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Which Capitals could play in 2016 World Cup of Hockey?

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Which Capitals could play in 2016 World Cup of Hockey?

With the buzz of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey still in the air, let’s take a look at which Capitals might represent their countries in the eight-team tournament that will take place in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre next fall from Sept. 17-Oct. 1.

Team USA

John Carlson, defense

At 25 years old, Carlson is coming off his most productive NHL season – fifth among NHL blue liners with 43 assists -- and is entering the prime of his career. Ironically, Carlson was paired with former Penguins veteran Brooks Orpik in the 2014 Winter Games and was reunited with him when Orpik arrived in Washington before last season.

Brooks Orpik, defense

Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter and Carlson are locks to make the U.S. team, but Orpik, who will turn 34 later this month, will need to have a strong 2015-16 season to prove he can handle the role of a shot-blocking, crease-clearing veteran presence on a back end that could include youngsters Justin Faulk and Kevin Shattenkirk.

T.J. Oshie, right wing

With seasoned studs like Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler and Paul Stastny, Oshie will need to have a big season in his first year with the Capitals to play his way onto the World Cup stage. Casual fans may see him as a shootout specialist and that will help his cause, but Oshie’s edgy style should also be attractive to the Team USA management staff.

Team Canada

Braden Holtby, goaltender

Two years ago, Holtby attended Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp with the hopes of playing in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Holtby struggled for most of that 2013-14 season but had a breakout season last year and is looking to build off his success this season. Barring any setbacks Holtby should challenge Carey Price for the chance to be the starter for the Canadians next year.

Team Russia

Alex Ovechkin, left wing

With eight goals in 17 Olympic games for Team Russia, Ovechkin will be looking to silence his critics from 2014 following Russia’s no-medal showing as Olympic host. He’s also likely to benefit from the NHL-sized rinks, allowing him to be a more dominant physical presence than on the wider surfaces in Europe.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, center

There is no question Kuznetsov, 23, represents the next wave of Russian stars and his anticipated success this season likely will put him on the same ice as legendary forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Team Sweden

Nicklas Backstrom, center

After his ordeal in Sochi, where he was suspended from playing in the gold medal game due to testing positive for allergy medication, Backstrom will be eager to lead Sweden into international battle. He led the NHL in assists last season with 60 and in nine Olympic games with Sweden Backstrom has one goal and nine assists, prompting Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to say Backstrom would rather pick up an assist than score a goal.  

Marcus Johansson, center/left/right wing  

Johansson was a late addition to Team Sweden in 2014 and picked up one assist in five games. Entering a contract season for the second year in a row, Johansson will have plenty incentive to put up big numbers this season after netting a career-high 20 goals and 47 points last season.

Outside shot: Andre Burakovsky

Team Europe

Philipp Grubauer, goaltender

Comprised of players from countries such as Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Norway, Belarus, Switzerland, Latvia and Denmark, Team Europe could show interest in Grubauer, a 23-year-old netminder from Rosenheim, Germany.  Grubauer has represented his country in two World Championship games and seven World Junior Championship matches and is expected to back up Holtby this season.

Andre Burakovsky, center/left wing

Born in Austria and raised in Sweden, Burakovsky would have a better shot at making Team Europe than he would Team Sweden, although his preference likely would be to play for Three Crowns. At 20 he still has plenty of room to grow and plenty of time to play for his home country.

Team North America

Tom Wilson, right wing

Made up of American and Canadian players who will be 23 or younger, this could be one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament with talented players like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nathan McKinnon and Aaron Ekblad. Those players will need someone to protect them and Wilson would be more than willing to stand up to anyone interested in pushing them around. Wilson is anticipating a big season this year and he’s already got the attention of Team North America managers Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman.

Team Czech Republic

Jakub Vrana, right wing

At 19, Vrana still has a lot to prove between now and next September, but his shot and his hands are undeniably lethal and he could draw some attention from the Czech management team. Vrana would need to light up the AHL and perhaps see time with the Capitals before warranting serious consideration to play on an aging team anchored by Jake Voracek, Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr.  

