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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.

Young forward Rakell X-factor for Ducks

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Ducks vs Jets - 2015 SCP First Round

Curtis Zupke - Correspondent

ANAHEIM -- One of the questions the Anaheim Ducks had to answer this season was whether Rickard Rakell was ready for the role as third-line center. Two months into the season, Rakell wasn’t so sure himself.

Rakell found himself in close competition with William Karlsson, whose dazzling start turned heads and made Rakell a scratch six times in the first 16 games. Rakell was reassigned to the American Hockey League in early December, and the two-game stint there was a turning point.

Rakell not only grabbed the third-line role but has proven he can be an effective two-way player who can be a difference-maker in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I kind of got my confidence back and kind of figured out what kind of player I want to be and just do the things that I’m good at, like playing with puck control and protecting pucks and trying to make plays for my teammates," Rakell said.

Why the Blues will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Blues vs Wild - 2015 SCP First Round

Jon Lane - Staff Writer

There's no denying the recent history of the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Three seasons ago, the Blues won the Central Division but were swept in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings. The past two postseasons each ended in extreme disappointment after St. Louis took 2-0 series leads but went on to best-of-7 first-round losses to the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.

That track record has planted seeds of doubt about whether the Blues can go far this time after qualifying for the fourth straight season.

This time, this postseason, there is no debate. The Blues will hit the high note in June when they exorcise their playoff demons and win the Stanley Cup.

Why the Wild will win the Stanley Cup

Sunday, 04.12.2015 / 3:00 AM / Blues vs Wild - 2015 SCP First Round

John Kreiser - Columnist

The Minnesota Wild season can be divided into two parts: pre-Dubnyk and post-Dubnyk.

Shaky goaltending had the Wild struggling before general manager Chuck Fletcher acquired Devan Dubnyk, a backup with the Arizona Coyotes, on Jan. 14 in a trade for a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. With Dubnyk turning in brilliant work on an every-night basis, the Wild quickly rose from being 13th in the Western Conference, eight points out of a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, to a playoff team that will win it all.

Suffice it to say that acquiring Dubnyk might be the best deal Fletcher ever makes. It certainly saved the Wild's season.

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Quote of the Day

I'm going into this with an open mind. This is a very young player (23) with a tremendous, tremendous amount of upside.

— Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Emerson Etem's potential