Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals preview: Game 1

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Haggerty's Bruins-Capitals preview: Game 1

It will all come down to defense in the end for the Boston Bruins.

Their bread and butter is keeping the opposition out of the back of their net, and that defense takes on many Black and Gold forms. There will be Patrice Bergeron manning a shutdown forward group with Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin, and showing exactly why he's the favorite to take home the Selke Trophy this season. It will be interesting to see how Bruins coach Claude Julien deploys his shutdown forward line and his shutdown "D" pairing of Zdeno CharaDennis Seidenberg with the Capitals splitting up their elite forward groups.

Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom are with rugged forward Jason Chimera on one line, and Alex Ovechkin is bombing down the wing on a crash-and-bang line with Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich. So much will be asked of second defensemen pairing Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference, and perhaps they'll get some assistance from defense-minded centers like Bergeron and Chris Kelly.

"It's about everybody on the ice -- all six guys -- knowing exactly who is out there. Especially when it's the guys with high skill level," said Bergeron. "We need to make sure we look behind our shoulders for the man without the puck. Their skill guys are great players and they make great plays. We need to play together, communicate a lot and hang tough in our own zone."

One area the Bruins don't want to dwell too much on is Chara's mission to shut down Ovechkin. It's pretty clear the B's Captain will be on the ice whenever the Russian superstar hops over the boards, but Claude Julien felt like that was short-changing the rest of the players on both teams.

"I think people are forgetting about the rest of the players in the series," said Julien in a chiding tone. "There's more than these two. They certainly play a big role, but at the same time there's a lot more depth from both sides. There are a lot of players that can do some damage in this series. We have to stay aware of that. It's a lot of hype for the media, but for us as coaches we prepare for a little bit more than that."

All that being said, Julien will be calling No. 33's number early and often just to be safe.

PLAYER MOST IN NEED OF HIS TIRES PUMPED: Joe Corvo. He's been much-maligned after a difficult regular season and he was headed for a bevy of healthy scratches to start the playoffs until Adam McQuaid came down with an upper-body injury. Now it's up to Corvo to make up for his lackluster, mistake-filled regular season and add something to a power play that he'll be a key member of to start. Corvo will be playing the point opposite Zdeno Chara, and should get his share of chances to unleash his heavy shot if the Washington PK is overloading on Chara's side of the ice. Otherwise Claude Julien won't be taking too many chances throwing Corvo on the ice to start things up.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: "We don't even talk about that. We're focusing on Game 1. You can't be looking at something whenyou're not eventhere" --Zdeno Chara when asked about Boston's desire to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.

KEY MATCHUP: What else but Chara vs. Ovechkin? Thegap-toothed Russian superstar sniper against the cold-blooded superhumanly big and strong Bruins defenseman. This is like a match made in Ivan Drago's dreams. Chara has consistently had good luck against the rugged, skilled Ovechkinbecauseboth players like to inflict their will through physicality, and Ovechkin has perhaps lost a little bit of his speed as age and conditioning have caught up to him. He is still Ovie, however. If theCaps star winger goes off then the Bruins are in trouble, but if Chara is able to bottle up and frustrate Ovechkin then the series is won. Expect Washington to do whatever they can to get Ovechkinattacking from Dennis Seidenberg's side of the ice, but Chara willstill be involvedheavilyin Operation Shutdown Ovechkin.

STAT TO WATCH: 87 -- the number of points that Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin combined for while onthe ice together this season. It's the third-highestin the NHL behind lines headed by Evgeni Malkin and Henrik Zetterberg.

INJURIES: Tomas Vokoun (groin) and MichaelNeuvirth (lower body) are not expected to be available. Neuvirth might be able to go later in this round; Vokoun's return is murky as the series begins. The Bruins announced Wednesday that right wing Nathan Horton will not be available this postseason because of a concussion. Defenseman Adam McQuaid (upper body)and backup goaltender Tuukka Rask (groinabdomen)are both out for Game 1, though defenseman Johnny Boychuk (knee)is expected to play despite a knee injury.
GOALIE MATCHUP: Tim Thomas is only the second goaltender in NHL history to win the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup all in one season, and all hockey eyes are looking to see if he can recreate the brilliance while turning 38 years old this month. He'll need to be excellent if the Bruins are hoping for a deep run. Braden Holtby has 21 games of NHL experience and has never appeared in an NHL playoff game prior to Thursday night. He is Washington's third string goaltender and it would be an amazing story if he somehow backstops the Capitals to success in this playoff series.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.