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Rangers' Nash ready to forget painful playoff past

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Rangers vs Penguins - 2015 SCP First Round

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- Three goals in 25 games and a shot off a stick shaft in overtime of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. That was New York Rangers forward Rick Nash in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. That's what he can't hide from now, with a new postseason set to begin.

"I've had thousands of people be on top of me and it is what it is," Nash said. "At the end of the day you just gotta try to be better next time."

Next time is here for Nash, who realizes that scoring a career-high 42 goals this season and being a dominant player, a potential Hart Trophy finalist, won't mean much if he doesn't score to help the Rangers win the Stanley Cup this spring.

High-scoring rookie forward Lee is Islanders X-factor

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Capitals vs Islanders - 2015 SCP First Round

Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

Left wing Anders Lee was the victim of a numbers game at the start of the 2014-15 season. Instead of being with the New York Islanders, he started the season in the American Hockey League with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Lee took the demotion in stride and was back with the Islanders within two weeks. Since then, the 6-foot-3, 227-pounds forward has garnered consideration for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie; he finished second among first-year players with 25 goals.

"It's been a really good year," Lee said. "I think I'd be ecstatic to look where I'm at right now. If I asked myself if I'd be in this spot at the end of the year, would I be happy? I think absolutely. I think I'd take that. It was a little bit hectic at first, but things settled down and have fallen into place."

Tavares' development as a leader propels Islanders

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Capitals vs Islanders - 2015 SCP First Round

Brian Compton - Deputy Managing Editor

The memory of Brooks Orpik, the low-scoring Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman, eliminating the New York Islanders from the Stanley Cup Playoffs with an overtime goal at Nassau Coliseum in the spring of 2013 haunts John Tavares.

It's lingered for the Islanders captain, especially after he sustained a knee injury while representing Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which left him out of the equation as New York failed to qualify for the postseason last season.

"I think that's what you play for," Tavares said. "It was a series we probably felt we deserved a better fate, but in a few areas we weren't as good as Pittsburgh. We're a young team and I think we just want to keep pushing for that next level. Obviously, you want to win the Cup and you want to compete for it. Watching the playoffs as a kid, you see how much fun each and every round gets, and I think that's what drives everybody."

Capitals' Ovechkin embraces big moments

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Capitals vs Islanders - 2015 SCP First Round

Ben Raby - Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Throughout the regular season, first-year Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz noticed a trend in Alex Ovechkin's game.

"The bigger the stage, the bigger he plays," Trotz said earlier this month. "On the big stage, he's not afraid."

From the the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park, to late-season trips to Madison Square Garden and Bell Centre, Trotz watched Ovechkin score key goals in big games.

Now as the curtain lifts on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the League's biggest stage, Ovechkin is poised to take the leading role during what he hopes is a deep postseason run.

Why the Red Wings will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Lightning vs Red Wings - 2015 SCP First Round

Mike G. Morreale - Staff Writer

Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings is one of the game's top coaches. He has the Stanley Cup rings and Olympic gold medals to prove his ability.

He is primed to chase another Stanley Cup title, but it might be his last with Detroit. He is in the final year of his contract and his future in Detroit is uncertain. He may be back or may move on to a new challenge.

Either way, he will be in demand after he helps guide the Detroit Red Wings to another championship this spring. The Detroit roster has warts, but if there's one coach capable of getting the most out of any lineup, it's Babcock.

Why the Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Predators vs Blackhawks - 2015 SCP First Round

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

The Chicago Blackhawks check all the boxes required to be a championship team, which is exactly why the city should plan to keep the Magnificent Mile parade route open for an afternoon in June.

Do the Blackhawks have experience? Yes they do.

The Blackhawks have 17 players with a combined 25 Stanley Cup championship rings, including two each for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

In addition, Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette have played in the Stanley Cup Final for other teams. Brad Richards won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning and played in the Final last season with the New York Rangers.

Versatile forward Kuznetsov X-factor for Capitals

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Capitals vs Islanders - 2015 SCP First Round

Katie Brown - Correspondent

WASHNGTON -- When the Washington Capitals needed another center before the season started, coach Barry Trotz asked promising young forward Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Their top prospect played sparingly at center during his formative time in Russia, including a stint in the Kontinental Hockey League. Yet he eagerly accepted the challenge and has been key to Washington's late-season success.

"I know it's a little bit different [style of] hockey and a different mentality," Kuznetsov said. "I try to focus on the hockey."

Kuznetsov, 22, came to Washington in March 2014 after five seasons playing professionally in Russia. He had to adapt quickly to the smaller ice sheet and faster pace of North American hockey and had nine points in 17 games at the end of the 2013-14 season.

Rapidly developing Hayes X-factor for Rangers

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Rangers vs Penguins - 2015 SCP First Round

Dan Rosen - Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers forward Martin St. Louis wanted to stop himself from making a comparison he knows isn't fair to rookie center Kevin Hayes. He couldn't resist.

"I don't know if it's a fair assessment, but in terms of Hayes' size and his vision and his skill set he reminds me a lot of when I played with Vinny [Lecavalier]," St. Louis said. "Good reach and really good with the puck. I know he knows where I'm going. There's definitely some similarity there."

Lecavalier once scored 52 goals and had 108 points playing with St. Louis on the Tampa Bay Lightning. They won the Stanley Cup together in 2004, capping a season when St. Louis won the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy with 94 points in 82 games.

Struggling Vermette X-factor for Blackhawks

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Predators vs Blackhawks - 2015 SCP First Round

Brian Hedger - Correspondent

CHICAGO -- Center Antoine Vermette was one of the top players available at the NHL Trade Deadline, but his addition to the Chicago Blackhawks hasn't provided much of a boost.

The hope, for Vermette and the Blackhawks, is that he becomes a bigger difference-maker in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Work in progress," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said when asked about Vermette recently. "Scoring a goal might help him be more confident with the puck. He's improving as far as knowing the familiarity of the routes and where [his] linemates are. That’s what we're looking for, [and] maybe offensively get a goal, and be a little more confident in the puck area."

X-factor Russell helps Flames make playoffs

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Canucks vs Flames - 2015 SCP First Round

Aaron Vickers - Correspondent

CALGARY -- When Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano went down with a season-ending injury in late February, fellow defenseman Kris Russell stepped up.

The surprising Flames didn't skip a beat.

Giordano was among the top Norris Trophy candidates before he was sidelined with a torn biceps muscle. His loss left many to write off Calgary's chances of returning to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a five-year absence.

Instead, Russell, the NHL leader and single-season record-holder for shot blocks in a season, helped tug the upstart Flames back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Not that he's willing to take the credit.

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You could feel it. You could feel that they were going after each other and trying to win the game for their team.

— Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom on Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin and Penguins forward Sidney Crosby each scored hat tricks
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