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Capitals, Rangers renew bitter rivalry

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Capitals, Rangers renew bitter rivalry

News, notes and quotes from today’s morning skate at Madison Square Garden in preparation for to tonight’s rematch between the Capitals (8-2-0, 16 points) and New York Rangers (7-2-2, 16 points):

Remember the pain: In each of the Caps’ last three trips to the playoffs they have been eliminated by the Rangers in seven games.

“You remember that hurt at the end of the year,” said Jay Beagle, who will center a third line with Jason Chimera and Andre Burakovsky. “It’s a team we’ve come up against quite a bit in the five or six years I’ve been here and a rivalry has formed, for sure. The teams don’t like each other. It’s a big game and it’s a game for first place. There’s a lot more to it than last year.”

Where they stand: The Caps and Rangers are tied for the Metropolitan Division lead with 16 points, one point ahead of the third-place Islanders. The Caps are ranked fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.4) while the Rangers rank first in goals allowed per game (1.8).

“They’re a very structured team,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Washington is one of the elite teams in the league and they’re playing real well. It was a tough playoffs series last year that could have gone either way.”

While it was the first time Vigneault faced the Caps in the playoffs, and the first time Barry Trotz facewd the Rangers in the post-season, both coaches got a good feel for the history between the teams.

“The pain doesn’t go away, it just doesn’t,” Trotz said. “We’ve both shown through the first 10 games that we’re quality teams. It’ll be a good match tonight.”

McDonagh-Girardi: The Rangers’ top defense pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will be reunited to face the Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.

“Part of it is they love that challenge,” Vigneault said of facing Ovechkin, who has 22 goals and 15 assists for 37 points in 39 games against the Rangers. “They know they’re going against one of the best players in the league, if not the best. (Ovechkin) is very competitive, very physical and that brings out the best in them as far as competitiveness, reads and physicality. He’s a tough, tough player to play against.”

Rangers top-line center Derick Brassard said that while Ovechkin is the most dangerous player om the Caps’ top line, Evgeny Kuznetsov (5 goals, 8 assists) is just as difficult to contain.

“He’s been playing really well,” Brassard said. “He’s a really good skater and that’s the main thing with him. In between the blue lines in the neutral zone he just flies out there.

“There’s a reason why there’s a big hype around him. Last year in the playoffs he brought his game to another level. This year he’s very dynamic and he’s playing with Ovechkin so we’re going to have to pay attention to him a lot.”

Breaking in the rookie: The Rangers will go with 23-year-old rookie defenseman Dylan McElrath on their third pairing with Keith Yandle. Known as The Undertaker, McElrath is a hulking 6-foot-5, 220-pounder from Winnipeg with four games of NHL experience. He recorded 165 penalty minutes in each of his last two seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack. 

“He’s been working hard so I think this is a good game for him,” Vigneault said. “Washington is a big, heavy team, so he should fit in.”

McElrath, who is replacing 39-year-old Dan Boyle, said he’s anxious to share the same ice as Ovechkin.

“It’ll be pretty cool,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve  grown up watching him. He’s been an elite player for 10 years. It’ll be pretty cool to step on the same ice as him. … I have to tote the line of playing physical but also playing smart.”

Here’s a quick look at the projected lineups for both teams:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Justin Williams

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Andre Burakovsky

Brooks Laich - Chandler Stephenson - Tom Wilson

Defense pairings

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby (starter) - Philipp Grubauer

Scratches: Taylor ChorneyMichael LattaStanislav Galiev

RANGERS

Forward lines

Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Jesper Fast

Oscar Lindberg - Kevin Hayes - Viktor Stalberg

J.T. Miller - Dominic Moore - Jarret Stoll

Defense pairings

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle - Dylan McIlrath

Goaltenders

Henrik Lundqvist (starter) - Antti Raanta

Scratches: Dan BoyleEmerson Etem

MORE CAPITALS: Why Caps expect another tight one in New York

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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.

RELATED: SEE THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-SABRES HERE

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.