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article imageCapitals in NHL second round, Lightning remain in contention

By Mark J. Allan     Apr 28, 2015 in Sports
The eight best-of-seven-game NHL preliminary series have provided eye-popping saves, highlight-reel goals, comebacks, heroic comeback attempts and nasty stickwork as well as vicious hits that enflamed the emotions of players and fans.
The Washington Capitals joined six other NHL first-round survivors Monday, while the Tampa Bay Lightning gave themselves one more chance to join the second-round party.
With the winning goal by their next Russian star Evgeny Kuznetsov the Capitals eliminated the New York Islanders with a 2-1 victory.
Demonstrating slick stickhandling, awareness and patience, the 22-year-old center weaved through traffic, cut across the front of the Islander net, outwaited downed goalie Jaroslav Halak and calmly roofed the winner with 7:18 left.
Joel Ward opened scoring for the host Capitals and Frans Nielsen tied it early in the third period.
Washington averted more post-season heartbreak preceded by defeats in five of seven previous Game Sevens since superstar Alex Ovechkin has been with the team.
The plucky Islanders gave their long-suffering fans three more post-season games at aging Nassau Coliseum before they move to Brooklyn next season.
The Isles were led by inspirational Jonathan Toews-like leader John Tavares and helped by the best fourth line in the league, Casey Cizikas between hit-happy wingers Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck.
The Isles, however, ran out of gas in the seventh game. Their forwards managed a mere three shots and they got only 11 total on Braden Holtby, who is on the cusp of joining the NHL’s elite goaltenders.
The Lightning, meanwhile, topped the Red Wings 5-2 in Detroit, forcing a seventh and deciding game.
Although superstar sniper Steven Stamkos didn’t get his first point of the series until a first-period assist in Game Six, the second line has been on fire for the Lightning, who led all teams in regular-season scoring.
Center Tyler Johnson scored twice Monday, improving his post-season stats to six goals (tied for first) and seven points (tied for second).
Linemate Nikita Kucherov, rocked with a high hit by Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall near the end of the second period, finished with three assists. Tomas Tatar scored both goals for the Wings, who travel to Tampa for the deciding game Wednesday.
The eight best-of-seven-game preliminary series have provided eye-popping saves, highlight-reel goals, comebacks, heroic comeback attempts and nasty stickwork as well as vicious hits that enflamed the emotions of players and fans.
Rangers 4 Penguins 1
Pittsburgh superstars Sidney Crosby and an ailing Evgeni Malkin could not lift their injury-riddled squad past a New York team that led the league with 113 regular-season points.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, maligned for mediocrity in previous post-season failures, kept the score close for Pittsburgh in every game in spite of a crippled blueline corps in front of him.
Fleury’s brilliant counterpart Henrik Lundqvist did his part, however, in five low-scoring, one-goal games.
Canadiens 4 Senators 2
Two ugly incidents cemented a heated rivalry between the teams for years to come.
Montreal’s mercurial defenseman P.K. Subban set the tone in the opener by blatantly slashing Mark Stone in front of the Montreal net. Stone, easily Ottawa’s hottest scorer in a torrid late-season stretch drive, suffered a microfracture in his right wrist.
When Stone managed to return to the game, Subban complained bitterly about a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct he received for impersonating a lumberjack.
Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson and Montreal agitator Brandon Prust visited the lumberyard in Game Five, taking turns slashing each other in front of the Senators’ goal.
Anderson actually had better stats than Montreal counterpart Carey Price, probably the best netminder on the planet this season. Anderson leads all playoff goalies who have at least two starts with an 0.97 goals-against average and .972 save percentage.
Ultimately, the underdog Senators got only halfway through digging themselves out of a three-game deficit. They tried, but could not overcome the brilliance of Price, who finished the first round with a 1.94 GAA and .939 save percentage.
Ducks 4 Jets 0
Powerful Anaheim, which tied for the best regular-season record in the West, eliminated upstart Winnipeg in the first round’s only four-game sweep.
A sea of white-shirted Winnipeg supporters watched their beloved Jets fall 5-2 in the series-clinching game.
Off-season acquisition Ryan Kesler scored twice in the final period to leave no doubt about the outcome. As a former Vancouver Canuck farmhand with the Manitoba Moose, Kesler is no stranger to the Manitoba capital and its rabid hockey fans.
After 15 seasons, the Winnipeg/Atlanta franchise is still seeking its first post-season series win, although the Jets’ future looks bright.
Wild 4 Blues 2
St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock might be unemployed after the Blues suffered their 10th consecutive defeat when facing playoff elimination.
St. Louis, which tied Anaheim for the most points in the West, faltered in spite of the Tarasenk Show by Vladimir Tarasenko.
After a 37-goal regular season, the sensational Russian winger added six in the first round. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk registered eight assists for a share of the first-round lead.
Minnesota, which salvaged its season with a prolonged playoff drive after rescuing netminder Devan Dubnyk from the hapless Edmonton Oilers, polished off the inconsistent Blues with a 4-1 win. Dubnyk gave the Wild an edge over the St. Louis tandem of veteran Brian Elliott and young Jake Allen.
Black Hawks 4 Predators 2
Both teams were true to form in a 4-3 Game Six victory for Chicago.
The Blackhawks now have a 13-3 record since the 2009 playoffs in games in which they have a chance to eliminate opponents. Nashville is 1-8 when facing elimination.
Jonathan Toews was his usual playoff self in the first round, tying for the league scoring league with eight points. Defenseman Duncan Keith and speedy winger Patrick Kane, who returned from an injury just in time for the playoffs, are tied for second in post-season scoring with seven points.
Goaltenders Corey Crawford and Scott Darling took turns bailing each other out as the Hawks moved on to the second round in their last crack at another Cup before a salary-cap crunch is expected to force them to divest some of their payroll.
Nashville, which replaced head coach Barry Trotz with Peter Laviolette and opened up its style of play, faltered in the first round for the sixth time in eight playoff appearances.
Flames 4 Canucks 2
People are increasingly learning not to bet against the Flames, the youngest team in this season’s post-season.
Coached by master motivator Bob Hartley, the never-say-die Calgarians fell behind 3-0 in Game Six, but roared back against the stunned Canucks in a 7-4 series-clinching triumph.
Michael Ferland and Jiri Hudler each scored twice for the winners.
Ferland, a husky rookie winger, became a folk hero to Calgary’s Sea of Red supporters by hitting everyone with an orca on his chest and visibly getting under the Canucks’ collective skin in the series.
The Flames were without heart-and-soul defenseman Mark Giordano. He would have been a strong Norris Trophy candidate were it not for a season-ending torn biceps injury in late February.
The series was a learning experience for first-time NHL head coach Willie Desjardins. The veteran minor-league bench boss guided the Canucks back to respectability with a 101-point season after a disastrous, strife-filled campaign with demanding coach John Tortorella.
More about round of 16 first leg, Nhl playoffs, Hockey
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