Penguins get 3rd win in row, topping Capitals 6-3

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Penguins get 3rd win in row, topping Capitals 6-3

WASHINGTON (AP) Chris Kunitz scored a hat trick in the Pittsburgh Penguins' Super Bowl Sunday visit to the nation's capital, leading a 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals that reflected both teams' fortunes so far in the lockout-shortened season.

Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Matt Cooke also scored, Sidney Crosby had three assists, and Tomas Vokoun made 21 saves against his former team for the Penguins, who have won three straight and four of five to lead the Atlantic Division.

Mike Green, John Carlson and Mike Ribeiro scored for the Capitals - and Carlson's goal was an accident that took a weird carom off a stanchion along the glass. Two-time league MVP Alex Ovechkin, who said before the game that he was somewhat embarrassed to have only three points on the season, contributed a secondary assist on a third-period power-play goal with Washington trailing by three.

Washington has lost seven of nine games to start the season. Hosting the Penguins as a Super Bowl warm-up for the third straight year, the Capitals no longer look like the formidable team that beat Pittsburgh 5-4 in overtime with a hat trick from Ovechkin in 2010 and shut out the Penguins 3-0 a year ago - both feisty games that included punches thrown by Ovechkin.

Ovechkin was overly physical in this game as well, getting a roughing call in the final two minutes.

Under new coach Adam Oates, the Capitals are feeling their way around the ice, especially on defense. Braden Holtby stopped only 20 of 26 shots, allowing Letang and Kunitz to beat him glove side 37 seconds apart in the second period to give the Penguins a 4-2 lead.

Vokoun, who shut out the New York Rangers on Thursday, made a successful return to the Verizon Center. He was signed to be the Capitals' No. 1 goalie last season but hurt his groin and was eclipsed by Holtby during the playoffs, prompting Washington to trade him to Pittsburgh.

Martin scored from the point after Crosby won a faceoff in the Capitals' zone to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead in the first period. Washington tied it less than two minutes later after a nice sequence in which Ribeiro won the puck along the boards and passed it to Wojtek Wolski, who then sent it along to a wide-open Green.

After Cooke made it 2-1, Carlson tied it on a bizarre goal in the second period. The Capitals defenseman was merely trying to dump the puck along the boards, but it rose up and took an odd deflection. Vokoun had already started to retreat behind the net to intercept the puck and tripped trying to change direction to get back to the crease.

Notes: Ovechkin said before the game that the Capitals were in a ``desperate moment.'' He noted that he and other NHL players who spent the lockout playing in Russia should be doing better. ``Right now I'm standing here, I have only three points, and, you know, it kind of embarrass me.'' ... The Capitals played the first of three games without D John Erskine, who was suspended for three games for elbowing Wayne Simmonds in Friday's win over the Philadelphia Flyers. ... Washington had been 12-1-3 in its pervious 16 regular-season meetings vs. Pittsburgh.

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Caps prospect Madison Bowey escapes discipline for Game 4 actions

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Caps prospect Madison Bowey escapes discipline for Game 4 actions

Capitals prospect Madison Bowey will not face further discipline after he was investigated for using a homophobic slur in Game 4 of the Calder Cup Eastern Conference Finals on Friday.

In a series in which everything has been going right for the Hershey Bears, something went very wrong on Friday in Game 4 against the Toronto Marlies. Not only did Toronto win 5-0 to avoid a sweep, but Bowey was ejected from the game in the third period after a high elbow delivered to Toronto forward Kasperi Kapanen.

There's no doubt about that one. Bowey comes in with his elbow high and nails Kapanen right in the head. The defenseman was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct for the hit.

It is not the hit that has garnered so much attention, however, but what happened afterwards.

Kapanen was slow to get up following the play, but was eventually able to stand under his own power. He and Bowey then began exchanging words. At one point, Bowey was caught on tape using what appeared to many to be a homophobic slur.

You can watch the video here.

