Capitals, Stars and Sharks hope to close out playoff series
Closing time is here for three Stanley Cup contenders.
Washington, Dallas and San Jose could all move on to the second round with victories Friday night.
The Capitals and the Stars are their conference's top seeds, and they're at home against opponents that have looked overmatched at times. Everything is in place for two powers to close out their series for a little rest before they resume their chase.
Nothing is quite that simple for the Sharks, who face an enormous test in Game 5 (10:30 p.m. ET, CNBC). They've got to prove their closing abilities against the Los Angeles Kings, who already victimized San Jose just two years ago in one of the greatest escapes in NHL playoff history.
''We've been in this situation, so we know what it takes,'' Kings forward Marian Gaborik said Thursday. ''We have a group that never quits. We're going in with the mentality to win one game. It's all about the next game.''
The Kings were down 0-3 in a first-round series with the powerful Sharks in 2014. Los Angeles promptly reeled off four straight wins and rode that momentum to its second Stanley Cup in three years.
''It's certainly better 3-1 than 3-0,'' Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
The Sharks could benefit from a change of venue for Game 5. They were more dominant at Staples Center than they were at the Shark Tank, forechecking the Kings to distraction and pressing forward with their elite offensive talent against Los Angeles' inconsistent defense.
''We're comfortable on the road,'' said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who wasn't around for the 2014 collapse. ''We're very good on the road. I don't think the venue is an issue. The LA Kings are an issue. They're going to be a tough out. We know that, but we don't need to change anything.''
The ghosts of past playoff failures will linger for the Sharks even if they knock out their bitter rivals in five games. The Kings' improbable escape in 2014 also topped every playoff failure by the consistently excellent Sharks during the entire 19-year career of Patrick Marleau, who is on his 16th playoff team without ever reaching a Stanley Cup Final.
Marleau made a big contribution toward ending that drought with a power-play goal and an assist in Game 4. He has 16 career game-winning postseason goals, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most among active players.
The rest of tonight's hockey action:
Flyers at Capitals, Washington leads 3-1 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
After failing to complete what would have been the franchise's first sweep of a best-of-seven playoff series, the Caps still head home with a big lead and the knowledge that they only lost consecutive games four times during the regular season.
''As I said to the guys, `I wish I could have walked in the room and said: Hey, great job and I'll see you Saturday.' And give them a couple days (off),'' Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. ''But at the same time, you know that Philadelphia is not going to go away.''
Alex Ovechkin's club did not lose back-to-back games in regulation all season, and never lost more than two in a row in any fashion until after having already clinched the Presidents' Trophy.
On the other hand, the Capitals have a well-documented and much-discussed history of faltering in the postseason, including blowing a 3-1 lead in a second-round series against the New York Rangers a year ago. The 2-1 loss in Game 4 at Philadelphia on Wednesday dropped Washington to 1-7 since 2013 in games when it would clinch a series with a victory.
''When you have a team on the brink of elimination, you've got to make sure that you finish it and take care of business,'' Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. ''That's obviously something this team can do a better job at.''
One thing definitely on the Capitals' minds: Philadelphia forward Brayden Schenn's post-whistle cross-check at Washington counterpart Evgeny Kuznetsov's right knee on Wednesday. Trotz said he pointed it out to the supervisor of officials for the series, noting that Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds did something similar to Ovechkin in Game 2.
''Once is maybe a coincidence. Twice is not,'' Trotz said. ''It's a dangerous play. It should not be in our game.''
Wild at Stars, Dallas leads 3-1, (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN)
The Minnesota Wild, following a third straight strong performance against the Stars, took plenty of confidence with them on their flight to Dallas. They've allowed the fewest shots, an average of 24.1 per game, in the playoffs so far. Despite the absence of left wings Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek, they generated a persistent attack during both of their home games this week.
The problem is they're down 3-1, with no more room for error and a dangerous Stars offense still to contend with.
''We have to make sure we bring our own energy in Dallas and make sure their fans are quiet all night,'' Wild left wing Jason Zucker said Thursday. ''If we're on top of them and take away their scoring chances, they'll be pretty quiet. We have to try to get that early.''
Five-on-five play has been just fine for the Wild. The problem in Game 4 was the penalty kill, which gave up two second-period goals. The Wild had the fourth-worst penalty kill in the NHL during the regular season, and the Stars had the fourth-best power play in the league.
''We've just got to stay out of the box. I like the way we're playing,'' Wild left wing Chris Porter said.
The Stars do, too, even with standout center Tyler Seguin still out. Coach Lindy Ruff said Seguin is continuing to rehab, more than a month after sustaining a cut on the Achilles tendon of his right leg, and won't play in Game 5.
Islanders at Panthers, tied 2-2 (8 p.m. ET, CNBC)
No closeout chance here, and little separating these teams after four games. They've played three one-goal contests and a fourth that featured an empty-net goal.
The Panthers don't have a wealth of playoff experience outside of the old guy in the No. 68 jersey, starting goaltender Roberto Luongo and defenseman Brian Campbell, but nine youngsters have made their postseason debuts in this series. They're about to get a serious taste of Stanley Cup pressure in this best-two-out-of-three finish, with Game 6 already certain in Brooklyn on Sunday night.
Jaromir Jagr hasn't exactly used his experience to a huge advantage yet, either: The 44-year-old dynamo has played 35 consecutive postseason games without a goal since 2012. Only 10 men in NHL history have scored more playoff goals than Jagr, but he has been stuck on 78 for four years.
At least Jagr finally got an assist in Florida's Game 4 win Wednesday night for his first point of the series.
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Josh Dubow and Dave Campbell contributed to this report.