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Pheonix Copley is back from injury and that's good news for the Caps' goalie depth


Pheonix Copley is back from injury and that's good news for the Caps' goalie depth

Highly-regarded goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley is expected to be back in the nets for Hershey on Friday when the Bears play in Rochester.

That, obviously, is good news for Capitals’ minor league affiliate. But it’s important for the big club, too.


Because for the past few weeks, Washington was an injury or illness to Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer away from being forced to dip deep into their system for help at the game’s most important position.


Now—assuming everything goes smoothly for Copley in his return—the Caps will have their No. 3 netminder healthy and ready for duty in the event there’s a need.

Capitals Coach Barry Trotz used the word “comfort” when asked about what Copley’s return means for Washington.

“It means we have a good third goalie,” Trotz said after Friday’s optional practice in Arlington.  “We had been using guys that were really [No.] four or five on the depth chart playing in Hershey. So an injury to us, or God forbid we had two injuries, we’d be into our five and six, really.”

“And that,” he cracked, “is even deeper than Vegas.”

Trotz, of course, was referring to the Golden Knights, who have seen three goalies go down with injuries in the season’s first 12 games.

That’s an extreme example. But it’s not uncommon for teams to need their No. 3 goalie at some point during a grueling 82-game regular season.  

And now the Caps can breathe a bit easier knowing that their No. 3 is back in action.

Copley originally suffered a significant groin injury while playing for the Bears in the postseason last spring. After a summer of rehab, the 25-year-old arrived in Washington’s training camp healthy. He made three appearances in the preseason, in fact, and played well.

Upon returning to Hershey, though, Copley aggravated the original injury and was advised to rest and rehab. He ended up missing about a month, including the Bears’ first nine games.

“We figured out what’s wrong…Obviously, he’s healed up if he’s going in tonight,” Trotz said.


If Copley feels good against the Americans and doesn’t face too heavy a workload, he could start Sunday’s game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  

Copley’s return wasn’t the only good news on Friday for the Caps’ goaltending situation, though. No. 4 goalie Vitek Vanecek, who suffered a lower-body injury in a preseason game with the Capitals and has been sidelined since, has been reassigned the ECHL Stingrays. If all goes well, he could rejoin Hershey as the Bears’ No. 2 goalie very soon.

“Hopefully we get that in order because it gives us comfort,” Trotz said. “Obviously, we’ve got Grubi, who is healthy, but it gives us comfort because things happen quickly as you’ve seen around the league.” 

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The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The last three games have been pretty awesome if you're a Caps fan. For one minute, however, let's consider what it must feel like for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus has seen a 0-2 series lead evaporate, they have lost both of their home games and now they face elimination after three straight losses including two overtime games and in two of those games, the Blue Jackets outplayed the Caps.

Oh, and head coach John Tortorella kinda, sorta guaranteed the Blue Jackets would force a Game 7.

As the series shifts back to Ohio for Game 6 on Monday, do you think the Blue Jackets may be a tad motivated when they take the ice in front of their home fans?

"We’ve got a chance in front of our home crowd to push this thing to seven games and we’re excited about it," Columbus forward Matt Calvert said Sunday. "... Got home last night and I was here a little earlier, got a chance to watch the news and they’re interviewing fans and how they’re pumped up, already saying it’s going to Game 7, so I can’t wait. The atmosphere’s going to be great. I know they’re going to give an all-out effort and so are we.”

In the third period of Game 5, the enormity of their situation began to set in for Columbus. Down 3-2 and facing their third straight loss, the Blue Jackets made a tremendous push to try to win the game. They tied the score at 3 early in the period and ultimately outshot Washington 16-1. If not for the tremendous effort of Braden Holtby in net to force overtime, the roles of this series could easily be reversed with Washington facing elimination in Game 6.

Now imagine that effort, plus the home crowd plus the desperation of a team facing elimination. An early lead for the Jackets could start a snowball effect in which their momentum and the crowd carry them through the rest of the game. But the longer the Caps can survive, the more doubt will begin to creep into Columbus, the antsier the fans will become and the more confident Washington will play.

The Caps better be ready.

The good news for Washington is that its been here before. Just last season, the Caps went to Toronto in Game 6 with an opportunity to close out the Maple Leafs. Toronto outshot Washington 14-10 in the first period, but they could not get the early goal and the game was scoreless through the first 20 minutes. Auston Matthews scored in the third period to break a scoreless tie, but Marcus Johansson scored five minutes later and then again in overtime to close out the series.

After experiencing last year's series in Toronto, the Caps know what they are going to be up against in Columbus.

"It's the toughest game to win because the other team is desperate," head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday on a conference call with the media. "Their backs are against the wall. They're there. They're going to give their absolute max effort tomorrow, and we've got to make sure that we have a max effort. If we do that, then we have a chance to win in Columbus."


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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do


NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

There are only two series left in the first round that have yet to be decided. The Caps just so happen to be playing in one of those series.

After falling into a 0-2 hole to start, Washington has rattled off three straight wins and now sits just one away from putting away the Columbus Blue Jackets and advancing to the second round.

Should the Capitals advance, they will play the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive season.


The Penguins ended their series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in Game 6. Jake Guentzel scored four goals in the effort proving once and for all that yes, goaltending is important in the playoffs. Head coach Mike Sullivan has still yet to lose a playoff series as the head coach of Pittsburgh as he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons.

In the Atlantic, the Tampa Bay Lightning await the winner of the Boston Bruins - Toronto Maple Leafs series after dispatching the New Jersey Devils in five games. After a strong regular season, the Maple Leafs looked poised to take the next step, but Auston Matthews has only two points in five games and Toronto faces elimination at the hands of the Bruins Monday in Game 5.


All four series in the West, meanwhile, have already been decided. Both the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks managed four-game sweeps in the first round and will face one another in the second  The miraculous season of the Golden Knights continues and it would be hard to argue at this point that they are not legitimate Stanly Cup contenders considering all they have accomplished in both the regular season and the playoffs.

Wins by the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets now sets up a second-round battle between the top two teams in the league from the regular season.