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Opponents say Stanley Cup runs through D.C.

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Opponents say Stanley Cup runs through D.C.

News, notes and some interesting quotes as the Capitals spend a Thursday off in southern California, dreaming about the beautiful weather in D.C.:

Stanley Cup preview?: It seems every Western Conference team the Caps have faced lately has been trumpeted as the team they could face in the Stanley Cup Final three months from now. Whether it’s the Dallas Stars, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings, everyone in the West seems to think the road to the 2016 Stanley Cup runs through Chinatown.

“If we want to win the Cup there’s a good chance we’ll have to go through them,” Kings forward Jeff Carter said after netting the overtime game-winner in the Caps’ 4-3 loss in Staples Center Wednesday night. “So tonight was a big game. It was probably for both teams two different games. Hot start, slow down. Slow start, heat up. They’re a good team, and chances are pretty good that if we want to get to where we need to be we’ll have to go through them.”

Slow starts, fast finishes: Including Wednesday night’s quick 3-0 deficit to the Kings, the Caps have been outscored

53-48 in first periods this season. On the flip side, they’ve outscored opponents by 27 goals in second periods and by 36 goals in third periods for a two-period total of plus-63.

“I didn’t like our first thirty minutes of the game,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “We needed to fix our battles on the puck and in those one-on-one areas we were a little loose with the puck. It’s not necessarily what you get, it’s what you leave and we left them some prime chances to come back on an odd-man rush and get a good look.

“This group was resilient. They were down three and looked at it as a challenge to see if we could come back and we did. Obviously, in overtime we had a bit of a poor change recognizing that we had to get some players off. That’s what happens in three-on-three.”

Trotz said he’s trying to look at Wednesday game as a glass half full.

“We will take the second half of the game and say, ‘That’s what we need to do and the way we need to play,’” he said. ”This group wouldn’t be satisfied with that effort in the first period for the whole game.

“We’re playing a very good team. The L.A. Kings are not going to let you come into their building and have an easy game. We took a while to engage into it and once we did we were fine. It was a good learning lesson and maybe down the road we can run into each other again. It’ll be a good reminder for us.”

Heavy hitters: Although there was a greater emphasis last season on the Caps playing a “heavy” game, the same can be said this season. The Caps rank 11th in the NHL in hits this season with 1,636. Last season, the Caps ranked ninth in the league with 2,335 hits.

A big reason for the Caps’ third-period dominance has been the physical toll they’ve inflicted on their opponents. Just ask the Kings, who lead the NHL with 2,006 hits.

“Two big teams,” said Milan Lucic, who leads the Kings with 217 hits. “They’re a team that’s played well all season long, that’s why they’re in first place in the league. A big part of their success is playing physical, and that’s a big part of our success, too.

“We learned a pretty good lesson today in the third period that we can’t take anything for granted. Even though we’re up three-nothing and had such a great start, when we don’t play the right way we let teams back in it. Good for us to get that extra point there in overtime, but there’s a lesson to be learned by the way we played in the third period.”

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

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A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out to safety just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRE

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3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps knock out the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson.

Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's first two goals. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.