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Caps seek breathing room—and a spot in the record book—with Columbus in town

Caps seek breathing room—and a spot in the record book—with Columbus in town

When the Blue Jackets visit Verizon Center on Thursday night, the Capitals will have the chance to accomplish a couple of things: they can open a little breathing room between themselves and Columbus and they can tie the franchise record for most home wins in a season.

“As I just said to the guys, games like tonight, if you’re a coach or a hockey player, that’s what you play for,” Coach Barry Trotz said after the morning skate, “to get games where there’s a lot of meaning. We’ve prepared all year for this, so let’s get at it.”

Entering Thursday’s games, the Caps had 102 points, the Penguins owned 101 and Jackets checked in with 100. So a win, obviously, would give the Caps a four-point edge on Sergei Bobrovsky and Co. with nine games remaining for both clubs.

Washington, Pittsburgh and Columbus are 1-2-3 in the league standings, as well.

“It’s not that much distance,” defenseman Brooks Orpik cracked, asked about possibly opening a four-point advantage on the Jackets, who lost to the Maple Leafs, 5-2, on Wednesday night.

Orpik added: “But, yeah, it’s a little bit of distance against them. We know they played last night and had a pretty physical game against Toronto. So hopefully that works to our advantage. Hopefully we’re smart and make them go 200-feet for their chances tonight.”

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The game marks the fourth of five meetings between Washington and Columbus this season. The Caps won the last meeting, a win-streak-snapping 5-0 decision on F Street back on Jan. 5. The Jackets, however, won the first two meetings—a 2-1 overtime triumph on Nov. 15 and a controversial 3-2 win five days later.

The teams close out their season series in Columbus on April 2.

“Anytime you’re that close in the standings and you’re in the same division, it’s a big game and you can kinda distance yourself,” winger Tom Wilson said. “But they’re a good team. They’re going to be coming hard and they’ve beat us twice this year already, so that’s in our minds.”

To get two points, though, the Caps are going to need to solve Bobrovsky, who leads the NHL in goals against average (2.04), save percentage (.931) and wins (39).

“I think he’s a top 2 or top 3 goalie in the league, in my opinion,” Alex Ovechkin said of the fellow Russian. “When he’s on his game, it’s very hard to score. He controls the game well. He likes the big moments. He likes the pressure.”

Goals won’t come easily. And neither will a ‘W’. But if the Caps earn one, they’ll also tie the franchise record for wins in a season with their 30th. None of the wins have come in the shootout. The last time they won 30 games without the benefit of a shootout victory? Way back in 1985-86. Washington also won 30 games at Verizon Center in 2009-10, but that mark included four wins in the shootout.    

MORE CAPITALS: SUDDENLY, HERSHEY'S BLUE LINE IS STACKED

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Team USA reclaims women's hockey gold from Canada in instant Olympic classic

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Team USA reclaims women's hockey gold from Canada in instant Olympic classic

GANGNEUNG, South Korea  -- The Americans' gold medal drought in women's hockey -- finally -- is over.

Even though they needed the first shootout in an Olympic women's final to do it.

Twenty long years after taking gold when the sport debuted in 1998 at Nagano, the United States snapped Canada's streak of four straight Olympic golds Thursday with a 3-2 shootout victory.

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored in the sixth round of the shootout to start the Americans piling over the boards, throwing gloves in the air before huddling and hugging on the ice.

Gigi Marvin and Amanda Kessel also scored in the shootout. Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied it up with a breakaway with 6:21 left in regulation.

Hilary Knight also had a goal.

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Maddie Rooney made 29 saves for the win against their archrival. The 20-year-old goalie stopped the last two Canadian shooters in the shootout in Brianne Jenner and then Meghan Agosta on her second attempt.

It was sweet redemption for the 10 Americans who watched the Canadians snatch gold from their hands in 2014 at Sochi after tying it up with 54.6 seconds left in regulation and winning 3-2 in overtime.

Not only did the Americans snap the Canadians' stranglehold on Olympic gold, they ended a skid of five straight against their rival coming into this game, including a 2-1 loss to wrap up pool play a week ago.

Marie-Philip Poulin and Haley Irwin each scored goals for Canada. Agosta and Melodie Daoust scored in the shootout.

The Americans had been dominating in non-Olympic years, winning the last four and eight of the last 10 world championships, including a 3-2 overtime victory over Canada last spring.

Their domination on the world stage only made the lack of gold at the Olympics all the more noticeable, and Canada has been in their way since losing the inaugural gold in Nagano. Canada had won 24 straight Olympic games to go along with four consecutive gold medals. It's a streak of success in a women's team sport second only to the United States' basketball team's current streak of six straight gold.

This was the eighth time these North American rivals met in the Olympics and the fifth with gold on the line. None of the previous seven were decided by more than two goals.

U.S. coach Robb Stauber went with the 20-year-old Rooney in net for the biggest game of her career, but she was the goalie for each of the three games the Americans beat Canada last fall during their pre-Olympic exhibition tour, including Four Nations Cup title in November.

Canada had Shannon Szabados, 31, in goal for her third Olympic gold medal game, and her teammates made her job very easy by keeping the puck in front of Rooney for most of the first period by dictating play. The Americans couldn't use their speed or get organized even with two power plays until Sarah Nurse went in the box for interference late in the period.

Knight gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead with 25.4 seconds left in the first, redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin through Szabados' pads giving the Americans a jolt of energy.

That lasted only 2 minutes into the second when Irwin tipped a pass from Blayre Turnbull over Rooney's left leg for Canada. When Morin lost the puck, Melodie Daoust grabbed it and passed to Meghan Agosta who hit Poulin for the wrister into the left side of the net at 6:55 for a 2-1 lead.

 

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: The Caps add two defensemen, problem solved?

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: The Caps add two defensemen, problem solved?

The Capitals got their trade deadline started early by trading for defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek. Washington has been struggling of late, but do their new acquisitions address the team's weaknesses?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir evaluate the two trades and talk about where they could fit into the lineup.

You can listen to the latest episode here on the Capitals Faceoff page or with the player below.

Want even more great Capitals coverage? Follow @TarikNBCS and @JJReganNBCS on Twitter!