There was no audio to the video, but that was enough for Toronto to puruse further discipline for Bowey.

Bowey, however, was cleared by the AHL on Friday and will not be suspended for what he may or may not have said.

In the video, a linesman is skating with Bowey at the point in question. It seems likely that the linesman would have heard whatever Bowey may have said which would make for a simple AHL investigation.

There is precedent for supplemental discipline in matters such as these from the NHL. Andrew Shaw of the Chicago Blackhawks was suspended one game and order to undergo sensitivity training after using a homophobic slur in Game 4 of Chicago's series against the St. Louis Blues.

Though the initial report by Rob Longley indicates the AHL was still reviewing the hit, with Game 5 set for Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., it seems unlikely at this point that the league will issue any last minute suspension.

Kapanen is reportedly day-to-day after receiving the hit. Hershey leads the series 3-1 and will advance to the Calder Cup Finals with a win on Sunday to face the Lake Erie Monsters.

RELATED: BROUWER WANTS TO STAY IN ST. LOUIS, BUT WILL HE?

Brouwer wants to stay in St. Louis, but will he?

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Brouwer wants to stay in St. Louis, but will he?

Now that Troy Brouwer’s impressive playoff run with the St. Louis Blues has ended, what’s in store for the 30-year-old future free agent?

During the Blues’ breakup day, Brouwer told the St. Louis media that he’d love to re-sign with the Blues, but he also knows he’s not their only offseason priority.

“It’s a spot we really enjoyed this year,” Brouwer said. “I don’t know exactly what the cap situation is. I know it’s a business and I know they have young guys coming up with contracts in a year or two. You can’t just look at this season. You have to look forward to what their cap situations are going to be in years to come. It’s definitely a team and a city and a franchise I would love to come back to if the opportunity makes itself available.”

RELATED: MIKE TOMLIN, ANTONIO BROWN GO TO PENGUINS PLAYOFF GAME

The Blues have five forwards set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, including captain David Backes, who made $4.5 million this season. And with forward Patrik Berglund, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and goaltender Brian Elliott all set to become free agents a year from now, Brouwer realizes his time in St. Louis may be coming to an end, especially if he wants a four- or five-year contract that can take him into retirement.

Brouwer’s market value peaked during the playoffs when he recorded eight goals and five assists in 20 games. The offensive outburst was notable since in his previous 78 career playoff games, Brouwer had just seven goals (3 with the Capitals, 4 with the Blackhawks).

“Considering I wasn’t able to contribute offensively in previous post-seasons and to be such a big part of it in such big moments, personally it’s rewarding,” Brouwer said. “But to see the look on the guys’ faces when we move on to the next round and the next round and win those big games and to be part of that, it was an amazing experience for me and it was a lot of fun. But I wish we were still playing.”

So do T.J. Oshie and the Capitals. Brouwer and Oshie were traded for each other last summer and both enjoyed strong seasons with their new teams. Brouwer netted 18 goals in the regular season and eight in the playoffs for the Blues, while Oshie notched 26 goals in the regular season and six goals in the playoffs for the Caps. Prior to this season Oshie had five goals in 30 playoff games with the Blues.

“I don’t want anybody to forget Oshie was a great player for this franchise for a long time,” Brouwer said. “I’m glad the trade worked out on both sides. I know he’s going to have another good year in Washington next year. I’m just glad that maybe I could get some of the people who were a little hurt by the trade on my side a little.”

MORE CAPITALS: 2015-16 SEASON IN REVIEW: MIKE RICHARDS

2015-16 Season in Review: Mike Richards

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2015-16 Season in Review: Mike Richards

With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.

No. 10 Mike Richards

Age: 31 (turns 32 on Feb. 11, 2017)

Games: 39

Goals: 2

Assists: 3

Points: 5

Plus-minus: Minus-2

Penalty minutes: 8

Time on ice: 12:10

Playoff stats: 12 games, 0 goals, 0 assists, even, 4 PIM, 11:15

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent (2015-16 salary: $1 million)

When Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan and his coaching staff began exploring the possibility of signing center Mike Richards back in November, they kept telling themselves that if he could keep up to the pace of the NHL he’d be the perfect third- or fourth-line center for a team on a mission to win the Stanley Cup.

