How Rangers and Devils survived Game 7 thrillers

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How Rangers and Devils survived Game 7 thrillers

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- With so little offense from their key playmakers, the New York Rangers dipped into a backup plan that no NHL team had used in more than 60 years. Goals were at a premium throughout the first-round playoff series between the top-seeded Rangers and the upstart Ottawa Senators, who were looking to advance out of the No. 8 hole. New York defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi staked the Rangers to a two-goal lead in the second period, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist bent but didn't break as the Rangers held on for a 2-1 win in Game 7 on Thursday night. Not since 1950 had an NHL team won a Game 7 without the benefit of a goal from a forward, according to a fact released by the Rangers, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau. "We found a way," relieved Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "We were fortunate. I'm very happy with the group, and they should be real proud of themselves -- for about an hour." The Rangers earned the right to play the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals, a seven-game upset winner over the No. 2 Boston Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions. Game 1 is Saturday in New York. It wasn't easy for New York, and after a home loss in Game 5, it almost wasn't likely. But the Eastern Conference's top-seeded team gutted out a big road win and then made it count in Game 7. "You don't want to relax too much" said forward Derek Stepan, who had three points in the Rangers' Game 6 win and then helped set up the opening goal in the clincher. "We have a big round ahead of us and we have to make sure we stay focused and keep that emotion high." Staal and Girardi scored 4:18 apart in the second period, Lundqvist made 26 saves and the Rangers completed a rally from a 3-2 series hole. "We were talking about it in Ottawa that if we could bring it back here, the fans would be behind us," Girardi said. "The way we play all year got us ready for games like this. We came with a great effort (in Ottawa) and another one tonight." Staal broke the scoreless deadlock, and Girardi gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead with his first NHL playoff goal. Lundqvist allowed Daniel Alfredsson's power-play goal in the second but stood tall the rest of the way to send the Rangers to the second round. The Rangers hadn't hosted a Game 7 since their Stanley Cup victory over Vancouver in 1994, but they stayed perfect at home in deciding games -- winning their fourth. New York is 4-5 overall in Game 7s, and the Senators dropped to 0-5. "We knew they were going to come out strong," said Senators goalie Craig Anderson, who made 27 saves. "I just wanted to make sure that I gave my team an opportunity to win the hockey game -- make the next save for the guys. "They had their fans. They had lots of energy." Lundqvist withstood tons of pressure from the Senators, who spent most of the closing 5 minutes in the Rangers' end. The win wasn't secure until Sergei Gonchar tripped Carl Hagelin as he skated toward the empty net with 36.2 seconds remaining. "It's playoff hockey at its finest," Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. "They are making a last surge, trying to play for their season. We stood in there and blocked some shots. Hank came up with some key saves. It's how we have been playing all year, and we have to continue to do that." New York rallied from a 3-2 series deficit for just the second time, building off the momentum of its 3-2 victory in Ottawa on Monday night. "It was a hard series against a very good team," Tortorella said. "I thought both teams went toe to toe in all areas of the game. Sometimes the first round is the hardest round. That's all this is, one round." Just like in Game 6, when the Rangers scored three goals in the second period, New York used the middle frame to take over. While waiting for their big guns -- Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards -- to spark the offense, a pair of defensemen stepped up to get the Rangers going. "It was big for our team," Girardi said. "We were able to take care of our end first, but if we get goals it's nice, as well." Rookie Chris Kreider, whose first NHL goal was the winner Monday, forced a turnover and got the puck into the Ottawa end. Callahan nudged it ahead to Stepan, who sent a pass from the right circle to the left circle to Staal for his first goal of the series 4:46 into the second. Staal, limited to 46 regular-season games because of the lingering effects of a concussion sustained last season, thrust his hands up in delight when his shot beat Anderson. Staal had only two goals in the regular season. "I feel pretty good," Staal said. "The last few weeks of the season and into the playoffs I feel my confidence is back and I feel a lot better on the ice." It didn't take all that long for Madison Square Garden to erupt in cheers again for another blue-liner. Rangers forward Brandon Prust had the puck knocked off his stick, but teammate Brandon Dubinsky was there to get it and smack it into the slot to Girardi, who wound up for a hard slap shot just a few feet from the crease and slammed it past Anderson at 9:04. Like Staal, Girardi isn't known for great offensive prowess. He had five goals while playing in all 82 regular-season games, but had scored only once in the previous 44 -- including the first six of this series. Just when the nervous towel-waving fans began to relax and feel confident that the Rangers would survive and move on to the second round, Alfredsson gave the Senators a big boost and brought back the tension. Ottawa went on its second power play when Michael Del Zotto was called for cross-checking nemesis Chris Neil in front of the net. Alfredsson, who missed three games in the series after an elbow from Hagelin in Game 2 gave him a concussion, made New York pay. Alfredsson took a pass above the left circle from Chris Phillips and one-timed a shot past Lundqvist with 8:26 left in the second to bring the Senators back within a goal. Now the question remains if the 39-year-old Senators captain will retire after 16 NHL seasons -- all with Ottawa. "I'll take some time and see how I feel physically and mentally after time off, but this year has been unbelievable," said Alfredsson, who struggled this season with concussions. "I had a lot of fun, and it's been a great group of guys to be a part of. They've kept me upbeat and happy when I'm a grumpy old man at times." NOTES: Former Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy rejoined the Ottawa lineup after being scratched the previous three games. He replaced Matt Carkner, who was a healthy scratch in Game 1, played in the second game, was suspended for Game 3, and was in the lineup for the previous three. ... Staal has three career playoff goals. Alfredsson has 47. ... It is the first time since 1996 that no Canadian teams reached the second round.

Devils 3, Panthers 2 (2OT) SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) -- Adam Henrique's first Game 7 was one he'll never forget. The rookie scored his second goal of the game at 3:47 of the second overtime to give the New Jersey Devils a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers early Friday. He skated out of the right circle and into the slot, getting goalie Jose Theodore to guess wrong. It sent New Jersey to Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference semifinal opener Sunday, and the resurgent Panthers home for the summer. "Got a pretty good bounce," Henrique said. "Found myself alone and tried to get it on net." Just like that, the Devils were winners of a postseason series for the first time since 2007. And with the game ending in the early hours of April 27, it marked the 20th anniversary of Martin Brodeur's first postseason appearance in goal for New Jersey. Henrique doesn't remember Brodeur's debut. After all, he was only 2. But this night, that'll be unforgettable. "Pretty cool, I guess," said Brodeur, who stopped 43 shots. Stephen Gionta also scored in regulation for New Jersey, which wasted a 2-0 lead in the third period. Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc scored third-period goals for the Panthers, and Theodore made 33 saves. The Panthers made a surprising run to the Southeast Division title this season, earning their first postseason berth in 12 years. "This is not where the hockey people predicted us to be at the start of the year," Weiss said. "We did some good things. We're obviously disappointed not being able to move on. It's been a fun year. It's been a fun playoff in front of our fans." The Panthers thought they were on the board 1:50 into the third period when Mike Weaver's shot from the right point got past Brodeur. Shawn Matthias was whistled for goaltender interference, nullifying the goal -- and further firing up the already desperate Panthers. "Yeah, they probably missed one on that one," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. "But what are you going to do?" Weiss cut the lead in half at 5:02 of the third, burying a one-timer from the right circle after a pass from Brian Campbell. The equalizer nearly came 3 minutes later, when Weiss had another shot blocked, Scottie Upshall nearly got his stick on the rebound -- the Devils' Andy Greene tied him up just enough to thwart that chance -- and Kris Versteeg's try was batted away. Didn't matter. The Panthers kept coming. And with Marek Zidlicky in the penalty box for a delay of game call, Florida got the franchise's biggest goal in 16 years. Shawn Bergenheim made a nifty move to get free for a shot that Brodeur stopped. The rebound rolled left, nearly on the goal line, and Goc knocked it home from an extremely tough angle to tie it at 2 with 3:28 left. And to overtime they went. "Exhausting," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "A fitting end to the series." The Devils and Panthers played 11 games this season. New Jersey won six, Florida won five, and the Devils outscored the Panthers 29-28. As close as could be, all the way to the end. "Just a bounce here or there," Versteeg said. "That's what happens." The first 2 minutes of regulation -- probably long forgotten by the time the game ended -- went about as badly as could be for Florida, which quickly found itself down both a goal and a center. Henrique opened the scoring when he tipped the puck past Theodore to get New Jersey on the board and silence an anxious crowd. Anton Volchenkov camped out at the left point, waited for a pass from behind the net to bounce off the boards and carom his way, then fired a one-timer that Henrique -- considered by many to be the league's best rookie -- directed into the net. A half-minute later, things got worse for Florida. Panthers center John Madden and winger Tomas Kopecky collided near center ice, and Madden took the brunt of the big hit. He writhed in agony for several seconds before trying to crawl to the Florida bench, the blood pouring from his face leaving a blotchy red trail along the ice. Two workers emerged to scrape up the mess. New Jersey dominated the opening minutes, taking eight of the first 10 shots. Eventually, the Panthers settled down -- getting 10 shots at Brodeur in the final 10-plus minutes of the first period, yet still heading into the first intermission trailing 1-0. "They got one lucky tip," Kopecky said in a televised interview between periods. "You know, we weren't in a lane and we were kind of cruising around in our zone and it ended up in our net." Lucky or not, it was enough to get the Devils going. And fittingly, Henrique not only got his team started, but then he finished the job. "I think I blacked out when I heard the thud of the back of the net," Henrique said. "It was a great feeling." Greater still for Brodeur, who still has a chance at his fourth Stanley Cup. Brodeur was no fan in this series of Florida's tradition of tossing toy rats on the ice to celebrate. He was the last Devils player to leave the ice, and the last thing he did before joining the dressing-room celebration was to scoop up one of the plastic critters with his stick and send it skyward. "Feels pretty good," Brodeur said. "For a day. And after that, we have to face the Flyers." NOTES: The Devils and Flyers split six meetings this season. It'll be the fifth time in the Brodeur era that the teams have met in the playoffs; Philadelphia won in 2004 and 2010, while New Jersey prevailed on their way to Cup titles in 1995 and 2000. ... Florida had as many broken sticks -- two -- as shots in the second period. ... Madden returned to the ice about 13 minutes after needing to leave following the collision with Kopecky.

