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No looking back for Caps against Sharks

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No looking back for Caps against Sharks

In what has already been a remarkable regular season, the Capitals have lost a game by more than one goal just seven times in their first 67 games. The team that handed them their worst defeat of the season, the San Jose Sharks, will host the Caps tonight at the Shark Tank.

Way back on Oct. 13, in the Caps’ second game of the season, the Sharks handed the Caps a 5-0 loss, The Caps were without captain Alex Ovechkin, who was healthy scratched for oversleeping and showing up late to the morning skate, and Nicklas Backstrom, who missed his second of three games to open the season following summer hip surgery.  

“I think they’re a much different team than they were,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer told CSNBayArea. “But, I’d like to think we are, too. It’s a great test for us, and I think our guys should be excited about seeing where we stack up against arguably the best team in the league.”

The Capitals rebounded nicely from that 5-0 whitewash, winning their next five games and setting the tone for what promises to be their best regular season in team history.

“They’ve obviously set themselves apart from the rest of the league,” said Sharks defenseman Paul Martin, who faced the Caps 36 times in his career, most as a member of the Penguins.

Tonight also marks the Caps’ second game against old teammate Joel Ward, who signed with the Sharks last summer following four seasons in Washington.

“They’ve been doing well,” Ward said. “I think a lot of guys have really stepped up, like (Braden Holtby) and (Evgeny Kuzetsov). They’ve got a lot of guys that have really picked it up on an already good team.”

Holtby is expected to make his 56th start of the season and is seeking his 42nd win, which would set a career high. Kuznetsov has already exceeded his career highs in goals (20), assists (48) and points (68). 

The Caps have played an NHL record 12 straight one-goal games (8-3-1) and are coming off a thrilling 4-3 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings.  Tonight marks the final stop of a four-game, eight-day trip that has taken them to Boston, Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose.  

The Sharks are coming off a 3-0 home loss to the Devils and are 2-2-0 in their last four games. They are just 12-15-3 at the Shark Tank, where they play eight of their next nine games.

MORE CAPITALS: Three possible playoff matchups for the Caps

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If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

If this year is going to be different, the Caps cannot go down 0-2 in the series again

In last year’s playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals won two out of the last three games and three out of the last five…and still lost the series. That’s because they lost both Game 1 and Game 2 to fall into a 0-2 hole, much like they did against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round this season.

The Caps know if this year is going to be different, they cannot afford to fall into a similar hole again.

“It's always harder to dig yourself out of a hole,” head coach Barry Trotz said after Thursday’s morning skate. “You're room for error is a lot less and it wears on you.”

“If we've learned anything from last year, you lose two it's tough to climb out of that,” Jay Beagle said. “Then this year first round, lose two, it's tough to climb out. It makes the series really hard. You always feel like you're chasing and no room for error.”

It did not cost them against Columbus as Washington was able to rattle off four straight wins to advance to the second round. Overcoming a two-game hole against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions, however, is a taller task.

For only the second time in franchise history, the Capitals were able to overcome a 0-2 series deficit when they did it against the Blue Jackets. That means it doesn’t happen very often.

Chances are you won’t be able to overcome a deficit like that against Sidney Crosby and Co.

And that’s what makes Game 1 so important.

Washington is at home, opening a series against their arch rival, the Penguins will be without both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin and the game will be played with the memory of how a 0-2 hole cost the Caps the series last year.

To call it a must-win would perhaps be an overstatement. It is a best of seven after all. But it’s still not that far off.

“We've got to just make sure we're looking at game one, we're not looking ahead,” Beagle said. “We've got to go after them in this first game and really try and take it to them in our rink.”

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Capitals vs. Penguins Preview: Game 1 predictions

Capitals vs. Penguins Preview: Game 1 predictions

It's not just any ol' game day in D.C. It's Game 1 of Caps-Penguins in the second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, something we're all too familiar with.

For the third consecutive year, the Caps will face their arch rivals in the second-round, and incase you aren't familiar with their history, the Caps have lost nine out of their ten postseason meeting with the Penguins. That trend has to end sometime, RIGHT?

If you're feeling a change in the air in 2018, you're not alone. Ahead of Game 1, we've rounded up experts' opinions and put them all in one place to make you feel better (or maybe worse?) about this infamous matchup.

What are people saying about this series?

From ESPN: “The Capitals fought through an early goalie controversy to shake the pesky Columbus Blue Jackets in six games in Round 1. Washington will need to perform much better at home to have a chance of knocking off the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Sidney Crosby's crew had a seesaw first-round series of their own against another Metropolitan Division rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. Although nearly every game of that series was a blowout, the Penguins outlasted the depleted Flyers in six games -- leaving us wondering if Pittsburgh has enough gas left itself. After all, there's a reason no team has three-peated in more than three decades.”

From Sportsnet: “Holtby’s .907 save percentage this season was by far the worst of his NHL career and in January and February his save rate dropped below .900. This led to more starts for Grubauer, but since wrestling the job back from him against Columbus, Holtby’s playoff save percentage is a very respectable .932 — the second-best mark of all advancing Eastern Conference goalies, behind only Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. If Holtby is back on top of his game as one of the world’s elite, he will be the key for Washington to exorcise their demons."

Brandon Schlager from Sporting News: Keep a close eye on Evgeni Malkin's injury (lower body). He didn't play in the Penguins' clinching Game 6 win over the Flyers, missed practice all week and has been ruled out for Game 1. With Crosby and Guentzel clicking, Malkin's absence may not matter a ton, but it would restrict the Penguins from deploying a third line with Phil Kessel and level the playing field a bit in terms of firepower. Ovechkin, as always, was the engine that drove the Capitals in Round 1, but credit depth scoring and goaltending that brought them back against the Blue Jackets. No. 8's going to get his; he has 26 points in 20 career playoff games against the Penguins.

So Washington's success is incumbent upon guys like T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, et al, continuing to provide support, throwing Matt Murray (who looked shaky at times in the first round) off his game. All told, the Penguins haven't lost a playoff series to the Capitals since 1994. No reason to expect this year will be any different until Washington exorcises its demons.

Penguins in 7 games.

From the Pittsburgh Penguins: “See you soon, Capitals.”

Capitals vs. Pengiuns Game 1 Predictions:

Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals Insider: Capitals in 7
JJ Regan, Capitals Correspondent: Penguins in 7 (prove me wrong, Caps!)
Joe Beninati, Capitals play-by-play announcer: Capitals in 6
Craig Laughlin, Capitals color commentator: Capitals in 6
Al Koken, Capitals on-ice reporter: Capitals in 6
Alan May, Capitals analyst: Capitals in 6
Rob Carlin, host of Capitals GameTIme and Capitals Extra: Capitals in 7
Ryan Billie, Capitals producer: Capitals in 7
Grant Paulsen, host of Capitals FaceOff and Capitals Overtime: Capitals in 7
Courtney Laughlin, Capitals FaceOff and Capitals Overtime panelist: Capitals in 6

E.B. from the Sports Junkies: Confidence level in Capitals at 65 percent

J.P. from the Sports Junkies: Confidence level in the Capitals at 40 percent

Cakes from the Sports Junkies: Confidence level in the Capitals at 60 percent

Bish from the Sports Junkies: Confidence level in the Capitals at 45 percent 

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