Defensively, Richards was exactly what the Caps had hoped. He was an integral piece of a penalty kill that ranked second in the regular season (85.2 percent) and second in the playoffs (90.7 percent).

From a leadership standpoint, Richards also received high marks from his teammates, coaches and management.

But offensively, he was a disappointment, managing just two goals on 46 shots in the regular season and no goals on nine shots in 12 playoff games.

“I’m happy with what Mike did,” MacLellan said. “I think he added a lot to our locker room. He’s a great penalty killer, competitive guy. We really valued his experience. I would have liked to see more offense. He had some good chances, created some good chances for himself and just didn’t finish.

“I think he was a little frustrated. The offensive confidence that we thought might get there probably never got there. But everything else about his game I thought was excellent. He’s just a smart hockey player.”

Signed by the Caps as a free agent on Jan. 6, Richards played his first game for the Caps 10 days later and settled into a defensive role with the Caps, taking defensive zone faceoffs late in games and taking pressure-packed shifts with the Caps holding leads late in periods.

Despite his effectiveness in the defensive zone Richards looked a step slow and did not score his first goal until Feb. 22 in his 15th game, receiving a standing ovation from the Verizon Center crowd. His speed appeared to increase late in the season and he played well in the first round of the playoffs against the Flyers, but he looked slow against the Penguins in Round 2 and was dropped from the third line to the fourth.

“I enjoyed my time here, it was awesome,” Richards said on breakup day, sounding like a player who would not return. “Everyone right from Day One has been just welcoming. It was a different feeling, but everyone here was awesome. I got here and I enjoyed my time here and who knows what's going to happen? But I definitely have no regrets about coming to Washington. Obviously, I wish the result was better, but at the same time, this was pretty awesome here.”

MacLellan said Richards was a postive influence in the locker room and teammte Justin Williams, who lobbied to get Richards to sign with the Caps, agreed.

“I know everyone is going to say great things about Mike and they should," Williams said. "I know he wanted to be more productive on the offensive end, but he was a great teammate, he worked hard and he said a lot of great things in the dressing room that I know helped a lot of guys. He’s a character guy, a veteran guy that helped our team.” 

MacLellan said he would speak with Richards’ agent about a return to Washington, but having stated a need for more speed on the Capitals’ bottom two forward lines, it seems unlikely Richards will re-sign with the Caps.

“No expectations,” Richards said. “I'm not even sure what's going to happen, so we'll kind of hang out for a bit and see what's going on and go from there.”

Assuming the Capitals do not re-sign Richards it remains to be seen whether he did enough in his return to the NHL to warrant a free agent contract from another team. He changed his off-ice training last summer with the hopes of improving his skating.

“I've always known that I could play,” he said. “It's just, I guess, if the will's there maybe to continue. I had a fun time here in Washington, I enjoyed hockey again and I’ll kind of decompress and see what's next.

“I mean, I'm 31 years old, so I'm not old by any means. But we'll see. I honestly don't even know. I had so much fun this year with this team. Extremely, extremely disappointed of just not being able to play hockey anymore with the group of guys here. Frustrated, but at the same time I enjoyed my time here.”

Like many of his teammates, Richards said the bond in the Capitals’ locker room this season was something special.

“This team is unbelievable, to be honest,” he said. “The group is so unique, I can't even put it into words how unique this group is, it's pretty special.It's just a fun group to come to the rink and be around every day.”

As for why the Penguins are still playing and the Capitals are not, Richards said that may take some time in his hometown of Kenora to figure out.

“I'm going to sit in my boat and fish a little and probably think about it then,” he said, “but it's too early to put your finger on anything to be honest.”