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Stanley Cup playoffs three stars: Senators push back on Penguins to force Game 7

There will be a Game 7 to decide the Eastern Conference finals.

Facing elimination for the first time this postseason, Craig Anderson and the Senators weathered a relentless Penguins attack that piled up seven goals two days earlier and emerged from Tuesday’s Game 6 as 2-1 winners, pushing their roller-coaster series to an all-decisive final game.

Anderson faced 46 shots and stopped 45 of them. Pittsburgh’s lone goal came early in the second period, moments after a controversial coach’s challenge negated another.

Evgeni Malkin’s seventh goal and NHL-leading 24th point of the playoffs came on an impressive individual effort in front put the Penguins ahead 1-0.

To make this deal, Islanders general manager Garth Snow had to first clear cap space to fit Eberle in, while also finding a way to keep Vegas from selecting Strome, a 2011 first-round pick, in Wednesday’s expansion draft. He accomplished both in one big trade with Vegas, sending the club’s first-round pick in this year’s draft, a second-rounder in 2019, defense prospect Jake Bischoff and injured forward Mikhail Grabovksi who has a $5 million cap hit to the Golden Knights. In return, Vegas agreed not to select Strome or other attractive young Islanders Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey and Calvin de Haan, choosing third-string goalie J.F. Berube instead.

Strome, who recorded only 28 and 30 points the past two seasons after a breakthrough 2014-15 in which he notched 50 points, has a $2.5 salary cap hit heading into RFA status next summer. Though a disappointment in New York, Strome is still only 23 and was a prolific point-producer during his junior career.

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NHL playoffs 2017: Capitals can’t shake curse as Penguins prevail in Game 7

There will be no redemption for the cursed Capitals.

In the seventh game, Washington was done in again by the scripture it came so desperately close to debunking. Marc-Andre Fleury’s 29 saves and myriad missed opportunities led to a 2-0 Penguins victory, the defending champs reaching the Eastern Conference finals for a second consecutive year after advancing through the nation’s capital.

After scoring a total of three goals through the first three games of the series, the Penguins offense, behind Sidney Crosby, netted three in two periods Friday. Crosby scored his sixth goal of the postseason and assisted on an another.

While the Penguins bucked their dismal scoring trends, the Senators’ scoreless play on power plays continued. Ottawa went 0 for 4 with a man-advantage Friday and is now 0 for 25 on the power play dating back to Game 2 against the Rangers.

Yet, it wasn’t all smiles for Pittsburgh, as its already thin roster saw another injury when defenseman Chad Ruhwedel exited late in the first period and never returned after taking elbow to the face on a controversial hit from Senators winger Bobby Ryan. Ruhwedel remained down on the ice in pain while a scrum ensued along the boards.

Western Conference finals: Predators at Ducks, Game 5, 7:15 p.m. ET, NBC (Series tied 2-2) Nashville center Ryan Johansen will miss the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs after undergoing surgery on a left thigh injury, leaving the Preds without their leading scorer when they visit the Ducks needing two wins to make their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

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Stanley Cup Final 2017: Picking between Penguins and Predators a painful process

From the time the horn sounded on their Eastern Conference Game 7 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning until the start of their Stanley Cup Finals series last year against the San Jose Sharks, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a grand total of three days off. The Sharks had four. The differential was of no consequence.

The Penguins outshot San Jose by 15, outscored them by a goal, won the opening game, and the game after that, and eventually claimed the series in six.

Indeed, the 2017 Nashville Predators have played three fewer playoff games to arrive in the Stanley Cup Final, and they’ll have twice as much rest before their championship series against the Penguins opens. But with a schedule that could include as many as three breaks that last three days, it seems too surface-y to declare the Predators will win their first Stanley Cup because they’re the fresher team.

Both teams have been disrupted by serious injuries to essential players, although the Penguins have had longer to get used to operating without star defenseman Kris Letang (months) than the Predators have had without center Ryan Johansen (two games).

Karlsson missed two games toward the end of the regular season with the foot fractures, but returned to help Ottawa clinch a playoff berth. He was averaging 28:58 time on ice heading into Game 6 and now has willed the Senators past two team to which they were deemed inferior, despite holding home-ice advantage.

I don’t see myself with any other NHL team, wearing any other jersey, Markov told reporters in a conference call. I’m not closing my door to Montreal, and I’m not closing my door to the NHL. You never know; but today, I am going back to Russia.

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Stanley Cup playoffs three stars: Capitals’ Game 3 win, Crosby injury send series vs. Penguins into flux

For subscribers to the This is finally the Capitals’ year theory, a case study.

For one game at least, they finally found an antidote to their playoff kryptonite.

Three stars

3. Justin Williams, Capitals Williams continues to live up to his big-game reputation after setting set up both of Washington’s regulation goals, running his playoff point total to eight in nine games.

2. Evgeni Malkin, Penguins With Crosby out and the Penguins’ bench reduced to 10 forwards, they called on Malkin to lead the comeback. He took command, scored and assisted on the game-tying goal and now leads all playoff scorers with 15 points.

1. Braden Holtby, Capitals Washington needed Holtby to be its best player after sub-par efforts in Games 1 and 2, and he was. The Vezina finalist made 30 saves and was pitching a shutout until two tough breaks in the game’s final two minutes. Mission accomplished

This is not the same postseason team that existed in the early rounds of 2016, which included star defenseman Kris Letang being suspended a game for a high hit on Washington’s Marcus Johansson in Game 3 of the second-round series. Many considered that a retaliation for a brutal Brooks Orpik hit on Olli Matta in Game 2. Orpik already had been suspended for his offense for three games.

That was all the retaliation Pittsburgh needed. But the Penguins hadn’t yet bought into the just play directive.

Now they have. That it occurred subsequent to the publication of my column criticizing them for failing in that area, and Crosby for an apparent inability to marshal them in the proper direction, may be entirely coincidental.

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It helps that Marleau is an iron man, a veritable hockey-playing android who has missed all of 31 games in the NHL.

Have you seen him skate? A bemused Babcock asked rhetorically after a question about whether Marleau would only slow the kids. Even if he doesn’t score the goals, he can skate. … He can play against the best people and do it right every night.

Still, as 35-and-over contracts go, that’s a lot of money. He has a full no-movement clause in the deal to boot.

Marleau hasn’t topped 50 points in two years but is coming off a 27-goal season and can become a steady veteran presence in the locker room.

It helps that Marleau is an iron man, a veritable hockey-playing android who has missed all of 31 games in the NHL. His current streak of consecutive games played sits at 624. The Sharks haven’t played one without him since April 7, 2009. Soon, that’ll change.

The onset of Crosby’s concussion troubles can be traced to the 2011 Winter Classic when Capitals forward David Steckel caught the star in the back of the head with his shoulder.

The hit was deemed reckless but inadvertent, Steckel wasn’t suspended and Crosby was in the lineup four days later for the Penguins’ next scheduled game against the Lightning. In that game, Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman ran Crosby into the end boards from behind, only complicating the concussion that was later traced to the Steckel hit.

It would be Crosby’s last game for 10 months. He finished the 2010-11 season with 66 points in 41 games, missing the All-Star Game, the Penguins’ first-round playoff exit and the first 20 games to start the 2011-12 campaign. Crosby made his celebrated return Nov. 21, 2011, and scored four points against the Islanders.

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Stanley Cup playoffs three stars: ‘Boring’ Senators blow out Penguins in Game 3 to take series lead

Borrrrrring. No longer.

The same Senators who lulled many a hockey fan to sleep to begin the Eastern Conference finals sent the series into a frenzy with a five-goal outburst in Wednesday’s Game 3, converting their 5-1 victory into a two-games-to-one lead over a Penguins team that for the first time these playoffs crumpled under the weight of mounting injury woes.

For watching such a stodgy group, Canadian Tire Centre was raucous, hosting its most important hockey game in 10 years, chanting for six.

The Sens were quick to disprove critics of the dull, bend-but-don’t break trap system they’ve deployed to slow the defending Cup champs with a goal 48 seconds into the game and three more in a span of 2:18 later in the first period. Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh featured four goals in total.

Is it evidence of a lesson learned through years of salary cap headaches and harmful buyouts? Probably not, but it’s an encouraging sign (well, for owners at least) that teams are getting smarter with their wallets. It’s also decidedly less fun for people who get to write articles ranking the smartest and dumbest deals so far.

In essence, the Rangers replaced flat-footed cap burden Dan Girardi with Shattenkirk, one of the NHL’s best puck-moving defenseman and the consensus top UFA available this summer. That’s a win no matter the cost. But that Shattenkirk, a New Rochelle, N.Y., native, turned down longer term and more lucrative offers to suit up for his hometown team played right into the suddenly cost-conscious Rangers’ hands. New York has one of the top blue lines in the league.

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The Coyotes hope their new team president will secure the franchise’s future in Arizona.

The team announced Wednesday it had hired former Arizona State athletic director Steve Patterson as team president. The Coyotes lauded Patterson’s professional relationships in and around the Valley of the Sun.

This was the main concern Monday when Penguins captain Sidney Crosby crashed head-first into the boards during the first period of a 5-2 playoff loss to the Capitals but was allowed to continue playing, creating yet another uncomfortable discussion about the NHL’s controversial concussion spotter policy.

Crosby had been diagnosed with a concussion seven days earlier at least the fourth of his career that forced him to miss Game 4 and caused many to scrutinize whether the NHL’s preeminent figure should ease back into the series to ensure full recovery.

He instead was given a clean bill of health by team doctors and returned to the lineup Saturday in time for Game 5, thus becoming exposed to the potential nightmare scenario that may have presented itself Monday.

