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Long-time Capital on brink of another Stanley Cup

Long-time Capital on brink of another Stanley Cup

If the Pittsburgh Penguins can close out the San Jose Sharks with a win tonight at Consol Energy Center, Eric Fehr won’t be the only former Capital to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.

Sergei Gonchar, who was drafted by the Capitals in the first round (14th overall) of the 1992 NHL draft and played 10 seasons in Washington from 1994-2004, would be fitted for his second Stanley Cup ring. (Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet spent 13 games with the Caps in the 1996-97 season).

After 20 seasons in the NHL, Gonchar, 42, was hired by the Penguins as a defensemen development coach in October after failing to make the club on a tryout contract in training camp.

Under the supervision of Gonchar, the Pens finished the regular season ranked sixth in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.43) and they enter tonight’s Game 5 in Pittsburgh ranked third in the playoffs at 2.27, behind only the Capitals (1.83) and Anaheim Ducks (2.00).

 “I think Sergei, he's been terrific,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said on Thursday, hours before Game 5. “He has a nice demeanor about him.  He has a great relationship with our defense core.  I think he offers them a lot of subtle insights into how to be a more effective player.”

During his 10 seasons in Washington, only Nicklas Lidstrom put up more points than Gonchar, who delivered 144 goals and 272 assists in 654 games with the Caps before he was traded to the Bruins on March 3, 2004 in exchange for defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and draft picks in the first and second rounds of the 2004 NHL draft that turned out to be defenseman Jeff Schultz and center Mikhail Yunkov.

After leaving the Caps, Gonchar went on to play 647 more games in the NHL for the Bruins, Penguins, Stars, Canadiens and Senators and finished his playing career ranked 16th among all NHL defensemen with 811 points in 1,301 games, most ever by a Russian-born NHL defenseman. He also welcomed Penguins star center Evgeni Malkin into his home when Malkin was a rookie center with the Penguins in 2006. Gonchar helped the Penguins get to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons, winning his first and only NHL championship in 2009.

“He's certainly a guy they have a tremendous amount of respect for because of what he's accomplished in the game,” Sullivan said. “I think the fact that he's so close to having played with a lot of these guys, they can certainly relate to him because it hasn't been too long since he has been in the heat of the battle himself. 

“Top to bottom, from Kris Letang on down, I think Sergei has been invaluable for that group.”

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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.