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AAA Keys to the Game: Do or die for the Caps

AAA Keys to the Game: Do or die for the Caps

For the Caps, there's no margin for error and no tomorrow if they lose. They come into Game 5 on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins trailing the series 3 games to 1. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. on NBC. Tune in to CSN for pregame coverage at 6 p.m. Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

What's on the line: If the Caps lose Game 5, their season is over and Pittsburgh will advance to the conference finals. If the Caps win, the two teams will square off again, this time in Pittsburgh for Game 6 on Tuesday.

Long odds: It should come as no surprise that teams who trail a best of seven series 3-1 rarely win. In the history of the NHL, teams with a 3-1 series lead go on to win 90.3 percent of the time. The good news for the Caps, however, is that the last two times they have been in this position (2008, 2009) they won their next to force a Game 7. The Caps even won the series in 2009, coming back to down the New York Rangers.

Not as advertised: A series that was billed as Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby has not gone the way many have expected as both teams have been able to shutdown the other's top playmaker. Through four games, Ovechkin has managed only one goal and two assists while Crosby has been held to only one assist. It seems like we're about due for a big-time performance from one or both players.

Shaking things up: Based on what we saw in Thursday's practice, the offensive lines will look a little different for the Caps with Evgeny Kuznetsov centering the top line, Nicklas Backstrom on the second between Andre Burakovsky and Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams moving down to the third. Jay Beagle was the center on the third line, but it's unclear if that was the plan going forward or if that was due to the fact that Mike Richards was sick and did not practice. Barry Trotz said at Saturday's morning skate that everyone would be available so Richards should be fine for Game 5. Splitting up Backstrom and Ovechkin should allow Trotz the ability to match Backstrom against Sidney Crosby's line while freeing up Ovechkin for more offense.


Schmidtuation update: Trotz would not divulge his lineup, but Nate Schmidt is expected to be back in on Saturday after being a healthy scratch for Game 4.

When asked what he wanted to see from Schmidt, Trotz said, "Consistency. Just be real consistent in your thought process. Move the puck, use your skill set and make good decisions with that skill set."

Letang, Fehr return: Veteran defenseman Kris Letang returns to the lineup for Pittsburgh after serving a one-game suspension for a high hit to Marcus Johansson. Letang is undeniably the Peguins' most imporant player on defense averaging 29:13 per game in ice time this postseason. Should they lose the series, Washington's inability to take advantage of his absence in Game 4 will be seen as the major turning point.

Olli Maatta took part in Saturday's morning skate, but he will not be is not yet ready to return. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan declared everyone else a game-time decision. Eric Fehr, however, told reporters that he fully expects to be in the lineup. Fehr missed Game 4 with an undisclosed injury.

Quick start: The Caps are a team that seems to play better as a game goes on, but they cannot afford another slow start. The Caps have a plus-8 goal differential in the third period for this postseason, but a minus-1 in each of the first two periods.

Karl Alzner recognized the importance of a fast start saying the first period Saturday would be "the most important first period of they year."

Powerless: With only nine goals in four games, the Caps have got to find a way to score if they hope to extend the series. A major part of that will be reignating the power play. The Caps have only one power play goal against Pittsburgh in 12 tries and none in the past two games. To this point, it's been a physical, nasty series so chances are the Caps are going to get their opportunities in Game 5. They just need to convert.


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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.

A quick start

Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.


Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.

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3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.

Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period to pull Buffalo to within one. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 983 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first came on a power play goal from the office, but there was no need for a one-timer on this one. The Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner.

He added a second goal late off a deflection from a John Carlson shot.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net.

It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole.

Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but his speed caught the Sabres off-guard and they were not able to recover in time to actually slow him down.