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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the NHL playoffs. The New York Islanders and Washington Capitals held Zoom sessions after optional skates on Wednesday. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets held Zoom sessions after their Game 5. 

At some point between the end of Game 3 and the start of Game 4, Alex Ovechkin ​s​haved off part of his playoff beard to create a playoff goatee. Then he helped the Washington Capitals trim the deficit in their series against the New York Islanders with two goals, including the game winner, on Tuesday night.

"Playing with him, something I never really got to see before is how much he can take over a game and how big of an effect he can have on just dominating a game," said defenceman Nick Jensen, who is in his second season with the Capitals, "and we got a glimpse of that last night and we're going to need that coming forward here."

"O had a great game," observed big winger Tom Wilson, "and that's what leaders do and what superstars do, they step up when need be."

Having dropped the first three games to New York, it would've been easy for Washington to mentally checkout and prepare to leave the bubble. But Ovechkin wouldn't let them go down without a fight. 

It started in the group chat on Monday. Ovechkin spread the word about his new look. 

"O started it and ride together, die together," T.J. Oshie told NBC Sports Washington. 

So, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Oshie, Ilya Kovalchuk and Radko Gudas joined Ovechkin in the goatee gang. Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana even shaved their heads. 

The Islanders jumped out to an early 2-0 lead on Tuesday night, but Ovechkin was a man on a mission. 

"He's still got the great release," said Islanders coach Barry Trotz, who spent four seasons behind Washington’s bench culminating with a Stanley Cup win in 2018. "He's a better playmaker and passer than he gets credit for. I think he's refined his game, has a lot more detail in it than when he was younger and he loves the big moments. Last night his team needed someone to lead it and he did [it] and all those elements were in play. He got two goals, he was physical, blocked a couple shots and that's how you win."

Ovechkin is now up to 69 career playoff goals, moving past Sidney Crosby and Gordie Howe into 18th spot on the all-time list. And he has dragged his team into a series that appeared destined to end early. 

"His leadership overall has grown immensely," noted Capitals coach Todd Reirden. "I can't even define all the ways that it's grown ... That’s dealing with everything from becoming a father to taking on the role of being the leader in the room and fighting against adversity and ultimately putting that Cup over his head. He's hungry to do it again."


Ovechkin played a big part in Washington's win, but Kuznetsov credited a team-wide mindset change. 

"We just stopped thinking about Corsi [shot attempts], whatever that stat is, and just trying to play fun hockey," Kuznetsov said in his post-game Zoom session. "We tried to hold on to the puck and that's how we always played. It's not about the thousand shots, it’s about the possession. It’s about wearing them down and it's about enjoying it and having fun and that's how we enjoy the game. If we enjoy the game like that we're going to have the success. If we're not enjoying the game we're not going to have success."

The Capitals camped out in the Islanders end for most of the final 40 minutes on Tuesday night. Despite all the zone time, Washington only held a 29-26 edge in shots. 

"We stopped shooting the puck and started holding the puck," said Kuznetsov, who scored Washington's first goal. "We started enjoying the hockey again and that's what gives us the success. I believe it's very hard to defend when guys wear you down for 40 seconds, 50 seconds. Yeah, maybe we don't shoot a lot of pucks, but we give respect to our linemates and we share the puck and that's maybe not the NHL typical hockey, but that's how we're supposed to play. And if we're going to play like that, we're going to have joy, we're going to have fun and we're going to have success.”

Per Natural Stat Trick, Game 4 was actually the first time the Capitals won the Corsi battle in the series as they controlled 64 per cent of five-on-five shot attempts. 


The Capitals did not hold a practice on Wednesday, but Nicklas Backstrom (concussion protocol) skated alongside the extra players. Reirden said the centre, who hasn’t played since absorbing a big hit by Anders Lee in Game 1, will be a game-time decision on Thursday. 