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Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

Harper Among 4 Nats' Starters Out Vs. Padres Sunday

National League home run leader Bryce Harper is among four starters out of the lineup for the Washington Nationals in their series finale against the San Diego Padres on Sunday.

Daniel Murphy, Jayson Werth and Matt Wieters also did not start for the Nationals, who open a nine-game, 10-day road trip Monday afternoon in San Francisco.

Murphy missed the previous two games due to illness, Chris Speier said Saturday. Speier, serving as acting manager with Dusty Baker away this weekend to attend his son Darren's high school graduation in California, did not meet with the media before Sunday's game.

RELATED: Nationals' Joe Ross to Start Against Team That Drafted Him

Harper is batting .337 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs.

Washington won the first two matchups in the three-game series.

Joe Ross (2-0, 5.32) faces fellow right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (4-4, 5.74) on Sunday.

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Bradley Beal proved worth his max contract in first year of new deal with Wizards

Bradley Beal proved worth his max contract in first year of new deal with Wizards

Through four years with John Wall since he signed his deal and one year with Bradley Beal, the Wizards are a convincing 2-for-2 in handing out max contract extensions. Both Wall and Beal got paid handsomely and, despite their fair share of critics, each immediately got a lot better. They did something that is a lot easier said than done: once they got their money, they kept improving and in doing so made their contracts look better and better after actually signing them.

That's the best-case scenario for the Wizards and their front office deserves credit for both deals. They technically could have let either walk in free agency or traded them, as some in the media suggested they should. They chose to keep both for top-dollar deals and since have been rewarded for it.

Beal signed his new deal, a five-year contract worth $128 million, last July. It was a max contract for a guy who had never made an All-Star team and who had battled injuries, including last season when he only played in 55 games and only started 35. Naturally, some wondered if he was worth the money because of his problems staying healthy through four NBA seasons. 

But in his first year under a new contract, Beal achieved newfound durability. He had some minor issues here and there, but managed to play 77 out of the Wizards' 82 games and then appear in all of their 13 playoff games.

"If anything, I'm proud of that. I'm happy for myself, being able to be healthy for a full year," Beal said. "Being able to be on the floor, man, that's all I wanted. Just being able to be here. I knew if I was healthy that I would have a successful year. I had that opportunity this season."

[RELATED: Brooks proved a great fit in his first year with the Wizards]

Wall knows something about proving his critics wrong. He signed his max deal in July of 2013, before he had made an All-Star team and after he played just 49 games in an injury-plagued season. In the four years since, Wall has been an All-Star each time and this past season earned his first All-NBA selection.

Beal was not seleced for the All-Star Game this past year, but did put up career-bests in points per game (23.1), field goal percentage (48.4), free throw attempts (4.4) and assists (3.5). Wall believes his backcourt mate made a significant leap in his game.

"I feel like he should have been an All-Star. He's proven to himself that he earned his money when everybody said he didn't," Wall explained. "It's the same thing I went through. Now all he can do is take that as motivation going forward into next season. He has improved dramatically in so many areas that helped us and helped me and my game."

The ways Beal improved were obvious. His free throw attempts and field goal percentage naturally went up because he got better at earning his own shots. His ballhandling was worlds better: he developed a deadly stepback jumper and a respected crossover, and gained confidence attacking the rim.

Beal attempted 23.8 percent of his shots at three feet from the rim or closer, a career-high. He took 41.8 percent of his attempts from three-point range, also a career-high. For Beal, it was simple, spread the floor or attack the rim with impunity.

Beal's ability to break down defenses off the dribble led to more open shots. It also allowed him to run point guard at times within coach Scott Brooks' system, something many shooting guards aren't capable of.

Still, for Beal, it's the health that stands out most.

"The same thing is going to happen next season. I just have to stay within my regiment. No days off. Just continue to focus on my body and make sure I'm doing the right things," he said.

Beal has long been a dangerous shooter and above average defensive player and those attributes continued to improve in 2016-17. Now he can scare opponents with his dribbling and passing abilities. Add it all up and he's developing into one of the more complete players at the shooting guard position. That sounds like somebody who is worth the contract he signed.

[RELATED: Durant says don't blame him for lopsided NBA Playoffs]