Monday, June 29, 2009

Clement Picks Caps to Win Stanley Cup

With the NHL landscape set to change on Wednesday, one analyst has already made his pick for next year's Cup champ, and he touts the Capitals to lift the hardware next year.

His reasoning is such:

The track the Capitals are on is similar to the one taken by the champion Penguins. Washington, however, is maybe a year behind the Penguins’ progression so next season could be something very special for the Capitals. Washington took a big step last season in learning how to win in the playoffs. That puts the Capitals in terrific position to capture the Stanley Cup next season.

The Capitals have a great core in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green, and they witnessed the emergence of Simeon Varlamov in the playoffs.

Of course, all these early opinions should be taken with a grain of salt, as Barry Melrose's prediction the Caps would win the East this spring went by the wayside.

However, if the Caps are able to upgrade their roster over the summer, they certainly are in a good position to make a serious challenge to wrest the Cup from the Penguins.

In case you're interested, the Caps are about 10-1 odds in Vegas to capture next season's title, behind the betting favorite Red Wings, Penguins and Sharks.

(H/T Nate Ewell and Storming the Crease)

Caps Qualify Eight Players

With free agency less than 36 hours away, the Capitals took care of some business with the pending restricted free agents, qualifying eight players and allowing four to hit the open market.

The Caps qualified the five RFAs who spent the bulk of their time in Washington this past season, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz, as well as Chris Bourque, Kyle Wilson and Steve Pinizzotto who spent most of their season in Hershey.

This means while another team can sign these players, the Caps will have the right to match the offer and retain the skater, or collect compensation in the form of a draft pick if they don't.

And, all but Bourque and Schultz have arbitration rights, meaning they can file by July 5 in case they feel they can't come to terms with Washington.

As for Andrew Joudrey, Daren Machesney, Travis Morin and Sasha Pokulok, they weren't given qualifying offers, meaning they are free to sign with any other franchise.

Pokulok's release is the disappointing end to the team's 2005 first-round choice, who was selected 14th overall out of Cornell, but played only eight games with the Bears this past year, and 23 with the Stingrays.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What Next for Caps?

After failing to put together a major deal to fill some holes and upgrade their team heading into next season, the Capitals now will have a couple of days to regroup before free agency opens at 12:01AM ET Wednesday as Washington tries to take the next step to becoming a true Stanley Cup contender.

George McPhee has always kept his cards close to the vest, and following the draft he told the Post that he would exercize patience in trying to improve for next season.

"There wasn't a lot of [trade talk] that went on here," McPhee said. "There may be more of that next week and closer to camp. We're not going to force anything. The season doesn't start until October."

McPhee also mentioned some players on the current roster can fill a role on the top two lines if needed, mentioning Brooks Laich or Chris Clark by name. While Laich might be able to fill in with an expanded role, Clark has lost a step since his injury two years ago and really has never regained the form he had when he scored 30 goals on Ovechkin's line.

But the patience approach may be one many teams take this summer, waiting to see if second-tier free agents lower their demands as the season draws closer, especially since other players such as Daniel Briere or Simon Gagne will be available via trade, there will be less to go around for those looking for contracts.

It's unlikely the Caps will use up the cap room freed up for this season quickly, and two of the players they would like to clear off the books - Michael Nylander and Jose Theodore - likely won't go anywhere this summer.

So while usually July 1 brings about a rapid-fire signing of players, after the top couple of players available, it might be a while before the Caps know which direction McPhee is going to take the club.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Caps Can't Plug Holes via Trade

Barring a last-minute deal, the Capitals are going to have to look to upgrade when free agency opens Wednesday, as besides the high price the Ducks were paying to acquire Chris Pronger and some extended talks with the Bruins, the Caps' only deal involved Sami Lepisto being sent to Phoenix for a fifth-rounder next June.

With all the big names being bandided about, Pronger was the only big deal of the weekend, with Jay Bouwmeester's deal still pending to see if the Flames can sign him before he is on the open market on July 1.

The defense market got even a bit tougher when the Flames and Panthers traded pending UFAs, with Jay Bouwmeester going to Calgary for Jordan Leopold and a third-round choice, since it could take two potential signings out of play before signing even begins.

While George McPhee said his preferred method of building the team would be via a trade, unless he comes up with a deal before then, the Caps are going to need to open their checkbooks to try and improve on the departure of Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov and presumably Donald Brashear from the roster.

Of course, this may also be an offseason unlike any other, as with the salary cap only set to go up $100,000 next season and teams looking to shed expensive contracts for flexibility, there won't be the spending frenzy like their has been in recent years.

If the NHL's offseason is anything like Major League Baseball's past winter, the frenzy that usually accompanies the opening of the free agency period on July 1 could be markedly slowed, as teams wait to see if they can acquire talent cheaply as teams are less likely to spend this year and also have less room to play with under the cap.

Philadelphia seems to be trying to buck the trend, as a team already up against the cap acquired Pronger, an expensive defenseman one year away from free agency and now will likely have to shed some expensive talent to squeeze under the cap. But with stars such as Ottawa's Dany Heatley being hard to sell mostly because of his hefty contract, there may not be quite the demand for either trade partners or free agents as it there has been in recent years (and there may be some additions to the unrestricted list if teams elect to try and buy out expensive deals).

So, the Capitals will see how the landscape looks this year, and trying to add a defenseman and at least one veteran forward to their lineup for next fall.

Caps Finish Drafting With Casavant

With their seventh-round pick, the Caps took Benjamin Casavant, a left winger who plays for the P.E.I. Rocket of the QMJHL.

Casavant heads to the net and is tough to move, standing 6'1" and 210 pounds, and is also a tough customer against the boards. The Quebec native also was named the CHL's Player of the Week on March 3rd, as he scored six goals and two assists in just three games, part of a season where he totaled 39 goals and 41 assists in 80 games.

Caps Get Gritty With Sixth-Round Pick

With their sixth pick (175th overall), the Caps took Garrett Mitchell of the WHL's Regina Pats.

Mitchell is a tough customer on the right wing, racking up a team-high 140 minutes in penalties last season, and his stock slipped when he only produced 10 goals and five assists in 70 games with Regina, falling to being ranked 148th in the final Central Scouting report from the 106th ranking at the midterm.

However, the Regina native is a gritty player that is 5'11" and 180 pounds, and the Caps hope he can develop into a sparkplug for the franchise that is willing to get his nose dirty to score goals.

Caps Take Flemming Fifth

Washington selected their third blueliner of the day, taking Brett Flemming of Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors of the OHL in the fifth round with the 145th overall selection.

Flemming, who is a Burlington, Ont. native, is 5'11" and scored 25 assists in 64 games for the Majors last season, and also added 89 penalty minutes. He had slipped in the ranking to 178th, down from 144th at the midterm ranks.

Lepisto Sent to the Desert

The Capitals have dealt defenseman Sami Lepisto to the Phoenix Coyotes for a fifth-round pick in next year's draft.

Lepisto, who appeared in seven games for Washington last season and notched four assists and scored scored 42 points in 70 regular-season games for Hershey, is a restricted free agent next week.

Lepisto suffered a spleen injury on a check by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Tim Wallace on April 4th and he missed the Bears' entire run to the Calder Cup this spring - although he was medically cleared to play in the Finals.

Caps Take Wey in Fourth Round

With their fourth-round pick (115th overall), the Caps took Pittsburgh native Patrick Wey, who played for the USHL's Waterloo Blackhawks last season.

Wey is a 6'2", 203-pound blueliner who had seven goals and 27 assists in 54 games with Waterloo last season, and is heading to Boston College to play for the Eagles this fall.

Eakin Taken in Third Round

With the 85th overall pick, the Caps took Cody Eakin from the WHL's Swift Current Broncos. Eakin is a speedy center, and he scored 24 goals and 24 assists in 54 games with the Broncos last season.

However, his value is also as a good two-way forward who can always play wing and is projected as a second or third-line player.

He's not the biggest forward at 5'11" and 174 pounds, but the Winnipeg native played well at the CHL Top Prospects Game, earning top honors for Team Orr with a pair of goals.

But he also knows the defensive side of the ice as well as he did for Team Canada at the Under-18 tournament, as he knows he is not just seen as a goal scorer, but a shutdown forward as well.

Caps Select Russian Orlov With 55th Pick

After a drawn-out affair on Friday night for the first round of the NHL Draft that didn't see the Capitals make their selection until after four hours into the festivities, the pace picked up considerably Saturday in the second round, as the Capitals selected Russian defenseman Dmitri Orlov 55th overall around a half-hour after the picks continued.

Orlov, who is a puck-moving defenseman, played in a limited capacity with Metallurg Novokuznetsk, and also played with Russia's Under-18 team, scoring a goal in 16 games with the KHL club. He considered in the mold of Mike Green, a speedy skater who can move the puck.

He was the ninth-ranked European by Central Scouting, and also was considered the top Russian blueliner available.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pronger's Price Too High

According to's Mike Vogel, the Capitals were in the running for Chris Pronger, but the asking price was steep.

McPhee also said the Caps were only vaguely involved in discussions for Pronger, noting that the Ducks wanted one of Washington's young goaltenders, defenseman John Carlson, a regular from the lineup, and "something else" in order to make Pronger a Capital for one year.

As the Flyers found out, the Ducks got a steep price for a 34-year-old defenseman who has just one year left on his current deal, and while Pronger would have bolstered the Caps' defensive corps, to give up either Simeon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth as well as Carlson and another skater would have put a big mortgage on the team's future.

As for the Flyers, the reaction certainly seemed to be mixed - a poll is running almost 60-40 against the deal. While Pronger certainly gives the squad a nasty edge, with a downgrade in net with Ray Emery coming in and Philadelphia giving up Joffrey Lupul and a prized prospect in addition to two first-rounders not to mention the coming salary cap moves that must be made, it seems a stretch for a rental and it will be tough for the team to keep Pronger past this season.

While Washington certainly needs an upgrade on defense, they certainly were wise to pass on the steep price the Ducks were asking for.

Caps Select Johansson With 24th Pick

On a night where teams were changing draft picks like pocket change, the Capitals stayed with their 24th overall selection and picked center Marcus Johansson of Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League.

It also means the Caps have selected three Swedes in the first round over the past four years, with Nicklas Backstrom (2006) and Anton Gustafsson (2008) being the other two. Johansson was ranked eighth among European skaters.

Johansson registered five goals and five assists in 45 games in the SEL last year with limited ice time on a veteran squad, and he also had to deal with some concussion issues. He did score two goals in six games during Sweden's run to the silver medal in the 2009 World Juniors.

He will have to adjust his favorite NHL teams however, as the skater who turns 19 in October lists the Penguins and Red Wings as his favorite two clubs.

The big news of the night was the Islanders stayed true to the experts (and fans') expectations to take John Tavares No. 1 overall, with Viktor Hedman going to the Lightning and Matt Duchene going to Colorado.

With some trades expected over the weekend, the only big one on Friday was the Philadelphia Flyers acquiring Chris Pronger from the Ducks for Joffrey Lupul, prospect Luca Sbisa and Philadelphia's first rounders in 2009 and 2010. While the Flyers will get a tough, nasty defenseman, they will also certainly need to make some more salary cap room for his hefty contract.

The draft resumes when the second round kicks off at 10AM ET tomorrow, with it being televised on the NHL Network, and with George McPhee having spoken to Bruins' GM Peter Chiarelli for an extended period (per Caps Insider) with them not discussing draft picks since they were back-to-back, it could prove to be an interesting day for the Caps.

Caps Ready for D-Day

With a lot of uncertainty up top of the draft board, the Capitals will look to improve themselves both with using their 24th pick for a prospect - or a trade component - as according to the Washington Times, many expect Caps General Manager George McPhee to be busy today and tomorrow in Montreal.

It should prove to be active at the Bell Centre, as even the top pick is up for debate with the Islanders not tipping their hand on if they will take the long-expected top pick of John Tavares, or opt to take Viktor Hedman or Matt Duchene with their top selection.

While it is thought the Islanders will take the highly touted Tavares, if they decide to take Duchene (as Newsday's Islanders beat writer thinks) or Hedman, it could create a rapid flurry of activity. The Maple Leafs, who hold the seventh pick in this year's draft, covet Tavares and might swing a deal if he falls to No. 2 Tampa Bay or No. 3 Colorado, and so it could shake things up quickly.

There also are other established stars that could change hands (at least for a couple of days), as Dany Heatley is expected to be get his wish and be traded out of Ottawa, and Jay Bouwmeester's rights may also be moved so the Panthers get something in return before the big defenseman hits free agency on Wednesday.

As for the Capitals, they certainly might be active as well, as they could opt to free up some cap room by dealing Alexander Semin, who has a $5 million cap hit and also didn't seem to impress the team with his performance down the stretch after a very impressive start to the seasons. He had some flashes of brilliance in the playoffs, but at other times was fairly invisible and the Caps needed more from him in a seven-game loss to Pittsburgh.

With Viktor Kozlov, and now Sergei Fedorov and likely Donald Brashear not coming back in 2009-10, the Caps do have some room to add a couple of players, although if Semin is shipped out, Washington would have significantly more room to upgrade the team as they look to take the next step towards the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

So while the NHL Draft is supposed to be focused on the young players ready to take the step into the world's top hockey league, this year, a lot of the intrigue surrounds the fate of some of the players who have already established themselves in the NHL.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fedorov to Return to Russia

Not that it's a huge surprise, but per Caps Insider, Sergei Fedorov will be playing in the KHL next season with his brother Fedor with Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

With Viktor Kozlov also heading back overseas and Donald Brashear also set to hit the free-agent market next Wednesday - and not likely to return - the Caps will have some room under the salary cap to try and wheel and deal this weekend, or, if need be, make some moves with what should be a mostly buyer's free-agent crop.

Fedorov scored the biggest goal of the Capitals' season by eliminating the Rangers in the third period of Game 7 in the first-round, and that tally proved to be his last as a Capital.

Russian reports say the deal is a two-year pact worth $3.8 million per season, certainly better than the 39-year-old would have been able to get from Washington.

Fedorov scored 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) in 54 games this past year, for his lowest point total since sitting out most of the 1997-98 season before the Red Wings matched the Carolina Hurricanes' offer sheet for the veteran late in the campaign and played just 21 games that year.

He also added the goal against the Rangers and seven helpers in the postseason. His off-the-ice value was his biggest selling point this season, as he provided leadership to the team's young Russians and even played a bit of defense during the campaign.

Ironically, that Game 7 will be replayed tonight on Comcast at 7PM.

Caps Ready to Draft, Perhaps Deal

As the hockey world decends on Montreal this weekend for the 2009 NHL Draft, there are a couple of interesting things to watch with the Capitals this weekend, most prominent being if they decide to make a deal to improve for next season.

While trying to forecast the 24th overall selection is a little bit like shooting target practice in the dark, the signs are pointing towards the Capitals perhaps taking Landon Ferraro, son of TV analyst Ray Ferraro, and a player for the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League.

However, this year's draft figures to be very unpredictable, not because of the talent class, which isn't on par with some previous years, but because of the stars available either via trade or via free agency. With uncertainty over who the Islanders will take as top pick, there also could be a renewed effort by the Toronto Maple Leafs to look and move up and see if they can snag John Tavares from either the Isles, Lightning or Avalanche, depending on how the early chips fall.

While the Caps don't figure to make a significant deal to move up in the draft, the chain reaction from what figures to be one of the most active draft days in terms of trades could be significant.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Five Caps Among Hall Hopefuls

The Hockey Hall of Fame will announce its Class of 2009, and five ex-Capitals will be among the longshots to see if they can get admission into the Hall.

Three of the four open spots seem to be destined for first-year candidates Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Brian Leetch, leaving one up for grabs with a lot of potential candidates to round out a memorable induction this fall.

Luc Robitaille might be the most likely, as the highest-scoring left winger in NHL history has a good shot, but Dave Andreychuk and Alexander Mogilny might spoil his bid for entry on the first try.

However, there is a solid group of other candidates, as even if they cannot break through this year, with a much less impressive cast up for admission next year, might get their shot to join Rod Langway, Scott Stevens, Larry Murphy and Mike Gartner in the shrine in Toronto.

Adam Oates, who played with the Caps between 1997 and 2002, racked up 1,079 assists during his career and also was assistant captain during the team's run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. He was one of the greatest players in NHL history never to win the trophy, and retired during the NHL lockout of 2004.

Another ex-Capital that should eventually get in is Dino Ciccarelli, who racked up 1,200 points during his career, and he spent between 1989 and 1992. Ciccarelli scored 12 goals in his first 11 games with the Caps to help get the team its only Patrick Division regular-season title in 1989, and also was a key part of three playoff series wins in 1990 and 1991.

A lesser-known player that also might merit consideration is Phil Housley, who spent two years in Washington, including the team's 1998 Finals run. Housley racked up 1,232 points as a defenseman, and might work his way in to the Hall next year.

Dale Hunter is also a potential inductee, but it will be tough for the Caps' former captain to get in. Hunter is one of the few players in NHL history to have over 1,000 points and 3,500 penalty minutes, a combination of grit and character that made him a fan favorite in Washington. But for voters, he certainly might have a tough time getting in, especially since he never was able to hoist the Stanley Cup during his career.

The other possibility is short-time Cap Esa Tikkanen, who of course, is more infamous here for his miss in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final that could have put the Capitals up 5-1 in the contest - and of course, Washington lost that game 5-4 in overtime. Tikkanen was very effective during that playoff run, but his time in D.C. was his one unsuccessful trip to the finals.

So while it would be a long shot for a Capital to be inducted this fall, the door may open for one or two to be enshrined with a weaker class in 2010, as the best new candidates are Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros and John LeClair, with only Nieuwendyk being a decent bet for admission.

Monday, June 22, 2009

McPhee Throws Water on Winter Classic Talk

Despite the rumors to the contrary, during today's conference call about Bob Woods, George McPhee cast doubt the Caps would be involved in the apparent 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park, per Capitals Insider.

"I have not," McPhee said when asked if he had heard anything from the NHL regarding Washington's candidacy for the event. "You think we would know by this point."

McPhee added: "It doesn't sound like we will be part of it. Maybe that's not a bad thing. When you go, you have to play in front of 40,000 or 50,000 of the other team's fans. ...I would just assume if we were in it that we would know by now."

Like Gary Bettman last week playing down the potential Winter Classic in Boston, it's not likely the NHL will leak the site and participants until just before the schedule is released in July.

However, it simply makes too much sense for the Capitals to be involved with two-time Hart Trophy winner on the squad as well as the last two Stanley Cup winners already having been involved in the competition. The other team in the mix reportedly is the Flyers, but they likely will hold out for a game against the Penguins at Penn State rather than be the visitors at the Fens (and it isn't likely FedEx or Nats Park will ever get to host this event).

Take McPhee's comments with a grain of salt, but likely the team won't find out officially just before everyone else does since the team that would find out first is the team that would change a home game (which would be the Bruins), with the visitors only needing to really know travel plans beforehand.

