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It didn’t get to that point.

    • 48 posts
    August 10, 2018 7:46 am IST
    Like tourists flocking to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom [url=http://www.milwaukeebrewersteamshop.com/authentic-manny-pina-jersey]Manny Pina Milwaukee Brewers Jersey[/url] , the Pittsburgh Penguins making a trip to Washington in the playoffs has become a rite of spring.

    The Penguins and Capitals will face off in the second round for the third consecutive year with the core groups changed only slightly from past battles. Back-to-back Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh still has playoff MVPs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and Washington still has stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom trying to make the Eastern Conference final for the first time.

    ”We faced each other for a lot of games, and we should know each other right now inside out,” Backstrom said. ”That’s just how it is. It’s usually tight series and one-goal games. We’re excited about this one.”

    It’s hard not to get the ”Groundhog Day” feeling about these teams meeting for the fourth time in the past 10 years. The Penguins won the previous three series despite not having home-ice advantage, twice winning Game 7 in Washington on the way to capturing the Stanley Cup.

    But this year is different in many ways, most notably on the Pittsburgh injury front. Malkin and winger Carl Hagelin will miss Game 1 on Thursday night in Washington. Coach Mike Sullivan said Malkin will travel, making him a possibility to play in Game 2 this weekend after missing the end of the Philadelphia series with an apparent lower-body injury.

    ”I think guys have to step up in different roles maybe,” Crosby said. ”I don’t think anybody has to put too much pressure on themselves. Collectively we can find ways and those are guys who aren’t easy to replace, but that’s what we’re faced with.”

    A year after the last series between these two division rivals, gone from the Penguins are forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen, defensemen Trevor Daley [url=http://www.cowboysauthorizedshops.com/authentic-jihad-ward-jersey]http://www.cowboysauthorizedshops.com/authentic-jihad-ward-jersey[/url] , Ian Cole and Ron Hainsey and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Gone from the Capitals are forwards Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson and Daniel Winnik and defensemen Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk.

    ”They have different personnel, we have different personnel,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, who’s back after missing the 2017 playoffs because of neck surgery. ”The series is going to play out differently. The game is going to be won differently. You don’t know how it is going to go.”

    Pittsburgh, trying for a rare championship threepeat, has won nine of 10 all-time series against Washington, many of which predate current players and coaches. But Capitals coach Barry Trotz said it’s ”fitting” his team must again go through its nemesis to advance.

    Asked why this year the outcome will be different, Ovechkin said: ”I don’t know. One day, it have to happen. If we want to get success, we have to beat Pittsburgh and move forward.”

    SID VS. OVI

    Crosby has won 44 of the 70 previous games against Ovechkin in the NHL regular season and playoffs [url=http://www.brownsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-antonio-callaway-jersey]http://www.brownsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-antonio-callaway-jersey[/url] , world junior championships, world championships, World Cup and Olympics. There may not be another dueling hat tricks game like the one in the 2009 playoffs, but Crosby and Ovechkin are red hot going into their latest showdown. Crosby is tied at 13 points with linemate Jake Guentzel for the scoring lead in the playoffs, and Ovechkin’s five power-play goals helped Washington beat Columbus in six.

    ”This year I think he’s playing his best, but it’s good to see,” Backstrom said of Ovechkin. ”Hopefully everyone can raise our level here in the second round.”

    POWER PLAYERS

    The Penguins relied heavily on their top-ranked power play unit to land a 12th straight playoff berth – the longest active streak in the NHL – but their title bid will rely heavily on a penalty kill that’s been uneven at best. Pittsburgh was a middling 17th during the regular season (80 percent) but killed 90.5 percent of Philadelphia’s power plays in the opening round. Washington scored just once with the man advantage in four regular season meetings with the Penguins, who kept Ovechkin in check.

    ”You have to reduce his time,” Letang said. ”You don’t want him to have all kinds of time to really use that puck.”

    MURRAY’S METTLE

    Penguins goaltender Matt Murray won the Cup twice as a ”rookie” by NHL standards after backstopping the Penguins to titles in 2016 and 2017. He missed all of Pittsburgh’s playoff series against Washington, however, while recovering from a lower-body injury. The 23-year-old has been up and down against Washington in his brief career and is coming off a Philadelphia series in which he flip-flopped between great (two shutouts) and not-so great (allowing four-or-more goals twice). Still, Murray has never lost a playoff series he’s played in [url=http://www.milwaukeebrewersteamshop.com/authentic-domingo-santana-jersey]Domingo Santana Milwaukee Brewers Jersey[/url] , and even after giving up four quick goals in the first 21 minutes of Game 6 against Philadelphia, he limited the Flyers to just one the rest of the way to give his teammates time to rally.

