Backstrom hug

Photo via gfhockey

Team Sweden survived a challenge from Latvia on Saturday, winning 5-3 to finish the preliminary round undefeated. But it wasn’t easy.

In the second period, Sweden actually trailed 2-1 until Nicklas Backstrom and Erik Karlsson connected on another power play goal.

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Erik Karlsson and Mike Green Hug During Scrum

You might want to turn the sound on. (Vine via @SeanGentille)

The imagery above has been making the rounds on Reddit and Twitter this morning. It’s so glorious that I figured I’d share it with you.

On Tuesday night, as Mikhail Grabovski got the claws out with Zach Smith and an angry Cory Conacher tried to literally separate Eric Fehr’s head from his torso, Erik Karlsson and a late-arriving Mike Green embraced each other at center ice like long-lost bros. Instead of getting involved in the fracas, the two offensive defenseman caught up and enjoyed their front row seats to some hockey carnage. Wouldn’t you?

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We are less than a week away from that furry thing being shaved off. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

In the first period, Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin was his normal, rambunctious self against the Ottawa Senators. Like here’s a perfect example. Six minutes into the first frame, Ovi looked to deliver the boom to defenseman Erik Karlsson in front of the Sens’ net. Every Caps fan in attendance and every Caps fan watching at home could see this massive collision developing.

Unfortunately for Ovi, Karlsson is no mere mortal. An unbelievable skater, Karlsson won the Norris trophy in 2012 as the league’s best defenseman and is very mobile on the ice.

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On April 23rd, reigning Norris trophy winner/Matt Cooke assault victim Erik Karlsson joined Twitter. In just 34 days, the Swedish defenseman has revolutionized the Internet with one hashtag: #lalala. In 59 tweets, Karlsson has used the hashtag 11 times. That’s a league-leading 19% hashtag rate.

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Senators beat Caps 2-1 (OT) Because Mike Ribeiro

Patrick McDermott

Check out the Hendyface! (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)

I was expecting some kind of letdown after the Washington Capitals ensured themselves a playoff spot on Tuesday, but dude. Thursday’s game against the Ottawa Senators wasn’t bad by any stretch, but it didn’t carry the same gravitas now that the Caps are locked in third place. Erik Karlsson’s unlikely return to service was heartening for pure hockey fans, but it’s way too late in the season for us to muster up that kind of neighborliness. Besides, it’s totally possible this is the team the Caps will have to face in the playoffs, so we should probably get the enmity brewing now.

Karlsson got one, then Ovi got one. Then overtime, where ex-Cap Sergei Gonchar won it all because Mike Ribeiro is a liability.

Sens beat Caps 2-1. Ottawa makes the playoffs.

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Ottawa Senators Pregame: The Post Apocalypse

Kathy Kmonicek

Here’s Doug Johnson of Puck Buddys with your pregame report. Follow @PuckBuddys.

The Pregame: Well, hello you! Pollyanna Sunshine, reporting for duty! And here’s my colleague, Peppy Miller! Rah Team!

OK, glum-dums. Tides have a way of turning. Or so Barbara Streisand tells me. Sure, watching the Capitals this season has been exactly like watching the tides rush in and out, depositing a fresh crop of flotsam and hope on the shore at high tide before sucking it all back out to sea, leaving behind dead jellyfish and despair. But…

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Screengrab via @CarrottBazooka

Since Alex Ovechkin has opted out of the All-Star Weekend (and has better things to do anyway), Dennis Wideman is now Washington’s lone representative in Ottawa. While Wideman is perhaps slightly less likely to don a hat and sunglasses and do trick shots, he’s a Capital, so we love him all the same. We’ll be covering Wideman’s foray into the glamorous life of an All-Star, so check back for updates, because let’s face it, you’re already bored without hockey.

Dennis Wideman was picked in the 15th round with the second-to-last pick that could be used on a defenseman, before only Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler. This means that we can get hipster now if we want and call him underrated. We knew Dennis Wideman when he wasn’t cool. Logan Couture was picked last overall and won a brand new caaaaarrrrr! Somehow it just wasn’t the same without Ovechkin there laughing and taking pictures.

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Photo credit: Fred Chartrand

Alex Ovechkin’s had a tough year. He’s failed to find consistency in his game. He’s been benched, seen the coach that benched him get fired, and trails Jason Chimera in goals. He’s been criticized by almost every big-time NHL columnist in the country. Even future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne has been asked what’s wrong with Ovechkin.

Tonight, however, we saw the first real flash of the old Ovi. You know– that creative, “you will not effing stop me from scoring even if you set up a brick wall in front of the goal and tie both hands behind my back” Ovechkin. In the third period against the Senators, with the game tied 2-2, the Caps started a breakout from behind their own net. And then Ovi decided he felt like scoring.

Let’s review.

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Fancystats Crash the ESPN Mock Draft

Anze Kopitar

Anze Kopitar celebrates a goal last year against the Blackhawks. (Photo credit: Harry How)

Editor’s note: You can win a 1-year subscription to ESPN Insider and a $25 gift certificate to Front Page VA by guessing Neil’s first two draft picks tonight. Check out the details on our Facebook page.

As part of ESPN.com’s NHL family, I was invited to participate in their fantasy hockey draft this past Tuesday. Just me and guys like Craig Custance, John Buccigross, and Scott Cullen.

No pressure.

Victoria Matiash has already given a bird’s eye view of the draft, but I thought I would run through my thought process on various picks and give you some ideas for your fantasy draft. Plus, you can see how I do for the season because we are making the results public.

Here were the ground rules for the draft:

Participants included, in original order, Craig Custance, Tristan Cockcroft, Tim Kavanagh, John Buccigross, Pierre Becquey, Michael Hume, Victoria Matiash, Neil Greenberg, Sean Allen and Scott Cullen. Categories include goals, assists, power-play points, plus/minus, penalty minutes, shots on goal and average time on ice for skaters and wins, save percentage and goals-against average for goaltenders. Slots to fill include nine forwards, five defensemen, one “utility” skater, two goaltenders and a five-man bench.

My philosophy was simple: grab young, healthy, talented players with upside. Let others worry if Patrick Kane would be healthy or if Sergei Kostitsyn can once again score 20 goals on less than 100 shots.

I had the eight pick. With my editor Mike Hume drafting before me (he knows which players I fancy) and Cullen having back-to-back picks behind me I knew I had to make strategic decisions.

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Update: Nick Kypreos of Rogers Sportsnet reports that Matt Cooke has been suspended by the NHL for the rest of regular season and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

During Sunday’s Penguins vs. Rangers game, Matt Cooke was up to his old tricks. The 32 year-old former Capital delivered an elbow to the head of a defenseless Ryan McDonagh. The Ranger player went down like a sack of potatoes but fortunately was uninjured. Cooke received a five minute major for elbowing on the play and a game misconduct. As Daniel Tolensky points out, Cooke has played in 881 NHL games yet has only been suspended a total of ten matches in his career. The League obviously deserves some of the blame for allowing Cooke’s dirty play to continue without significant consequences for his actions.

A month ago, Pens owner Mario Lemieux criticized the NHL for being too soft on the Islanders’ players that participated in the mega-brawl between New York and Pittsburgh. Just a week ago, Sidney Crosby said the NHL needed to fight deliberate head-shots. But now their own player, Matt Cooke, is once again under Colin Campbell’s review. Below, we’ve chronicled Cookie’s dirty deeds throughout the years.

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