Cal Clutterbuck left Game 4 after taking a low hit from Gudas. The Islanders also did not practice on Wednesday, but Trotz said he spoke to Clutterbuck and believes the gritty winger will be good to go for Game 5. 


Lightning head coach Jon Cooper fist pumped after making his way through the handshake line on Wednesday afternoon. How much pent-up emotion was he feeling waiting for that moment? 

"More than you'll know," Cooper said following Tampa's 5-4 overtime win against Columbus, which clinched their first round series. 

Last season, the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning, coming off a record-tying 62-win season, from the playoffs in the first round. 

"We had 422 days to think about it, but who's counting," Cooper said with a smile.

The Jackets weren't guaranteed to make the playoffs at the time of the season pause back in March. And even if they did, the Lightning appeared to be locked into second place in the Atlantic Division and likely to face the Toronto Maple Leafs or Florida Panthers in the first round. But the new format in the wake of the pandemic created this chance for a rematch and redemption.  

"It's funny how the hockey Gods work," Cooper said. "It's easy to sit up here and say you wanted them now, but it was good to get them and good to get this result. We want to advance regardless of who we're playing, it just turns out you get a second chance and oftentimes you don't get that second chance and it's what you do with it."

Columbus isn't the same team with Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene among those who departed via free agency, but they still made the Lightning work. All four Tampa wins came by one goal, including a quintuple overtime marathon in the series opener. 

"In years past we weren't as comfortable in those close games," said Tyler Johnson. "We've done a good job focusing on that and the guys stuck together." 

"A lot of learning went into last year and we had to grow as a team," said Cooper. "We didn't necessarily need to tweak how we play the game. I don't know if it was as much on structure as it was between the ears and all of us collectively, from the coaching staff on down, had to be harder."


Tampa's mental strength was certainly tested in Game 5. The Bolts jumped out to a 2-0 lead before watching the Jackets take over and surge in front with four unanswered tallies. 

"What we learned was dealing with those ups and downs," said centre Brayden Point who, just like in Game 1, scored the overtime winner. "We kept an even keel on the bench for the most part. In the second period, we started to get away from our game and they took it to us. After that fourth goal, we settled down and got back to playing our system and our game."

​The Lightning mindset changed this season, but so did the personnel. The talented core has been surrounded with gritty veterans, including winger Blake Coleman who scored on Wednesday, his first goal since the February trade from New Jersey. Another fresh face, defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, also scored a key goal to spark the third period comeback. 

Shattenkirk's biggest contribution may have come in the dressing room during the second intermission after the Lightning were outshot 24-8 in the middle stanza and trailed 3-2. 

"We were pretty frustrated but, you know what, I have to give Shatty a lot of credit," Johnson said. "We needed someone to step up and say something and he did and kind of got the guys rallying, kind of got us to reset and then he went out and got a big goal for us, too."

The Jackets had five power plays in the opening 40 minutes while the Lightning didn't get a sniff on the man advantage. 

"It was more setting the right attitude going forward," Shattenkirk said of his pep talk. "The way we approached the third period is we were trying to get back to our game for the rest of the series. We were a little bit frustrated in the second and I think we were able to come out with a little bit of calm and resilience in the third."

Even after the Jackets scored a goal, which was unsuccessfully challenged by Cooper leading to yet another Columbus power play, the Lightning, playing without injured captain Steven Stamkos, stayed the course.  

"No one really cracked on the bench," said Shattenkirk. "Everyone still had confidence we could pull it off so it was a matter of just believing in our game plan, because we had seen it work earlier in the series."
"There's a reason some of these guys were brought in," Cooper said when asked about Shattenkirk. “He's invaluable when it comes to be being inside the room."


John Tortorella didn’t have much to say in his post-game Zoom session, cutting things off after the second question. 

"You know what, guys, I'm not going to get into the touchy feely stuff or the moral victories," the Jackets coach said when asked what he learned about the group in the bubble and throughout the process. "You guys be safe."