That was nearly the nightmare scenario experts worry about, Chris Nowinski, co-founder of Concussion Legacy Foundation, said in a statement to Yahoo Sports. Playing so soon after a concussion, he may have been a step slower, or made a bad split-second decision, or was just unlucky, and he nearly had a catastrophic neck or head injury. He certainly appeared to meet the criteria for a full evaluation as he held his head with both hands and didn’t immediately attempt to stand back up.

I’m not comfortable that he was allowed to continue playing.

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Kevin Shattenkirk explains why he left money on table to sign with Rangers

For Kevin Shattenkirk, it really wasn’t all about the money.

Sure, he landed a four-year, $26.6 million contract from the Rangers on Saturday, but at the same time the NHL’s most sought-after free agent this summer left quite a bit of cash on the table. And that’s quite all right for the native New Yorker because at the end of the day he gets the chance to live out a childhood dream by becoming a Ranger and playing his home games now in front of family and friends at Madison Square Garden.

I envisioned myself being a Ranger from the moment I stepped on the ice as a kid, explained Shattenkirk shortly after agreeing to terms. When you have the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream like this, and it might be an opportunity that only comes once in my career, I felt like this was my chance.

For that vicious, unnecessary hit, Wingels did not receive a penalty from the on-ice officials. It is possible they didn’t notice it, although that’s hard to believe given that Wilson was in possession of the puck less than a second before it occurred.

It is impossible that the hilariously named NHL Department of Player Safety missed it, because NBC replayed the hit as soon as it was done showing the Penguins congratulating one other at the conclusion of Sunday’s win.

Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who was short on answers, added: We need to get an extra goal. We need to get an extra save.

Pending unrestricted free agents T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk could play their final games in a Capitals sweater in Saturday’s Game 5 without impacting the series save for Shattenkirk’s Game 4 overtime winner.

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Stanley Cup Final 2017: Penguins win away from repeat after routing Preds in Game 5

The 2017 Stanley Cup Final took a sharp pivot Thursday night. The Penguins used a fast early start to rout the Predators 6-0 in Game 5 at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. The Pens lead the series three games to two and will go for a Cup repeat Sunday night in Nashville (8 p.m., NBC).

The home team has won all five games in the series, and Game 5 was never in doubt for the hosts. Pittsburgh scored three times each in the first two periods.

One thing to watch heading into Game 6: Nashville forward Colton Sissons was given a match penalty for cross-checking Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta in the face late in the third period. He’s suspended pending a league review. Sissons has 12 points (six goals, six assists) in the playoffs.

Vegas acquired forward Nikita Gusev, a 2017 second-round pick and a fourth-rounder in 2018 from the Lightning to take Garrison, who carries a $4.6 million cap hit heading into the final year of his contract.

Fleury has been the long-rumored pick as a face of the franchise for the Knights after waiving his no-movement clause in a huge favor to Pittsburgh. The Penguins traded a 2020 second-round draft pick to make sure Vegas selects Fleury, who will count $5.75 million against the cap the next two seasons.

Vegas also acquired forward Mikhail Grabovski , the Islanders’ first-round draft pick this year (No. 15 overall) and a second-rounder in 2019, the teams announced. The steep price was required for the Knights to lay off key unprotecteds like Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome and Calvin de Haan.

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The goalie found himself under extreme pressure in the third period and overtime

That set up Perry’s heroics in overtime. Anaheim outshot the Predators 6-3 in the extra period. Had the Ducks blown this game and gone down 3-1, the series would be all but over. Instead, with Game 5 in Anaheim, and Game 7 there if necessary, the Ducks hold the advantage.

3. Filip Forsberg, Predators The center continued his postseason heroics. After scoring the game-tying goal in Game 3, he did it again in Game 4, tying the score at 2 with 36 seconds remaining in regulation. He also shrewdly screened Ducks’ goalie John Gibson on P.K. Subban’s goal a few minutes earlier. He now has seven goals and 12 points in the playoffs.

2. John Gibson, Ducks The goalie found himself under extreme pressure in the third period and overtime at one time facing a long 5-on-3 power play but he stepped up to the challenge, with 32 saves.

1. Corey Perry, Ducks His game-winning shot came from an odd angle, and deflected off P.K. Subban’s stick, but it counts just like a long-range slapshot. Perry now has three game-winning overtime goals in the playoffs.

Markov said he initially sought a two-year contract, but was open to signing a one-year deal, too. The Canadiens, though, did not share Markov’s strong desire to maintain the working relationship.

I’ve always been treated well here, I’m proud to have been a Canadian for 16 years, offered Markov, who grappled with his emotions during his conversation with the media Thursday. I’m sad…but I respect their decision and now I move forward.

Markov, who is sitting on 990 games played in his sturdy career, recorded 30 or more points in each of the past five seasons, and 11 times overall with the Canadiens. He notched 50 points in 2014-15 and reached a career-high 64 in 2008-09.

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