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Posted On Sunday, 05.13.2012 / 12:15 AM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Hunter won't talk about his future with Caps

NEW YORK -- Moments after the Washington Capitals lost Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series to the New York Rangers, coach Dale Hunter was asked about his future with the organization.

"[It's] not the time right now," Hunter said.

That time is going to come pretty soon, though. When Hunter agreed to replace Bruce Boudreau as the team's coach in November, he reportedly signed a one-year deal through the remainder of the 2011-12 season.

That means he and the organization have a decision to make. Several players have said they would like to see Hunter return next season, as has general manager George McPhee.

Hunter left the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League to coach in the NHL for the first time. He and his brother Mark are co-owners of the team. Before taking this job, Dale Hunter was the coach and vice president of the Knights while his brother was the team's president. Mark Hunter replaced Dale behind the bench, and the Knights will begin play in the Memorial Cup later this week.

"We do our best and it's probably best team I played [on]," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "You know, group of guys and atmosphere, everybody was - it's unbelievable to play and I hope everybody gonna stay here 'til next year."

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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 7:09 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Beagle out, Halpern in for Caps

NEW YORK -- Capitals forward Jay Beagle will not be in the lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Rangers on Saturday night, as he did not take part in pregame warmups.

Beagle missed Game 6 of the series on Wednesday with a lower-body injury and did not participate in the game-day skate at Madison Square Garden. He was replaced in the lineup by Jeff Halpern, who had been a healthy scratch since March 23 and will once again be in the lineup. Halpern was a minus-1 in 10:23 of ice time in the Caps' series-tying 2-1 win.

In 12 playoff games, Beagle has one goal and one assist.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers, Caps try to stay loose before Game 7

NEW YORK -- Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman hurled three wadded up balls of tape in the general direction of Jason Chimera, who at the time was surrounded by media and doing an on-camera interview at his locker

The atmosphere wasn't as relaxed in the Rangers' room, but it wasn't exactly filled with human beings who were on edge and biting their nails.

What, the Caps and the Rangers worry about playing in a Game 7?

The decisive game Saturday in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal series doesn't appear to placing any added stress on these teams, who were both a loose bunch following their game-day skates at Madison Square Garden.

"It's important to be loose and joking around," said Rangers forward Mike Rupp, who will play in his sixth career Game 7. "Our team has a lot of that going on. I've found when I was younger I'd gauge off the older guys how relaxed they were. I think you can go out and be a little too fired up, so you have to channel that emotion in a certain way."

Once the throng of reporters cleared from Chimera, he fired the balls of tape back in Wideman's direction but hit fellow defenseman Mike Green, who fired a stern glare back at Chimera before cracking a smile.

Caps defenseman John Carlson walked toward his locker after leaving the ice to find center Nicklas Backstrom in his spot, fielding questions from journalists. The 22-year-old jokingly asked for a public-relations person to clear Backstrom from his locker before forcing him out of the area.

"I think we always like to have fun," Carlson said. "Everyone goes out and their morning-skate routines are different. Some guys need to take some things out of it, some people want to work on other things. I think everyone just goes out there and gets what they need to feel the best that night, and I think that for some guys, that's being relaxed."

If these teams are nervous about their seasons being on the line, they certainly aren't showing it.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 12:59 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Caps, Rangers boast wealth of Game 7 experience

NEW YORK -- The Capitals and Rangers both went through Game 7s in the first round, so playing another one Saturday night for the right to play in the Eastern Conference Final isn't anything new or jarring.

Each team has a few players that bring a "been there, done that" attitude.

Washington's Roman Hamrlik will play in his ninth Game 7, while Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin will suit up for the sixth Game 7 of their Capitals careers -- all in the past five seasons.
 
New York's Ruslan Fedotenko and Mike Rupp will also play in their sixth Game 7. Rupp is 2-3 in his Game 7 appearances, while Fedotenko is a perfect 5-0 with three goals and an assist in those contests.

"I heard one of those guys talking about it yesterday, that it's one of those special days," Rupp said. "It just feels different, like a birthday. It's a special day on the calendar. It's not an ordinary game. You approach it the same way, but we all know what a special night and opportunity it is to play in a Game 7."

Backstrom, Green, Laich and Ovechkin were part of the 2009 squad that rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Rangers in the conference quarterfinals. They were also there two weeks ago when the Capitals won Game 7 in Boston to eliminate the Bruins in the first round.

"We're calm, but we're excited," said Laich, who has a goal and three assists in five Game 7s. "We're ready to play. This group has been through a lot of them. This is our sixth and some people don't play three in their entire career. For whatever reason, we seem to find ourselves in these situations. You have to just trust your stuff and don't overcomplicate things."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 12:51 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Lundqvist absent, but Tortorella says he's 'just dandy'

NEW YORK -- Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and forward Marian Gaborik were the only two Rangers who didn't participate in the optional morning skate Saturday. Lundqvist has been known to take skip game-day skates if there is a full practice the previous, but this is the first time he's done it in the playoffs.

Rangers coach John Tortorella said Lundqvist is "just dandy" and will play in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Rangers forwards Brandon Dubinsky (lower body) and Mats Zuccarello (wrist) are out. Dubinsky made a brief appearance in the locker room this morning without the aid of a boot or crutches and said he, "defers all questions to Torts" about his injury status. Dubinsky did not participate in the optional skate.

The only true question mark in terms of availability is Caps forward Jay Beagle, who will be a game-time decision due to a lower-body injury. He missed Game 6 of the series and did not participate in the morning skate Saturday.

Here are the projected lineups for Game 7:

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin - Brooks Laich - Marcus Johansson
Jason Chimera - Nicklas Backstrom - Alexander Semin
Joel Ward - Matt Hendricks - Troy Brouwer
Keith Aucoin - Jeff Halpern - Mike Knuble

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik - Mike Green
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman

Braden Holtby
Michal Neuvirth

RANGERS

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Ruslan Fedotenko - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 12:33 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Beagle unlikely for Caps in Game 7

NEW YORK -- It appears as though Capitals forward Jay Beagle will not be in the lineup for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Rangers on Saturday night, although coach Dale Hunter said "game-time" when asked about Beagle's status.

Beagle missed Game 6 of the series with a lower-body injury and did not participate in the game-day skate at Madison Square Garden. He was replaced in the lineup by Jeff Halpern, who had been a healthy scratch since March 23. Halpern was a minus-1 in 10:23 of ice time in the Caps' 2-1 win. Beagle hasn't skated with the team since blocking a shot with right leg during Game 5.

Capitals forward Alexander Semin was also absent from the team's optional practice, but Hunter said he Semin will be in the lineup.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 4:04 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Capitals have mostly avoided injury bug in playoffs

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When a team plays in as many close games as the Washington Capitals have this postseason, there is bound to be some luck involved.

One area where the Capitals have had some good fortune is in the trainer's room. Every team has players dealing with minor injuries at this point of the season, but when Jay Beagle missed Game 6 against the New York Rangers, he became the first player to miss a contest because of injury this postseason.

"Guys have been playing hard, and it is a little surprising," veteran forward Mike Knuble said. "That Boston series was a physical series. It just seems like there is always somebody tweaking something and missing a game or two here or there. Knock on wood, we've avoided the big one, and Jay is the first guy to go down."

Dealing with injuries goes beyond man-games lost in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Capitals know that as well as any team. Past postseason failures have been littered with guys, often critical guys, trying to play through an injury because that's what hockey players do at this time of the year.

Brooks Laich played through a postseason with a broken foot. Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have played with a broken thumb. Mike Green has had multiple postseasons marred by multiple injuries, and he did finally miss time at the end of the series against Tampa Bay last year because of a shoulder ailment. Even Alex Ovechkin, who just scored his 30th goal in 50 career postseason games, has played through injury in years' past.

Some of the Capitals are certainly playing through pain right now as they prepare for Game 7 against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden. But both Knuble and Karl Alzner admitted the team has had better luck with injuries than in years' past, and the club is relatively healthy -- sans for Beagle, who didn't skate again Friday and seems doubtful for Game 7.

"We are [healthier]," Alzner said. "I think we're very fortunate with the style of hockey we've been playing that we don't have as many injuries as we've had in the past. I mean, guys are taking care of themselves really well and the trainers are making sure everybody is healing up. We're very, very fortunate that is the case right now.

"It is very nice. We just hope that nothing goes the wrong way. That's all you can really do. Injuries are going to happen, and teams that are the deepest are going to figure it out the best."
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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 2:26 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Rangers not concerned with low offensive totals

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The Rangers aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard on the way to what could be their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals since 1997.

Entering Game 7 against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers rank 11th in scoring at 2.08 goals per game and are last among the teams still remaining in the postseason.

The Rangers haven't scored more than three goals in a game since Game 1 against Ottawa and have been held to two goals or fewer in nine of 13 games.

Despite that avalanche of statistical information condemning the offense, Brad Richards doesn't see it as a problem heading into Game 7.

"It's really one game," Richards said. "If we win 1-0, it's the same as if we win 5-1. You play the game the way it's being played, and we're not going to abandon our structure just because people are writing about lack of scoring. We just have to win a game."

The Rangers haven't generated much offensively and neither have the Capitals in what has been an extremely tight series. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is a major reason the Rangers are still alive in the postseason with their lack of scoring, posting a 1.73 goals-against average.

Lundqvist said he wouldn't mind some additional support, but understands there isn't much room in the Caps' defensive zone.

"They've been playing pretty tight in their own end," Lundqvist said. "It's tough for us to create scoring chances. I hope that changes tomorrow and we come out and play our best game of the year."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Friday, 05.11.2012 / 1:35 PM

By Dave Lozo -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Kreider back on Rangers' second line at practice

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It's been a roller-coaster month for Chris Kreider with more ups and downs than an elevator in a high-rise office building.

