Capitals

Bulls vow to get by without Rose

Bulls vow to get by without Rose

CHICAGO (AP) Their superstar is injured, their so-called ``bench mob'' pretty much gone and despite all that, the Chicago Bulls insist one thing hasn't changed.

They're not rolling over. The obits are premature.

The Bulls believe they still have plenty left even though Derrick Rose is expected to miss a big chunk of the season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and most of the reserves that gave Chicago one of the NBA's deepest benches are gone. They insist they will be factors in the Eastern Conference after capturing the top seed the past two years.

``I think we can be real good, knowing the character of this team,'' Rose said.

Of course, it won't be easy without their superstar.

The Bulls were widely viewed as the biggest threat to Miami in the East before Rose was injured late in a playoff-opening win over Philadelphia. With Joakim Noah (sprained ankle) also going down in the series, Chicago bowed out in the first round one year after losing to the Heat in the conference finals.

With their franchise player missing from the start this year, the Bulls have a huge void to fill.

``Trying to do too much would be the biggest mistake I could make,'' Deng said. ``I know how good I could be when I'm myself. For all of us as a team, no one individual is going to do what Derrick did. As a group, we all have to commit. I'm really looking forward to it.''

For the Bulls to hold their ground, a lot will depend on Deng's left wrist and Richard Hamilton's durability, not to mention how all the new pieces mesh.

With Rose out, the Bulls brought back veteran Kirk Hinrich for a second stint to run the point and ultimately move into a backup role. They also shook up their bench, trading away Kyle Korver and losing Omer Asik, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer in free agency. In their place are veterans such as Nate Robinson, Nazr Mohammed, Vladimir Radmanovic and Marco Belinelli.

As for Deng, he insisted his wrist has improved dramatically after he tore a ligament in it last year. He opted against surgery, and he said it held up well playing for Great Britain in the Olympics, adding there's ``no reason for me not to have a great year.''

It would help, too, if Hamilton stayed healthy after injuries limited him to 28 games. In his first season with the Bulls, he posted his lowest scoring average since he was a rookie with Washington in 1999-2000 at 11.6 points per game.

They also need Carlos Boozer to step up, along with Noah and Taj Gibson.

``Obviously, missing Derrick, that's a huge blow,'' Hinrich said. ``I know every day we're going to be out there and compete, share the ball. I'm excited to be a part of something like that.''

Chicago did win 18 of the 27 games Rose missed during the regular season a year ago, but the supporting cast was different. Most of the bench players are gone, even if the rest of the starting lineup is back, and that feeling that the Bulls are in a holding pattern, that they're biding their time until he regains his dominant form, lingers.

All eyes are on Rose, even if he won't be seen until later. His recovery really is the story surrounding the Bulls, the lingering issue as the team tries to get by without him.

``I think even if you win a championship, you come back the next day and people will doubt you,'' Deng said. ``It's just the way it always is. I think as a team - we hear things all summer - you know what's being said. The best thing that we do as a team is we really focus on what we have to do day-in and day-out. We don't try to get caught up in what's going on outside these four walls.''

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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