After all, it took awhile for the NHL to acknowledge the first Winter Classic would take place even when the 2007-08 schedule was released, as the game was originally scheduled for HSBC Arena.

Relive Last Season on Comcast SportsNet

With a month passed since the Caps' final game of the season, Comcast SportsNet begins the summer by giving fans a chance to relive some of the best moments of last season.

Starting tonight, Comcast SportsNet will replay five of the best games broadcast on the network this season.

The games are as follows:

Comcast SportsNet, the leader in local sports television, announced today a schedule of memorable games featuring the back-to-back Southeast Division champion Washington Capitals beginning Monday, June 22, with Caps Week running through Saturday, June 27. The network chose five of the most exciting games from the 2008-09 historic Washington Capitals season to air during primetime – including Games 5 and 7 of the team's first-round matchup with the New York Rangers and the Capitals victory in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The below games air during Caps Week, June 22-27. All games begin at 7 p.m. following Geico SportsNite (via Comcast).

June 22, Capitals at Rangers: Biggest Comeback in Team History (12/23/08)

Alex Ovechkin and Shaone Morrisonn led the team to this incredible come-from-behind victory, the team's first in Madison Square Garden in five years.

June 23, Canadiens at Capitals: Ovechkin Shines in Capitals Shootout Victory (2/18/09)

The Capitals took the shootout victory as Ovechkin tallied one of the most amazing goals of his career.

June 25, Rangers at Capitals: Game 5 of the First Round Series (4/24/2009)

Down 3-1 in the first round, Matt Bradley scored twice and Simeon Varlamov posted another shutout.

June 26, Rangers at Capitals: Game 7 of the First Round Series (4/28/2009)

With a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line, Varlamov led the team to a Game 7 victory.

June 27, Capitals at Penguins: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals (5/11/2009)

Facing elimination again this postseason, Dave Steckel led the team to overtime victory to force a Game 7.

Another Cap on a Cover

With all the hoopla about Alex Ovechkin being on this year's NHL2K10 being well-publicized in Las Vegas, EA Sports isn't letting those in Europe to go without a Capital on the cover.

Like last year when Ovechkin graced the cover of the Russian edition of NHL09, Nicklas Backstrom will be on the cover of the Swedish cover of the game. (In case you're wondering, Patrick Kane will be on the cover stateside.)

Of course, Ovechkin was on the cover of NHL07 here as well.

Woods Rejoins Boudreau in Washington

A couple of weeks after leading the Hershey Bears to the Calder Cup, Bob Woods will be on the Washington bench this fall, rejoining Boudreau as an assistant coach.

Woods, who was the assistant in Hershey when Boudreau led the 2006 Bears to the Calder Cup title, was elevated to the Bears' top spot when Glen Hanlon was fired in November 2007. Woods himself led Hershey to its 10th Calder Cup title this spring, and compiled a 83-47-15 record in 145 games as head coach with the Bears.

Woods also was the first player in Bears history to win a Calder Cup as a player (in 1997), an assistant (2006) and a head coach (2009), and will rejoin his former bench boss in Washington.

Prior to joining Hershey in 2005, Woods was a coach for the ECHL's Mississippi Sea Wolves, as well as a player with Mississippi, where he spent one season skating for the Caps' current coach in 1998-99.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Konowalchuk New Avs Assistant Coach

Another note to pass on that former Capitals captain Steve Konowalchuk is taking a spot behind the Avalanche bench with new coach (and another ex-Cap) Joe Sacco, according to the Denver Post.

Konowalchuk, who was a Capitals' third-round selection in 1991 and played with Washington from 1991 until being sent out of town in 2003 in the beginning of the Caps' fire sale, scored 146 goals with the Capitals in 693 games, and took over as team captain after Dale Hunter was traded to Colorado at the end of the 1998-99 season.

He retired in 2006 from the Avalanche with a heart ailment, but now will get a chance to coach with his former teammate.

Intrigue Surrounds the Draft

With a week to go before the 2009 NHL Draft, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding what might transpire next week in Montreal, as one report suggests the Islanders might do the unthinkable and pass on both presumed No. 1 candidates John Tavares and Victor Hedman.

While gamesmanship certainly is a part of holding the top pick - people who remember five years ago the Caps weren't dismissing reports they'd pass on Alex Ovechkin and perhaps take Evgeni Malkin or Cam Barker - Newsday's Greg Logan isn't sensing a ruse.

I don't think the Islanders are putting up a smokescreen. I believe their interest in Brampton center Matt Duchene is real. At the beginning of the season, I think he was considered a cut below the top two. But as the season progressed and Duchene combined with Cody Hodgson, last year's No. 10 pick, to lead Brampton to the Ontario Hockey League finals before losing to Windsor, I sensed the stealth pick might be making a run up a lot of draft boards.

Recently, Garth Snow hasn't tipped his hand on the first pick, but he has said he knows who he'd like to take.

If the Islanders take Duchene, it certainly could cause a free-for-all in the trade market for the services of Tavares - or Hedman - as what figures already to be an active trading floor going on at Bell Centre could get even more active.

The Lightning, with the second pick, presumably were set to take whomever fell to them after New York's pick, but now could face the same dilemma the Islanders do now, deciding between two top young talents.

Tampa Bay, with a ton of talent up front but little on the blueline, might opt for the Swedish defenseman Hedman if they have a choice - or if Tavares is available, they might see if Toronto General Manager Brian Burke is still determined to land the Canadian forward and see if they can swing a deal on the fly.

And, the real winner if the Isles pass on the top two prospects could be the Colorado Avalanche, who badly need a rebuild after aging and plummeting into the Western Conference basement and might see a blue-chip prospect fall into their laps.

But, what already appears to be an active trade market next week - and figure the Capitals might be in the mix to see if they can land a veteran forward or defenseman - could be off the charts should the Islanders pass on Tavares and start a potential chain reaction.

Right now, the Capitals hold the 24th pick in next Friday's first round, and while it's not expected the Caps to move up too much, it's not out of the question they might not actually use their pick.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ovechkin Caps Awards With Hart Repeat

Alex Ovechkin won the Hart Trophy for the second consecutive year as the NHL's most valuable player as voted by the media, becoming the first player since Dominik Hasek to achieve that feat since Dominik Hasek won the award in 1997 and 1998.

Ovechkin, who led the NHL in goals for the second year in a row by scoring 56 this past season, also picked up his Rocket Richard Trophy in Las Vegas, took three of the four awards he won last year in Toronto, with only Evgeni Malkin wresting away the Art Ross Trophy by virtue of scoring three more points during the regular season. The two Russians shared the stage in accepting the Richard and Ross honors just before the Hart was announced, and certainly the whole evening had a Russian accent with Ovechkin, Datsyuk and Malkin winning hardware on the evening.

Even one of the presenters of the Hart had a Russian - and Capitals connection - as former Hart winner and Capitals teammate - at least for now - Sergei Fedorov read his name and gave him the miniature version of the trophy. Ovechkin won 115 of 133 total first-place votes, beating out Malkin 1,264-787 in the balloting totals.

The NHL Awards, held in Las Vegas for the first time, certainly was a bit of a strange production, and seemed a bit out of place in a casino theatre. However, Ovechkin, who was featured several times with the new video game 2K10 which got ample promotion during the ceremony, seemed at ease at the podium in accepting his awards, while a tuxedo-clad Mike Green - still sporting his trademark fauxhawk - didn't get a chance to take the stage.

Ovechkin also became the first player to be named to the NHL's First Team in each of his first four seasons since Bill Durnan did the trick in 1944-47, and of course, now has won the Calder, and a pair of Harts, Pearsons and Richards as well as an Art Ross during that time.

Chara Takes Norris

Mike Green wasn't able to become the first Cap to win the Norris since Rod Langway won back-to-back awards in 1983 and 1984, as Bruins star Zdeno Chara took home his first-ever Norris trophy and denied Nicklas Lidstrom his seventh award.

The voting was very tight for the award, as Chara earned 1,034 points in the voting, while Green finished second with 982, becoming the first Capitals runner-up for the Norris since Scott Stevens was second in voting in 1988 to Ray Bourque.

Green didn't go unnoticed, however, as he was named a first-team All-Star, and along with Alex Ovechkin, becomes the first time the Caps have ever placed two players on the starting six.

In other awards, Pavel Datsyuk won his second award of the night by winning the Lady Byng, and Chara's teammate Tim Thomas captured the Vezina while his coach, Claude Julien, won the Adams Award.

Ovechkin Wins Pearson Award

While it's not known if Alex Ovechkin will become the first Hart Trophy winner to win back-to-back awards since Dominik Hasek achieved the feat in 1998 and 1999 for a little while, he was voted the Pearson Award winner for the most valuable player in the league by the players.

Ovechkin becomes the first back-to-back winner of the Pearson since Jaromir Jagr won the award in 1999 and 2000.

The award could be an indication that Ovechkin could capture the Hart Trophy for the second time in a row, as he beat out his fellow Hart nominees in Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk for the award.

In other early awards, Columbus' Steve Mason won the Calder for the NHL's top rookie and Datsyuk didn't go home empty-handed, winning the Selke for the league's top defensive forward.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sizing Up the Capitals' Hardware Chances

As I touched on below, two of the Capitals hope that they leave Las Vegas with a little bling, as Alex Ovechkin looks to become the first back-to-back winner of the Hart Trophy since Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998 and just the second player in 20 years to achieve the feat, while Mike Green seeks to become the first Caps defenseman to win the Norris Trophy since Rod Langway did 25 years ago.

