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RETURN OF VAL
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The Washington Capitals kept trying to downplay their own forgettable playoff history DeShone Kizer Jersey , the one pockmarked with disappointment and despair. Still, they couldn’t run from it.

No one bore the weight more than Alex Ovechkin. All the goals in the world – and the star forward is at over 600 and counting now – couldn’t take the sting away from the endless cycle of postseason runs that ended far too soon.

”It’s so hard to move forward some time,” Washington coach Barry Trotz said. ”It’s always thrown in your face everywhere you turn. I know it’s thrown in Ovi’s face everywhere he turns and he’s a great player in this league.”

One who is finally headed to a conference final, with a team few expected to make it this far. The Capitals advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for only the third time since the franchise’s inception in 1974 with a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 6 against Pittsburgh on Monday night, a victory secured by Evgeny Kuznetsov’s breakaway 5:27 into the extra period .

”It feels like something is over,” Kuzntesov said. ”It’s pretty hard to speak.”

Maybe because – for now anyway – Washington’s long-held role as playoff fodder for the Penguins is over. The Capitals beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs for only the second time in 11 tries by playing a disciplined style dictated by Trotz, one that focuses on responsibility at both ends of the ice.

The game-winning sequence began with Kuznetsov poking the puck away from Penguins star Sidney Crosby as Crosby tried to enter the Washington zone. The puck made its way to Ovechkin and he threaded a pass to a sprinting Kuznetsov, who beat Matt Murray to spark a celebration two decades in the making.

”I don’t want to lie, it tastes a little bit better (beating the Penguins),” Kuznetsov said. ”You know, I never focus on the history. I only focus game by game. It feels very nice. You keep playing hockey, it’s unbelievable.”

Washington went 1-1-1 against the Lightning in three regular season meetings, the last a 4-2 loss at home on Feb. 20. That was two long months ago http://www.raidersauthorizedshops.com/authentic-nick-nelson-jersey , and the team that celebrated in an equal parts joyous and relieved dressing room on Monday night doesn’t look like the one that was still searching for its legs in mid-winter.

Injuries forced the Capitals to put together a patchwork lineup that included a handful of rookies, such as Nate Walker, who became the first Australian to record a point in the playoffs when he set up Alex Chiasson’s second-period goal.

”We did have our moment in the first period when we said `Do we have five rookies playing tonight?”’ Capitals owner Ted Leonsis said. ”I thought our window had closed and we had an old team and we had five rookies. So our future remains bright and now we just have to focus on the third round.”

Washington will do it with a resurgent Braden Holtby. Benched at the start of the playoffs in favor of Philipp Grubauer, Holtby heads to the conference finals playing some of the finest hockey of his career. He stopped 21 of 22 shots in Game 6 and is now 8-3 since Trotz put him back in the lineup.

”Obviously everyone knows the difficulties we had getting out of the second round,” Holtby said. ”But that doesn’t make a difference in our main goal. Our main goal is still the Stanley Cup. The third round isn’t the Stanley cup. We have to refocus now. We can enjoy it and use that energy as kind of a recharge for the halfway point and push full force into the next round because it’s going to be a hard test.”

One the Capitals believe they’re finally ready to pass. The franchise has only reached the Cup once, getting swept by Detroit in 1998, long before Ovechkin, Holtby and Leonsis came on board. This is their best chance at the club, one they’re intent on not squandering.

”We set goals every year,” Leonsis said. ”Make the playoffs. First round. Second round. Third round and win a championship. So we’re trying to check them off. It’s almost embarrassing that it’s taken this long for us to get past it.”

Now that they have – at last, becoming the first professional team in the nation’s capital to reach a conference final since the ’98 Capitals did it – they’re eager to shed the past. It’s over and done. The future – and the Lightning – await.

”We beat the Pittsburgh Penguins today and they’re a hell of a hockey team and we’re only halfway,” Trotz said. ”We haven’t done anything yet.”




The Dallas Stars brought back their Stanley Cup-winning coach and made a few somewhat pricey acquisitions last offseason.

With those significant changes, it looked like that fall from top seed in the Western Conference one season to missing the playoffs the next might just be a blip on the way to bigger things.

Instead Youth Nick Nelson Jersey , they fell agonizingly short of the postseason because of a late-season slump.

”There’s lots of decisions to be made,” said Hitchcock, who coached three other teams in his 15 years away from the Stars. ”But I’m hopeful that the feeling is that we’re a lot closer than further away.”

Among the first questions general manager Jim Nill will have to answer is what to do with four primary players who can become unrestricted free agents, including goalie Kari Lehtonen. Tyler Seguin, already a five-time All-Star at age 26, is signed only through next season for $6.5 million before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

Dallas was 42-32-8 for 92 points, a 13-point increase from 2016-17 and only three points out of the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot. They missed the postseason for the eighth time in 10 years.

”It hurts a little bit more than last year,” Seguin said. ”This year, there was a lot of hope and it’s a bit of a shocker. That road trip and that stretch, it’s going to take some time to process it.”

That brutal 1-10 stretch in March included the Stars losing every game in a six-game, 10-day road trip. The first loss in that overall slide was at home to Ottawa in which Ben Bishop, the goalie added on a $29.5 million, six-year contract last summer Authentic Customized Titans Jerseys , left with a knee injury. Bishop started only one game after that.

”You hate to look back and wonder what you could’ve done different,” said Jamie Benn, their other still 20-something top scorer along with Seguin. ”But we played some pretty good hockey most of the year and then we didn’t raise our level when it needed to be raised.”

NOT FULL CONTRIBUTORS

Alexander Radulov played every game in the first season of his $30 million, five-year contract and was the third-leading scorer with 72 points (27 goals, 45 assists). But other big-name additions were limited by injuries in their Dallas debuts, like Bishop. The new starting goalie played only 53 games, while center Martin Hanzal (back) played only 38 games and defenseman Marc Methot (knee) 36 games. Hanzal is signed for two more years and Methot for 2018-19.

TOP SCORERS

Benn, the captain, had hat tricks in two of the last three games – all on the road – and had 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in his last five games. He finished with 79 points (36 goals, 43 assists), one more than Seguin (40 goals, 38 assists). John Klingberg led NHL defensemen with 59 assists.

RETURN OF VAL?

Right wing Valeri Nichushkin could be back with the Stars next season after two years in the Kontinental Hockey League. Nichushkin was the 10th overall pick by the Stars in 2013 J'Mon Moore Color Rush Jersey , and had 64 points (23 goals, 41 assists) in 166 games over three seasons by time he was 21 before going home to Russia. That could be the biggest addition this offseason.

POSSIBLE DEPARTURES

Lehtonen is second in franchise history with 215 wins, but is now a backup to Bishop. The other unrestricted free agents are left wing Antoine Roussel and defensemen Greg Pateryn and Dan Hamhuis. Jason Spezza is set to make $7.5 million next season in the final year of his deal, but the 35-year-old center doesn’t seem to be a fit in Hitchcock’s system. Spezza played 78 games and his 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) were his fewest in a full season since 21 points in 33 games as a rookie 15 years ago.

STRUGGLES VS THE TOP

The Stars were a combined 5-13 against the top five finishers in the Western Conference, 2-9 against the top three in their division.

”We did a really good job of beating the teams we should beat in most cases, but our record against the top teams, and especially the Central Division, we’re going to have to find a way to improve that and we’re going to have to play better hockey,” Hitchcock said.



More NHL hockey: http://www.officialusafootballs.com/new-england-patriots

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