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AAA Keys to the game: Caps vs. Avalanche

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AAA Keys to the game: Caps vs. Avalanche

The Capitals (12-5-1, 25 points) will look to make good on their promise not to lose back-to-back games this season when they take on the Colorado Avalanche (7-11-1, 15 points) tonight at Verizon Center (7 p.m., CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

More time for Sunshine: With Brooks Orpik sidelined with a lower body injury, defenseman Nate Schmidt, known in the locker room as Minnesota Sunshine, has seen an increase in ice time, which jumped from the 17-minute range to a career-high 23:15 in the Caps’ 3-2 loss to the Stars on Thursday. 

“His biggest asset is his legs to transport the puck and he can beat people up the ice,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s had some good looks (at the net) and rattled some bars. He’s come right down Main Street, he just hasn’t found the back of the net.”

Stopping an Avalanche: The Avs followed up a three-game win streak with consecutive losses to the Maple Leafs and Penguins. Despite their record they have been outscored this season by just one goal. They are propelled by a first line of Gabriel Landeskog (5-8-13), Nathan MacKinnon (8-12-20) and Matt Duchene (10-7-17).   

“They’re going to be a handful for whoever is out there against them,” Trotz said Trotz, who fought fire with fire Thursday night by using the Caps’ top line against the Stars No. 1 unit.

“They have lots of speed and they’re very dangerous,” Trotz said. “They stack things up in neutral zone with a 1-3-1 set (one forechecker, three in the neutral zone). And they have dynamic people on the back end with (Tyson) Barrie, (Nick) Holden, (Erik) Johnson and (Francois) Beauchemin.”

Goaltending battle: The Caps will go back to Braden Holtby (10-4-0, 1.94, .922), who was given the night off on Friday after winning in overtime in Detroit Thursday night. Holtby has an excellent career mark on Saturdays. He is 31-11-5 with eight shutouts, a 2.09 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. He ranks ranks tied for first in the NHL in wins and fourth in goals-against average (minimum 300 minutes).

Holtby is expected to go up against Reto Berra, who is 4-5-0 with a 2.08 GAA and impressive .934 save percentage.

When it counts: The Caps have allowed the first goal of the game in 11 of their 18 games this season but are 6-4-1 in those games. A big reason is they’ve outscored opponents 15-11 in second periods and 22-16 in the thirds. They are 6-1-0 when scoring first.

Special: The Caps rank sixth in the NHL on the power play and fourth in the NHL on the penalty kill, while the Avalanche ranks 16th on the power play and 23rd on the kill. Trotz says he likes the determination he has seen from his penalty killers, led by forwards Brooks Laich, Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson and defensemen John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen and, lately, Nate Schmidt.   

Home again: The Caps are 6-3-1 at Verizon Center this season and are a perfect 4-0-0 on Saturday nights this season, outscoring opponents 14-7 in those games.

Here are projected lineups for both teams:

CAPITALS:

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Stanislav Galiev

Brooks LaichMichael Latta - Tom Wilson

Defense pairs

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body)

Scratches: Andre Burakovsky

AVALANCHE:

Forward lines

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Matt Duchene

Blake Comeau - Carl Soderberg - Cody McLeod

Mikhail Grigorenko - Andreas Martinsen - Jarome Iginla

Dennis Everberg - Chris Wagner - Jack Skille

Defense pairs

Francois Beauchemin - Erik Johnson

Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie

Brandon Gormley - Nate Guenin

Goaltenders

Reto Berra (starter) - Calvin Pickard

Injured: John Mitchell (oblique), Ben Street (chest), Alex Tanguay (knee), Brad Stuart (back), Semyon Varlamov (groin), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Scratches: Zach Redmond

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Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

When Mike Babcock essentially dismissed any concern over the impact Tom Wilson could have on a series, Wilson responded. In the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017, the Caps' forward scored the overtime winner in Game 1 and saved the series in Game 3 with a sweep of the puck off the goal line followed by a goal of his own soon after.

If you dismissed Wilson after Game 1 and Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Barry Trotz believes you can expect a similar answer this year after how he played in Game 3.

"I think his game was really good and that will maybe give some trust and confidence in him going forward," Trotz said Wednesday on a conference call with the media.

Wilson's impact in the first round against Toronto was immediate. As a top-line winger this season, expectations for him were high heading into the playoffs. His start to the series, however, left a lot to be desired.

Through the first two games, Wilson did not record a single shot on goal. What's worse, he took a critical penalty in each game that allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the score on each resulting power play.

You can't compare Wilson's impact on the Caps to that of a player like Alex Ovechkin, but a top-line player has to have some sort of positive impact or, at the very least, not be a detriment to his team.

In Game 3, postseason Tom finally delivered.

Wilson recorded six shots on goal and scored Washington's first goal of the game, deflecting in a shot from Matt Niskanen.

"[Wilson's] taken a lot of criticism for his first two games and some of the penalties and the effect it's had on the game," Trotz said. "I think it's given him some confidence. He's a bright young man, he's a leader, he's an all-in guy."

The key now will be for Wilson to build on that confidence.

Columbus has a number of star players such as Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky. What they do not have, however, is the scoring depth to match the Caps. Getting key contributions from players like Wilson in addition to the top playmakers like Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will make it very hard for the Blue Jackets to keep up.

"[Wilson] had a big effect last year in the first round," Trotz said. "I think he can have a big effect in this series, in this first round."

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Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

With a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 3, the Capitals are right back in the series. Trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, the Caps will look to even up the series at 2-games apiece before returning to Washington for Game 5.

As the Caps take the ice for Game 4, you can be certain that Braden Holtby will be the man to lead the team in net. His stellar performance in Game 3 resolidified him as the team' starter and ended whatever goalie tandem there was between him and Philipp Grubauer.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 4

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 4 on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Columbus. Columbus currently leads the series 2-1.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blue Jackets
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4, as well as Caps GameTime and Caps Extra, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly- Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson -  Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE