PITTSBURGH – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury never learned the phrase, “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” In his native French, the world “equipe” does have that vowel. Still, Fleury long ago learned and embraced the selfless concept of doing all you can to help your team.
“I guess it’s how I’ve been taught,” Fleury said Friday. “Playing hockey, it’s always been a team game. … There’s not one individual bigger than the team. It’s all about winning as a team.”
That attitude and staunch play are prime reasons as to why Pittsburgh is set to open the Eastern Conference final against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena.
With the emergence of rookie Matt Murray, Fleury spent most of this season as the backup after serving as the Penguins’ franchise goalie for more than a decade. That led to widespread speculation that Fleury would be dealt at the NHL’s trade deadline.
That didn’t happen, and Fleury stepped in to play every game this postseason so far after Murray got hurt during the warmups before Pittsburgh’s playoff opener.
“Obviously, if I decided to trade the goalie, we wouldn’t be (here) right now,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said. “In the (just concluded) Washington series, I thought we played two good games as a team, Game 4 and Game 7. And if it wasn’t for our goaltending, we wouldn’t have won the series.
“I can’t be happier for Marc because he, to me, is one of the best team players in all of sports.”
That’s high praise, and it’s shared.
“Yeah, I think it’s a pretty good assessment,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “Everything that he’s gone through and the attitude that he continues to have and had all year, I think, was really important. It would have been easy to go the other way, and he didn’t.
“He’s a team guy. He cares a lot, loves the game. And he’s shown that all year long. It’s great to see him doing well.”
Although Murray has recovered and served as the backup Wednesday while Fleury shut out Washington 2-0 in Game 7, there is no thought of going back to the rookie, at least for Game 1 against the Senators.
“I think Marc deserves the right to play,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s played so well for us, and he’s really at the top of his game.
“But having said that, we have Matt who is a quality goaltender as well. Just like all of our players on our team, we can’t predict how series unfold or what comes our way. So we just want to have as many healthy bodies as we can available to us to help us win.”
Fleury and his Ottawa counterpart, goalie Craig Anderson, are each 8-4 with one shutout this postseason. Fleury has the better save percentage, .924 to .914, while Anderson has the better goals-against average, 2.49 to 2.55.
While Ottawa’s megastar power is primarily limited to captain Erik Karlsson, the Penguins have a wealth of stars and offensive firepower. Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and rookie Jake Guentzel lead the way. But they might have to work extra hard to provide strong goal support for Fleury.
Pittsburgh relies heavily on speed, especially through the neutral zone and on the rush. The Senators’ specialty is slowing opposing teams, making use of a 1-3-1 scheme.
“Fast. They’re a skating hockey club, and they’re skilled,” Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot said. “It’s not one of those series where you can expect to just maybe overpower them or go out of your way to be physical because that’s where I think they thrive and they expose teams.
“Our structure is more important than ever.”
Senators coach Guy Boucher thinks beating the New York Rangers in the last round was a good primer for facing the Penguins.
“It was good for us to play the Rangers before we were here because they have a lot of similar type of speed in the neutral zone,” Boucher said. “So that’s prepared us well for this series.”
Both teams have a couple of injuries with which to deal.
Karlsson has been playing despite a hairline fracture in his foot and practiced only a few minutes Friday by design. Winger Viktor Stalberg, who received an undisclosed injury in Game 6 against New York, “is hopeful” for Game 1, Boucher said, but defenseman Mark Borowiecki (lower body) will miss at least the first game or two of the series.
Pittsburgh defenseman Trevor Daley, who has missed two games because of a lower-body injury, is day-to-day, according to Sullivan, although he did not practice Friday.
Speedy winger Carl Hagelin practiced, but he has been hampered by a lingering lower-body injury and sat out Game 7 against Washington.
