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Caps have another chance (or two) to change the past

Caps have another chance (or two) to change the past

Barry Trotz has not walked in your shoes. 

He has not seen his team win the Presidents’ Trophy and then had his heart torn out from his chest by Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens.

He has not seen his team grab two-game leads in a playoff series four times in the past seven years, only to see them trickle through their gloved fingers.

He has not repeatedly rocked the red and unleashed the fury, only to witness Alex Ovechkin and his teammates sitting exhausted on the Capitals bench, another conference final beyond his reach.

"In this market, it seems like everybody brings up the past and it's funny because the past a lot of times, it's not relevant," Trotz told reporters in a conference call on Sunday, with his team  one win away from forcing a Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins or one loss away from ending a promising season in bitter disappointment.

RELATED: FORMER SOUTHEASTERN DIVISION FOE AWAITS CAPITALS IF THEY CAN RALLY TO ELIMINATE PENGUINS

"It's just a story for (the media), but it's really not relevant to the group, (or) for me, because every group changes from year to year."

True enough. The Capitals signed Stanley Cup champions Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Brooks Orpik to help change the course of their checkered playoff past. And throughout this season the handful of players who have been through the heartaches of the past eight springs – from the Game 7 loss to the Flyers in 2008 to the Game 7 loss to the Rangers last spring – have told us, and themselves, that this team is different.

Trotz said his players proved that on Saturday night by staving off elimination with a complete 3-1 victory in Game 5 at Verizon Center. 

“You saw they have a lot of trust in their game,” he said. “They have a lot of determination. I think they have a lot of resiliency.

“Our leadership, the stuff coaches and players will not talk about to the fans and media, is the bond in the room that is very strong. Everything I knew about this team I thought it played out (Saturday night). We didn’t panic. We had good determination. We had a good game plan, we stuck to the game plan and I thought we managed the game pretty well, especially after two periods. 

“I thought we really did a good job of managing the puck. The Penguins had probably the least number of scoring chances (nine shots) in the third period. They had a good push but I thought we had a good response to the type of push they had.”

Indeed, the Capitals played one of their strongest defensive games of the series in Game 5. But if they hope to prove they truly are different than their playoff predecessors, they’ll need to be even better in Game 6 in front of what promises to be a very loud and very demanding crowd at Consol Energy Center.

“We can’t change the past,” Trotz said. “All we can change is what we’re going to do the next game and I think that’s  a real good mindset for a hockey team to have.”

MORE CAPITALS: TROTZ HOPING LINE SHUFFLE IGNITES KUZNETSOV

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NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

The Hart Trophy is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to their team. With the Caps currently struggling in almost every aspect of the game, consider this: Just where would they be without Alex Ovechkin?

Washington ranks 10th in the NHL in goals per game with 3.05. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 36. He has scored an incredible 19-percent of his team's goals. No one on the Caps is within 20 goals of the Caps' captain.

That's not a typo. Evgeny Kuznetsov ranks second on the team with 16 goals. No other team in the league has a larger separation between its top two scorers. In fact, only three teams have a difference that's in the double digits: Vancouver (11), San Jose (10) and New Jersey (10).

Ovechkin is almost singlehandedly propping up Washington as a top-ten offense. If you think about just where this offense would be without him, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Ovechkin is as valuable to his team this season as any other player in the league.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is fifth among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With a blue line that has featured two rookies the majority of the season, an aging veteran in Brooks Orpik and that had to deal with an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Few players, if any, are as important to their team's offensive production and therefore its success than Ovechkin has been this season.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!

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Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Tarik's 3 stars: Caps come up empty on an emotional night in Florida

Vincent Trocheck scored on the power play with 18.7 seconds remaining and the Panthers escaped with a 3-2 victory on an emotional night in Sunrise, Fla.

Trocheck’s goal was Florida’s second in the final four minutes…and the Caps were left to lament yet another incomplete performance. Washington has now lost three of its last four games and fell to 4-5-2 in February.

Tarik’s three stars of the game:

1-Vincent Trocheck, Panthers

Trocheck did what Trocheck does in the third period: The Florida forward scored a clutch goal in the final seconds, redirecting a Jonathan Huberdeau shot through Brooks Orpik’s legs and past Braden Holtby.

Eller was in the penalty box when Trocheck scored his 13th third period goal of the season.

2-Andre Burakovsky, Capitals

After losing a goal to Eller in the first period, Burakovsky made sure he didn’t go home empty-handed. No. 65 scored on the power play in the second period to put the Caps ahead 2-1.

It was Burakovsky’s third goal in six games. He also earned a secondary assist on Eller’s redirection score.   

3-Braden Holtby, Capitals

Following a handful of un-Holtby-like performances lately, Holtbeast roared Thursday night at BB&T Center. He made at least one game-saving stop in each period: an arm save on Trocheck in the first period; a pad stop on Denis Malgin in the second and another extended pad stop on Evgenii Dadonov in the third. Holtby finished with 30 stops.

Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments.