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Friday six-pack: Most valuable Cap, locking up Kuzy

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Friday six-pack: Most valuable Cap, locking up Kuzy

Which player can caps least afford to lose to injury in playoffs to win cup: 08/19/92/70? (have to pick 1) - @OV3CHK1NG

Excellent question and that’s quite a list: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Braden Holtby. Honestly, I don’t think the Caps could win the Cup if one of those guys went down for an extended period, especially if an injury came late in the regular season or early in the post-season. The most logical answer to your question would be Braden Holtby, who should be the runaway winner of this year’s Vezina Trophy. But as good as Holtby has been – and he’s been great – I honestly believe the Caps could make a deep run with Philipp Grubauer between the pipes and that’s a credit to goaltending coach Mitch Korn. As much as I like what Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom have done this season, I think the Caps could survive without one of them. That, of course, leaves Ovechkin, who leads the NHL with 42 goals. Heading into tonight’s game against the Predators the Caps are 31-5-0 when Ovechkin scores a goal and 19-7-5 when he plays and doesn’t score. They’re also 0-2-0 and have been outscored 10-2 in the two games Ovechkin has missed. So if I had to pick one player the Caps can’t live without if they want to win the Cup, it’s Ovi.

Q: GMBM got an absolute bargain steal signing Kuzy, shouldn't they lock him up long-term now & at what price? - @CapsYapp

I agree that Brian MacLellan did some shrewd negotiating by signing Evgeny Kuznetsov to a two-year, $6 million extension that pays him $2.6 million this season and $3.4 million next season (for a cap hit of $3 million). Remember, that deal was struck after Kuznetsov had an 11-goal, 26-assist season, so the Caps had some leverage. Now that he’s leading the Caps with 70 points in 69 games, Kuznetsov has all the leverage. That said, I’d be surprised if the Caps and Kuznetsov agreed to an extension any time before the midway point of next season. As for the price, you’d think it would start at $5 million a season and go north pretty quickly after year one.

RELATED: CSN celebrates 25 seasons with Craig "Locker" Laughlin tribute video

do you see Johansson getting traded at the draft? - @kaplunm

That’s a very good question. The answer depends on whether the Caps plan on committing to UFAs Jason Chimera and/or Mike Richards and how much they’re willing to spend on each. It also depends on what they’re willing to play RFAs Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov. And, as noted above, the Caps have to take into account how much cap space Kuznetsov may take up following next season. Right now, the Caps have $58.6 million committed to nine forwards, six defensemen and two goalies next season, when the NHL salary cap is expected to escalate to roughly $74.4 million. If Brian MacLellan decides he cannot fit Johansson, who is making $3.75 million, into that $15.8 million allotment, yes, we could see Johansson dealt at the draft, especially if he’s seeking somewhere in the $5 million range.

GMBM had the #Caps window at 2 years. Do you think with the slow start issues the last while, this team can win it all? - @Sheangus

I agree with MacLellan on the Caps’ window and yes, I think the Caps can win it all. First, let’s talk about the window. The Caps have eight of their top 12 forwards and six of their top eight defensemen under contract for next season, along with both goalies. However, if you look beyond next season, the Caps have only three forwards (Ovechkin, Backstrom and Jay Beagle), four defensemen (Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney) under contract, along with Braden Holtby. So the Caps are looking at some kind of reload following next season. As for their slow starts, allowing the first goal in 14 of their last 17 games, I’m not overly concerned because the energy level is ramped up several notches at the start of playoff games and the Caps should snap to attention once Game 1 of the playoffs begins. With the experience, overall depth and goaltending the Caps possess, they are a legitimate threat to win it all. But this is why they play the games.

since Ovi is still bothered by LBI - will he get rest before regular season is over? Do you see a rotation of days off? - @Terpinyc  

I don’t. If Ovechkin is given any time off I could see it coming in the last weekend of the season when the Caps are in St. Louis on April 9 and at home against the Anaheim Ducks the next night. I could see Barry Trotz resting a few of his players in those two games while getting Michael Latta, Stan Galiev and Mike Weber some game action. But to start spotting guys in and out of the lineup would be a mistake in my opinion, unless a player is suffering from an injury that requires healing. By the way, Trotz said Thursday that any player who thinks he can float through the remainder of the regular season is “absolutely wrong” and setting himself up for failure.