If the line combinations at Rangers practice Friday are any indication, the 21-year-old rookie looks like he's on his way back up again.

Kreider was back on the team's second line on the left wing with center Derek Stepan and right wing Ryan Callahan after spending the past two games playing limited minutes on the fourth line. A gaffe by Kreider in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Capitals led directly to a goal by Alex Ovechkin, and Rangers coach John Tortorella has reined in Kreider ever since.

Kreider was averaging about 17 minutes per game from Game 7 of the Rangers' first-round series against Ottawa up until Game 2 against the Capitals and played 26:17 in New York's 2-1 triple-overtime victory in Game 3.

But since the blunder in Game 4, Kreider hasn't cracked the seven-minute barrier. If he's back with Stepan and Callahan, that will likely change Saturday night in Game 7.

"It always takes a while, especially in this situation, for him to understand how we play, especially the defensive part," Tortorella said. "Really, we haven't overloaded him with too much. That's going to be a process he needs to go through next year. It doesn’t happen overnight. As we've gone through here, we've given him the foundation of it, not overload him, because you just don't want to turn him into a robot."

It took a few games for Kreider to earn Tortorella's trust after signing with the team right before the start of the postseason after winning two national titles in three years with Boston College. Kreider's debut in the NHL was accelerated when left wing Carl Hagelin was suspended for Games 3-5 of the Ottawa series for an elbow to the head of Daniel Alfredsson.

Kreider improved enough that he stayed in the lineup after Hagelin's return. He scored the winning goal in Game 6 vs. the Senators and had a goal and an assist in Game 1 vs. the Capitals. But Kreider hasn't registered a point since and knows he needs to be better.

"I think my role has been the same in my time that I've been here, regardless of the line I'm playing on," Kreider said. "They probably want more of the same, trying to win puck battles, trying to beat guys to pucks. I think I've learned things every single game regardless of the minutes I've played. It's little nuances, little details."

Kreider was a combined minus-4 between Games 3 and 5 of this series. He said his diminished role in recent games was a motivator to show he can be effective in Game 7.

"I think so," Kreider said. "I think it's kind of hard not to be motivated regardless of the situation here, playing big minutes or small minutes. I was pretty inspired and motivated throughout the playoffs."

With Kreider on the second line, forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who has zero goals in 13 games in the playoffs, was on the fourth line with Mike Rupp and John Mitchell. Here's how the lines all looked at practice Friday:

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Marian Gaborik
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov - Brian Boyle - Brandon Prust
Ruslan Fedotenko - John Mitchell - Mike Rupp

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Anton Stralman
Michael Del Zotto - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist
Martin Biron

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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Posted On Thursday, 05.10.2012 / 1:04 PM

By Corey Masisak -  NHL.com Staff Writer /NHL.com - Rangers vs. Capitals series blog

Carlson shakes 'sophomore slump' during playoffs

ARLINGTON, Va. -- There were flashes of the dreaded "sophomore slump" for Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson this season, but he's picked the right time to be playing some of his best hockey.

Carlson had a fantastic rookie campaign in 2010-11, his first full season in the NHL, teaming up with fellow young defenseman Karl Alzner to form the team's most trusted pairing, while also racking up seven goals and 37 points.

He finished this regular season with nine goals and 32 points, but his work in the defensive end eroded. Plus-minus isn't a tell-all stat, but Carlson's drop from plus-21 to minus-15 was jarring. Carlson did score in the season finale against Florida, but that ended one of two droughts of six weeks or more without a tally.

"I think towards the end of the season I started getting my legs back under me, felt a lot better about myself and my game," Carlson said. "I think it is just a progression thing. I was confident that I could do it and get back to where I needed to be and I think that I'm playing good now."

Carlson's play has been much improved this postseason. He has two goals and five points in the 13 games, but four of the points have come in the past seven.

He's also played more than 20 minutes in every postseason game but one, and more than 30 minutes twice. Paired every night with Alzner, they are again back to being Washington's shutdown pairing.

"He's been playing really well," Hunter said. "He's been physical and jumping up in the play and creating offense. But also they got a tough job of dealing with the top line every night. Him and [Alzner] are doing a great job."

Added Carlson: "I don't know. I think it seems like I'm getting some bounces, getting some breaks. It feels like I am seeing the rush a little bit more and trying to join the play if I can if it is not detrimental to my team."

Carlson did get a nice bounce in Game 6. His shot from the right point went off Nicklas Backstrom's skate and skipped toward the left post -- just where Jason Chimera was waiting for an easy tap-in goal.

He isn't the only young defenseman with elite potential to struggle at times during his second full NHL season. Montreal's P.K. Subban also struggled at times this season. So too did Los Angeles' Drew Doughty during his sophomore campaign.

Carlson does appear to have figured it out, and has moved on.

"It's over now, so it doesn't matter," he said.

Added Hunter: "I think every player goes through it; it's a long season. When it counts in the playoffs, he's been a horse for us."

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