Last year, Ovechkin and Bruce Boudreau won the awards they were up for, and Ovechkin also added the Pearson Award as voted on by the players as well as collecting his Art Ross and Maurice Richard trophies for his regular-season stats.

Ovechkin's case will be a bit lighter as Evgeni Malkin wrestled the Ross for most points away from him, but it's a good bet that Ovechkin will repeat as Hart Trophy winner.

Since the voting was done at the end of the regular season, Oveckhin's chances are pretty good, because Malkin had to hang on to the points title after struggling despite Pittsburgh's good run to close out the 82-game schedule as a fourth seed in the East. Had the vote been taken after the Pens won the Cup, it might have titled it the Pittsburgh's stars way since he led all playoff performers and won the Conn Smythe, but based on regular-season play, it's tough to envision Ovechkin not winning again.

Ovechkin, who only played in 79 games this year due to missing a pair of games for his gravely ill grandfather and another for an injury, actually registered a higher point-per-game total than his counterpart and was on pace for 114 points - one more than Malkin - and led all players with 56 goals. That's not to mention some of the highlight-reel tallies that Ovechkin scored this year, and the fact that like every campaign he's been involved in the NHL, he is the catalyst for the Capitals' offense, and certainly a huge part of a Capitals team that finished second overall in the East and fourth overall in the league in the regular season.

Malkin certainly did have a tremendous campaign as well, as he is emerging as the de facto best player on the Pittsburgh roster - despite the high visibility of his teammate Sidney Crosby - and had the vote included regular-season and playoffs, Malkin likely would have ridden the Conn Smythe wave and made it a toss up for the Trophy. But, in this case, it should be Ovechkin although it perhaps might tilt the scale if these two end up battling for the hardware again in 2009-2010.

Pavel Datsyuk also is up for the award, and playing for the potent Red Wings, scored 32 goals and 65 assists, and also is up for the Selke for top defensive forward, but it's hard to imagine he'd get more votes than either Ovechkin or Malkin.

The Capital that's less likely to garner the award is Green, who put up some eye-popping offensive stats but might get overshadowed by the stellar blueliner from Boston, Zdeno Chara.

Despite missing 14 games due to injury, Green scored 31 goals and 42 assists - a pace of 37 goals and 51 assists that would have placed him tied for ninth in overall scoring had he been able to play. As it was, he led all defensemen in scoring, and also recorded a nine-game goal scoring streak that set a new NHL record.

And like Ovechkin, Green's chances are better that the voting was done before the playoffs began as the defenseman was severely limited due to a mysterious illness and a shoulder injury that made him a shell of his regular-season self.

While statistically he is better than Chara, who scored 19 goals and 31 assists and was a plus-23, one off Green's mark, the factor that may swing the voting the 6-foot-9 Slovak's way is the fact he was the lynchpin of a Bruins team that allowed a league-best 196 goals and finished first overall in the East.

Does Green deserve the Norris? Yes, but he likely will lose a close vote to Chara. Nicklas Lidstrom, who has won the award six times, likely will miss out this year due to missing a good stretch due to injury, leaving the Norris to be decided between Green and Chara.

The Caps certainly have a decent chance at getting two awards, but expect Ovechkin to take the Hart (and Pearson) while Green finishes second like Scott Stevens did in 1988 for Washington.

Ovechkin on 'First Take'

Fresh off a Stanley Cup playoffs that delivered strong ratings for the NHL, the Worldwide Leader gave hockey a bit more love this morning on ESPN2's "First Take" - and it didn't involve Sidney Crosby.

Check out Alex Oveckin's interview with Jay Crawford below.

H/T Storming the Crease

To Root or Not to Root

With the hockey world descending upon Las Vegas for Thursday's NHL Awards, Caps players and coaches are talking about a weird dilemma they just finished, as they revealed if they wanted the Penguins - the team that eliminated them in a tough seven-game series - to finish their Stanley Cup run with a win.

Representing one school of thought was coach Bruce Boudreau, who told that he didn't want the Pens to come out on top - although now he hopes seeing their big rivals hoist the Holy Grail will spur them next time around.

"The rivalry is pretty heated between the two teams, so normally you always want the team that beats you to win the Cup so you can say, 'Hey, we did great. The only team that beat us was the team that won it all,' But it was really a hard time cheering for them. Now that they've won, it's definitely a motivating factor for me with the team. But I was still hoping for Detroit. I couldn't bring myself to cheer for Pittsburgh. But since they won, I may as well use it."

The other side of the spectrum was Mike Green, who told Capitals Insider was hoping the Pens would do it just so the ousting isn't as painful.

"You do [pull for the Pens] because you don't feel as bad," he said.
It certainly is an interesting take, just because it's been awhile since the Capitals were a speed bump on the road to the Stanley Cup.

Before this season, the last team to beat the Capitals in a championship season playoff run was the 1998 Red Wings, who of course swept the Caps in the Stanley Cup Finals. Before that, it was the 1994 Rangers, who beat the Capitals in five games in the second round, and then before that, the Penguins in 1991 and 1992, with 1992 being a particularly tough one in losing a 3-1 lead and dropping Game 7 at the Capital Centre.

Still, it's difficult to see a team that the Capitals had down 2-0 in a playoff series go all the way to the title, although the Caps can take a bit of solace in the fact the Red Wings also lost their 2-0 lead in the final round. And it's probably a safe bet that more of the players were in Boudreau's camp than Green's.

It is interesting to see the players' take if they wanted their big rivals to raise the stakes for next year, as the Caps certainly will be expected to match the Penguins' feat in the next couple of years.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Boston Globe Says Caps 'Likely' for Winter Classic

Capitals fans might want to start making their New Year's Day plans in Massachusetts now, as part of Kevin Paul Dupont's weekly hockey notes column features this tidbit:

According to a source familiar with the plans, the NHL's portable ice sheet and high-tech refrigeration system will be kept in place inside the lyric little bandbox for some three weeks. The featured game, on New Year's Day, will have the Bruins most likely opposing the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals make the most sense, as with the Flyers being a more natural fit for a date at Beaver Stadium in 2011 or perhaps the foil to the Rangers at Yankee Stadium, it makes a bit more sense to put the Caps in against Boston.

The league should have a more formal announcement on the event next month.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Looking Towards the Awards

With the Stanley Cup out of its case and the offseason now in full swing, it's time to take a look at this year's NHL Awards, and which players will be taking home some other hardware for the summer. A pair of Capitals are up for awards, as Alex Ovechkin looks to take home his second straight Hart Trophy and Mike Green is up for the Norris as the league's top defenseman.

The awards also gets a change of scenery this year, leaving Toronto for Las Vegas, which should be an interesting change of scenery to the desert and the Palms Hotel.

So, without further ado, here's who's probably winning the major awards, and who should win at Thursday night's festivities.

Hart Memorial Trophy, Most Valuable Player:
Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

It's not a surprise around these parts, but Ovechkin should become the first back-to-back Hart winner in 11 years, and only the second player to achieve the feat since Wayne Gretzky took the awards in 1986 and 1987.

With all three of the Hart nominees being Russian for the first time in history, Ovechkin already has won a litmus test for the award. It was announced recently that the Caps' star had captured the Kharlamov Trophy as the top Russian player in the NHL as voted by his peers, beating out fellow Hart nominees Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk by a wide margin.

While Ovechkin relinquished the Art Ross to Malkin this season, he still won the Richard Trophy for most goals with 56, and finished with 110 points to finish just two points behind last year's career-best total. He also electrified fans with a couple of memorable tallies, one against the Sabres in December when he went nearly end-to-end and another in February when he played the puck off the glass to himself and then broke in for a spectacular goal against Montreal.

Malkin had a fine season leading the NHL in points, but Ovechkin certainly was more valuable to the team during the regular season, and fortunately for Ovechkin, the voting was done before the playoffs began in April so it won't count Malkin's Conn Smythe performance in the playoffs (although not like Ovechkin was a slouch in the postseason despite a pair of injuries).

It's a pretty good bet Ovechkin will take home the Hart (and the NHLPA counterpart, the Pearson) for the second straight season.

Norris Trophy, Best Defenseman:
Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins

While Mike Green had a breakout season, it's likely the voters will choose the big, rugged defenseman from the East's top team as the Norris winner.

Green had a great year, scoring 31 goals and 42 assists despite missing 14 games due to injury, and also setting an NHL mark with a nine-game goal-scoring streak, best ever for a defenseman. He is looking to be the first Cap to win the award since Rod Langway captured back-to-back honors in 1983 and 1984, and is the first Washington nominee since Scott Stevens was second to Ray Bourque in 1988 voting.

Green definitely deserves strong consideration for the award, but with Chara being the lynchpin of the top defense in the NHL, the voters probably will lean the big Bruins' way. Fortunately for Green, the voting was done before his effectiveness was limited in the postseason by a shoulder injury, but still, it's going to be tough to overcome Chara in the voting.

Chara finished +23 (slightly less than Green) and with 50 points, but is widely credited for being able to shut down the team's opposite stars to help the B's only allow a league-best 196 goals against.

It also figures to be a rare time that Nicklas Lidstrom won't take home the award, but injuries limited the Red Wings star that he probably won't be able to take award home for the seventh time this decade.

Calder Trophy, Top Rookie:
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets

While Bobby Ryan and Kris Versteeg both had good campaigns, there's little chance that the award won't go to Steve Mason, whose spectacular contribution helped the Blue Jackets earn the first playoff berth in franchise history.

In his first NHL season, Mason went 33-20-7 with a 2.29 goals-against and a .916 save percentage, along with 10 shutouts. In addition to the Calder nomination, Mason is also up for the Vezina Trophy, a pretty good indication that he's going to take home the award since he's also up for another major category honor.