QUEENS, NY – The 2018 NHL Winter Classic will be played on Jan. 1, 2018, in New York at Citi Field, with the New York Rangers hosting the Buffalo Sabres, the NHL finally announced on Tuesday. Both the Sabres and Rangers will be making their second appearance in the NHL’s New Year’s Day outdoor game. Buffalo hosted the first-ever event against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a 2-1 shootout loss, at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008. New York defeated the Philadelphia Flyers at Citizens Bank Park at the 2012 event.
“The Winter Classic made its debut under snowy Buffalo skies in 2008, and we look forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of that landmark event by matching the Sabres with their intrastate rivals, the New York Rangers, in the 2018 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citi Field,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
The 2018 Winter Classic will be the sixth to be held in a baseball stadium. It was previously held at Wrigley Field in Chicago (2009), Fenway Park in Boston (2010), Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia (2012), Nationals Park in Washington (2015) and Busch Stadium in St. Louis (2017).
Buffalo and New York have faced off in 177 regular-season games since the 1970-71 season, with the Sabres holding a 196-172 edge in points
NEW YORK – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Whether you agree with the coach or not, Alain Vigneault has tied the New York Rangers’ postseason success to his veterans. He has limited ice time for some of his good young players and even scratched one of them for a veteran with very little skill.
It’s those decisions more than anything else that have the Rangers facing elimination when they host the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of their second-round series on Tuesday night. New York trails the best-of-seven series 3-2 after a second collapse in Ottawa led to a second overtime loss in the series, and both losses had much to do with the team’s older players.
In the Rangers’ Game 5 loss on Saturday, it was again defenseman Dan Girardi on the ice for a crucial goal against — the overtime winner by Kyle Turris — and blue-liner Marc Staal out there for Derick Brassard’s tying goal in the final minutes.
Forward Tanner Glass, who has taken the place of Pavel Buchnevich during this series, also was on the ice with the game on the line when Brassard sent it to overtime.
None of those names or roles appears likely to change for Game 6.
“Our group of veterans have a lot of experience,” Vigneault said to the New York Daily News. “Not just NHL experience, but some guys have won the gold medal at the Olympics; some guys have played in World Cups. There is a lot of experience, and they have to use this experience right, first of all to get themselves ready to go out on the ice and execute and play hard and play well. And if they do that, then it’s definitely in my mind going to rub off on the rest of our group that might have a little less experience but are leaning on those players to show them the way.
“That’s the only thing right now that we can control, and that’s what we need to focus on for Tuesday’s game.”
Vigneault felt his veteran core was “average” in Game 5, but that aptly defines those players at this stage of their careers. So with that unlikely to change, that leaves goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in his usual position of having to carry New York into the next round.
In his last 11 games at Madison Square Garden with the Rangers facing elimination, Lundqvist is 10-1 with a 1.05 goals-against average, .965 save percentage and two shutouts. He will look to build on that after a second straight overtime setback and third overtime loss in the playoffs.
“Right now, there’s nothing that he can do about it or our team can do about it,” Vigneault said to the New York Post. “His mind and the rest of our players’ minds have to be on getting ready and performing well Tuesday at home.”
The Senators, meanwhile, will try to solve the issues they’ve had at Madison Square Garden in this series.
In two road games, Ottawa suffered a pair of 4-1 losses that weren’t close.
“Lots (has to change). Our desperation has to be better than Game 3, that’s for sure,” said Senators winger Alex Burrows to the Ottawa Sun. “We have to be smarter, make better reads without the puck. No matter what, we’ve just got to block everything. Whether it’s MSG or Canadian Tire Centre on the outside, it shouldn’t really matter.
“The play is the same, the game is the same, the same players on the other side and it shouldn’t matter that the fans are going to be cheering on the other side … We’ve got to close everything in and focus on what we have to do to be successful. We have a clear game plan about how we can beat this team and we’re going to try to put it on display (Tuesday).”
The problem for Ottawa in Game 3 was the lack of desperation with the Senators leading the series 2-0, and that didn’t change much in Game 4 with the Senators up 2-1 in the series. With the Rangers facing elimination and Ottawa having the safety net of a potential Game 7 on home ice, how do the Senators avoid a repeat performance for a third time?
