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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs Canucks

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs Canucks

In recognition of his 500th NHL goal Sunday night, the Capitals will present captain Alex Ovechkin with a gold-plated silver stick before tonight’s game (6:30 p.m., CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Miller time: Goaltender Ryan Miller (10-11-6, 2.74 GAA, .909 SP) will be back between the pipes for the Canucks after missing the previous six games with a groin injury. He is 17-13-0 in 31 career appearances against the Capitals and has allowed 18 of Ovechkin’s 501 goals.

Holt-beast: Caps goaltender Braden Holtby is scheduled to make his 35th start of the season. He’s 27-4-2 with a 1.93 GAA and .932 SP with two shutouts. Holtby has faced the Canucks just twice in his career and is 1-1-0 with a 3.05 GAA and .895 SP.

Chasing Olie: Holtby is 19-0-2 in his last 21 decisions. In the last 20 seasons, only Jose Theodore (20-0-3 in 2009-10) has a longer points streak in the NHL. Holtby’s next win will be his 129th as a Capital, moving him past Don Beaupre and into second place on the club’s all-time list. Olie Kolzig recorded 301 wins in his career with the Caps.

Ovi’s greatness: Since entering the NHL in 2005-06, Ovechkin has posted 150 more goals, 48 more points and 36 more multi-goal games than anyone in the NHL. Canucks forward Radim Vrbata said he hopes Ovechkin is tire of reaching milestones. “Maybe it’s good for us that he scored that goal and scored one more after that,” Vrbata said of No. 500 and 501.  “He can relax now.”

Lineup shuffle: Marcus Johansson, who forfeited $40,322.58 with his two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head of Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey, will return to the lineup centering a third line with left wing Jason Chimer and right wing Tom Wilson. The Caps will go with a fourth line of center Zach Sill between left wing Brooks Laich and right wing Stan Galiev. That will leave Mike Richards (conditioning) and Michael Latta as forward scratches.

High praise: Daniel Sedin said he has trouble finding a weakness in the Capitals. “They have a great goalie, good puck-moving defensemen, and I think their skill up front is the best in the league if you look at all four lines. It’s impressive what they’ve done so far and it’s going to be a good test for us. I don’t think  they have a weakness on their team.”

Gomez a Bear: The Hershey Bears signed veteran center Scott Gomez to a professional tryout contract. He is exclusive rights to the Bears and cannot play for the Capitals unless they sign him to an NHL contract.

Here are projected lineups for both teams:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Andre Burakovsky - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Marcus Johansson - Tom Wilson

Brooks Laich - Zach Sill - Stanislav Galiev

Defense pairs

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

Aaron Ness - Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), John Carlson (lower body), Jay Beagle (upper body)

Scratched: Mike RichardsMichael Latta

CANUCKS

Forward lines

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Derek Dorsett

Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Radim Vrbata

Emerson Etem - Linden Vey - Jake Virtanen

Brandon Prust - Jared McCann - Alexandre Burrows

Defense pairs

Alexander Edler - Christopher Tanev

Alex Biega - Yannick Weber

Ben Hutton - Matt Bartkowski

Goaltenders

Ryan Miller (starter) - Jacob Markstrom

Injured: Jannik Hansen (upper body), Dan Hamhuis (facial surgery), Luca Sbisa (hand), Brandon Sutter (sports hernia surgery)

Scratched: Andrey PedanAdam Cracknell

RELATED: Pulse: Capitals to honor Ovi ahead of Canucks game

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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

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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.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

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.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

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.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>