Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his game winning goal at 7:48 of the third period against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Capital One Arena on April 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. The Penguins defeated the Capitals 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Lose OR win, this could be Barry Trotz’s last stand with the Washington Capitals.
There’s been talk of a disconnect between the team’s coach and GM Brian MacLellan for some time — even before the latter was reportedly signed to a contact extension while the former continues to work through the final year of his deal — and now, adding fuel to it is the exchange between Trotz and Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella as they shook hands at the end of their Round 1 series.
I agree with the lip-reading done by Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman — it sure looked like, in accepting congratulations and well wishes from Tortorella, Trotz said “I’m gone, I’m gone, I’m not coming back.”
It’s natural to speculate Trotz will get the axe if he fails, for the fourth straight year, to lead the Capitals at least into the conference final. But imagine, if it has been pre-determined, either by Trotz, MacLellan or owner Ted Leonsis … the Stanley Cup winning coach being a free agent this summer?
Yes, this really could be Washington’s year. When we least expect it.
The Capitals have not made it out of the second round since 1998, when they defeated the Bruins (in six), the Senators (in five) and the Sabres (in six) before getting swept by the Red Wings in the Cup final. It remains the only spring in which they were one of the last two teams standing.
And usually, it’s been the Penguins who get in their way.
Washington has made six trips to the second round since then and lost to the Penguins three times, twice in seven games and once in six. The Penguins, who have eliminated they Capitals on their way to each of their five Cup wins, have beaten Washington in nine of 10 playoff series. The only time the Capitals eliminated Pittsburgh was 24 years ago, in a first-round series that went six games.
But as Alex Ovechkin told reporters before Game 1: “One day, it has to happen (again).”
That day will fall in the next two weeks, if the Capitals feed off the extra motivation they should have to win one for the likable Trotz.
And if they can get past Thursday’s third period collapse that saw them give up three goals in 4:49 on their way to a crushing, 3-2 loss.
STARTS AND STOPS
Upon going over the replays of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal 17 seconds into the first period, in no way can it be blamed on Jake Gardiner … The real reason the Caps will win this series? Braden Holtby. Liked the theory presented in a column on NHL.com by former Senators coach Paul MacLean, who thinks Trotz went with Philipp Grubauer to start the playoffs in order to light a fire under Holtby, whose No. 1 standing had never really been challenged. When Holtby did get his chance to enter the series, he was outstanding. Just as he was in the first two periods of Game 1 against Pittsburgh. Of course, he did have help from his goal posts, and he didn’t look very good on two of the Penguins three straight goals in the third. Maybe the Caps will have to rely on the Trotz factor — or allow the Penguins to remain in their heads … When it comes to the good young wingers in the league, the two Jakes, Guentzel and DeBrusk, are worth all the credit they get. But not enough is said about Tom Wilson, a 24-year old power forward who uses his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame to inflict damage and skates well enough to play with Ovechkin and Kuzentsov … Matt Murray won Game 1 for the Penguins with his best performance of the playoffs.
Stop with the talk that Ovechkin isn’t a winner. He now has 52 goals and 100 points in 102 playoff games. He’s not the problem … Uncharacteristically, Ovechkin didn’t have a shot on goal through the first two periods. One of his three misses was with a wide-open side, off a 2-on-1, near the five-minute mark. He dropped to his knees in disbelief, while everyone else just rubbed their eyes … Ovechkin scored 28 seconds into the third, then let Sidney Crosby escape his check for Pittsburgh’s second goal less than five minutes later. …. With a goal and two assists, Guentzel is now the leading scorer in the playoffs … The NHL has decided to tinker with its draft lottery to add even a little more tease to the presentation. Owners of picks four-through-15 will be revealed before Saturday night’s Vegas-San Jose game, while the top three will be announced during the second intermission. Perhaps it’s the league’s way of apologizing for the lack of drama in Round 1 … The lottery process will never be truly criticized until a team like Florida or St. Louis, which both missed a wild-card spot by a single point in their respective conferences, winds up drawing No. 1. Or until it winds up in the Edmonton Oilers hands again.
After bolting the Senators, Daniel Alfredsson apparently had himself a pretty good season. He was named ‘Volunteer Of The Year’ by the Ottawa Sting minor hockey association … While Senators owner Eugene Melnyk erratically predicted the Maple Leafs would be “blown out” by the Bruins in five games, I had Toronto advancing — with a reverse mojo that rarely fails … Flyers GM Ron Hextall has confirmed coach Dave Hakstol and his staff will return next season … That the Penguins don’t seem to miss a beat with Evgeni Malkin injured is testament to how good they really are. Malkin has 164 points in 154 playoff games and he did win the Conn Smythe in 2009 …. Announced on Thursday were the three finalists for the Ted Lindsay Award, which goes to the most outstanding player in the league as voted on by members of the NHLPA. They are Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid — which were also the three names at the top of my Hart Trophy ballot.