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Capitals not concerned about 'underdog role'

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Capitals not concerned about 'underdog role'

Through five games, the Capitals lead all playoff teams with 235 hits and the New York Islanders are second with 217, making their first-round series the most physical among the NHL’s eight playoff matchups.

And the casualties are piling up like junkyard cars.

While the Capitals lost center Eric Fehr [upper body] in Game 3, the Isles, who began the series without injured defenseman Travis Hamonic, lost defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky [head injury] in Game 4 and Calvin deHaan [upper body] in Game 5.

“It’s something we talked about during the regular season and it’s even more important when you play in a seven-game series,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik, who leads the Caps and ranks tied for third in the NHL with 30 hits. “We lost the the first game but we told each other, ‘Just keep investing physically and eventually it’s going to take its toll.”

Tom Wilson’s big hit on Visnovsky knocked him out of the series in Game 4 and Troy Brouwer’s hit on deHaan forced him out of Game 5 in the third period.

“He made a pass and I was just doing what I do,” said Brouwer, one of 11 Capitals with 10 or more hits in the series. “I finished my check.”

As a result the Islanders may play Game 6 with two rookie defensemen in their lineup. Isles coach Jack Capuano said Friday he has not decided between his three options of Griffin Reinhart, who made his playoff debut in Game 5 and was a minus-2, Ryan Pulock, who is from Barry Trotz’s hometown of Dauphin, Manitoba but has yet to play in an NHL game, and Matt Donovan, who played 12 games for the Islanders this season.

MORE CAPITALS: ISLES HAUNTED BY THEIR OWN MISTAKES

“I don’t think you necessarily want to see guys get injured,” Orpik said, “but when guys aren’t as eager to go back and get pucks, it takes a lot out of you endurance-wise, too.”

It is no coincidence that Trotz has constructed his forward lines so that at least one “heavy” forward is on every line. Ward serves the role on the top line, Jason Chimera on the second, Brouwer and Jay Beagle on the third, and Wilson, Michael Latta and Brooks Laich on the fourth.

“It doesn’t have to be a big hit, but any time you’re wearing them down, it takes its toll over and over and over,” Brouwer said. “It does us justice, especially in a long payoff series.”

The Caps’ aggression also led to the Islanders taking 31 minutes in penalties in Game 5, including 24 in an undisciplined third period in which Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck took turns slashing Brooks Laich.

“At the start of the series we talked about being as disciplined as we can,” Capuano said. “But emotions run high. I get it. Guys are out there battling, so I didn’t mind it.”

Capuano said he’s hoping the emotion of playing what could be the final NHL game in the 43-year-old Nassau Coliseum will help offset his team’s inexperience on the blue line.

“Listen, our backs are against the wall,” he said. “We’re not going to change anything now. We’ve had a good year and I’m just trying to orchestrate a lineup that gives us a good chance to win here.

“You watch the TVs, everybody is talking about their defense and our defense and we’re the underdogs. That’s fine. We’ll take the underdog role. We have a chance in our building to take it to a Game 7. Our backs were up against the wall a lot this year and we responded really well and I think we’ll do the same tomorrow.”

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NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Power Rankings: A rough week

The Caps are coming off of one of, if not the worst week of their season. Washington has now lost three of four games and all three of those losses came in devastating fashion.

On Feb. 11, the Caps hosted a scuffling Detroit Red Wings team and saw the Wings build a 4-1 lead in the second period, a period in which the Caps were outshot 17-2. Washington battled back to tie the game, but ultimately lost in overtime. Tuesday in Winnipeg the Caps held a 3-1 lead in the third period, but allowed the Jets to mount a comeback and tie the game with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation before losing in overtime. Then, of course, there was Saturday's 7-1 blowout at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that had lost eight straight coming into that game.

SEE THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS HERE

To make matters worse, the Pittsburgh Penguins keep on winning and now hold a one-point lead over Washington. So yeah, things were not great.

The bad news is that, with the recent surges of Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and even New Jersey, the Caps have to figure things out fast or they could continue to fall in the standings fairly quickly.

The good news is that they still remain in a relatively good position should they rebound. The Penguins do hold a one-point lead in the standings, but the Caps remain very much in the driver's seat of the division with three games in hand.

Four games separate Washington from the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The Caps will play in Buffalo, host Tampa Bay, play in Florida and host Buffalo. Winning three of those four games, especially if they can beat the dominant Lightning, will go a long way towards putting last week in the rearview mirror. Another tough week, however, could force the hand of general manager Brian MacLellan to make an unanticipated move at the trade deadline in order to keep a playoff season from falling apart.

After a week like that, it's no surprise to see Washington fall in this week's NHL Power Rankings. You can see the full rankings here.

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Game 59: Capitals at Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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USA TODAY Sports

Game 59: Capitals at Sabres Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Buffalo Sabres

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

When: 3:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Sabres will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Sabres game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

You can also stream the game online with no cable TV subscription on fuboTV (try for free!).

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals (33-18-7) take on the Sabres (17-31-11) Monday, February 19 at 3:00 p.m. ET in Buffalo.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME ON?

The Capitals-Sabres game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 2:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 2:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 6:00 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 7:00 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

2:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
2:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
3:00 p.m. — Capitals at Sabres
5:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
6:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime
7:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Sabres game:

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

Defensemen
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Alex Chiasson, Taylor Chorney

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-SABRES GAME?

The Capitals-Sabres game, 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.

The game is also available to stream, along with all the pregame and postgame shows, on fuboTV (try for free).

CAPITALS-SABRES 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.