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Friday six-pack: Who's the best matchup for Caps?

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Friday six-pack: Who's the best matchup for Caps?

Welcome to another Friday six-pack, where we answer your questions on the Capitals. Let’s get started:

will Caps get their game back once playoffs start or will it take a few games in playoffs and fall into early hole at home @selby_bill

Hey, maybe falling into a playoff hole wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Caps, who have made a habit of blowing 3-1 playoff leads. I’ve seen it both ways. I’ve seen teams lose a bunch of games down the stretch and turn it on in the playoffs (2010 Flyers) and I’ve seen teams win most of their games down the stretch and lose in the first round (2010 Capitals). The Caps have been waiting so long to play a meaningful game and they won’t really face another until next week when they host the Islanders, who likely will need the two points to stay in playoff position, and the Penguins, who embarrassed the Caps with a 6-2 win in Pittsburgh on March 20. Those are good attention-getters for the Caps, who will finish the season with a pair of games against teams who could go a long way in the Western Conference playoffs – the Blues and Ducks. I think because the Caps are a veteran team they should have no problem gearing up their game to a playoff level pretty quickly. If not in Game 1, then certainly by Game 2.

Will the Caps be presented with the President's Trophy in a pregame ceremony like they were in 09-10? @letsgocaps819

I am told they will not.

With playoffs so close, do you expect the Caps to continue rolling all four lines, or do you expect Trotz will give the top guys some extra rest moving forward? Similarly, how many more starts do you think we can we expect from Holtby? @Zack_Arts

Barry Trotz has asked the opinions of other NHL coaches and even his own players and they all seem to agree that unless someone is injured he should keep playing them. Brooks Orpik said he remembers the 2013-14 Penguins clinching a division title and coach Dan Bylsma resting him and other players. The Pens won their opening-round series but blew a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers in Round 2 and although he won’t place all of the blame on players being rested, he said guys were out of their rhythm when they returned to the lineup. Trotz said his plan is to distribute ice time more evenly among his forwards and defensemen down the stretch, holding off on “hard minutes” until the playoffs. That said, I would not be surprised to see defensemen Mike Weber and Taylor Chorney worked into the lineup either this weekend or next. The only issue with that is Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen are working on games played streaks and might talk their way into staying in the lineup. Brooks Orpik and John Carlson missed big chunks of the season with injuries and may also want the reps. That leaves Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov and neither wants to come out of the lineup. As for Braden Holtby, I see him getting four chances to break Marty Brodeur’s record. If he wins all four he’d finish with an incredible 50-win season.

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Will Trotz use the Blackhawks model of predominantly relying on just 4D for the playoffs due to inexperience of 9 & 88? @Terpinyc

Great question. My answer is no, at least at the start. One of the reasons John Carlson and Brooks Orpik have not been reunited is exactly the question you’re asking. I believe the coaching staff is a little jittery about having Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt as the Caps’ third pairing and I think most fans would feel the same way. I like the idea of Orpik being the steady hand to play alongside Orlov, who has a tendency to try risky plays that could hurt a team in a tight playoff series. That’s why I think you’ll continue to see the pairings the Caps have been using since Carlson’s return: Alzner-Niskanen; Schmidt-Carlson; Orpik-Orlov. If turnovers become a continual problem for Orlov (and I believe his tendency to avoid taking hits is one reason for the turnovers) we may see Weber or Chorney take his place, depending on the opponent.  

Finally Kuzy with OV. Backy line too slow. Will Trotz ask ALL of the caps to finish checks with authority come playoffs? @IfpPaul

He shouldn’t have to, but I agree the Caps are not playing as “heavy” as they will need to in the playoffs. According to NHL.com, the Caps rank 11th in hits per game at 24.6 per game. Last year they ranked ninth at 28.5 hits. That has something to do with T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams being less physical than Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, but I’ll still take Oshie and Williams in a playoff series. Your point is well taken. All of the Caps need to play more gritty in the playoffs, which means guys like Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson will need to fight harder for pucks than they have been lately.

Who do the caps match up best with in first round of playoffs? @bam305Isles

I’m asked this a lot these days. If you’re talking about sheer entertainment I’d go with Philadelphia. But if you’re talking about best chance to win I’d say the Islanders ... tentatively. A week ago I really thought the Islanders might play their way out of a playoff spot. But they have run off three straight wins to move within two points of the Rangers with a game in hand. The Isles finish up with the Penguins, Lightning, Capitals, Rangers, Sabres and Flyers and that will be quite a challenge, with a chance for them to move into the second or third spot in the Metro or fall back to the seventh or eighth spot. I’m not convinced Thomas Greiss is the answer between the pipes and that’s why I think the Caps would get through the Isles in a potential Round 1 matchup. A lot of people want the Caps to face the Bruins or Red Wings in Round 1 but I’m not among them. Before the season I picked the Bruins to finish out of the playoffs and it looks like the Bruins and Red Wings are going to battle it out for that final spot in the Atlantic. Both teams have five games to play, including a pivotal game against each other. The Bruins finish with the Blues, Blackhawks, Hurricanes, Red Wings and Senators. Detroit finishes with the Wild, Maple Leafs, Flyers, Bruins and Rangers. In my opinion, whoever wins that Bruins-Red Wings clash on April 7 gets in, while the loser is out. As for Philly, I think the Capitals would wear down their defense in a seven-game series, and I think goaltender Steve Mason will be exhausted by the time the playoffs roll around.

