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How do the Caps plan to win Game 5? By adding joy back into their game

How do the Caps plan to win Game 5? By adding joy back into their game

For large stretches of the season, watching the Washington Capitals was a joy. They were fun to watch because they were having fun on the ice. Winning has a lot to do with that, but it also can go the other way around. The more a team enjoys playing, the more likely they are to win.

Suddenly, the joy has gone out of the Caps. Bringing that back is how Washington plans to win Game 5 on Saturday.

“We've got to play really well, play with some joy in our game and not be jammed up or worried about the end result,” head coach Barry Trotz said following Saturday’s morning skate.

“I think we just realize we're gripping our sticks a bit tight and we need to just loosen up a bit and just play hockey,” Braden Holtby said. “That's when we're playing our best is when we're not worrying about anything, we're not thinking, we're just playing for each other and that's what it's going to have to take to get this done.”

A common theme throughout the locker room was the fact that the Caps thought they had played too “tight” against the Pittsburgh Penguins which is why they now face a daunting 3-1 series deficit. They were too much in their own heads which caused them to lose focus.

“You can't play well if you're tight,” Matt Niskanen said. “It's like if you're a sprinter, those sprinters are loose, your body works better, you have to have a clear head, you have to be determined, you have to be focused, but you can't be tight. I think just having a clear mind, focus on some details and your energy in the right areas and go after it.”

But finding joy and staying loose is a lot harder to do when facing a 3-1 series hole and playing with the knowledge that this could very well be the end of the season.

Add in Washington’s past playoff struggles and it is hard not to feel like the task may perhaps be overwhelming.

“Obviously with the history in this locker room, what's happened in the past, it can cause you to grip your stick a little bit tighter, cause you to just not make the normal plays that we're capable of making,” Kevin Shattenkirk said.

Despite the task at hand, however, the players insist they remain confident, almost defiantly so. There is still a belief that they are still the better team.

“We should be confident in our group,” Niskanen said. “We've had several long stretches in each game this series where we've been really, really good so we just need a lot more and we're going to need guys to play a little bit better in just about every area. We're going to try to go as hard as we can here and leave it all on the table.”

That’s the task at hand. Game 5 may be more of a mental game than a physical one. The Caps know they need to play loose and win confidence even though they trail the series 3-1 and have a history of playoff failures.

So Trotz, how do you keep the players loose in this situation?

“Throw in a couple jokes or something, I don't know,” Trotz said. “I think it's just, you know what? Let's go play with joy. Just enjoy the experience of just going out and playing. You get to play in a big game. Enjoy that experience.”

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Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

When the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny on Monday, that put the team at the maximum of 23 players on the roster including eight defenseman.

Another move seemed likely and the Caps made it on Tuesday by placing veteran blueliner Taylor Chorney on waivers.

Teams now will have 24 hours to potentially claim Chorney. Should he clear at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, it is expected that he will be sent to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Whether he is claimed or sent to Hershey, his entire $800,000 cap hit will no longer count against the Capitals' salary.

One important thing to note, however, is that placing Chorney on waivers was not required in order for Washington to remain under the salary cap.

Having eight defensemen would mean scratching two every game — assuming the team does not dress seven and after that failed experiment in last year's playoffs, why would they — which means it would be a struggle to make sure everyone gets consistent playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Perhaps placing Chorney on waivers is the team trying to get him more playing time to keep him sharp in case the team suffers injuries on the blue line and he is called upon in the playoffs.

Or perhaps it could mean something else.

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' TOP PROSPECTS

Chorney played on Feb. 15, but that was during the mentor's trip. Barry Trotz's policy for those trips is to get everyone in at least one of those two games. Before that, Chorney had not played since Jan. 2. It certainly seems like the team was comfortable with him being the designated No. 7 and was not all that concerned about getting him regular playing time before now.

When asked if the Kempny trade would mean any roster moves, Trotz said Monday that he was not sure and hinted that perhaps more moves could be coming from general manager Brian MacLellan. Moving Chorney's salary off the books does not clear much cap room, but it does clear some.

Perhaps MacLellan has another move up his sleeve before Monday's trade deadline.

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Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

Michal Kempny excited to move from last place Chicago to first place Caps

On Sunday, Michal Kempny was a defenseman struggling for a spot in the lineup for a team poised to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. On Monday, he became potentially an important piece on the roster of the first place Capitals.

The last few days have been quite the whirlwind for Kempny who tallied an assist for Chicago on Saturday in a 7-1 blowout against what is now his current team. While the Blackhawks may have gotten the better of Washington that night, Kempny is excited about the postseason opportunity that now lies in front of him.

"Nobody knows what's happening in Chicago, but I'm really happy and I'm really glad that I can be here," Kempny told reporters on Tuesday after his first skate with the team. "There is option of play a playoff and I'm very happy for it."

RELATED: WHERE MICHAL KEMKPNY FITS IN THE CAPS' LINEUP

The 27-year-old Czech defenseman played only 31 games for the Blackhawks this season, but considering Washington's need to shore up its defense before the trade deadline and the team's willingness to give up a third-round pick to acquire him, it is likely he will have a much more significant role with the Caps.

"I thought that I [was] going to get more space on the ice and more ice time, but I didn't play more than half games," Kempny said of his decision to originally sign with Chicago. "But now I'm here and I'm really glad that I'm here. Washington is amazing city and great organization and I hope I will get a chance to access myself on the ice more than in Chicago."

Kempny will not play in Tuesday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but did say he expects to play Thursday when the team visits the Florida Panthers.

When he does get into the lineup, it is unclear just how big a role he will play initially or how the team foresees utilizing him going forward. He is a left-shot defenseman and did tell reporters he prefers to play on that side. It seems unlikely the team would acquire him just to put him on his offside.

As of now, however, everything regarding his role in Washington is up in the air.

"I need everything settle down a little bit," he said. "New teammates, new people around here."

MORE CAPITALS: MEET MICHAL KEMPNY