salary cap space. With forwards Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, and Daymond Langkow plus goalie Mikka Kiprusoff accounting for nearly $22.5M in cap space, Calgary is a top heavy team that will need to stay healthy and find the right role players to help them win in the playoffs. Still with the Bouwmeester signing the Flames are a major contender in the Western Conference.

Ottawa Senators – It is never good to be boxed into a corner by a star player but that is exactly what has happened to Ottawa GM Bryan Murray who had to be shocked to hear that superstar Dany Heatley wants to be traded despite counting $7.5M against the salary cap the next five years. Heatley, after playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, began the 2007-08 season with a six year contract extension but he now wants out. Murray, who had to pay Heatley a $4M bonus when he exercised his no trade clause and refused to be moved to Edmonton on July 2nd (despite wanting out of Ottawa), says he will now keep the 28 year old forward to start next season unless he gets a premium deal. Murray did sign Kovalev for two seasons at $5M each and re-signed tough net crashing forward Chris Neil for four years at $8M total. Sens fans are counting on Pascal Leclaire to be the #1 goalie after he was acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline in February. However, the Ottawa defense remains weak with Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips leading the way. Their future totally depends on what happens in the Heatley saga.

Washington Capitals – GM George McPhee said prior to July 1 that the Caps would not be big players in free agency and he was correct. The Caps did sign net crashing forward Knuble for two years at $2.8M a season and potential second line center Morrison for only $1.5M for next season. Those moves aren’t headline grabbers but they are low risk ones that could yield good results. Washington lost 39 year old Sergei Fedorov and underachieving forward Viktor Kozlov to the Russian league but with them went $6.5M in salary cap space. McPhee says the team will continue to build from within. GMGM will likely spend the next couple of months working on a long term deal for Nicklas Backstrom, who at just 21 years old is already one of the top centers in the NHL. The question mark over the next 12 months is what to do with the up and down Alexander Semin. Semin has the talent to be one of the best players in the league but his motivation, at times, and ability to play through injuries has held him back. There is also the danger that Semin could bolt back to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The Caps lost tough guy Brashear in free agency and that is a void in the line-up right now but McPhee seems resolved to going without an enforcer stating recently that you only need one for about 10 games a season. Any deal to unload Michael Nylander and his $4.875M salary cap hit for the next two seasons would be a very good one and unreliable goalie Jose Theodore has one more year in DC at $4.5M unless McPhee can move him, but I don’t see that happening until the 2009-10 trading deadline. The Caps did not spend much money so I see their off-season as a good one that could get better if #92 or #60 is somehow dealt.

Pittsburgh Penguins – The Stanley Cup Champion Penguins won their title and now because of the salary cap are paying the price, especially on defense as Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles) and Gill (Montreal) both left for new deals. The good news is GM Ray Shero convinced forwards Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko to come back for one year at $2M and $1.8M, respectively. However, I was not a fan of the decision to sign restricted free agent Alex Goligoski, an offensive but slow moving defenseman, to a three year deal at $1.833M a season. They also signed defenseman Jay McKee, who was bought out by St. Louis, for one year at $800K. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar is under contract for one more year at $5M but they have the physical Brooks Orpik locked up for five more years at $3.75M a season. Pittsburgh is clearly weaker on defense since the Stanley Cup Finals but their goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, proved to be a big time netminder in the playoffs and with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Chris Kunitz signed for at least three more seasons this club will be contenders for the Cup again unless the injury bug hits hard.

Detroit Red Wings – Could the Wings finally be on the way down? They were beaten in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Penguins, then lost Hossa to the Hawks and Mikael Samuelsson to the Vancouver Canucks. Forward Jiri Hudler, who played well crashing the net for Detroit last season, has signed a disputed contract to play in the KHL plus Kopecky bolted to Chicago with Hossa. So that is four of their top 12 forwards gone, if Hudler isn’t legally dragged back to Motown, but they still have forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen signed under long term deals. Superstar defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom is under contract for just one more year at $7.45M and this could be it for him in the NHL as he will likely either retire or head back to play in Sweden after next season. Chris Osgood is still the #1 goalie for the next two years but he is aging. Basically GM Ken Holland has his work cut out for him but he and draft guru Jim Nill always seem to find good players to plug any holes.

Los Angeles Kings – Signed defenseman Scuderi to a four year, $13.6M deal away from the Pens and also traded defensemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing plus a 5th round draft pick to the Avs for crease crasher Ryan Smyth. If the Kings can get some good goaltending next season (could young goalie Jonathan Bernier finally be ready?), Terry Murray’s young team could make the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks – Re-signed the Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel) at $6.1M each for five seasons and inked Samuelsson away from the Wings so they are hoping the Swedish connection works. Goalie Roberto Luongo is under contract for one more season at $6.75M and they have goalie Cory Schneider waiting in the wings in Manitoba of the AHL should they not be able to re-sign the superstar goalie (but if they can’t keep Luongo they might as well pack it in for good). Schneider will spend next season in the AHL again as GM Mike Gillis signed Andrew Raycroft to be the back up at $500K for one season. I can’t see this team going deep in next year’s playoffs as they are currently configured.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Re-signed superstar forward and 2002 1st overall NHL Entry draft selection, Rick Nash, to a eight year, $62.4M contract extension that goes into effect for the 2010-11 season. This move alone saves a franchise that had trouble generating interest until their first ever playoff appearance this past spring. GM Scott Howson also signed third line grinder and former Stanley Cup winner (Anaheim) Pahlsson for three years at $2.65M a season as well as getting Pittsburgh backup goalie Mathieu Garon for two years at $1.2M a season, which seems a little high considering that their #1 goalie will be 2008-09 rookie of the year, Steve Mason, who will count only $905K against the cap the next two years and will receive the bulk of the workload.

As for the rest of the NHL, here are some moves that I like, don’t like, as well as some things to keep an eye on before training camps open in mid September.


Tampa Bay Lightning – Signed defenseman Mattias Ohlund from Vancouver for seven years at $27.M total. This expensive move is a good one primarily because the Lightning are counting on the Swedish veteran to tutor 2009 first round pick and second overall selection, defenseman Victor Hedman, who also hails from Sweden. With last year’s number one overall pick, Steven Stamkos, and Hedman the Lightning have two players to build around plus they still have team captain Vincent LeCavalier locked up for 10 more years (and the Habs have no salary cap space to try and obtain him).

Colorado Avalance – Signed goalie Craig Anderson at $1.8M a season for two years. The Avs aren’t going to contend next year, especially after Joe Sakic retired, and they traded Smyth so this is a good chance for them to see if Anderson can be a bona fide #1 goalie. The other goalie will once again be the inconsistent Peter Budaj, who was re-signed for $1.25M for next season.

Florida Panthers – They lost Bouwmeester and pretty much gave away any chance they had of making the playoffs next season with that move but I did like the signing of former Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen at three years for $1.2M a season.


Minnesota Wild – Rookie GM Chuck Fletcher did a good thing letting Gaborik hit the open market but giving the often injured forward Havlat a six year, $30M deal was a mistake. Other than goalie Nickas Backstrom I do not like this team’s roster at all as it currently stands.

New York Islanders – This once proud franchise continues to make boneheaded decisions. They have goalie Rick DiPietro signed for 12 more years at a $4.5M annual cap hit yet they decide to sign 39 year old goalie Dwayne Roloson for two years at $2.5M a season????? Does that mean DiPietro is still in bad shape??? Well at least I liked that they selected John Tavares first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft so Islanders fans will have something to watch and cheer for next season. Too bad they can’t seem to get out of that dump of a building in Uniondale (Nassau Coliseum) but perhaps with Tavares in the fold they can figure out a way to change that?

Things Still to Watch in this off-season:

Boston Bruins – Phil Kessel, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (right after the Caps took Backstrom), is an unsigned restricted free agent whose name was bantered about in a draft day deal that went bad between the Bruins and the Leafs. The Bruins reportedly will re-sign him but they do have some salary cap issues to deal with in order to get the forward who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery inked long term.

