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Williams sits out Caps practice, Burakovsky in his spot

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Williams sits out Caps practice, Burakovsky in his spot

With veteran right wing Justin Williams sick at home and questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Andre Burakovsky found himself back on the Capitals’ second line with center Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson at Tuesday’s practice.

“(Williams) called in this morning,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said. “ When you have kids who go to school they get sick and they pass it on to their parents. I said there’s no sense getting us all sick. Stay home. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go, but if not we’ll move Burakovsky into his spot.”

Burakovsky, 20, spent the first three games of the season centering the Caps’ second line, averaging about 15 minutes of ice time. But when Backstrom returned from a hip injury Burakovsky was dropped to the fourth line, where he’s averaged just over 11 minutes with left wing Brooks Laich and center Chandler Stephenson.

“I’ve been here before and I know how to handle it and how to get out of it,” said Burakovsky, who was a healthy scratch at the start of last year’s playoffs. “I’m focusing on being really good at practice and hopefully I’ll get up in the lines sooner or later.”

In Friday night’s 7-4 win over the Oilers, Burakovsky saw a season-low 9:01 of ice time.  Trotz said he wasn’t pleased with the play of his fourth line and wanted to send them a message.

“I think they have some good elements,” Trotz said. “They’ve got speed, some skill, and two are young guys with some enthusiasm. Their identity needs to be being consistent and being trustworthy and they should be able to produce as well. Against other teams’ fourth lines they probably have more skill and can do some damage.”

As for Burakovsky, whose father, Robert, is in town, Trotz says his ice time will come.

“I told him just be patient,” Trotz said. “Everything is done for a reason. Be it Brooks Laich or Chander or Burt, when they get out there they have to be really detailed.

“Don’t worry about the minutes. Worry about the consistency and quality of play within those minutes. I’m trying to get minutes for everybody but against Edmonton they got less. I didn’t like their game as a fourth line and they will agree with you on that I’m pretty sure. They didn’t have a great game in Edmonton so they got less minutes.”

Despite his limited ice time, Burakovsky has two goals and three assists and is a plus-1 in his first seven games and clearly looks more comfortable on the wing than at center, a position he had never played before early last season.

“Barry wants me to play a lot but right now all the lines are playing well,” Burakovsky said. “I’m just going to stay with it. The only thing that matters is winning the games.”

Waiting their turn: Center Michael Latta and right wing Stan Galiev have played in just two of the Caps’ seven games this season and both said they are itching to get back in the lineup. One of them could if Williams cannot play on Wednesday.  

“Nothing I can do,” said Latta, who has not played since the Caps’ 5-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks. “Everybody’s playing so well right now. I need to be patient, work hard and wait for my chance.”

Galiev, who has not played since the Caps’ third game of the season, is taking the same approach.

“Just stay positive,” Galiev said. “I’m living the dream. I just have to be ready. I cannot go down a negative road. I can’t complain.”

Injury update: Right wing Chris Brown, who injured his hand during the preseason, practiced with the Capitals in a non-contact jersey. Trotz said he would be sent to AHL Hershey once he is medically cleared.   

[RELATED: Trotz endorses Ovechkin as Hall of Famer]

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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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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>>