Mason helped a Columbus squad that actually was outscored by four goals on the year earn seventh spot in the Western Conference, and his presence certainly helped the Jackets since he appeared in 61 games this year despite being in his first year in professional hockey at the age of 20 (he just turned 21 last month).

Ryan, who scored 31 goals in 64 games for the Ducks probably will earn second spot, and Versteeg probably finishes third, but it's hard to imagine anyone but Mason winning the Calder.

Vezina Trophy, Top Goaltender:
Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins

Speaking of netminders, Mason figures to be a strong candidate for the Vezina as well, but Thomas likely will eke out a win for top overall goaltender.

Thomas won 36 out of the 54 games he appeared in, posting a league-best 2.10 goals-against and a .933 save percentage, and helping the Bruins be the league's top defensive team and the only one not to allow 200 goals this season.

Mason's numbers are very impressive and will earn consideration particularly since he had so little in front of him relative to Thomas, but likely Thomas will earn the honor in a close vote.

Adams Award, Top Coach:
Andy Murray, St. Louis Blues

This isn't likely to be a close vote, as while Boston's Claude Julien and San Jose's Todd McLellan did excellent work for their teams, no one expected the Blues to be anywhere near the playoffs this season. In the first half, the Blues lived up to expectations, but a stunning turnaround in the second half secured a playoff spot for the first time in five years with the West's sixth seed with a 41-31-10 mark and 92 points.

Like last year's winner, Bruce Boudreau, voters likely will reward the remarkable turnaround story, as while Julien and McLellan led their teams to the best records in their respective conferences, no one expected the terrific turnaround in the Gateway City.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Morning After

With both the Penguins and Bears clinching their respective titles Friday night, for the first time since September that the hockey world is quiet, at least on the ice. While Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green wait to see if they get some hardware next week in Las Vegas and the NHL Draft is the week after that, the real action will be to see what next year's league looks like.

Of course, the big story is the Penguins winning their first Stanley Cup since 1992, as as usual after a team's title, the press is already talking about the chances for a repeat. The Pens managed to rally from a 2-0 and a 3-2 deficit in the series largely thanks to their role players, as Maxime Talbot was the unlikely hero in Game 7 with the two goals that were the difference.

One of Pittsburgh's key deals was acquiring Bill Guerin at the deadline from the Islanders for a third-round pick, as he provided some veteran leadership for the club, and some key goals during their playoff run.

The Pens certainly have a good core, although it's so difficult to predict how healthy teams will be during a playoff run and how the matchups will align.

Washington certainly managed to hang tough with the Penguins during their playoff series through the first six games, and had Ovechkin and Green been a bit healthier, it could have tipped it the Capitals' way, but that's why the Stanley Cup is such a difficult trophy to win. The Penguins played a trio of Eastern team that they matched up well offensively against, and then were able to outlast a Red Wings team that didn't have enough in the tank to grab the clincher in Games 6 or 7.

But the Capitals' system certainly didn't disappoint, as both the Bears and Stingrays won their respective titles in the past two weeks. Hershey wasn't quite able to close out the Moose in Game 5 at home to take the Calder Cup for a skate on home ice, but will be able to celebrate with their home fans this evening after clinching the series in Winnipeg.

Like the team in 2006, the Bears will have some players graduating to the NHL in short order, as Karl Alzner almost assuredly will have a spot on the roster in October with the salary cap picture brightening this season. John Carlson will likely start the season in Chocolatetown, but he certainly won't be there too long before he's up in the NHL.

Michal Neuvirth, who won the Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP with four shutouts in the postseason and a 1.92 goal-against and a .932 save percentage in 22 postseason games - despite playing just 17 for Hershey in his rookie season during the regular season - certainly showed that after seeing Simeon Varlamov perform well on the NHL stage that the Caps have another fine young talent ready to get promoted whenever they can figure out what to do with Jose Theodore.

Most likely, the Caps begin the season with Varlamov and Theodore, and then see if both can stay healthy. If so, Neuvirth's full-time arrivial in Washington may not come until 2010-11, where the Caps expect to have a very good young tandem of Varlamov and Neuvirth, who certainly were key parts of Hershey winning the Eastern Conference regular-season title and the Calder Cup.

Chris Bourque, who scored the Cup winner Friday night for Hershey, might elect to see if another team will give him a shot at an NHL job next season, but could be back with Washington with some turnover amongst the Caps forwards. Bourque certainly showed his mettle in the playoffs with five goals and 16 assists in 22 games, so he may draw the attention of another club if Washington doesn't feel he's in their plans.

Another of the Bears' big forwards, Alexandre Giroux, likely won't be back as an unrestricted free agent, as the player who scored 60 regular-season goals and 15 playoff goals will certainly draw the attention of other clubs. Giroux didn't quite have the same success on the NHL level this year in eight games, but a club looking for an affordable way to jump-start their offense may see if he has a bit more success at the NHL level.

But, for everyone, it's the ending of a long journey that began with training camps back in September with training camps, and of course, it all starts over again in about three months for most of the players.

Personally, it certainly was a busy campaign, as I was lucky enough to have covered the Capitals this season, not to mention Boston University's run to the NCAA title and Hershey's 10th Calder Cup crown in rinks in Sunrise, Tampa, Washington, New York, Boston, Buffalo and Columbus, and after dozens of games, there will be a lull in on-ice action until later this year.

But, once the league takes a final look back at the just-completed season in Las Vegas on the 18th and then turns its attention to the future in two weeks, the Caps prospects will hit the ice for development camp with an eye on looking to make a playoff run of their own next spring.

Bears Grab 10th Calder Cup Title

Three nights after seeing the Moose spoil its Calder Cup party at Giant Center and having to make a long trip to Winnipeg, the Bears shook off the challenge and used a three-goal first period to take the AHL's top prize for a skate Friday night.

Hershey earns its 10th Calder Cup title with a 4-1 win over the Manitoba Moose and a 4-2 series victory, and now celebrates second title in four seasons, and also gives Capitals' affiliates both of this year's AHL and ECHL crowns. It also is the fourth time a Washington affiliate has took the league's top prize, third time with the Bears.

Unlike Tuesday's Game 5 where the Bears couldn't dent Cory Schnieder for a lead despite a furious start, Hershey scored three on the Moose goalie in the first period, with goals from Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque and Alexandre Giroux for a 3-0 lead just 11:16 into the contest.

The Bears looked to close out the contest early once again, and this time around Hershey was able to put a puck past Schnieder early Gordon buried a chance just 3:56 into the game.

Just over two minutes later, Bourque took a pass from Kyle Wilson and fired a shot from the point past Schnieder for a 2-0 lead, and it put the Bears in control of the contest. Giroux then scored his league-leading 15th playoff goal on a breakaway by drawing Schnieder down and putting a backhand past Schnieder with 8:44 left in the first period.

The goal gave Giroux 75 goals on the regular-season and playoffs, as the regular-season MVP scored his sixth goal of the Calder Cup Finals.

With playoff MVP Michal Neuvirth in net, Hershey more than made that three-goal lead stand up, as the Bears were able to silence the third-straight sellout crowd of 15,003 at MTS Centre.

The only thing the home crowd had to cheer for on the evening was Mario Bliznak scoring the Moose's lone goal of the night just over midway through the second period, but that was the only mistake Neuvirth made on the night.

Keith Aucoin added an empty-netter late, and the Bears got a chance to celebrate.

The Bears will host a Calder Cup celebration at Giant Center Saturday at 7PM, so they finally will get a chance to show off the hardware at their home before parting ways for the summer.

Penguins Hold Off Wings for Title

Thanks to a pair of goals from Maxime Talbot, the Penguins completed their comeback against the Red Wings with a 2-1 win at Joe Louis Arena to claim their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.

On a night where Sidney Crosby left in the second period with a knee injury and only returned briefly, Talbot staked the Pens to a 2-0 lead, and then Pittsburgh held on to take their first series lead with the clinching victory.

Of course, it isn't the first time this spring the Penguins were able to pull themselves off the mat, as they rallied from an 0-2 deficit in the Capitals series, although this time it was against the defending Stanley Cup champions and a Red Wings club looking for their 12th title in a dozen years.

However, the series turned in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, when the Pens rebounded from their worst performance in the series to take a 2-1 win, and then were able to take a 2-0 lead with a pair of goals in the second period and take the Cup.

After a scoreless first period in which the Wings were outshot but outchanced the Penguins, Talbot got a good break when a clearing attempt went off Conn Smythe winner Evgeni Malkin's skate right to Talbot in front, who beat Chris Osgood between the legs for a 1-0 lead 1:13 into the second period.

Talbot then scored his second in nine minutes when he rifled a shot over Osgood's shoulder just over the halfway mark through the frame, and the Pens had a 2-0 lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Detroit sputtered to try and climb back into the game, but outshot the Penguins in the third period 7-1, and Jonathan Ericsson pulled the Wings to within one with 6:07 to play. This lead to a wild scramble at the end in which Detroit hit the crossbar with just two minutes to play, but could not force overtime before the Penguins could celebrate their fourth straight series win away from home ice.

It was a rare road win for a road team in a Game 7, as the last team that had won a road Stanley Cup Finals series away from home was the 1971 Montreal Canadiens, and visiting teams are just 3-12 in those situations.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Game 7 Looms in Motown

The NHL got its wish this spring, as after a terrific playoff run, for the fifth time since 2001, its ultimate prize will go down to a deciding Game 7 Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.

Both the Red Wings and Penguins have won 15 games this spring, and one is heading for a summer with the Stanley Cup, the other thinking of what might have been with a little more effort in Game 7.