San Jose Sharks – Will GM Doug Wilson stand pat after seeing his President’s Trophy winning team get knocked out by the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs? Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been heavily criticized for not delivering in the post season so is Wilson willing to roll the dice on those two guys again next season?

New Jersey Devils – With the reportedly homesick Brent Sutter now hired by the Flames who will GM Lou Lamoriello get to coach his squad next season? As I’ve blogged before, Dave Tippett would be a great fit there but there has been some talk of former Devils forward John Maclean taking over behind the bench.

Phoenix Coyotes – Off the ice the ownership situation is still up in the air and the NHL is trying desperately to keep the team in Arizona. On Saturday Coach Wayne Gretzky finally got involved in a situation that is not looking too good.

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Caps Making Changes Already / NHL News

Posted on 26 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Busy Caps Day

Lots of news out of the Nation’s Capital today as the Washington Capitals have announced that assistant coach Jay Leach, after five years with the club, will not return next season. Assistant Coach Dean Evason and goaltending coach Dave Prior, however, will be back working for Head Coach Bruce Boudreau in 2009-10. For anyone who followed this blog and the news from Caps breakdown day after Washington’s game seven loss to the Penguins you knew this type of change was coming as both Boudreau and GM George McPhee did not come out and say immediately that the coaching staff would remain intact. Evason did a good job leading the special teams this season, especially with the power play, and Prior has the quick development of young goalies Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth in his corner. Leach, however, was in charge of the defensemen and this group struggled off and on in the regular season and did not do a good job in the Pittsburgh series. As mentioned in this blog before, the Caps were a team that did not play well away from the puck (this analysis came to me from a former NHL assistant coach) and defense was where they were the most deficient in that category. Therefore, it makes sense that Leach will not be back.

It will be interesting to see who Boudreau and McPhee target to come in and help a very young team learn how to play better in their own zone, something that is critical if they want to win the Stanley Cup. The difference between the Caps and the Penguins in round two was Pittsburgh’s ability to prevent the Caps from getting to their net while the Pens did not have those type of problems against Washington.

Next on the news front are unconfirmed reports that forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are working on contracts to play next season in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Versus, in tonight’s pregame session, reported that Kozlov has been inked already but according to reports from Tarik El-Basir of the Washington Post, McPhee did not confirm any signings for Kozlov or #91 yet. While I am not suffering any heartburn with #25 leaving because it frees up $2.5M of salary cap room for McPhee to use on another forward who goes to the net on a consistent basis, I would be disappointed if Fedorov left. The three time Stanley Cup winner has said he wants to return to the Caps next season and he has been the best influence on Alexander Semin that this organization has ever had. However, if Fedorov wants in excess of $2.5M then I think McPhee needs to pass on the great Russian forward (Fedorov made $4M this past season and played only 52 games but he did close out the Rangers series with his blistering blast by Henrik Lundqvist).

Finally, McPhee also announced today that the Caps have signed undrafted free agent center Jake Hauswirth to a three-year entry-level contract. Hauswirth, 21, is a 6’5”, 210-pound native of Merrill, Wis., who has spent the last two seasons with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). He scored 28 goals and added 24 assists (52 points) in 58 games this season, tied for the team lead in goals and was fourth in points. He led all Lancer forwards and was second on the team with a +16 plus/minus rating. Hauswirth helped lead Omaha to the USHL championship as a rookie in 2007-08, recording 13 goals and 10 assists (23 points) in 57 games. He participated in the Capitals’ development camp last summer and was one of the surprise standouts of that week long session. When I watched him play last July he had a knack for making big plays and the puck seemed to follow him around. Jake will be in attendance at this summer’s camp as well and a spot in Hershey next season seems like a possible fit.

NHL News

More coaching news today as the Edmonton Oilers have hired Pat Quinn as head coach and former Rangers head coach, Tom Renney, as an assistant coach. Craig MacTavish, who coached the Oilers since 2000, was fired after Edmonton missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Quinn, who worked with current Oilers GM Steve Tambellini in Vancouver, has coached the Flyers, Kings, Canucks, and Leafs as well as leading Canada to the gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Renney joins the Oilers after five seasons as Head Coach of the New York Rangers. The Cranbrook, British Columbia native began his tenure with the Rangers organization as Director of Player Personnel before being promoted to Vice-President of Player Development in 2002. Renney was appointed Head Coach with 20 games left in the 2003–04 season. He led the Rangers into the postseason in each of his first three campaigns following the 2004–05 NHL lockout.

Renney began his coaching career in 1990-91 with the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers. He guided the Blazers to consecutive President’s Cup championships as WHL champions and captured a Memorial Cup title in 1992. During his two seasons with the Blazers, he compiled a .714 winning percentage (101-37-6), which ranks first in CHL history. The coach is a very personable guy and was well liked by the New York media.

Very sad news out of Toronto tonight as Peter Zezel, a center who played 15 NHL seasons after breaking into the league with the Philadelphia Flyers as a teenager, has died. He was 44. Zezel struggled with the rare blood disease hemolytic anemia for the past 10 years and died on Tuesday. Zezel suffered from the ailment off and on, but had rebounded after being in critical condition in 2001. He was admitted to the hospital last week for scheduled surgery, but complications developed and his condition worsened.

“Peter will forever be remembered as a great teammate and a wonderful individual who touched the lives of many both on and off the ice,” Zezel’s family said in a statement released by the National Hockey League Players’ Association. “In his typical character of generosity, Peter donated his organs through the Trillium Gift of Life Network.”

The gritty center was known on the ice for his strong two-way game. In 873 NHL games with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver, Zezel had 219 goals and 389 assists. His matinee idol looks also earned him a small role in the 1986 hockey-based movie “Youngblood” that starred Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.

Zezel was born in Toronto and played junior hockey with the Toronto Marlies before the Flyers chose him with the 41st pick in the 1983 draft. He made his NHL debut in 1984 when he was 19. Zezel was a great face-off man and a good team guy. He played for the Caps for 20 games in the 1990-91 season before being traded to the Leafs. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Zezel family.

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Varlamov Makes Save of the Playoffs in Caps, 3-2, Game 1 Win

Posted on 02 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins lived up to the hype today as the two teams combined to play some great up and down hockey with the Caps prevailing, 3-2, primarily because of rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov (pronounced SEHM-yahn var-LA-mohv). Hockey and local fans by now have seen “The Save” that Varlamov (34 saves) made today on Sidney Crosby in a 2-2 game with just over two minutes to go in the second period [To see the save again go to: http://www.kuklaskorner.com/index.php/hockey/comments/simeon_varlamov_save_on_crosby/]. Game two is Monday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center.

Caps Head Coach Bruce Boudreau had the following to say about a save that will be talked about for a long time if the Caps manage to win this series.

“It was a great save. There’s no doubt. Goalies are taught never give up. You look at all the great goalies that are in hockey nowadays. No matter where the play is, they never give up. They keep fighting. And that’s the only way the [Martin] Brodeurs, the Tim Thomases and the [Roberto] Luongos look like they make great saves, it’s because they never quit on the puck…It was obviously a turning point because they would have had the lead and we would have had to play catch up.”

Much like game seven of the first round against the Rangers, the Caps came out sluggish today. It was almost as if they were nervous and not sure what to expect from the Penguins, who took a 1-0 lead just 4:09 into the game on a wicked Crosby wrister from the slot after John Erskine took himself out of a position in the neutral zone trying to make an ill-advised hit on Bill Guerin. The attempted hit allowed #87 to gather the puck and come flying into the offensive zone and the superstar got Brian Pothier backing up allowing Sid the Kid time to move to the prime scoring zone between the circles and fire top shelf on Varlamov. Pittsburgh would continue to carry the play in the first 11 plus minutes and they held an 11-2 shots advantage at that point.

