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Justin Williams posts hat trick in 5-2 win over Rangers

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Justin Williams posts hat trick in 5-2 win over Rangers

Post-game analysis of the Capitals’ 5-2 win over the New York Rangers Sunday at Verizon Center:

How it happened: Maybe the Caps signed Justin Williams over the summer just to beat the Rangers in the playoffs. He’s sure done a good job in the regular season. Williams netted his second career hat trick, giving him six goals and three assists in four games against the Rangers this season. Three of those four games have been victories. Alex Ovechkin (27th) and Marcus Johansson (12th) also scored power-play goals for the Capitals, while Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky added two assists each. 

What it means: The Capitals rebounded nicely from their Saturday night setback in Buffalo and are now 10-0-1 following a loss this season. They have outscored their opponents 40-21 in those games. The Caps (24-8-3, 71 points) extended their lead over the Rangers to 18 points. The Rangers have not won consecutive games since Nov. 21 and 23 and have gone 8-13-3 since then.

Holtby dehydrated: Playing in back-to-back games, Caps goaltender Braden Holtby left with 2:18 remaining in the second period because of dehydration and did not return. Holtby left the game 14 seconds after allowing a goal by Chris Kreider, which drew the Rangers within 3-2. Philipp Grubauer replaced him and was a perfect 11-for-11 against the Rangers in the final 22:18. 

MORE CAPITALS: HOLTBY EXITS GAME VS. RANGERS

Chorney denied: For a brief shining moment Caps defenseman Taylor Chorney basked in the glow of what would have been his first goal as a Capital and his first NHL goal since Feb. 15, 2011. Instead, his snap shot from the point glanced off the stick of teammate Justin Williams and behind Rangers goaltender Annti Raanta   

Ornery Richards: In his first home game as a Capital, center Mike Richards played another solid game, recording two shots, four hits and winning 14 of 20 faceoffs while playing 11:47 on a fourth line with Brooks Laich and Stan Galiev. Richards also logged 3:00 of penalty kill time, most of it alongside Tom Wilson. The Caps other forward pairs on the PK were Laich with T.J. Oshie and Jason Chimera with Nicklas Backstrom/Justin Williams.   

Ovi climbing: Alex Ovechkin’s 27th goal of the season moved him within one of NHL leader Patrick Kane. Ovechkin’s 10 power-play goals are four behind Kane’s league-leading 14. 

Showcasing Galiev?: Late in the second period, when the Caps were leading 3-1 and awarded a power play on a J.T. Miller hooking penalty, Stan Galiev took Alex Ovechkin’s spot on the first power-play unit. Ovechkin hopped over the boards later on the man-advantage but exited down the tunnel with a few seconds remaining in the period. He came out for the third period and played the remainder of the game. With Galiev in the lineup, Zach Sill and Michael Latta were healthy scratches.

Look ahead: Following back-to-back games, the Capitals will have the day off on Monday and return to game action Tuesday night in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. They follow with three home games leading up to the NHL All-Star break: Friday against the Anaheim Ducks, Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers.

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Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

Alex Ovechkin's evolution as a player was on full display in Game 6

We all know that Alex Ovechkin is a world-class goal scorer. He is the best goal scorer of his generation and perhaps the best of all time. He tallied another two goals Monday in Game 6, but that’s not what really impressed head coach Barry Trotz.

While Ovechkin's career is full of highlight reel goals, it was the ugly plays that really caught Trotz's eye on Monday.

"[Ovechkin's] evolved in areas of his game," Trotz said after the game. "He’s not just at that dot. He’ll go to the front of the net, he’s not scared to do that. It’s just adding layers to his game."

Ovechkin's first goal of the game was not pretty. It won't make any Top 10 lists, it won't be shown throughout the U.S. and Canada. It was an ugly rebound goal...and it was beautiful.

Just four minutes after Nick Foligno tied the game, Ovechkin put the Caps back ahead with a rebound goal. He had parked himself in front of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and was in perfect position when Bobrovsky made a kick out save to backhand the rebound into the empty net.

Those are the type of plays we did not always see from the Great 8 and it didn't stop there.

As Washington tried to close out the game, Ovechkin went all out trying to help his team preserve the lead as he blocked a shot from Ryan Murray with less than three minutes to go.

"I’m probably as proud of him right at the end of the game blocking shots and doing that type of thing," Trotz said. "That’s full commitment. When that was necessary, that’s where you get your street cred with your teammates. You’ve got to block a shot when it’s necessary and get a puck out when it’s necessary. I’d probably give him more props on that than even scoring goals because that’s what you really expect of him."

Few expected a 32-year-old Ovechkin to rebound from a 33-goal season, but he did just that with 49 goals in 2017-18 to win his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy as the league-leader. The reason why was on full display on Monday. It is because he has evolved his game. Instead of relying just on the quick rushes, pretty one-timers and incredible dekes, he has committed more to getting to the contested areas and scoring those dirty goals.

That commitment on offense seemed to translate to the defense as well as he was there blocking shots with the rest of his teammates.

"Those are the necessary things, those necessary details that allow you to win," Trotz said. "If you don’t have them, then you’re not going to win."

MORE CAPITALS: Pens again: Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

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Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

The Caps are headed to the 2018 NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins… again.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Yes, for the third time in three years, the Capitals will play the Penguins, hoping to take down the defending Stanley Cup champions and advance out of the second round of the playoffs and to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 1998 season, when the team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The Capitals are riding momentum from their first-round series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, where they fought back from an 0-2 series hole to win the series thanks to a 6-3 victory in Game 6 Monday night in Columbus.

That momentum coupled with home-ice advantage — should they choose to capitalize on that this time around — could create an ideal atmosphere for the Caps to take a 2-0 series lead before heading to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4.

A perennial problem, Sidney Crosby enters this series playing some of his best playoff hockey. In their 4-2 series win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pens’ captain scored six goals in six games, including a hat trick in the opening matchup.

But he’s not the only one creating havoc for goalies. Center Jake Guentzel is tied with Crosby at the top of the league in goals and points in the playoffs. The pair each had six goals and seven assists against the Flyers, as well as 17 shots on goal apiece.

Is it possible they’ll get stonewalled by Braden Holtby, who — despite not starting initially in the first two games for the Caps against the Blue Jackets — is rocking a 93.6 save percentage and ranks fourth in the league with a 1.66 goals against average among goaltenders who have played more than one postseason game.

If the Caps can find a spark in their offense with Holtby staying strong in goal, perhaps this could be the year they finally slide past the Pens.

However, history isn’t exactly on Washington’s side. In the second-round series from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, the Pens hold an 8-5 record over the Caps, eliminating them both years on their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Pittsburgh leads the Caps in the overall playoff game record, 38-24, and they’ve met for 10 series in the postseason, dating back to 1990-91. Four times the series was pushed to a Game 7, but the Caps never came out on top.

The one and only time the Caps have ever eliminated the Pens from the playoffs was in the 1993-94 season, when they beat Pittsburgh 4-2 in the first round before losing to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

But hey, this year could become the second time in franchise history the Caps take down the Pens.

The NHL has yet to announce when Game 1 of the Capitals vs. Penguins series will take place, but with the Wizards playing Game 6 of their NBA Playoff series at home on Friday, the likliest start date is either Thursday, April 26 or Saturday, April 28.