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Keith Kinkaid bedevils Caps as Washington falls in shootout

Keith Kinkaid bedevils Caps as Washington falls in shootout

Keith Kinkaid stood on his head for the Devils earning his team the unlikely 2-1 shootout win in Washington on Thursday.

How it happened: Evgeny Kuznetsov took the puck into the corner off a faceoff in the defensive zone and inexplicably attempted a no-look behind the back pass into the high slot that went right to the stick of P.A. Parenteau. Parenteau wasted little time wristing the shot past Braden Holtby. Down a goal and down a man in the third period, Daniel Winnik pressured Beau Bennett at the blue line to force a turnover and started the rush with Jay Beagle. Winnik finally finished the play off himself knocking the puck past a sprawled Keith Kinkaid to tie the game at one. With no winner in overtime, Jacob Josefson finished the game in the shootout after Kinkaid stopped shots from both T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

What it means: The loss was the Caps' fourth in their last five games and the first against New Jersey since Nov. 14, 2014, snapping a seven-game win streak against the Devils. Washington's record against the Metropolitan Division now sits at 4-5-4. The Caps' shootout record also dropped to 1-4.

Turning point: The Caps offense couldn't seem to solve Kinkaid until they were shorthanded and in desperate need of a goal. Winnik's goal in the third period was the Caps' third shorthanded goal of the season, already surpassing last season's total of two. With an assist on the play, Beagle now has three shorthanded points, tying him for second in the NHL. Though the Caps ended up losing in a shootout, the penalty kill earned the Caps a point in the standings.

Second to no one: Cory Schneider is considered one of the top netminders in the league, but it was his backup who stole the show on Thursday. Kinkaid was phenomenal in net with 39 saves in regulation, 43 for the game and he stopped both shots he faced in the shootout. He adjusted well against deflections, he stuffed Jay Beagle on a breakaway, he fought off a scrum in front of the net after losing his stick late in the second period and dove across the crease to get his glove in the way of a wraparound stuff attempt by Nicklas Backstrom in the third. He may be the backup for the Devils, but he sure didn't play like on against the Caps.

Message received? Justin Williams was not happy about the number of penalties the Caps took Tuesday against the New York Islanders. They did not allow any goals, but the penalties took the Caps out of their momentum. On Thursday the Caps again took four penalties including two in the third period, one with the team trailing 1-0 and the other with the score tied at 1. In both situations, it was an inopportune time for Washington to take a penalty.

No easy wins: The Metropolitan Division has established itself as the best division in hockey with teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. Given how difficult it will be for the Caps to gain ground on the teams at the top of the division, they cannot afford to lose to the weaker teams. Yet, those teams seem to be giving the Caps fits this season. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Islanders and New Jersy Devils sit 6th, 7th and 8th respectively in the division. The Caps have only managed a 3-3-1 record against those teams this season.

Look ahead: The Caps head to New Jersey for a rematch with the Devils on Saturday. Then they ring in the New Year with a quick turnaround against the Ottawa Senators back in Washington on Sunday.

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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.

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 6

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 6

The Capitals wrapped up their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 6-3 Game 6 win on Monday. Here's how they were able to finish off the Blue Jackets.

A big save at one end, a goal at the other

You see it all the time in hockey, a big save on one end turns into a goal on the other and we saw it in the first period. One of Braden Holtby’s best saves of the night came in the first period when he managed to get in front of a deflection attempt by Cam Atkinson. Pierre-Luc Dubois fired a pass to the slot and Atkinson got a backhand on it, but it was not enough to beat Holtby. Less than a minute later, Dmitry Orlov fired a slapshot past Sergei Bobrovsky to give the Caps the first-period lead.

A two-goal period from Alex Ovechkin

Despite the 1-0 score, all the momentum began to swing in Columbus’ way in the second period. Washington squandered a two-man advantage which brought the Nationwide Arena crowd back to life. Soon after, Nick Foligno tied the game at 1. Just when everything started going the Blue Jackets’ way, however, Alex Ovechkin brought them back down to Earth with two goals in the second period. His first came about four minutes after Foligno’s tally as he backhanded in a rebound goal past Bobrovsky. It was an ugly goal, but beautiful at the same time. His second was the familiar power-play goal from the office.

Two quick responses

Every time Columbus tried to build momentum the Caps had an answer. The crowd and momentum fuelled Columbus to Foligno’s first goal, but Ovechkin answered four minutes later. The Blue Jackets pulled to within one early in the third period with a goal from Pierre-Luc Dubois, but 91 seconds later Devante Smith-Pelly beat Bobrovsky with an absolute snipe to the top corner in one of the prettiest goals you will see this postseason. That felt like the moment Washington declared they were not going to allow themselves to lose this game.

The penalty kill

The Caps’ penalty kill was integral to the series as a whole and it came through in a big way again in Game 6 with another perfect game. Washington killed off all four power plays they faced including two in the third period.