Q: Given the possibility of expansion of 2 teams, IYO which available Caps would be most likely plucked away? - @CapsYapp

It all depends on which 11 players the Caps make available. Depending on his role on the team and the prospects coming up, the Caps might make Brooks Orpik available. If that happened and I was the general manager of an expansion team, I’d take him, given his experience and positive influence in the locker room. Since teams would only be able to protect one goalie, I think Philipp Grubauer would definitely be snatched up if he’s still with the Caps. Defensemen Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov would also be attractive pickups if the Caps made them available, but I’d go with Grubauer and Orpik. 

MORE CAPITALS: Carlson participates in Caps' morning skate

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Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

Can Tom Wilson be an X-factor for Caps after finding redemption in Game 3?

When Mike Babcock essentially dismissed any concern over the impact Tom Wilson could have on a series, Wilson responded. In the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017, the Caps' forward scored the overtime winner in Game 1 and saved the series in Game 3 with a sweep of the puck off the goal line followed by a goal of his own soon after.

If you dismissed Wilson after Game 1 and Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Barry Trotz believes you can expect a similar answer this year after how he played in Game 3.

"I think his game was really good and that will maybe give some trust and confidence in him going forward," Trotz said Wednesday on a conference call with the media.

Wilson's impact in the first round against Toronto was immediate. As a top-line winger this season, expectations for him were high heading into the playoffs. His start to the series, however, left a lot to be desired.

Through the first two games, Wilson did not record a single shot on goal. What's worse, he took a critical penalty in each game that allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the score on each resulting power play.

You can't compare Wilson's impact on the Caps to that of a player like Alex Ovechkin, but a top-line player has to have some sort of positive impact or, at the very least, not be a detriment to his team.

In Game 3, postseason Tom finally delivered.

Wilson recorded six shots on goal and scored Washington's first goal of the game, deflecting in a shot from Matt Niskanen.

"[Wilson's] taken a lot of criticism for his first two games and some of the penalties and the effect it's had on the game," Trotz said. "I think it's given him some confidence. He's a bright young man, he's a leader, he's an all-in guy."

The key now will be for Wilson to build on that confidence.

Columbus has a number of star players such as Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky. What they do not have, however, is the scoring depth to match the Caps. Getting key contributions from players like Wilson in addition to the top playmakers like Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov will make it very hard for the Blue Jackets to keep up.

"[Wilson] had a big effect last year in the first round," Trotz said. "I think he can have a big effect in this series, in this first round."

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Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

Game 4 Capitals at Blue Jackets Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

With a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 3, the Capitals are right back in the series. Trailing the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, the Caps will look to even up the series at 2-games apiece before returning to Washington for Game 5.

As the Caps take the ice for Game 4, you can be certain that Braden Holtby will be the man to lead the team in net. His stellar performance in Game 3 resolidified him as the team' starter and ended whatever goalie tandem there was between him and Philipp Grubauer.

What: Washington Capitals vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Round 1, Game 4

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

The Capitals take on the Blue Jackets in Game 4 on Thursday, April 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Columbus. Columbus currently leads the series 2-1.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME ON?

Capitals-Blue Jackets, Game 4 will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra following the game, Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. and Caps in 30 at 11:30 p.m. for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Blue Jackets
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime
11:30 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Capitals-Blue Jackets Game 4, 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.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTED LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS GAME?

Here are the Caps' projected lines:

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

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Braden Holtby with Philipp Grubauer as backup.

Scratches: Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky (upper-body), Shane Gerisch, Madison Bowey, Jakub Jerabek

CAPITALS-BLUE JACKETS 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.

SEE THE CAPITALS VS. BLUE JACKETS FULL SERIES SCHEDULE HERE

CAPITALS SCHEDULE