But this series has had some strange twists and turns, with the home team capturing each of the first six games for the first time since Anaheim-New Jersey in 2003, and a marked difference in effort in each building.

The odds certainly don't favor the Penguins heading into the showdown, as road teams are just 2-12 in Cup-deciding Game 7s, and the Pens are 0-3 at the Joe this spring and outscored 11-2 in those contests.

In addition, the last four teams who were able to force a Game 7 after fighting off elimination at home in Game 6 (the 1987 Flyers, 1994 Canucks, 2003 Mighty Ducks and 2006 Oilers) all met the same fate in Game 7. The last road team to win a Game 7 was the 1971 Canadiens, and so the Penguins will be looking to buck a major statistical trend with a win Friday night.

Detroit's core also has been adept at finishing out series in seven games, winning its last three, including a Game 7 triumph against the Ducks in round two. The last time the Wings lost a deciding game at home was in 1994, when Arturs Irbe and the Sharks stunned the hockey world with a win in the first round.

This year, the Red Wings also have been excellent at home, going 10-1 at home in the playoffs, with their only setback at Joe Louis Arena being a triple-overtime loss to Anaheim in Game 2.

But, of course, despite the odds heavily favoring Detroit, the beauty of Game 7s is that it only takes a bounce, a hot goaltender or some other event that can decide the series.

The Penguins certainly have shown their mettle as well, having won a Game 7 on the road already this season in Washington, and strangely enough, Pittsburgh has won four Game 7s in a row away from home ice, dating back to 1975.

This year's series has been an interesting one, with twists and turns and both teams at times looking frustrated and other times looking unbeatable. There has been little ebb and flow between games, with three radically different games occuring after the series started to shif venues between each contest.

Both goaltenders have looked good at times, other times, not so much. While Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have shone this spring, they also have been absent at times in this series, and the Red Wings still need Marian Hossa - who of course spurned the Pens' long-term contract for a shot at a Cup with Detroit - to make his impact felt in this series.

One interesting aspect of the deciding game is there's a good chance that Evgeni Malkin will earn the Conn Smythe Trophy as a playoff MVP - win or lose. While it would have been difficult to claim the award in a six-game loss, it's not unprecedented for a played on a losing team to earn the award in a seven-game tilt. Chris Osgood or Henrik Zetterberg might win it for the Red Wings if Detroit pulls out the win, but leading the playoffs with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) might tilt the voting Malkin's way unless one of those two Wings players decides Game 7.

While the Penguins certainly have managed to fight back in this series, the Game 7 usually favors the stronger team in the Finals, as with not another series to look forward to as you sometimes get in the earlier rounds, the cream usually rises to the top in the Finals.

Detroit has been one of the best teams in the NHL this season, fighting the Sharks for home-ice throughout the playoffs and then receiving it when San Jose was stunned by the Ducks.

They hold an edge over the Pens in almost every category, and unless Crosby and Malkin are able to get room they haven't really gotten in this Stanley Cup Finals so far and are able to make a difference, the Wings will earn a chance to skate the Stanley Cup at home this spring.

Look for a spirited effort by both teams, but the Wings to prevail, pulling away in the third period to earn the franchise's 12th Stanley Cup.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

KHL Rumors and Ramblings

In between the Calder Cup and "that other series" as Bruce Boudreau laughingly called it in the press box, there is some international intrigue with the Caps this week, as Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov are rumored to be in different stages of negotations with Russian clubs.

Viktor Kozlov - although according to George McPhee he still hasn't informed the Capitals - was the subject of a press release by Russian club HC Salavat Yulaev saying the Caps forward signed a three-year deal to play in his home country.

While sometimes these releases have a bit of dubious quality to the, an interview with Sovetsky Sport Kozlov said "I won’t come back. I have played enough there. Moreover, right now the NHL is getting younger. It’s time to go to Russia while I am still needed there."

Kozlov added Washington did make him an offer to stay, but he wanted to return home.

As we speculated at the end of the season, Kozlov didn't really fit in the team's plans for the future, as while the 37-year-old has the size, he certainly didn't play a physical style or pay the price to go to the net. With his age and the team's need for cap space, he wasn't coming back except for a reduced rate.

As for future Hall of Famer Sergei Fedorov, his agent Pat Brisson told Capitals Insider that he was still in talks with the Capitals regarding possibly coming back next year. However, Brisson was quick to note Fedorov has his own agent back home.

"Not really. But we weren't in the same ballpark when we started last year, and we ended up in the same ballpark in the end. He had a great year. He liked it there a lot and he feels he has some unfinished business. That team could have won Game 7, and maybe they would have been [in the Stanley Cup]. At the same time, he is intrigued with the KHL."

Like Kozlov, it's hard to imagine No. 91 back on the ice without him taking a pay cut, as while the team was leaning towards parting ways before his game-winner in the Rangers series, there's a question how much he has left in the tank for another run at a Stanley Cup. He certainly has played well at times in Washington, but the team would be better served having some cap space to upgrade the blue line and adding another gritty forward.

Of course, the real out-of-left field rumor of the week is Russian club Avangard Omsk is interested in acquiring Michael Nylander. Nylander, who was in the press box more than the ice during the playoffs, certainly would be a welcome subtraction from the Caps' payroll, with a $4.875 million cap hit for next season, that could open a lot of room for McPhee to maneuver and add on this summer.

The logistics could be tricky, as a couple of years ago, the Rangers let Darius Kasparitis go back to Russia by waiving him, but it certainly would likely be an issue the Caps would explore if it's true.

But with free agency just three weeks away and trades likely to come fast and furious at the NHL Draft in two weeks, it will be interesting to see if the Caps get some cap money to play with to try and fine tune the team for an extended playoff run next spring.

Thoughts From Three Games in Hershey

The Bears played well enough to win the Calder Cup Tuesday night, but in a series that has been dominated by the two guys in net, the Moose held on for their chance to swing momentum after being outshot by a three-to-one margin, and they got it late in the second period.

But, Hershey grabbed a pair of wins at home in the series to put themselves in a good position for the final two games of the series (Friday and Sunday) in Manitoba, and coach Bob Woods wasn't exactly deflated, still saying "We've got two cracks at [the Calder Cup]."

Woods noted his team was upset, more at not getting the job done, but he was happy there was a hunger to finish the job rather than being disappointed in Tuesday's outcome.

Game 5 was the strangest of the three played at Giant Center, with the referee Frederic L'Ecuyer not giving out a power play chance to either team until the final stages of the game - and neither coach was particularly happy about it.

"A lot of dirty stuff happened tonight," Manitoba coach Scott Arniel said afterwards, noting it was both teams who were taking advantage of the relative lack of supervision.

With the AHL still using the one-referee system, you really can notice a difference in play, as there were a lot of shots coming once play was heading up ice as teams knew to take liberties behind the play without the trailing referee the NHL uses. Perhaps this is why some young players get whistled for retaliation penalties in the NHL, since they aren't used to being watched when the lead referee skates up ice.

But you definitely notice a difference in play, as a lot more goes uncalled with only one set of eyes out there, and that certainly was the case Tuesday.

The frustration for Hershey boiled over after an empty net goal with 1:21 left in regulation apparently sealed the deal, with a pair of scrums leading to eight roughing minors being doled out two seconds apart. However, the resulting 4-on-4 actually helped the Bears, who were able to add a bit of late drama thanks to a John Carlson goal with :30.9 to play and a late surge that almost saw the second dramatic Bears rally of the series.

But now, after managing to move to within one win of their 10th Calder Cup title, it won't be easy for the Bears, as unlike the NHL, they won't be skating at Giant Center again this season and needing to grab one of two on enemy ice in front of what figures to be another two sellouts at MTS Centre.

Karl Alzner noted after the game that perhaps some of the Bears were a bit distracted with the chance to end the season at home in front of friends and family, and that it'd be a bit easier to seal the deal away from the distractions.

But winning in Winnipeg won't be an easy task, and likely, the Bears are going to want to finish the series in six to avoid a Game 7 situation where, like Tuesday, Cory Schnieder can steal the game for the Moose.

Schnieder was the best player on the ice, holding the surging Bears at bay long enough to allow his team to get on the board and then capitalize on the momentum for another quick tally, and that was pretty much what the Moose needed to grab the win.

Michal Neuvirth was solid, but the brief lapse late in the second cost his team the momentum and the game. He certainly suffered due to a lack of workload in the first 37 minutes of play, and struggled to adjust quickly when the tide turned a bit Manitoba's way.

Alexandre Giroux, who had five goals in the first three games of the series, was held off the board for the second straight game and Woods called out his MVP player for holding onto the puck a bit too long and trying to make an extra pass instead of shooting. Giroux's line certainly created a lot of energy - Keith Aucoin had another good night with a couple of good chances and setting up Mink's goal early in the third and Carlson's goal in the final stages - but with 74 goals, they need Giroux to pot one.

Defensively, the Bears were solid, allowing 11 shots through two periods, although Alzner and Dean Arsene were victimized being caught running around on the game's first goal.

Hershey did play three solid games in front of their energized sold-out crowd, as fans who came Tuesday were really hoping to see something they hadn't seen since 1980 - a Bears team take a skate with the Calder Cup at home. However, thanks to Schnider's heroics, they'll have to wait at least another year to see that. But, if the Bears can put together another solid effort or two, at least they can get a parade out of the deal.

Penguins Hold Serve and Force Game 7

Facing having the Red Wings parade the Stanley Cup around Mellon Arena ice for the second time in as many years, the Penguins were able to force a decisive seventh game in Detroit Friday with a 2-1 win in Game 6 of the series.