However, the Caps began to find their legs and right after Pascal Dupuis of the Pens missed what seemed to be an open net that would have given Pittsburgh a two goal lead, Dave Steckel made a great breakout pass to Brooks Laich who carried the puck up the center of the ice and saucered it nicely to Matt Bradley on the right wing boards on a three on two rush. #10 then blasted the puck from right near where he scored on Henrik Lundqvist of New York in game five of the first round and Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made the save but the rebound bounced right up the slot and Steckel was charging right down on the net and buried the puck under Fleury’s pads for his first goal of the playoffs to even things up. It was exactly the kind of goal Washington needed and it got them energized.

For the rest of the period the Caps dominated and after Sergei Gonchar was called for a delay of game penalty for flipping the puck over the glass, Alexander Ovechkin made a great play at neutral ice on the power play and drew a hooking call on former Capital Matt Cooke. With the two man advantage the Caps put together a beautiful passing play with Nicklas Backstrom sending the puck to Alexander Semin at the point in the middle of the ice and when #28 wound up to fire away he froze Fleury, but instead of shooting he slap passed the puck to Ovechkin, who then deposited it into the empty net for a 2-1 Caps lead.

Washington had several chances after that to make it a two goal lead and after 30 minutes they had hit a combined four posts and cross bars, including two by the Great #8 (one of which would have made it 3-1 after an outstanding cross ice pass from Mike Green). However, with 7:06 left in the 2nd period the Penguins got the break they needed when a seemingly harmless Mark Eaton point blast was deflected ever so slightly by Boyd Gordon and the puck went under Varlamov’s glove to tie the game up. It was a shot that #40 couldn’t be totally faulted on because of the deflection but he definitely would have liked to have it back.

The stage was then set for a great third period and after Washington killed off Pittsburgh’s fifth power play of the day (to only two for the Caps), another great Washington passing play led to the game winner. This goal, like the first Washington tally, once again came in transition as the Penguins had a three on three in the Caps zone but Petr Sykora ripped a long blast wide and hard off the boards and the puck caromed all the way out to center ice to Backstrom who chipped it cross ice to Semin. Semin then entered the zone and once again set the passing play up by faking a shot just inside the blue line but instead the highly skilled winger fired it over to Backstrom down low and #19 faked Gonchar to the ice and then slid the puck to an all alone Tomas Fleischmann in front, who then flipped it over Fleury to make it 3-2 with 18:14 left.

Immediately after the game Boudreau commented on Washington’s opponent, who could have won this game as well had it not been for Varlamov and some superb Caps penalty killing.

“We’re in for a heck of a series because that’s a very good hockey club we’re playing.”

In my series preview, I mentioned that the Caps strategy, according to Boudreau, was to limit turnovers and get the puck deep on the Penguins. Washington struggled with that game plan at times today, something not lost on the coach or the players I spoke with.

“Our strategy is to put the puck deep and work them down low'” said Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina, who had 16:02 of ice time today and is playing some of his best hockey.

“[The message from Coach was to] Get pucks deep. We were trying to be too cute at the opposing blue line and we turned pucks over. We need to get our giveaways down and be more intelligent with it and we have to play behind their D, that is the key. They have great D and they are a team that can quick strike against you,” said Steckel, who was the game’s number two star and received the Caps red hard hat from his teammates for his goal plus his outstanding 5:43 of penalty killing time and 11-6 face-off record.

“We had alot of giveaways and if you have that many than you are not taking advantage of your opportunities to get the puck in their zone and consequently they had 36 shots on goal so it is something we have to revisit. We’ll look at it on the video and see if we were just trying to do too much or we were forced into it or what have you,” finished Boudreau.

If Washington can be more effective in dumping the puck in Pittsburgh’s end and getting it deep they could control the play much more. Gonchar, who was “whooped” nearly every time he had the puck, coughed the biscuit up several times in his own end as did several other Penguins defensemen when they were under some duress. If the Caps can just stop being so fancy and cute in the neutral zone, which will limit turnovers, then they have a very good chance to prevail in this series.

Here are some other thoughts and analysis on Saturday’s game:

Fleischmann had his best game of the playoffs scoring the game winner but he also did well on the penalty kill, logging 2:53. He had 16:29 of ice time and also hit a cross bar in the first period. Steckel felt that his teammates time was coming and commented on the forwards play. “It’d be a concern if he wasn’t scoring because he wasn’t getting chances, but he’s been getting them and they just haven’t gone in.”

Captain Chris Clark did not have a good game. He took two penalties, was -1, and only logged 5:23 of ice time. On the second Penguins goal Clark was down too low in the corner instead of being on his man in the defensive zone (Eaton). That allowed the big defenseman to have time and unleash the blast that Varlamov missed. #17 needs to keep moving his feet in this series because Pittsburgh is a very fast team.

Pittsburgh had a slight edge in scoring chances but they had a big edge in power plays, five to two. I thought the referees, and in particular Kevin Pollock, was not consistent in his calls. The interference he called on Sergei Fedorov was the same type of play the Penguins made a few times during the game but got away with. In fact, Kris Letang interfered with Semin behind the Pens net just before #91 was called for his infraction. Washington did do a great job of killing those five Penguin power plays awarded to them by the zebras.

“We know they are really good on the power play so we just have to stay out of the box. When they have a chance they are shooting everything from the blue line and crashing the net. They have big body’s, like [Jordan] Staal, and all of these guys are pretty quick too so you just have to block them out,” said Jurcina.

Pittsburgh won the overall face-off battle 32-28 but the Caps were 14-4 in the third period. Backstrom (two assists) had his worst game from the dot (3-10) at home in at least two months.

Overall, the Caps can thank Varlamov for this win today despite giving up one shaky goal.

“I’m sure [Varly] would be the first one to tell you that he let in a soft one tonight but the way he responded was tremendous. That save he made their in the second period [on Crosby] turned the momentum around because they were giving it to us again. So it was vital for us,” said Steckel.

“It was huge, you know, he make mistake when they score the second goal and he makes unbelievable save in last ten minutes of the second period and give us a chance to win the game,” finished Ovechkin.

By the way, if you aren’t going to any of the games and are in the Baltimore area please head over to Gary Rissling’s bar, the Silver Spring Mining Company on Belair Road in Perry Hall, to hang out with other Caps fans and Rock the Red.

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Caps Battle Back to Move On!!!

Posted on 29 April 2009 by Nicholas Miskelly

Caps Battle Back to Move On!!!


After attacking their way through game six, the Capitals aggressively forced a game seven.  They came out hawkish and physical in game six in what turned out to be an easy victory.


That victory forced a do-or-die game seven back in Washington.  Something had to give in this game as the red hot Capitals were only 1 and 4 in the clubs history when hosting a game 7.  The Rangers were even worse as they entered Tuesday’s game winless in their previous four game seven road games.  Who would change the trend?


Washington was hoping for a quick start but the first minute of the game was a terribly sloppy start as Varlamov appeared to be the only Capital player not overwhelmed by the pressure of playing in a game seven.  He showed no nerves at all as he had two huge saves, one of which was on a breakaway, in the first minute of the game after two quick Capital giveaways.


They were then able to regain a little control as they had some early offensive flurries around the Rangers net but it seemed that the nerves got to their early passing as their passes were not as sharp as expected.  This prevented the Capitals from finishing around the net as the early pressure resulted in no shots on goal for the Capitals.


As the Caps defense continued to struggle, their inability to come away with the puck from a corner scrum resulted in the Rangers first goal (an easy one) as Antropov put away an uncontested rebound from point blank range.  The Rangers too, came out aggressively and confidently as though they were the home favorite riding a two game winning streak.


Varlamov continued to keep the Caps in the game as he continued to face an offensive onslaught from the Rangers as the tentative and nervous Capitals were dominated and overwhelmed early by a light skating and attacking New York team.