    HOLTBY DIALED IN

    Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby allowed six goals on 35 shots through the first two games of the Penguins series last year before getting his game back together. He has only allowed 10 on 137 shots in four-plus games since replacing Philipp Grubauer this time around and looks like a goalie who can match Murray save for save.



    AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed.



    The Washington Capitals are bringing back two of the more important players from their Stanley Cup run by getting new contracts done with winger Devante Smith-Pelly and defenseman Michal Kempny.

    Smith-Pelly had offers from other teams and took less money to sign a $1 million, one-year deal Thursday. A person with knowledge of the move later in the day said the Capitals agreed to terms on a multiyear contract with Kempny. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced.

    ”We all want to come back and play and try it again with the same group,” Smith-Pelly said. ”Obviously it might not work that way, but I think that’s what’s everyone intention to all come back and all be the same group.”

    Smith-Pelly and Kempny were key acquisitions for the Capitals who played dividends in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the postseason, while Kempny filled the need for a top-four defenseman.

    Each player said after the season he’d like to return. For Kempny, it’s the chance to keep an ”amazing” time going after fitting in perfectly alongside John Carlson and found his game under associate coach Todd Reirden.

    ”I’m very happy here,” Kempny said recently. ”We had plan with Todd, with defenseman coach, and the plan work out very well.”

    The Capitals acquired Kempny from Chicago at the trade deadline for a third-round pick. He did not seem to be a favorite of Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, was largely a third-pairing defenseman in Chicago and doubted his own ability to play difficult minutes against top NHL players.

    ”Todd, defenseman coach [url=http://www.authenticschicagobears.com/cheap-joel-iyiegbuniwe-jersey]Joel Iyiegbuniwe Color Rush Jersey[/url] , he get my belief in myself back and I really appreciate (him) for it because when I came here I didn’t believe in myself,” Kempny said. ”I didn’t have confidence enough. Now, I’m back and my confidence is getting better and better.”

    The 27 year-old Czech had two goals and three assists while playing 17:42 a game in the playoffs. Even better news for him is Reirden is the strong front-runner to replace departed coach Barry Trotz.

    Smith-Pelly likewise got his career back on track in Washington after he was bought out by New Jersey last summer. When signing Smith-Pelly to a two-way, league-minimum $650,000 contract, general manager Brian MacLellan called him a ”project” and made no assurances he’d crack the opening night roster.

    The Toronto native put up seven goals and nine assists in 75 regular-season games and then had two game-winners during his scoring tear in the playoffs. Being comfortable in Washington and embraced by teammates and fans led Smith-Pelly to take the Capitals’ offer rather than a one- or two-year deal elsewhere with a higher salary.

    ”It wasn’t worth it to leave somewhere where I’m happy and somewhere where I really want to be,” the 26-year-old third-liner said. ”The money to me personally is not that important if I’m not going to be happy somewhere else.”

    Smith-Pelly has 40 goals and 53 assists for 93 points in 341 regular-season games with the Anaheim Ducks, Montreal Canadiens, Devils and Capitals. Smith-Pelly was ready to stop the career carousel.

    ”It’d be nice to just stick in for one place for a couple years, and hopefully if it works out, longer than just this one next year,” Smith-Pelly said. ”It definitely played a role in the decision. I’m kind of tired of playing on new teams and all that stuff. It’s good to come back and be in the same place consecutive years.”

    A 2010 second-round pick who had yet to find a foothold anywhere [url=http://www.authenticsatlantafalcons.com/cheap-isaiah-oliver-jersey]Isaiah Oliver Color Rush Jersey[/url] , Smith-Pelly was more than happy to take a chance on putting up bigger numbers going into unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019.

    ”I have confidence in myself that I can carry over from the playoffs and do something and then set myself up for something bigger and more stable later,” Smith-Pelly said. ”It’s definitely betting yourself. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m confident in myself.”

    The Capitals wanted him back even after not giving him a qualifying offer Monday as a restricted free agent. Doing so at a cost of $715,000 would have opened them up to an arbitration case and, at the very least, kept Smith-Pelly’s salary-cap hit an unknown until the hearing in July or August.

    It didn’t get to that point. The team continued to negotiate with agent Eustace King, and Smith-Pelly was more than happy to take a chance on putting up bigger numbers going into unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2019.

    ”I have confidence in myself that I can carry over from the playoffs and do something and then set myself up for something bigger and more stable later,” Smith-Pelly said. ”It’s definitely betting yourself. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m confident in myself.”



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