Even though Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held without a point, Eric Staal and Tyler Kennedy were able to beat Chris Osgood, and then the Pens held on after Kris Draper scored his first goal of the playoffs with 11:59 to play in regulation.

Pittsburgh came out of the gate flying, and armed with a pair of power-plays, outshot Detroit 12-3 in the first period, but didn't have a goal to show for it.

However, Staal changed that with just :51 gone in the second as he beat Osgood for a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead. The score remained the same, but the Pens put together a 24-12 shot advantage after 40 minutes and limited the Red Wings' shots.

The Pens extended their lead when Kennedy beat Osgood with a wrist shot 5:35 into the third, but Draper answered just 2:26 later to bring Detroit back to within one.

The Red Wings had a pair of power plays to try to pull even, but couldn't dent the twine, and Marc-Andre Fleury was able to stop Dan Cleary's breakaway attempt with under two minutes remaining to preserve the victory.

Home-ice advantage has been key in this series, with the home team winning the first six games, and now Pittsburgh will have to end that streak in order to dethrone the defending champions and earn its first Stanley Cup title since 1992.

Moose Spoil Bears' Party, Force Game 6

While the sellout crowd of 10,860 at Giant Center was expecting a party for the team's 10th Calder Cup, Cory Schnieder and the Manitoba Moose were unwilling to let their season end and took a 3-2 win in Game 5 to force another game Friday night in Winnipeg.

When asked afterwards if his team was disappointed they couldn't finish the three-game sweep at home to clinch the championship, Bears coach Bob Woods said "I told the guys, it's just as fun on the road. It tastes just as good, the champagne and everything, so we're going to go in there and give it everything we've got."

Hershey came out flying and looking to put away Manitoba, netting the first eight shots on net and putting a lot of pressure on Schnieder. However, the goaltender turned away Hershey's early chances, including a nice stop on a Keith Aucoin break late in the first period, one which the Bears outshot the Moose 12-4.

"We had a guy in our room there, a goaltender, that was just absolutely outstanding," Moose coach Scott Arniel said afterwards. "While we were standing around being a little bit of spectators for two periods, he was putting on a one-man show."

From his vantage point, Woods also wasn't happy with the Bears' ability to finish, noting that a couple of players - including league MVP Alexandre Giroux - were passing up chances to shoot to make a perfect play and being too cute with the puck.

In his own end, Michal Neuvirth was also sharp when he needed to be, making a couple of stops, including a 2-on-1 Manitoba break almost halfway through the period. But the Moose finally broke through with three minutes to go, as Michael Grabner put the puck past Neuvirth for the first goal of the contest, despite Manitoba being outshot 21-9 at that point.

The goal deflated the crowd and the Bears, and the Moose pounced again as Cody Hodgson blasted a puck over Neuvirth's shoulder just 1:07 later for a 2-0 lead.

Hershey came out fired up in the third period, as Graham Mink deposited a member of the Moose in the Bears bench, and then made the most of his chance in front of Schnieder, taking a feed from Aucoin and then waiting down the Moose keeper and beating him with 4:17 gone in the third to put the Bears back down by one.

But despite more pressure, Hershey couldn't get the equalizer, and put itself in a bigger hole when Aucoin was called for the first power-play of the game with 6:02 left in regulation. The Bears were able to kill off the penalty, and got a chance with the extra-man when Mario Bliznak hauled down Giroux with 3:32 left in regulation to give Hershey a chance at their second comeback in the series.

However, it wasn't to be, and the Moose were able to pot an apparent clincher in an empty net just :09 after the penalty to Bliznak expired as Jason Krog shot it in - but not without some controversy, as a member of the Bears had his stick slashed in half just before Krog shot the puck into the cage.

The Bears still weren't quite done, as after a pair of lenghty scrums led to a :02 Moose powerplay was negated to a minor earned after another altercation, John Carlson scored to pull the Bears back within one with :30.9 left.

Hershey put on more pressure, but couldn't get another one in despite some good chances in the dying seconds, and now will have to try to win one game in Manitoba to earn the Calder Cup.

Afterwards, Karl Alzner, who had a miscommunication with his defensive partner Dean Arsene that led to the first Manitoba goal, admitted the Bears might have been thinking too much about ending the season at home with friends and family in town, and that it would be good to head out to try and close in a hostile environment.

So, now, the Bears head north of the border to try for the second time to close out the series, this time Friday night at MTS Centre, with a seventh game looming if they cannot close the deal then.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Keystone State Focus of Hockey World

Tonight in two buildings about 220 miles apart, two of hockey's most coveted awards will be in the house, waiting to see if they will have a summer home.

The big one, of course, is up in Pittsburgh, where the Red Wings can hand the Penguins their second straight defeat in the Stanley Cup Finals, and, of course, which would lead to the awkward moment where Marian Hossa - enemy No. 1 in the Steel City - could skate with the Cup in front of an ornery Penguins faithful that he spurned this past summer.

Not to be overshadowed - particularly in these parts as well as Harrisburg and Manitoba - is the fact the Calder Cup could be decided with the home team getting a chance to skate the trophy with a victory tonight over Manitoba.

Both Pennsylvania teams will skate for the final time at home this year, but under much different circumstances.

After regaining some swagger in their two wins in Games 3 and 4 in Pittsburgh, the Pens went back to Joe Louis Arena and reverted to the form that put them down 0-2 in the series, getting waxed by the Red Wings 5-0. Now, while the Penguins have been good at Mellon Arena in the series, they will need to put on a much better show on the road to have a chance to avoid last year's fate, and so tonight's game will be interesting to see if the Pens can stay alive.

The Red Wings got a big boost with the return of Pavel Datsyuk to the lineup, as the Hart Trophy candidate got two assists and also created a lot more room for the speedy Detroit forwards. While it appeared Detroit lost its composure and perhaps some of its aura in the closing minutes of Game 4 at the Igloo, they certainly didn't show it in the Game 5 rout it put on Pittsburgh.

Tonight should be a good display in the Stanley Cup Finals, as a desperate Penguins team will look to try to force a decisive Game 7, although the odds seem long that Pittsburgh can win two in a row - particularly one in a building where they have been outgunned 11-2.

While the puck drops in the NHL at 8, the two best teams in the AHL will be skating at Giant Center, with the Bears trying to save themselves a trip back to Manitoba with a win over the Moose tonight. Hershey has grabbed a 3-1 lead in a tight series where three of the four games haven't been decided until the final period - or overtime. However, Michael Neuvirth has been the difference so far, keeping Manitoba at bay when the Bears have needed him to.

Thanks to a 2-3-2 format, unlike the Penguins, the Bears don't have to travel to Manitoba for Game 5, and can ride the momentum built at home one more night this season before the building begins a summer vacation from pucks. This puts a different twist, as while Hershey still enjoys a 3-1 lead, a loss tonight gives Manitoba back-to-back home games to try to wrestle the Calder Cup away from the Bears.

The series has been a good one, with the league's two best teams really putting up a good fight, and right now, the balance is tilted thanks to Hershey's Game 1 comeback win in overtime at MTS Centre, which is giving the Bears a chance to win at home tonight.

So, in an unusual scheduling, two teams get a chance to skate with the trophies from their leagues tonight, and there's a decent chance that the NHL and AHL seasons will draw the curtain on the same night - and perhaps right around the same time - just a couple of hundred miles apart.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bears Go for Clincher

After earning a pair of wins over the Moose this weekend, the Bears now will get a chance to close out Manitoba Tuesday night at Giant Center, with the team's 10th Calder Cup - third as a Washington Capitals affiliate - just a victory away.

In what could be the final chapter of Hershey's impressive playoff run through Philadelphia, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Providence, the Bears will take their last skate in their barn for the season in Game 5, with either a celebration - or a trip back to Winnipeg for Game 6 - to follow Tuesday's game.

Several Capitals officials were in the press box over the weekend to see which players could be part of the team next season, and will be there again tomorrow night.

Coach Bruce Boudreau even cancelled a chance to throw out the first pitch before the Nationals game Tuesday to head up to his old stomping grounds in Hershey and check out if this will be the first time since 1980 the Bears skate the Cup on home ice - and how the team deals with pressure with a chance to clinch a championship - even at the Calder Cup level.

So, with the end of the AHL season in sight, several questions surround what pieces of this Bears team will be seen wearing red-white-and-blue at Verizon Center next season as Hershey takes perhaps its final skate as a group Tuesday.

Karl Alzner looked solid in his return to action from a concussion in Games 3 and 4, and there is little doubt that barring an injury, Alzner should earn a spot on the Capitals' blueline in October.

While his injury ended his chance to join the Caps for their Stanley Cup playoff run this season - and he would have been welcome on a team that needed some defensemen - Alzner certainly is in the team's long-term plans.

Another young defenseman, John Carlson, is also making his bid to earn a roster spot for next season, although while he did play well, he did show his youth a couple of times with some turnovers in the pair of wins, and he might get a bit more seasoning before getting called up to the big club in the near future.

It's not out of the question Carlson might end up with the Caps next season, but unless the Capitals don't manage to sign or trade for another defenseman, he'll probably get time with Hershey to get used to playing at the professional level before getting a chance to skate in the NHL.

League MVP Alexandre Giroux also looks to put a cap on an impressive season where he scored 60 goals in the regular season to lead the AHL and then has added 14 more in the playoffs to make his bid to add playoff MVP to his trophy case. Odds are the 27-year-old unrestricted free agent may get a shot with a team at the NHL level next season - but not necessarily with Washington.