“They’re going to be in desperation mode. They’re going to give it their all,” Burrows said to the Ottawa Sun. “You think of how hard they came out in Game 3, it’s probably going to be 10 times harder.”
“It’s do-or-die (for them). I know they’re confident, especially coming back home,” Senators winger Clarke MacArthur to the Ottawa Sun. “It’s been a homer series and, for us, it will be just capitalizing on the mistakes. Hopefully, they have some nerves.
“When your back is right up against the wall, you can’t help but think they’re going to be a little jittery. They’re going to have that mindset to go and get us right out of the gates here. I’ve been in Game 7s and this is a Game 7 for them. Any little mistake or any one play could cost you the game and that’s always in the back of your mind.”
NASHVILLE — Ryan Johansen’s tiebreaking goal at 3:15 of the third period lifted Nashville to a 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues and a 4-2 series victory, advancing the Predators to the Western Conference finals for the first time in the franchise’s 19-year history.
It was the second marker of the playoffs for Johansen, who took Viktor Arvidsson’s feed in the slot, deked from forehand to backhand and beat Jake Allen for the biggest goal in Predators history, giving the home side a 2-1 advantage.
Calle Jarnkrok sealed it with an empty-net marker at 19:00, making him Nashville’s 14th different goal-scorer of the playoffs.
Goalie Pekka Rinne and the Predators’ defense made the lead stick. Rinne made 23 saves, none bigger than his pad stop on Kyle Brodziak at the goalmouth about halfway through the third period. Rinne has permitted just 14 goals in 10 games in the playoffs.
Oilers 7, Ducks 1
EDMONTON — Edmonton finally built a lead that Anaheim couldn’t overcome.
After blowing a 2-0 advantage in Game 4 and 3-0 lead late in the third period in Game 5, the Oilers came out flying, scoring five first-period goals en route to a 7-1 win on Sunday in Game 6 of a Western Conference semifinal series.
Edmonton evened the series and forced a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday in Anaheim. The winner will face the Predators in the Western Conference finals.
Ducks killer Leon Draisaitl, who now has 20 points against Anaheim in 11 regular-season and playoff games in 2016-17, paced the attack with a hat trick plus two assists. Mark Letestu also had two goals and two assists. Rickard Rakell got one for the Ducks.
WASHINGTON DC — Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin scored goals 27 seconds apart in the third period, and the Washington Capitals defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 on Saturday night to stay alive in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Andre Burakovsky had a goal and an assist for Washington, which trails the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins 3-2 in the best-of-seven series with Pittsburgh set to host Game 6 on Monday night.
Kuznetsov gave Washington a 3-2 lead when he beat Marc-Andre Fleury from a sharp angle at 7:20 of the third. Ovechkin, after his initial shot on the rush was blocked by Ron Hainsey, got the puck back and wristed it past Fleury for his fifth goal of the playoffs to make it 4-2 at 7:47 of the third.
Pittsburgh took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but Washington tied it at 2:49 when Nicklas Backstrom and Burakovsky worked a give-and-go on the rush.
Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary of the Penguins returned five days after suffering concussions and Crosby had an assist. Carl Hagelin gave the Penguins 1-0 lead in first period and Phil Kessel put them up 2-1 in the second.
Senators 5, Rangers 4 (OT)
OTTAWA — Kyle Turris scored at 6:28 of overtime to give Ottawa a come-from-behind victory over New York Rangers and a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference best-of-seven semifinal series.
Turris’ attempted first shot was blocked by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, but Turris was able to get control of the loose puck and beat goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. New York nearly won the contest two minutes earlier as Michael Grabner knocked a pass from Kevin Hayes out of mid-air at 4:12 of overtime, but officials quickly negated the tally on the basis of a high stick.
Rangers winger Jimmy Vesey scored his first goal of the playoffs with 7:12 left in regulation to snap a 3-3 tie. Former Ranger Derick Brassard sent the game into overtime with 1:26 left in regulation as the extra attacker that jumped on the ice when goalie Craig Anderson rushed to the bench.