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ARLINGTON http://www.officialbluejackets.com/authentic-adidas-david-savard-jersey ,
Va. (AP) The smiling side of a handshake line at the end of the second round was
a brand-new experience for Alex Ovechkin and Barry Trotz.Ovechkin received a
message of good luck and a pat on the chest from Sidney Crosby, while Trotz got
to enjoy a happy moment with longtime coaching friend Jacques Martin. Ovechkin
acknowledged he’d been in that position a lot of times – though never as the one
moving on to the third round.Until now.The Washington Capitals reaching the
Eastern Conference final for the first time since 1998 is perhaps most special
to the superstar captain and his coach who had never made it out of the second
round before. No coach in NHL history had been behind the bench for more games
than Trotz and no active player had been in as many playoff games as Ovechkin
without reaching the conference finals.”There is a kinship there, there’s no
question,” Trotz said. ”I’ve been at this for a while and it’s so hard to move
forward sometimes. It’s always thrown in your face everywhere your turn. I know
it’s thrown in Ovi’s face everywhere he turns, and he’s a great player in this
league. … I knew the frustration because you’re so close and you just can’t get
it, and you just got to stay with it.”After 51 playoff games together, Ovechkin
and Trotz will take part in their first East final starting Friday night in
Tampa Bay against the Lightning. Now that they’ve gotten over a hump that
defined their respective careers, Ovechkin, Trotz and the Capitals are in
unfamiliar territory.”It’s something new for us and cool,” Ovechkin said
Wednesday, less than 48 hours after Washington eliminated the defending champion
Pittsburgh Penguins. ”Right now it’s just satisfaction we beat the Stanley Cup
champions finally and we move forward and now we’re going to play against a very
good team, against very good goaltending and solid players over there.”The
Atlantic Division-champion Lightning present a formidable challenge, but the
Capitals had to overcome something altogether different after losing in the
first or second round in all nine playoff appearances that have come during the
Ovechkin era dating to 2008. Beating the rival Penguins in overtime in a Game 6
on the road made the breakthrough even more emotional.”We should be proud of
that,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. ”It’s a big achievement. But I think we’ve
got to be greedy. We’ve got to want more because this is a heck of a run. I
don’t know if there is a group out there that knows how hard it is to get to
this point.”The Capitals are at this point with Ovechkin on top of his game with
eight goals and seven assists, his best playoff output since 2009. And they’re
here in large part because of Trotz, a well-respected, 19-year NHL coach who
does not have a contract for next season.”I had a summer which was very
enlightening to me Anthony
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, and I just look at everything way differently than
I ever have,” Trotz said. ”I just recognized that I can only control what I can
control, and the other stuff I can’t.”Trotz can’t control upper-body injuries to
Nicklas Backstrom and Andre Burakovsky or a three-game suspension handed out to
winger Tom Wilson, only the decisions he makes in replacing them. So far, Trotz
has pushed the right buttons, like putting Braden Holtby back in net in Game 2
of the first round and promoting Jakub Vrana to the top line in Game 5 against
Pittsburgh.His players know Trotz is in control as he and the Capitals advance
further into the spring than they have in 20 years.”He wants to win a Cup,”
forward Chandler Stephenson said. ”He doesn’t want to make it past the second
round. It’s obviously a little accomplishment, a little confidence-boost. But
we’re not done yet. We’re only halfway.”—AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich
contributed.— NHL teams seeking a center are in luck, especially the ones that
can get an audience with John Tavares.It’s no secret that Tavares is where free
agency begins. He and his representatives have already met with the Toronto
Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and San Jose Sharks and are set to speak with the
Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday to court the 27-year-old
superstar.”We’ve had a discussion on that front,” Bruins general manager Don
Sweeney said Saturday at the NHL draft . ”I think that’s still a bit to be
determined.”As the No. 1 pending free agent, Tavares not only gets to hand out
his rose like hockey’s version of ”The Bachelor,” he can set the tone for the
rest of the players available.Only the Islanders can offer an eight-year
contract – unless they execute a sign-and-trade to recoup some value – and he
could very well become the league’s second-highest-paid player behind Edmonton
Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who makes an average of $12.5 million a season.”I
think that (at)91Tavares should join the Sharks!” San Jose captain Joe
Pavelski’s grandmother Mary Ann tweeted .As soon as Tavares decides to stay with
the Islanders or sign elsewhere, the movement will begin.Paul Stastny should be
the next-best center available after putting up 15 points in 17 playoff games
with Winnipeg. Another 32-year-old, Toronto’s Tyler Bozak, could be a fallback
plan for teams that don’t sign Tavares Darren
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, and Buffalo will continue to get calls about two-way
star Ryan O’Reilly as the push from contenders to add talent heats up.The Sharks
are right in the middle of a lot of those conversations. Owner Hasso Plattner,
GM Doug Wilson and coach Peter DeBoer made their pitch to Tavares at Creative
Artists Agency’s Los Angeles office Tuesday.”We explore everything, every
opportunity,” Wilson said Saturday after Ilya Kovalchuk chose to sign with Los
Angeles. ”It’s a good thing that I think players look at our place as a place
they want to consider to play.”The Lightning, who re-signed J.T. Miller to a
$26.25 million, five-year deal, provide an attractive destination for Tavares
and others after reaching the Eastern Conference final with a young core, but
Tampa Bay’s salary cap space is tight.”We would have to make room,” GM Steve
Yzerman said. ”We would have to make room if we brought in a significant
salary.”Dallas could soon agree with center Tyler Seguin on a long-term
contract, but has much more free cap space than Tampa Bay to use this summer.
Expect GM Jim Nill to be active.”We’ll be getting a lot of calls from players,”
Nill said. ”It’s exciting just to see what’s out there.”Tavares’ hometown Maple
Leafs are the most intriguing destination because they’re a playoff team with a
Stanley Cup-winning coach in Mike Babcock and young talent everywhere, from
forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander to defenseman Morgan
Rielly. They also have almost $25 million in salary-cap space, and GM Kyle Dubas
hopes Toronto can add a substantial player in free agency.”We’ll try to figure
that out if the opportunity presents itself,” Dubas said. ”We’re confident right
now with our cap situation that we can do really whatever we want to do at this
point. Nothing is going to stop us or hold us back and that’s how we’ll proceed
here through the entire summer.”Here are some things to watch in free agency
beyond Tavares:WINGING IT WITH JVROnly two unrestricted free agents scored 30
goals this past season: Tavares and Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk,
who had 36 a year after recording a career-high 62 points in 2016-17. Teams
don’t ordinarily let a 6-foot-3, 217-pounder such as van Riemsdyk get to July
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but the Maple Leafs are in on Tavares, will need to give Nylander a raise as a
restricted free agent and can talk extensions for Matthews and Marner this
summer.With that in mind, van Riemsdyk could easily get a maximum-length,
seven-year deal in free agency – perhaps from the New York Rangers he grew up
rooting for, or the nearby Islanders or Devils. New Jersey trade acquisition
Patrick Maroon and veteran Rick Nash also fit the bill for teams looking for big
forwards who can fill the net.”We’ve had great communication with Rick and his
representatives,” Sweeney said of Nash, whom the Bruins traded for in February.
”The time is in his court and stage to initiate whatever talks he wants wherever
he wants to go. I think he strongly indicated that Boston is a place that he
would consider and as would we.”FLAWED GOALTENDERSThe crop of available
puck-stoppers has a shortage of sure-thing starters. Veterans Jaroslav Halak,
Kari Lehtonen and Cam Ward have done it before, but may be at the stage of their
careers that they’ll have to split time.Late-blooming 32-year-old Carter Hutton
hasn’t been a No. 1 in the NHL, but looks to have that potential after his .931
save percentage last season was the best among goalies who appeared in at least
20 games.Teams could also take a shot on goalies who were not tendered contract
offers as restricted free agents and are now to open to sign anywhere: Robin
Lehner and Petr Mrazek.DEPTH DEFENSEMENAfter John Carlson, who re-signed with
the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals at $64 million over eight years,
there’s a significant drop-off to rest of the available defensemen and not many
out there who are particularly productive offensively.Former Capitals teammate
Mike Green showed in Detroit he could still run a power-play unit at 32 and can
be valuable on the right side, 29-year-old Ian Cole is a shutdown defender and
31-year-old Jack Johnson could benefit from a change of scenery after parts of
seven seasons in Columbus.—
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