The Caps were out played so badly they did not register their first shot until the end of the Ranger dominated opening period.  Though their shots were few, they were able to take advantage of one of the few Rangers mistakes late in the first period when Semin tied the game, scoring on an ugly but effective goal coming as a result of a Caps 3 on 2 break.


As the first period mercifully came to an end, I was left relieved to see the score tied at 1 as the Rangers outplayed and out hustled the Caps for most of that opening period.  The Caps were clearly the team that was playing tight and looked to be very nervous out on the ice.  This was one of their sloppiest periods of the playoffs.  I was also hoping that we saw the best the Rangers had to offer and that a re-energized Caps team would have an offensive take-over right from the start of the second period.


After a nervous and tentative first period, which saw the Caps take less shots (2) then they had giveaways (7), the Caps seemed to have an early jolt in the beginning of the second as Lundqvist made a big save on Kozlov’s early scoring opportunity; all created by a forced turnover by Ovechkin.  The Caps quickly matched their shot total from the entire first period only 2 and half minutes into the second period.  That was about all the excitement the Caps would have in the second period. 


After a flowing and exciting; back and forth but ultimately uneventful second period, the Rangers had to like the shape this game was taking.  After 2 periods of hockey the Caps and Rangers were playing a low scoring 1-1 game.


The Rangers had to be ecstatic to be playing this style of game as they were able to hold the Capitals potent offense in check.  Clearly by this point the Caps were hoping for an offensive explosion, like what occurred in games 5 and 6 that would have given the Capitals a comfortable lead to work with.  That was not the case but the Caps were even at 1 and had the advantage of the home crowd eagerly waiting to get into the game.  They were all on the edge of their seats waiting for the Capitals offense to give them a reason to explode.  After 6 games and 2 periods of hockey, this series all came down to one final period off hockey.  Winner Takes All!!!


The fans thought they would get that reason to explode early in the 3rd period as the Capitals went on a power play early on when Ovechkin was interfered with when trying to enter the Rangers’ zone.  It turned out that the fans would have to wait for the excitement as the Rangers, aided by the leagues number one penalty killing unit, kept the Caps from getting that much needed power play goal.


The Capitals were able to capture some momentum on that power play and change the flow of the game.  The Capitals became much more aggressive and were able to offensively dominate the entire final period of play.  The chances were there but the Caps could not break past the wall known to be Lundqvist.  They stayed persistent though and finally that persistence paid off as Fedorov scored while on a 2 on 2 break with Ovechkin with just under five minutes remaining in the game.


The offensive onslaught continued for the Capitals as Lundqvist stoned Semin with just under 3 minutes to go in the game.  Ovechkin set up Semin beautifully, during a 2 on 1 break, but Lundqvist kept the Rangers in the games with an incredible save.


That save was in vain as the Capitals kept the offensive pressure on for the remainder of the game.  The Rangers never got another scoring opportunity in the game as the Capitals overcame two tentative and sloppy periods of hockey to win the series with a 2 to 1 victory in game seven.


In the end, the Capitals were able to use an early cheap goal and a dominate 3rd period to propel themselves into the second round of the NHL playoffs.  There they will meet the Pittsburgh Penguins. 


With Varlamov on his game in the net, if the Capitals offense can string together three periods in a game like they played in that final period of game seven, they have shot at making this year a special year.  One thing is for sure that with all the offensive talent that Pittsburgh has, the Capitals surely can not afford to be as careless with the puck as they were in the first 2 periods of game seven.


The playoffs move on and luckily for all of us, the Capitals are moving along with them!!!!

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Fedorov Blast Carries Caps into 2nd Round to Face Penguins

Posted on 29 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

For 40 minutes on Tuesday night in game 7 at the Verizon Center it looked like the New York Rangers wanted this game and playoff series more than the Washington Capitals. However, thanks to some great goaltending by rookie Simeon Varlamov (who just turned 21 on Monday the 27th), some lucky bounces that resulted in Alexander Semin’s game tying goal in the first period, a very spirited third period by the Caps that saw them out shoot the Rangers 13-1, and then a Hall of Fame wrist shot, short side, upstairs by Sergei Fedorov past outstanding Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with just 4:59 left in the game the Caps are moving on to the second round to face the Pittsburgh Penguins after a 2-1 victory. Fedorov, who turned 39 back in December, had the following to say about the goal.

“It was just a regular break out. It was two-on-two in their zone. Not much else going on, so I decided to shoot the puck… I didn’t think too much about it. Entering the zone, make sure the puck went deep. The D[efense, Rangers Wade Redden] gave me some room, when I stopped so I choose to shoot. I knew the D[efense] was giving me short side. I guess Henrik went down and I shot it top shelf.”

This series win is the first ever for Caps owner Ted Leonsis, something that was news to Fedorov until I asked him if he and his teammates knew about it.

“Now we do. I guess it is great, he’s a great owner, he deserves to win. I feel even better that that happened. Ted deserves all of the credit in the world to bring this team together and we are just happy for him,” said the three time Stanley Cup Champion.

This game could have easily been 3-0 Rangers after the first period, if not for Varlamov, as the Rangers came out flying while the Caps looked lost. On the opening shift, Varlamov stopped a streaking Sean Avery, who had an outstanding game for the Rangers on Tuesday, and shortly thereaftet he robbed Nik Antropov with a pad save when #80 had a clear breakaway after taking a great pass from Michael Rozsival which split the Caps defense (John Erskine and Brian Pothier).  Later in the period he came up huge on a Derrick Morris point blast with Avery standing right in front of him.

“He is tremendously poised.  I still haven’t talked to him since game one.  I don’t want to screw him up, so I am leaving him alone.  With the way they were coming for the first two periods, for him to have the poise that he did was tremendous.  I don’t know what his stomach was doing but he seemed really calm out there,” said Boudreau on his rookie goaltender who only allowed just eight goals in six games, stopping 152 of 160 shots faced (.950) and recording a 1.34 GAA after replacing Jose Theodore after game one. Varlamov made 14 saves in game seven.

Washington did not register a single shot on goal until the 13th minute when they forced Lundqvist to make a save on a Caps power play. The Capitals goal, on their only other shot on net in the first period with 4:28 left, was a fluky one from Semin, who shot the puck right as a hustling and back checking Ryan Callahan came sliding in front of #28 and the biscuit ricocheted twice off of Callahan and then went by a down on the ground Lundqvist (22 saves on the night, some of which were nearly game saving in the third period), who was expecting a cleaner and harder shot. In the previous six game sevens that the Washington franchise has participated in they never have received as fortuitous a bounce as this one.

The Caps came back in this series from three games to one down to tie it up because they stuck to a simple game plan of dumping the puck behind the Rangers defensemen, then beating them to the puck, using Washington’s cycling game to wear out their defense, and generate scoring chances. Alexander Ovechkin’s quote after game six of “we play hard, we play simple” is what Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has been stressing to his highly skilled team to be successful. Tonight the Rangers played the Caps style to near perfection for the first period and a good part of the second period but they lack the offensive ability to finish off many of the strong plays they would make on the boards and even though they dominated territorially, they only mustered 14 shots through two periods.

“For most of the game I thought we did a really good job of keeping the puck. It was probably the most we kept the puck all series. We couldn’t develop good scoring chances even with the puck and during the [third] period I think they turned it up a notch and we ended up backing up a little bit and they had the puck more than we did. It was still a game to be had. Who makes the next big play. They did, we didn’t. They win the game. I’m not frustrated with the team. I appreciate how hard they worked tonight. There were a lot of things during the past few weeks going on around this club and playing against a very good Washington Capitals team. That’s a good hockey team. I thought we checked our [butts] off tonight. We’re not an offensive juggernaut and that comes back and bites us. We’re just not developing enough offense. We knew we had to close down the neutral zone and we did that very well for two periods. But they amped it up, again we’re still in it, but they make a big play, we don’t get enough offense in the third period to get some scoring chances,” said Rangers Coach John Tortorella after the game.