Despite notching just one goal and one assist in a dozen games with the Capitals this season, his numbers at this level should warrant a team looking for some offensive depth and room up front to give Giroux more ice time. It's difficult to say if that team will be the Caps, or another team looking to add punch.

Chris Bourque also could be another player with a new address next fall as his entry-level contract with the Capitals expires this summer. Like Giroux, he might opt to look for a team with an open roster spot at the NHL level, although his small size might helped his bid. Bourque plays his with a lot of energy, but the question is if he can do so against larger NHL defensmen, as there's a lot of players who thrived at the AHL level but couldn't make the jump.

Bourque has been good with the Bears, but hasn't stuck with Washington, so like Giroux, there could be another team willing to take a chance on the small forward.

Keith Aucoin likely will be in a Capitals sweater next season, as he has a one-way contract that will pay him the same regardless if he skates in Hershey or Washington, and therefore likely will get his shot to crack the Caps' roster. Aucoin has been a good energy player in his stints this year with Washington, and got six points in 12 games in a Washington sweater.

The real intrigue will surround the first star of the two games in Hershey and the other contender for playoff MVP, as goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who only allowed one goal in two games and has a 1.96 goals-against in the Calder Cup playoffs with a .931 save percentage and four shutouts. With Simeon Varlamov almost assuredly to take a spot thanks to his great play during the Stanley Cup playoffs, that leaves one spot that will be taken by either Neuvirth or Jose Theodore.

With George McPhee already saying that Theodore would be at camp in September and the team unlikely to be able to unload his hefty contract, most likely Neuvirth will be beginning next year at Hershey - although that's not too bad for a goalie who started off the year with the South Carolina Stingrays. It's also pretty unlikely the Caps would go with two green goaltenders, likely using Theodore to be a veteran influence on either the young Russian or Czech and then going with their young combination in 2010-11 when Varlamov has a bit more NHL experience under his belt.

Of course, even starting off in Hershey isn't necessarily a bad thing for a player, as evidenced by the fact that 12 of the skaters in Sunday's Game 4 spent at least a game with the Capitals this season.

So Bears fans will fill the Giant Center one last time for the year Tuesday evening and hoping to close the evening with a skate with the Calder Cup, but also with an eye to the future and which pieces of this team on the verge of a championship could help the Capitals in the near future.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Aucoin's Goal Puts Bears on Brink of Title

Keith Aucoin's power-play goal with 12:43 left in regulation broke a 1-1 tie and lifted the Bears to just one win short of claiming the franchise's 10th Calder Cup title and second championship in four years as Hershey edged Manitoba 2-1 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series in front of a sold-out Giant Center.

With a win Tuesday night, the Bears can skate with the Calder Cup on home ice for the first time in 29 years, as they can prevent the series from shifting back to Winnipeg by closing out the series in Hershey, where they are 9-1 so far this playoff season.

It could have been a very frustrating night of missed opportunities for the Bears, as they outplayed the Moose for good stretches of the game but only had Colin Wilson's second-period tally to show for it.

But a hooking penalty on former Cap defenseman Nolan Baumgartner was compounded by a too-many-men call on the Moose, and the door opened for Aucoin to tap in an Alexandre Giroux miss for the difference in the contest, and sending the crowd of 10,739 into a frenzy as the Bears took command of the series.

Unlike Saturday's Game 3, the Moose were able to finally break through Michal Neuvirth when Raymond Sawada lofted a puck past the Bears' netminder with 8:23 left to play in the opening period, as Manitoba controlled more of the play early on in the Bears' zone.

However, Hershey came out flying in the second period, both by putting the body on the Moose as well as getting a good territorial advantage over Manitoba. However, a couple of extra unnecessary passes in the offensive zone and good saves by Cory Schneider limited the Bears to only a single goal for the middle stanza, and the two teams were deadlocked after 40 minutes of play.

Hershey again got the jump on Manitoba early in the third period, but still couldn't dent Schneider any further to cash in on some good chances. However, when Baumgartner was whistled for a minor, it opened the door for the Bears to put their power play to work.

The Moose then were whistled for a rare too-many-men while shorthanded, and armed with a 5-on-3 for 1:05, the Bears generated some good chances with the two-man advantage, and with just two ticks left on the Baumgartner minor, Aucoin tapped in the puck past an out-of-position Schneider with a scramble in front of the Manitoba cage.

However, once Hershey took the lead, they quickly began to sit back a bit too much and allowed Manitoba to control the play, and it was up to Neuvirth to preserve the one-goal lead, with Manitoba racking up 14 shots in the third period - with most of those coming after Aucoin's tally.

Things got even more precarious for Hershey when with the two teams on a four-on-four late and the extra attacker, Chris Bourque was whistled for a cross-check, giving Manitoba a 6-on-4 to close out the final :29 of regulation. But the Bears held, leading to a raucous celebration behind the Bears' net as time expired, including a jumping Neuvirth.

Now, the Bears will get a chance to close out the Moose at home Tuesday and take the Calder Cup for a skate with a victory, as they will look to finish the series before they have to make a long trip back to Manitoba should they not close it out.

Neuvirth Blanks Moose for 2-1 Series Lead

After splitting a pair of games at MTS Centre, the Bears returned home to the friendly confines of Giant Center Saturday night, and in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,696, Michal Neuvirth recorded his fourth shutout of the playoffs as the Bears recorded a 3-0 win over Manitoba to take a 2-1 lead in the Calder Cup Finals.

Hershey is now 8-1 in the playoffs at home, and now will get a chance to take a stranglehold on the series Sunday at 5PM ET in a game that can be heard on XM Radio channel 204.

Neuvirth gave Bears fans a scare during warm-ups, as he writhed in pain on the ice during a drill early, but was able to return to the cage and ended up turning a great performance.

The Bears, who hadn't been at home since May 17 when they rebounded in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Providence, were energized by the home crowd, and Graham Mink tipped home a Staffan Kronwall shot just 6:22 in the game.

Boosted by the return of Karl Alzner to the Bears' lineup and some terrific saves by Neuvirth, Hershey kept the Moose off the board - even despite having to kill off a 5-on-3 disadvantage in the opening minutes of the second period. Then, the Bears got another extra-man tally by the team's most valuable player.

Alexandre Giroux one-timed a Keith Aucoin pass and the shot just eluded Moose netminder Corey Schnieder's glove for a 2-0 lead with 10:22 left in the period, and the Bears were in command of the contest. Giroux recorded his 14th goal of the postseason, best in the AHL, and his fifth goal of the series.

Manitoba got a chance to climb back in the contest with a late delay-of-game penalty on Bryan Helmer as his clearing attempt went over the glass with just 2:41 to play. The advantage became 6-on-4 when Schnieder was lifted with two minutes to play, but Neuvirth and the Bears held, and Quintin Laing's long clearing attempt went into the empty cage with :44 left in regulation for the 3-0 final.

The game didn't end without some fireworks at the final buzzer, as a scrum occured behind the Hershey cage that left Manitoba's Pierre-Cedric Labrie yapping as Chris Bourque pointed his way to the visitor's dressing room as the home crowd roared its approval of the victory.

Neuvirth stopped all 28 shots he faced, becoming the first rookie to record four shutouts in the Calder Cup since Mika Noronen recorded six for Rochester during the 2000 playoffs. All four have come at home, and now the Bears are halfway to the franchise's 10th Calder Cup and their second in four seasons.

The loss was Manitoba's first in regulation in 15 games, and now the Moose will look to even the series Sunday.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Red Wings Power Past Penguins

Any sign the Red Wings were faltering in their quest to win back-to-back Stanley Cup titles was quelled in the second period of Game 5, as Detroit scored four goals to blow open a 1-0 contest and move within one win of keeping the Cup in Motown with a 5-0 victory.

While the Red Wings were the team that looked out of sorts and frustrated after Game 4, the Penguins were the team left looking upset by taking five minors in the second period - three of which resulted in Detroit goals.

Pavel Datsyuk also returned to the Red Wings lineup for the first time in the series and contributed to the victory, recording a pair of assists and helping open up some more space for the team's other stars as they served notice they wouldn't be relinquishing their crown easily.

The Penguins arrived in Michigan with all the momentum, but now, to win the franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1992, they will need to win two straight against the Red Wings and also earn one win at Joe Louis Arena - a place they have been outscored in this series 11-2.

After a tight start to the game, the Red Wings broke out on top as Dan Cleary buried wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury, with Datsyuk picking up his first helper of the series.

But the second period is where the Red Wings took over - and the Penguins were left frustrated.

Valtteri Filppula boosted the Detroit lead to 2-0 1:44 into the period, and then Sergei Gonchar was sent off for a slash just over four minutes later. The Red Wings power play, which had struggled for the first four games, struck as Niklas Kronwall scored just :18 into the power play to put them up 3-0 with 6:11 gone in the period.

Evgeni Malkin took an elbowing minor just :37 after Kronwall's goal, and the Wings struck again, as Brian Rafalski made the Pens pay with another power-play goal. Chris Kunitz took the third minor of the period with 6:10 left in the frame, and Henrik Zetterberg salted the game away with his 11th goal of the playoffs.

The goal chased Fleury out of the net, and left the Penguins looking to regain footing as the series shifts to Pittsburgh after a two-day layoff Tuesday night.

Pittsburgh now will look to avoid losing the Stanley Cup on home ice to Detroit in consecutive seasons in Game 6, and also avoid becoming the first back-to-back Stanley Cup runner-up since the Bruins in 1978.

As for the Wings, they look for their fifth Stanley Cup in a dozen years, and also trying to become the first back-to-back champ since Detroit won in 1997 and 1998.