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Laich learned he was traded from Julianne Hough

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Laich learned he was traded from Julianne Hough

A cleanly shaven Brooks Laich (Lou Lamoriello’s policy) stepped onto the Verizon Center ice for the first time as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday and after a brief skate with his teammates, he spoke with more than a dozen media members outside the visiting locker room.

In the first of two parts, here is a transcript of Laich’s interview:

On how he’s approaching his return to Verizon Center:

Obviously, it’s a pretty unique situation, but I don’t think it’s really something you can prepare for. I think for myself I just have to focus that it’s a red jersey and not focus on the other names. I know there’s going to be maybe a few emotions but I can’t let that get to me. I can’t run around. I can’t be too hyped up. I’ve got to conserve some energy and just use my hockey sense and play the game.

On how he learned he’d been traded:

I actually had my phone off when Brian (MacLellan) phoned. I was watching the Oscars with my fiancé (actress Julianne Hough). I just got his voicemail, but I gave him a call back and left him a voicemail. But I haven’t spoken with him yet.

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On his emotions when he receives that voicemail:

The first one is, you’re taken back a little bit. You’re surprised. You’re shocked. I had never asked for a trade. I had conveyed my thoughts to him. I spoke with him. I spoke with the coaching staff and said I wanted to be part of it. I wanted to make a Cup run. So, it was definitely surprising to me. My fiancé was amazing through it. She was by my side when we found out. The notification actually came on my phone because mine was off. She gets the Caps updates on her phone, so she was the one that broke it to me. Just to be able to go through it together, I was very thankful she was there with me.

On the frustration of not being able to see it through in Washington:

Yeah, I mean, really the sense we had with this year’s team was that there was something very special in the works. Like I said, I had conversations with management and told them I wanted to be a part of it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out but I can’t sit here and dwell on it. I can’t let it hang over my head. It’s tough to close that chapter but hopefully tonight will help me do that. I know we’re back here pretty quick but run towards the fire, right? I want to try to have some fun tonight, try to win a hockey game and really enjoy my teammates. The city of Toronto, the people of Toronto, the staff, the players, have really, really welcomed me with open arms and made me feel extremely welcome and I’m having a lot of fun with this group of guys.

On what he remembers about George McPhee greeting him at Verizon Center following his trade to Washington 12 years ago:

That was the first face I saw when I walked into the Capitals locker room, George McPhee. He shook my hand and said, “Welcome to D.C. I hope you’re here for 15 years.” It was a very special moment for myself to feel like you’re part of the National Hockey League and you have a home with an organization. I made it 12 (years) and that’s longer than most make it, so I’m very thankful for the people of D.C., my teammates, the organization, the staff, my friends in the community, my neighbors -- a huge impact in my life. I can’t thank everybody enough. The media -- you guys were great to work with -- and the people in the city I hold to the highest regard, I really do.

On the emotions surrounding tonight’s game:

First and foremost I’m a competitor. Winning means a lot to me, always has, regardless the circumstance. That’s something I’m not too worried about. There might be a moment here or there, but I’m still here to do a job. I have a responsibility to my teammates and my coaching staff and winning really means a lot to me and that’s the ultimate goal for tonight -- get the win and try to leave with a smile on my face and have some fun with my teammates.

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Burakovsky will miss the first round, but Caps won't rule him out for remainder of the playoffs

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Burakovsky will miss the first round, but Caps won't rule him out for remainder of the playoffs

Andre Burakovsky will be sidelined for the remainder of Washington's first-round series vs. Columbus, but he isn’t necessarily out for the remainder of the playoffs, Coach Barry Trotz said on Friday.

Burakovsky suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury in Game 2 and has not been on the ice since.

Trotz said the 23-year-old top-six winger needs “minor” surgery.

That procedure, however, will not preclude Burakovsky from returning to the Caps’ lineup in subsequent rounds, should Washington advance.

“That's why I said minor surgery,” Trotz added, asked if Burky might return at a later date.

This latest surgery is the second for Burakovsky this season. In late October, he had a procedure to repair a broken left thumb and missed the next 20 games.

Since his departure in Game 2, Jakub Vrana and Chandler Stephenson have taken turns replacing Burakovsky on the second line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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