In the third period it was all Caps as they were the ones playing the simple game and outworking the Rangers, who seemed to have expended all of their energy in the first two periods (throughout the entire third period during breaks in play I noticed several of the Rangers were hunched over and leaning on their sticks while the Caps were upright and appeared fresh).

“It’s just one of those things. That’s a great club over there. We stuck to our game plan and in the third we were right there, one shot a way. [The Capitals] did a great job; give them credit. In the third they took the play to us. It’s just one of those things. We still thought we had it though. Just one shot – that’s all we kept saying,” said Rangers forward Scott Gomez on the close game seven and New York’s approach.

“They played a great game. We had a little bit of trouble moving the puck out of our zone because their forwards are so fast and our D also seemed to be under pressure. After two periods we knew we had to get our work level up and our talent would eventually come out on top. We really simplified our game, actually, and our forwards had the puck ahead of them and forechecked really well on their defense. I think that is how we won in New York [in game six] and how we won in the third period,” said Fedorov.

Another big factor in this game was the Washington fans and the energy in the building, especially in the third period. When the Caps started playing better in that final stanza the crowd began getting into it more and the Washington players seemed to feed off of it. Then after the best video clip the Washington marketing crew offers at each home game was played on the big board (“Unleash the Fury”), the noise level kept rising and did not stop. I have NEVER been to a Capitals game where the crowd has been louder, it was unbelievable to be a part of, especially after the Fedorov goal where the fans kept cheering until the horn sounded.

“My ears are still ringing. It was loud. It was like going to a rock concert. It was awesome. It built up and built up. After that “unleash the fury” and after [Fedorov] scored the goal it didn’t quiet down,” said Captain Chris Clark who returned from a wrist injury to play his first NHL game since January.

“It was very loud, especially in the third. I think the fans felt that we were trying to make a push. We were trying to put the puck behind their D[efense] and forecheck as hard as we can. They were really cheering hard. They really want us to do well. They really wanted the victory. It was a great atmosphere. I’m sure any player that can play in an atmosphere like that would enjoy it and play hard. It was an amazing experience,” added Fedorov.

“I don’t know what Chicago is like as far as building, other than the National Anthem, but that was the loudest five minutes after we scored.  They never sat down, they never stopped cheering.  If you look at the energy we had just in checking; the people brought that out of us.  They wouldn’t let us not continue skating, not continue anything, it was really a thing to watch,” finished Boudreau on the crowd. It should be noted that because of Washington’s great fan aided forecheck, the Rangers were not able to pull Lundqvist for an extra attacker in the closing minute.

That is it for tonight but please check back late Wednesday night when I bring you some more analysis of the game and series win plus more quotes from the players and coaches (Mike Green and Tom Poti provided some good insight on the improved, since game six, Washington power play).  On Thursday I’ll preview the Penguins series and provide my second round predictions (btw, I went 7 for 8 in round one, with the only loss being President’s Trohy winning San Jose’s six game defeat to Anaheim). The complete playoff schedule with the Penguins has been announced and it is as follows:

Saturday, May 2nd at Washington (1pm on NBC)

Monday, May 4th at Washington (7pm on Versus)

Wednesday, May 6th at Pittsburgh (7pm on Versus)

Friday, May 8th at Pittsburgh (7pm on Versus)

*Saturday, May 9th at Washington (7pm on Versus)

*Monday, May 11th at Pittsburgh (TBD on Versus)

*Wednesday, May 13th at Washington (7pm on Versus)

* – if necessary

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Caps Game 7 History is Not Good. Will tonight be different?

Posted on 28 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

As this Caps team gets ready to play a game 7 for the second straight season (Note: WNST “Rock the Red” viewing party is at the Silver Spring Mining Company in Perry Hall!)  it should be noted that Washington’s game 7 record is not good at all, at 1-5. I’ve been at every game 7 this team has played in franchise history and seemingly have seen it all from hot goalies (remember Ken Wregget and Kelly Hrudey?) to missed offside calls to horrible officiating.

Here is a quick look back at those Game 7’s, in order:

1987: The Caps race out to a 3-1 series lead on a banged up New York Islanders team. Washington’s goaltending struggles through the series and Bryan Murray eventually pulls Pete Peeters for Bob Mason in Game 6, which New York wins 5-4. Game 7 is the legendary four overtime special that is ended by Pat Lafontaine at 1:55am on Easter Sunday. My most vivid memory of that game is defenseman Greg Smith hitting the cross bar in the first overtime and then suffering a broken knee cap in the second overtime. I was a young 22 year old doing statistics for the team that night. I had the duty of keeping track of Islanders time on ice – before we had computer software to track the visiting team. After the second overtime Murray told us to stop logging the ice time because everyone was tired and it didn’t matter anymore.

1988, Round 1- Still my all time favorite Caps memory.Washington trailed Philadelphia in this series three games to one after Clint Malarchuk and the team blew a 4-1 lead at the Spectrum with just under 10 minutes left to lose to a Murray Craven goal in overtime in game four. The Caps, however, dominated games 5 and 6 and then rallied from 3-0 down in regulation to win 5-4 in overtime on Dale Hunter’s goal through the legs of Ron Hextall. Bob Gould was a big hero in that series for drawing Flyers enforcer Dave Brown into a five minute major in Game 6 in Philadelphia.

1988, Round 2- The Caps went into round two against the Devils as the favorites but when Pat Verbeek cut Rod Langway’s calf with his skate late in a 3-1 Caps victory in game one this then became an even playing field. Jim Schoenfeld was the coach of the Devils and New Jersey got physical and this series turned ugly at times. Patrick Sundstrom had a great game three in a 10-4 Devils rout but then the Caps struck back for a 4-1 win in game four (do you remember Pete Peeters getting hit in the head with the puck and Malarchuk getting injured forcing rookie Shawn Simpson to have to rush down and get dressed and sit on the bench?). Game five was a turning point as Schoenfeld put Bob Sauve in net and he stoned the Caps. A Washington rout ensued in game 6 (7-2) and Schoney turned back to Sean Burke who played great in game seven. The winning goal, by John Maclean with under 10 minutes remaining, came on an offsides play that linesman Kevin Collins missed.

1992- The Caps pretty much bury the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in the first four games of this series as they take a three games to one lead. Washington likely would have swept if not for some awful officiating by Don Koharski in game three in Pittsburgh. Dino Ciccarelli has a hat trick in a Caps 7-2 rout in game four but then the great Scotty Bowman changes his team’s defensive strategy and the Penguins go on to win the next three games in relatively easy fashion. The only chance the Caps had was in game six when they were up 4-2 midway through the second period but Mike Ridley’s bad cross ice pass in the neutral zone was intercepted by Joey Mullen, who went in alone on goalie Don Beaupre to cut the lead to one and give the Penguins the momentum. Game seven was uneventful as Pittsburgh dominated.

1995- The Caps take a 3-1 series lead again on Pittsburgh thanks to two 6-2 blowouts of the Penguins at the Capital Centre in games three and four. Jim “Ace” Carey, who a couple of years later would tell Schoenfeld and assistant coaches Keith Allain and Tod Button that he didn’t really want to play hockey, appears poised to win his first ever playoff series in his rookie season (this was the lockout shortened season). However, Washington gives away game five in Pittsburgh after leading, 4-3, past the halfway point of the third period. Luc Robitaille wins game five in overtime for Pittsburgh (who can forget Francois Leroux going around Ken Klee to set up a Pens goal?). Game six is a 7-1 Pens rout at the Capital Centre as Wregget gets red hot and he carries that into game seven as Pittsburgh shuts out Washington, 3-0, at the Igloo.