RELATED: WILSON WILL CONTINUE TO PLAY HARD

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The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The last three games have been pretty awesome if you're a Caps fan. For one minute, however, let's consider what it must feel like for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus has seen a 0-2 series lead evaporate, they have lost both of their home games and now they face elimination after three straight losses including two overtime games and in two of those games, the Blue Jackets outplayed the Caps.

Oh, and head coach John Tortorella kinda, sorta guaranteed the Blue Jackets would force a Game 7.

As the series shifts back to Ohio for Game 6 on Monday, do you think the Blue Jackets may be a tad motivated when they take the ice in front of their home fans?

"We’ve got a chance in front of our home crowd to push this thing to seven games and we’re excited about it," Columbus forward Matt Calvert said Sunday. "... Got home last night and I was here a little earlier, got a chance to watch the news and they’re interviewing fans and how they’re pumped up, already saying it’s going to Game 7, so I can’t wait. The atmosphere’s going to be great. I know they’re going to give an all-out effort and so are we.”

In the third period of Game 5, the enormity of their situation began to set in for Columbus. Down 3-2 and facing their third straight loss, the Blue Jackets made a tremendous push to try to win the game. They tied the score at 3 early in the period and ultimately outshot Washington 16-1. If not for the tremendous effort of Braden Holtby in net to force overtime, the roles of this series could easily be reversed with Washington facing elimination in Game 6.

Now imagine that effort, plus the home crowd plus the desperation of a team facing elimination. An early lead for the Jackets could start a snowball effect in which their momentum and the crowd carry them through the rest of the game. But the longer the Caps can survive, the more doubt will begin to creep into Columbus, the antsier the fans will become and the more confident Washington will play.

The Caps better be ready.

The good news for Washington is that its been here before. Just last season, the Caps went to Toronto in Game 6 with an opportunity to close out the Maple Leafs. Toronto outshot Washington 14-10 in the first period, but they could not get the early goal and the game was scoreless through the first 20 minutes. Auston Matthews scored in the third period to break a scoreless tie, but Marcus Johansson scored five minutes later and then again in overtime to close out the series.

After experiencing last year's series in Toronto, the Caps know what they are going to be up against in Columbus.

"It's the toughest game to win because the other team is desperate," head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday on a conference call with the media. "Their backs are against the wall. They're there. They're going to give their absolute max effort tomorrow, and we've got to make sure that we have a max effort. If we do that, then we have a chance to win in Columbus."

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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

There are only two series left in the first round that have yet to be decided. The Caps just so happen to be playing in one of those series.

After falling into a 0-2 hole to start, Washington has rattled off three straight wins and now sits just one away from putting away the Columbus Blue Jackets and advancing to the second round.

Should the Capitals advance, they will play the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive season.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

The Penguins ended their series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in Game 6. Jake Guentzel scored four goals in the effort proving once and for all that yes, goaltending is important in the playoffs. Head coach Mike Sullivan has still yet to lose a playoff series as the head coach of Pittsburgh as he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons.

In the Atlantic, the Tampa Bay Lightning await the winner of the Boston Bruins - Toronto Maple Leafs series after dispatching the New Jersey Devils in five games. After a strong regular season, the Maple Leafs looked poised to take the next step, but Auston Matthews has only two points in five games and Toronto faces elimination at the hands of the Bruins Monday in Game 5.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

All four series in the West, meanwhile, have already been decided. Both the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks managed four-game sweeps in the first round and will face one another in the second  The miraculous season of the Golden Knights continues and it would be hard to argue at this point that they are not legitimate Stanly Cup contenders considering all they have accomplished in both the regular season and the playoffs.

Wins by the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets now sets up a second-round battle between the top two teams in the league from the regular season.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>