With everything wrapped up, what's the biggest priority heading into the playoffs?@ScottRouch

Getting to play with some consistency. I like the way Braden Holtby’s game is trending. I like the way the fourth line is playing and I like the way John Carlson is skating. I also like the overall play of Niskanen and Alzner. I’d like to see the spark return to Marcus Johansson’s game because he really had that third line going earlier in the season. If Johansson is playing at his best he can get the most out of Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle. That would give the Caps a fourth line of Daniel Winnik, Mike Richards and Tom Wilson and that’s a hard line to play against. I’d also like to see Kuznetsov, Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie or Justin Williams on that top line for an extended period, leaving a second line of Backstrom between Andre Burakovsky and either Oshie or Williams. I think the Caps’ penalty kill has been strong but I’d like to see a new wrinkle or two on the power play, which has become too predictable.

MORE CAPITALS: Holtby heads west to chase Brodeur's record

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2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: U.S. Women back in the gold medal match

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The Americans played their way back into the only women's hockey game that matters: a showdown with Canada for the Olympic gold medal.

The Americans are back in the title game for a third straight Olympics after shutting out Finland 5-0 on Monday in the semifinals. They will face their arch-rival, which beat the "Olympic Athletes from Russia" 5-0 a few hours later, on Thursday. They Americans will be trying to win their first gold since 1998 when women's hockey made its debut in the Olympics.

And yes, the Americans understand the United States-Canada playing for gold is what everyone expects to see.

READ ALSO: SEE HOW THE DMV OLYMPIANS ARE FARING AFTER WEEK 1

"Definitely the rivalry has been there since I think I was born, so everyone's looking forward to that," said 22-year-old Dani Cameranesi.

This will be the third opportunity at gold for six Americans: captain Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy and twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.

"It's honestly a dream come true," Knight said. "This is the world's biggest stage. This is the game that you want. This is the game we've been dreaming of and to have another opportunity to get back here, it's huge."

Olympic newcomer Cameranesi scored two goals and added an assist to lead the Americans over Finland. Marvin started the scoring, and Lamoureux-Davidson and Knight both scored during a 5-on-3 34 seconds apart in the second period. Maddie Rooney made 14 saves for the shutout.

Finland remains winless in eight games against the Americans at the Olympics. The Finns, ranked third in the world last year, will try to take home the bronze medal for the first time since 2010.

"We're got one thing on our mind, and that's to get a medal," said goaltender Noora Raty, who made 33 saves. "They're the best in the world (U.S. and Canada). We just need to get more girls involved so we have more to choose from."

The Americans opened these games a 2-1 loss to Canada wrapping up pool play.

"This was really a gold-medal preparation for us because they're a darn good team, and we had to be ready to play," U.S. coach Robb Stauber said of Finland.

The Americans wasted no time getting on the board. Captain Meghan Duggan found Marvin alone in the slot, and she beat Raty stick-side for the easy goal just 2:25 into the game.

Finland lost defenseman when she had to be helped off the ice and to the locker room after a knee-on-knee collision with Duggan. She was knocked off balance before crashing face-first into the boards, snapping her head back. When play resumed without a penalty, some fans booed. Savolainen returned in the second period.

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Stauber said the referee immediately came over and said it was a collision. Duggan said she was really happy Savolainen got up and that any decision about a potential suspension was out of her control.

"There's been some other plays that haven't been put into question, and so I can't imagine that there would be any disciplinary action just based on other things that have been let go," Duggan said.

Cameranesi put the United States up 2-0 with 1:22 left in the period, taking the puck away from Susanna Tapani and skating into the left circle before beating Raty's blocker with a wrist shot top shelf.

Lamoureux-Davidson's slap shot from the left circle came with 2 seconds left on the 5-on-3 at 13:21 of the second period, and Knight got her first goal of this tournament by redirecting a shot from Sidney Morin with 5 seconds left on the man advantage for the 4-0 lead. Cameranesi padded the lead as she scored from the slot over Raty's glove off a pass from Hannah Brandt.

"We're super excited to be in this position again," Lamoureux-Davidson said. "We worked four years to put ourselves in position to compete for a gold medal and we'll enjoy this for a little bit, but we know that this isn't what we came here for. We're ready to go to battle in a couple days."

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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.