2008- The Caps win game one on Alexander Ovechkin’s highlight real goal, 5-4, but then drop the next three contests to Philadelphia (game four was in overtime). A 2-0 score wins for Washington in game five and then the Great #8 takes over the third period of game six to force game seven. Referee Paul Devorksi then allows the Flyers first goal in game seven to count despite clear goaltender interference on Cristobal Huet and then Don Koharski calls Tom Poti for tripping in overtime and Joffrey Lupul wins it for the Flyers on the power play. The Caps expended a lot of energy just making the playoffs and then even more trying to come back in the series.

So will 2009 be different? This team now has playoff experience and should have much more in the tank than they had for game seven last year. They are a superior team to the Rangers, when they play their game and not get too cute with overpassing and cross ice passes, but New York has potentially the great equalizer, Henrik Lundqvist, in goal. If the Caps play well they won’t need to worry about the officiating (btw, Koharski will not be refereeing tonight, he is now retired). Will Ted Leonsis get his first ever playoff series win as owner and Bruce Boudreau get his first NHL playoff series win as head coach? Tune in tonight to find out as game seven’s are the best the NHL has to offer, but they have historically not been good to the Capitals.

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Monday Morning’s Crabs and Beer

Posted on 27 April 2009 by Glenn Clark

I gave the Ravens a C+. Please check out my blog below to find out why.gives Ravens ‘C+’ for Draft

Let’s see what everyone else has to say….

Best of Sunday’s WNST Blogs:

Glenn Clark

Glenn Clark says Ravens add Buffalo QB Willy, Florida State K Gano after Draft

Drew Forrester now thinks Birds will win something like 66 games

Drew Forrester says Ravens found ‘best men’ over weekend

Cliff Saunders thinks Ravens won’t have to worry about Oher for ‘next ten years’

Ed Frankovic says Caps solve Lundqvist, force Game 7 with Rangers

RAVENS:says Ravens select Nicholls State CB Lardarius Webb in 3rd round

The Official Site’s Mike Duffy

The Official Site’s Mike Duffy says Ravens select TCU LB Jason Phillips in 5th round

The Official Site’s Mike Duffy says East Carolina TE Davon Drew selected with second 5th round pick

The Official Site’s Mike Duffy says Ravens pick Virginia RB Peerman in 6th round

The Official Site’s Kevin Byrne says Oher passes ‘eyeball test’

The Official Site says Newsome thinks Ravens getting ‘real good player, real good person’ in Oher

The Official Site says Pagano visited Nicholls State to get good look at Webb

The Official Site says Webb big fan of Ed Reed

The Sun’s Jamison Hensley says Oher believes he can be starter

The Sun’s David Steele says many believe Ravens one ‘big play WR’ away from making Super Bowlsays Ravens hoping Webb doesn’t become next David Pittman

The Sun’s Jamison Hensley

The Sun cleans up after me

The Sun’s Rick Maese says former Ole Miss OL Coach Kehoe thinks Oher ‘miracle’

The Sun’s Mike Preston wasn’t trying to question Oher’s intelligence with column

Carroll County Times’ Aaron Wilson says Oher took ‘long road’ from homeless in Memphis to Ravens’ 1st round pick

Carroll County Times’ Aaron Wilson says DeCosta thought Draft about ‘toughness’ for Ravens

The AP says Oher already knows Steelers new enemy

Washington Post’s Mark Maske gave Ravens B+ for Draft

ESPN.com’s Todd McShay says Kruger Ravens’ ‘best pick’, Drew Ravens’ ‘worst pick’

ESPN.com’s James Walker says Oher ‘gets it’

ESPN.com’s James Walker says Oher not ‘flashy’, but solid selection

ESPN.com’s James Walker says Mel Kiper fan of Lardarius Webb

Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki gives Ravens ‘B-‘ for Draft

SI’s Peter King impressed by Kruger’s ‘motor’

Sporting News’ Clifton Brown gives Ravens ‘C-‘ for Draft

Sporting News’ Albert Breer says WR still Ravens’ area of ‘need’

CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco gives Ravens ‘B’ for Draft

Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole says size issue for Ravens’ pick Webb

ORIOLES:says Baez rescued Bergesen as Birds topped Rangers

The Official Site’s Jeff Seidel

The Official Site provides numerical evidence of win

The Official Site’s Jeff Seidel says Trembley ‘expects’ Mora to return Friday

The Official Site’s Jeff Seidel says Bass coming on after very slow start

The Official Site’s Jeff Seidel says Guthrie, Birds try to salvage series split tonight vs. Matt Harrison, Rangers

Rangers Official Site’s T.R. Sullivan says Rangers blew early 5-1 advantage in falling to O’s

The Sun’s Dan Connolly says Jones blasts 3 run homer as Birds rally to beat Texas

The Sun’s Dan Connolly says Markakis extended hitting streak to 13 games in win

The Sun’s Dan Connolly says Reimold off to hot start in Norfolk

The Sun’s Dean Jones Jr. says Brandon Snyder ‘maturing’ with Baysox

The Sun’s Peter Schmuck says Markakis’ 21 runs scored top baseball

The Sun’s Peter Schmuck says Baez could be ‘tradeable’ at midseason

Examiner Steve DeClue says Roberts also added HR in win

Carroll County Times’ Rich Dubroff says nearly 23,000 saw Birds top Rangers at Camden Yards

Carroll County Times’ Rich Dubroff says Jamie Walker ‘feels fine’

The AP says Chris Davis, Hank Blalock, David Murphy all homered for Rangers in loss

Frederick News-Post’s Adam Pohl says Rowell had 3 hits for Keys in win

Dallas Morning News’ Jeff Wilson says Brandon McCarthy couldn’t hold on to big lead Rangers gave him

NAVY LACROSSE:says Mids upset Bucknell for Patriot League title

The Official Site

Inside Lacrosse’s Christian Swezey says Mids clinch automatic qualifier to NCAA Tournament with win over Bison

Examiner Tom Flynn says Brendan Connors tallied 3 goals for Mids to clinch Patriot League Championship

Washington Times’ Patrick Stevens says Tommy Phelan named MVP of Patriot League Tournament after Mids’ win

NAVY FOOTBALL:says former Mids Kettani, Tyree Barnes sign with Patriots

Annapolis Capital’s Bill Wagner

Go Mids’ Adam Nettina profiles Gateway (PA) RB prospect Brian Williams (must subscribe)says Tigers fall to Penn in Philadelphia


The Official Site

MT. ST. MARY’S LACROSSE:previews tonight’s showdown with Hopkins

The Official Site

TERRAPINS FOOTBALL:says former Terps Barnes, Fokou, Gronkowski, Thomas selected on Day 2 of Draft

The Official Site

The Sun says former Terp Barnes stays nearby with Redskins

The Diamondback’s Eric Detweiler says Barnes now Redskin after growing up fan of Cowboys

The Diamondback’s Chris Eckard says passing ‘ruled’ day at Spring Game

Washington Post’s Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora say Skins tried trading down before selecting Barnes

Washington Post’s Jason La Canfora says Skins signed Edwin Williams after going undrafted

Washington Times’ Patrick Stevens says Terps have had players drafted in 15 straight years

Washington Times’ Patrick Stevens says Fokou picked by Eagles

DC Examiner’s John Keim says new Redskin Barnes smart, strong

ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich says DHB one of 4 ACC players selected in Top 10

SI’s Tony Pauline says Raiders ‘reached’ for DHB at 7

CBS Sports’ Clark Judge says DHB ‘gamble’ for Raiders

Terrapin Times’ Claire Knudsen profiles NFL hopeful Muhtadi (must subscribe)says Adrian Cannon, Torrey Smith, Quinton McCree all options to replace DHB

Turtle Sports Report’s Kenny Gartner

TERRAPINS LACROSSE:says Terps should still be in NCAA Tournament with win over Yale Saturday

The Diamondback’s Michael Katz

The Diamondback’s Adi Joseph says Cottle still ‘optimistic’ about Terps’ season

TERRAPINS WOMEN’S BASKETBALL:says Toliver, Coleman named team Co-MVP’s at Awards Banquet

The Official Site

SALISBURY LACROSSE:says Coach Jim Berkman knows Gulls will have to win on road during NCAA Tournament

The Sun’s Edward Lee

HORSE RACING:says Quality Road’s status for Kentucky Derby still ‘in question’

Daily Racing Form’s David Grening

Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch says Hold Me Back, Square Eddie, Win Willy, General Quarters all got work in at Churchill Downs Sunday

Thoroughbred Times’ Ed DeRosa says Barbaro statue unveiled in Louisville

Examiner Steve DeClue says alcohol number 1 reason why Preakness ticket sales down


-Hopkins 13, Mt. St. Mary’s 6. The Mountaineers are playing better, but not THIS much better.

