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NHL Power Rankings: Coming in hot

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NHL Power Rankings: Coming in hot

Among the dozens of theories people have when trying to explain Washington's playoff struggles, one theory is that the team has never gotten hot at the right time. This was especially true in the past two seasons. The Caps won the Presidents' Trophy both years and by a fairly wide margin meaning that in the last few days and weeks, there was not a whole lot to play for. Instead of peaking, the Caps were on cruise control.

This year, that is not the case.

CHECK OUT THE END OF SEASON NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

Washington did not actually clinch a playoff berth until March 29 or the division until April 1. There was still a lot to play for in the final month and the Capitals played arguably their best hockey of the season, winning 12 of their last 15 games. They managed to do so while, for the most part, rotating between goalies Braden Holtby and Philipp Grubauer and they also avoided any major injuries. The only injury on the roster is Jay Beagle and, as of Saturday, Barry Trotz believed Beagle would be ready for the start of the playoffs.

Washington did not win the Presidents' Trophy this season. They did not finish atop the conference standings and their roster does not look as deep as in previous years. But you could actually argue that this year's team is better prepared heading into the playoffs. It's not so much because they have won 12 of 15—the Caps won 11 of their last 15 heading into the postseason last year—but the fact that they were faced with meaningful games late in the season and elevated their game.

Given their late-season surge, where do the Caps stack up against the rest of the competition? Find out here in the end of season NHL Power Rankings.

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Burakovsky will miss the first round, but Caps won't rule him out for remainder of the playoffs

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Burakovsky will miss the first round, but Caps won't rule him out for remainder of the playoffs

Andre Burakovsky will be sidelined for the remainder of Washington's first-round series vs. Columbus, but he isn’t necessarily out for the remainder of the playoffs, Coach Barry Trotz said on Friday.

Burakovsky suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury in the Capitals' Game 2 overtime loss and has not been on the ice since.

Trotz said the 23-year-old top-six winger needs “minor” surgery.

That procedure, however, will not preclude Burakovsky from returning to the Caps’ lineup in subsequent rounds, should Washington advance.

“That's why I said minor surgery,” Trotz added, asked if Burky might return at a later date.

This latest surgery is the second for Burakovsky this season. In late October, he had a procedure to repair a broken left thumb and missed the next 20 games.

Since his departure in Game 2, Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson have taken turns replacing Burakovsky on the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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