Talk to you tomorrow.


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Caps Chase Lundqvist Again, Force Game 7, 5-3

Posted on 26 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Crank up Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, the Washington Capitals have overcome the odds and forced a game seven on Tuesday night with a 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden this afternoon. Last season the Caps forced a game seven against the Philadelphia Flyers after being down three games to one and lost in overtime. Can the Capitals, who have waited a year to avenge that game seven loss, pull off the feat this year and give Caps owner Ted Leonsis his first ever playoff series win? If they play like they did in the first two periods of today’s game they should be able to do it as they chased Rangers goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, to the bench after 40 minutes for the second straight game. The Rangers added two goals in the last period, including one with five seconds left to make the score look closer but credit New York for not quitting and with some help from the referees they may have grabbed some momentum those last 20 minutes, however, the Caps clearly quit skating for the majority of that stanza.

This contest had a crazy twist coming in to it with Rangers Coach John Tortorella suspended for the game for squirting water at a fan to start an altercation and then he hit a woman on the head when he threw a water bottle into the stands with 6:33 left in game five. Prior to that game Tortorella, ironically, had preached discipline and composure to his team and had scratched pesky forward Sean Avery in game five for taking some bad penalties in the third period of game four. Avery dressed for game six and former Caps Coach Jim Schoenfeld was behind the bench as Rangers interim coach replacing the former Stanley Cup winning coach (Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup with Tampa in 2004, will be back for game seven).

Washington’s defense was the key today as they produced the first three Caps goals, all in the first period. The first was triggered by game five hero Matt Bradley, who forced an offensive zone turnover with some great forechecking and Brooks Laich and Dave Steckel then set up Milan Jurcina for a blast that beat Lundqvist short side to give the guys in white a 1-0 lead. The Rangers then struck back on a power play goal by Scott Gomez, their first in 19 attempts, to tie it up and for the next couple of minutes the game was looking like it could go either way when Washington received a power play after Paul Mara held Laich.

Washington’s power play had gone ZERO for 13 in games four and five but the Caps finally received a good bounce as Alexander Semin’s shot ricocheted right off of a Rangers skate to Mike Green in the right circle and he roofed it over Lundqvist for his first goal of the playoffs to ignite the Caps. Green apparently has been battling the flu bug and before the game he told NBC’s Pierre McGuire that he was finally getting his energy level back. The Rangers then had another power play chance when Tom Poti put the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty but Washington killed the infraction thanks to some good goaltending from Simeon Varlamov (29 saves). When Poti came out of the box he, Dave Steckel, and Boyd Gordon had a three on one because Mark Staal pinched in the offensive zone and the three Caps passed the puck beautifully around Joe Girardi setting up Poti to stuff the puck over Lundqvist for a 3-1 Caps lead.

In the second period the Caps dominated play by possessing the puck for long stretches of time but with just over nine mintues gone the game’s deciding point came as the Rangers Nikolai Zherdev missed a partially open net that would have made it 3-2 and Washington took the puck down the other way in transition. Viktor Kozlov then abused Staal with a great move and put the puck upstairs past Lundqvist to make it 4-1. Then the Great #8 sealed the deal by deflecting a Poti point pass/shot under Lundqvist with just 3:16 left in the period on the power play. That made it 5-1 and the Caps power play was a perfect 2 for 2 on the afternoon. At that point Washington seemed to not want to take any chances and just get ready for game seven.

Here are some other thoughts on the game:

The Caps power play did get a lucky bounce on the first goal but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau switched things up a bit putting Poti on the point with Green and moving Ovechkin down low several times and that opened things up for Washington’s defense to shoot and create.

Poti, one goal and three assists, was outstanding today and hopefully his creaky groin is okay for game seven. He may have tweaked it late in the contest.

Washington clearly was trying to beat Lundqvist high glove side and they were successful doing that today. Because of the size of Lundqvist’s pads he is tough to beat on the ice unless you get him moving. The question now is can Washington find a way to force King Henrik into a third straight bad game? Lundqvist has never lost a first round playoff series.

Varlamov was a little shaky in the first period giving up some rebounds but he takes up a lot of net and was very solid when he had to be. He could not be faulted on any of the three New York goals (the Rangers second tally was on a 5 on 3 power play after John Erskine was incorrectly, in my opinion as well as Mike Emrick’s (NBC play by play man), called for a holding penalty on Nik Andropov on a clean check).

Washington took four penalties in the third period and faced two lengthy 5 on 3’s, including one with just over five minutes left and the game still 5-2 but Dave Steckel, Laich, and Poti were outstanding killing it by winning a defensive zone face-off and then ragged alot of time off the clock before firing the puck down the ice.

The Caps did not turn the puck over at the Rangers blue line and did a good job of dumping it deep behind the New York defensemen. If they continue to do this in game seven they will have success. They need to avoid blind passes/careless backpasses that could give the Rangers the ability to get their good transition game going. Today it was Washington’s transition game that was superior.

New York has trouble scoring, they have only 10 goals in this series, so the Caps can’t take penalties, such as Brashear’s late hit on Blair Betts today, that give the Rangers an advantage. Washington is superior at five on five and the only reason this thing is tied up is because of Lundqvist and a bad first game in goal by Washington’s Jose Theodore.

I’m sure the Verizon Center will be raring and ready to go on Tuesday night. The Caps have not come back from 3-1 down to win a series since 1988 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It is time for the guys in red on Tuesday to win one for their owner and for themselves. This will be one tough game and you can bet the Rangers will be ready.

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NHL Suspends Rangers Coach for Game 6

Posted on 25 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The National Hockey League announced Saturday that New York Rangers coach John Tortorella has been suspended for one game for squirting a fan with water and throwing a water bottle that struck a fan during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series with the Washington Capitals on April 24 in Washington.

The incident occurred 6:33 into the third period.

Tortorella will miss the Rangers’ game Sunday afternoon against Washington at Madison Square Garden.

“While it is a difficult decision to suspend a coach at this point in a playoff series, it has been made clear to all of our players, coaches and other bench personnel that the National Hockey League cannot — and will not — tolerate any physical contact with fans,” NHL Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said. “We do not take this action lightly. It is the result of an entire day of investigation and evaluation that included the retrieval and review of videotape of the incident and discussions with Mr. Tortorella, other Rangers’ bench personnel and a number of other people, including the security personnel at the Verizon Center.

“That investigation revealed that Mr. Tortorella squirted a fan with water before Mr. Tortorella was doused with a beverage.

“While, in these circumstances, it always is easy to allege mitigating circumstances, the fact is we do not tolerate contact with our fans in this manner. That is communicated before each season in a memo that is issued by the League to all of the management, coaches and players of every team.

“The Sept. 8, 2008, memo, entitled ‘Supplementary Discipline Reminders for the 2008-09 Season,’ included the following section regarding Contact With Fans:

Even where a fan is verbally abusive, intoxicated, or profane, club personnel should either ignore the conduct or, where appropriate, seek the assistance of police or security personnel at the arena. This prohibition extends to all forms of physical contact, whether it be direct physical contact, the throwing of objects (including hockey sticks and other equipment) or even the squirting of water. While the latter form of conduct may have, in the past, seemed to be of a minor or harmless character, such conduct may serve only to incite and provoke an unruly fan and may ultimately lead to unforeseen consequences.

Accordingly, please be on notice that all Club personnel (management, coaches, trainers, and/or players) who engage in any form of physical contact with fans, including the squirting of water, will, on a going forward basis, be subject to discipline in the form of a suspension. The Club involved will also be subject to a fine.

The suspension was issued pursuant to the Commissioner’s authority under Section 6.3(j)(1)(a) of the NHL Constitution.

Comment: Former Caps Coach Jim Schonfeld will take over behind the New York bench and this should be a rallying point for the Rangers. Since Henrik Lundqvist is playing tomorrow it really doesn’t matter who is coaching New York. The Caps have their work cut out for them against a goalie who typically bounces back strong after a bad outing. Washington will likely need a near perfect performance on Sunday to even up the series and send it back to the Verizon Center for a game 7 (that would be on Tuesday, if necessary). Caps fans will need to break out their Journey records and crank up “Don’t Stop Believin'”

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Caps Blast Rangers, 4-0, to Force Game Six

Posted on 25 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

If the Washington Capitals somehow find a way to pull out this best of seven series after trailing three games to one against the New York Rangers then Matt Bradley’s shorthanded goal to put the Caps up 1-0 tonight will be forever remembered as the turning point in this series. Bradley then scored another goal just over seven minutes later from a bad angle on the seemingly invincible Henrik Lundqvist to give the Caps a 2-0 lead and they never looked back in a 4-0 dominating win at the sold out Verizon Center in game five. Game six is Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden at 2pm on NBC and once again a Rangers win eliminates the Caps. Friday night though, was about Bradley and his two goals.

“It’s not every game Brad[ley] scores. I was real happy for him. He works so hard…He’s an unsung hero. Whether he plays four minutes or seven, he’s a still a component in the room and when he can get rewarded like that that’s great,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

Bradley’s second goal stunned not only him but Lundqvist.

“Brooks [Laich] made a great play… I’m not going to lie. I was just throwing it at the net and luckily it went in. You don’t get many of those against a great goalie like that,” said Bradley.

“I made a bad decision and tried to stand up and cover the five-hole but my pads are not built like that to cover that well so I have to go down on one knee, but I didn’t.  I thought it would be good enough to stand up like that but it went through…it was a bad decision.  That’s on me, that goal.  No question…I don’t know if we can learn so much from this game, we just have to move on and get ready for next time,” said Lundqvist, who had held the Caps to just eight goals on 149 shots in the first four games of this series. On Friday he gave up four goals on 14 shots and he would sit out the third period (replaced by backup goalie Steve Valiquette) to rest for game six and the Caps expect King Henrik to be back on Sunday.

“Every great goalie every now and then makes a mistake. The thing that worried me about that was when I saw it go in, I said ‘ Oh, he’s going to be great the next game.’ Usually they bounce right back so I anticipate him being great on Sunday,” said Boudreau on Lundqvist.

“I’m sure he’ll [Henrik Lundqvist] will bounce back and have a great game on Sunday,” added Bradley on Lundqvist.

Alexander Semin scored the Caps third goal off of a Nicklas Backstrom face-off win and then Alexander Ovechkin had a highlight reel goal to make it 4-0 with 29 seconds left in the second period. Ovechkin went through two Rangers (Chris Drury and Derrick Morris) and while falling to the ice slid the puck under Lundqvist’s pads on the backhand for his second goal of the series. Ovechkin downplayed the goal calling it “a lucky shot” and mentioned that he is “terrible on his backhand.” Lucky or not, the goal was incredible and if Ovechkin can work on his backhand shot in the off-season and have the ability to go around defenseman either on the forehand or backhand there is no limit to the number of goals he could score in a season. But to improve his backhand the Great #8 would likely have to decrease the amount of curve he puts on his stick. Alexander the Great now has six points (2g-4a) in five games in these playoffs.

Back to game five, the Caps got some very good goaltending from rookie Simeon Varlamov who made 20 saves, including a great one on Brandon Dubinsky with 3:10 left in the first period when the game was still in doubt. Boudreau was asked about Varlamov and if he is giving him any advice.

“I’m just going to keep letting him go. I don’t want to get into his head. I don’t want to talk to him,” said Boudreau. Varlamov recorded his second career playoff shutout,and he has now stopped 95 of 98 shots for a 0.76 GAA and .969 save percentage. He is the third Capitals goalie to record multiple shutouts in their playoff career (Olie Kolzig and Don Beaupre) and the second goalie to record multiple shutouts in the same playoff season (Olie Kolzig, 1998, four shutouts).

For Washington, one of the problem areas going forward is still the power play, which was better as the game went on with Laich being put in front of the net on the first unit, but it still did not convert going 0 for 7 and is now 0 for 13 in the last two games. Granted Boudreau did not use Ovechkin, Semin, and some of the other top players on the late man advantages (Ovie did not play the last 8 plus minutes at all) but the Caps will need to start making the Rangers pay for some of the silly penalties they are taking if they want to win this series. Rangers Coach John Tortorella certainly recognized that his team’s play in that area was a key for his team.

“We got enough practice tonight with it, didn’t we?  And that is what is keeping us above water right now.” said Tortorella on his penalty killing unit.

Having watched all five games in this series it is pretty clear that the Rangers strategy is to force the Caps into turnovers in the neutral zone or at the Rangers blue line. With Washington being a highly skilled team they have a tendency to always want to carry the puck into the Rangers zone and New York has used that to their advantage in their wins by intercepting errant cross ice passes and going the other way in transition. The Caps need to do what they did best in games three and five, and that was to get the puck in deep in the Rangers zone and outwork the New York defense. Mike Green (1 assist in 25:09 of ice time) talked about getting the puck in behind the Rangers defense on NHL Live on Thursday and when the Caps have done that in this series they have had success.

“That’s what all teams try to do because once you take the puck in you can make some plays and do some damage. So we’ve just been trying to get it deep and outwork them. It’s the same philosophy every team has, try and get it deep and wear down the D,” said Caps defenseman Tom Poti on the Rangers stacking the blueline against them and Washington’s approach to the game.

In game three many of Washington’s goals came when they worked the puck from behind the net out and that made it tough for Lundqvist to know where the shots were coming from. So I asked Poti if the secret in game six will be for the Caps to simplify their game and dump the puck behind the Rangers goal line and pound New York’s defense.

“I think so, we are going to try and come out and have the same effort we had tonight and if we do so we’ll be okay,” finished Poti.

The Caps also have to be careful not to blindly throw the puck out into the slot with two Caps behind the net as the Rangers are collapsing their players into that area and are waiting to go in transition. On Washington’s breakout from their zone New York is jamming the boards so the Caps did a good job of chipping it up the center of the ice to a forward or hard off the boards around the Rangers defense. Minimizing mistakes and winning the little battles will be the key to a  Caps victory on Sunday and would prevent Lundqvist from single handily deciding the series.

“After you play a team for five games, you know what to expect out of them. It’s just a matter of winning the one-on-one battles and competing. That’s the only way to win games,” finished Caps defenseman Brian Pothier.

Notes: The final shots on goal were 21-20 for Washington, the lowest combined total in the series. The Caps won the face-off battle 28-21. John Erskine had another strong game on defense and was +3 in 17:07 of ice time. Sean Avery, who has taken several bad penalties in this series, was scratched but with New York losing you can expect him back for game six. Chris Drury was -3 in 7:21 of ice time for the Rangers. The game got chippy at times tonight and the Rangers were taking some runs at Washington in the third period. I asked Ovechkin if he thought this game was more physical than the others and he said “every game has been just as physical.”

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