Capitals

Quick Links

Against red-hot Flyers, Capitals need to prove they can put teams away for good

Against red-hot Flyers, Capitals need to prove they can put teams away for good

PHILADELPHIA – Fast starts have been no problem for the Capitals against the Philadelphia Flyers in two games this season. 

Tom Wilson scored in the first five minutes of a Jan. 8 win and in the first six minutes of a March 6 victory just last week. Washington went up 5-0 in that game, which quickly became a laugher. 

Things aren’t always what they seem, however. The Capitals got sloppy in that win at Wells Fargo Center last week. The home crowd was booing the Flyers off the ice – until a goal with 12 seconds left in the second period. And then another 10 seconds into the third period by Claude Giroux. The score was an uncomfortable 5-3 with over 12 minutes to play and the crowd was back in it before Washington settled down and held on for the win.  

On Thursday back in Philadelphia, the Capitals will try to get off to another fast start and keep it going this time when the team have their third meeting of the season (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington). That was an issue when a 2-0 lead got away from Washington on Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh with three goals coming in a span of 1:48. That happened earlier in the year, too, in an overtime loss to San Jose when the game-tying goal came just before the buzzer and a blown 5-1 lead against the Anaheim Ducks in December. 

Any team can handle losses they should have won. It’s harder to take when it is in control of those games and has done the right things to build a lead. The Capitals didn’t pay for their sloppiness against the Flyers last week. They did against Pittsburgh. It’s time to stop letting points get away with the Metropolitan Division so tight. 

Washington (41-22-7, 89 points) had a seven-game winning streak snapped on Tuesday. The New York Islanders (40-22-7, 87 points) are still nipping at their heels. The Penguins (38-23-9, 85 points) cut the deficit to four points. They are in third. The Carolina Hurricanes (38-24-7, 83 points) are right in the mix for a playoff spot and play the Capitals twice later in the month. The Columbus Blue Jackets (39-28-3, 81 points) aren’t out of it, either. 

As for the Flyers (34-27-8, 76 points), they were left for dead months ago. That loss to Washington on January 8 put them at a record of 15-22-0-6 for 36 points. Philadelphia was briefly 31st in the NHL and 15 points out of a playoff spot. Since then, it has gone 19-5-0-2 for 40 points in 26 games. From Jan. 9 to March 13, the Flyers were tied for third in the league in points, tied for second in wins, tied for fifth in goals (93) and seventh in goals against (71). 

They are not a team to be trifled with or not taken seriously. Plus rookie phenom Carter Hart, who helped fuel that resurgence, returns from an ankle injury tonight to start in goal. Philadelphia is five points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand and 13 games to go. This is its last shot. The Capitals can expect a fiery, desperate team that thought it was out of it, but still has some hope. The home crowd will play into that. Washington will need a fast start – or at least weather one from the Flyers, who will treat this as a playoff game.   

Holtby in again

No surprise, Braden Holtby starts again for Washington. This is his ninth in the past 11 games. In the previous eight Holtby has a .922 save percentage. He and Hart share a sports psychologist in John Stephenson. Holtby personally thanked Stephenson during his post-Stanley Cup interview with Scott Oake of the CBC after the Caps won the Cup in Vegas on June 7.

Changes

Minor tweaks to the lineup after the seven-game losing streak. Chandler Stephenson replaces Nic Dowd at center. Stephenson likes that he’s back at his natural position. It’s a little more comfortable than playing on the wing. But he just wants to be back in the lineup. Capitals coach Todd Reirden said he needed to get Stephenson into a game. He hasn’t played since a Feb. 23 loss to Buffalo. Otherwise the lineup remains the same. Stephenson centers Travis Boyd and Andre Burakovsky.    

Capitals (41-22-7, 89) at Flyers (34-27-8, 76 points)
March 14
7 p.m. ET, NBCSWA, NHL.TV

 
Capitals
Forwards

8-Alex Ovechkin -- 92-Evgeny Kuznetsov -- 43-Tom Wilson
13-Jakub Vrana -- 19-Nicklas Backstrom -- 77-T.J. Oshie
62-Carl Hagelin -- 20-Lars Eller -- 10-Brett Connolly
65-Andre Burakovsky -- 18-Chandler Stephenson -- 72-Travis Boyd
6-Michal Kempny -- 74- John Carlson

Defensemen
9-Dmitry Orlov -- 2-Matt Niskanen
44-Brooks Orpik -- 3-Nick Jensen 

Goalies
70-Braden Holtby
1-Pheonix Copley

Scratched: Nic Dowd, Dmitrij Jaskin, Christian Djoos
Injuries: None

 
Flyers
Forwards
23-Oskar Lindblom -- 14-Sean Couturier -- 28-Claude Giroux
25-James van Riemsdyk -- 19-Nolan Patrick -- 11-Travis Konecny
12-Michael Raffl -- 21-Scott Laughton -- 38-Ryan Hartman
44-Phil Varone -- 10-Corban Knight -- 27-Justin Bailey

Defense
9-Ivan Provorov -- 6-Travis Sanheim
8-Robert Hägg -- 3-Radko Gudas
53-Shayne Gostisbehere -- 61-Phil Myers

Goalies
79-Carter Hart
37-Brian Elliott

Suspensions: Jake Voracek (suspension) 
Injuries: Michal Neuvirth (lower-body injury)

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: 

Quick Links

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Bruins, Sharks eliminate Maple Leafs, Golden Knights in Game 7s

roundup.png
USA TODAY Sports Images

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Bruins, Sharks eliminate Maple Leafs, Golden Knights in Game 7s

With two Game 7s lined up Tuesday, the daytime was filled with anxiety and curiosity over which teams would come out on top. The Maple Leafs were looking to end a streak of Game 7 losses to their rival Bruins, and the Golden Knights were looking to continue their quest toward returning to the Stanley Cup Final and perhaps getting the job done this year.

However, the games took a wild turn, as Boston was able to easily cruise past Toronto and the Sharks were able to comeback from a 3-0 deficit to win in overtime. Here's how each game played out.

Bruins top Maple Leafs in another Game 7, 5-1

Game 7 seems to happen naturally between these two teams, and yet again, it was Boston who was able to easily win this one with a 5-1 victory.

The beginning of the first period was seemingly quiet, but in the last six minutes, the Bruins turned on the jets. Joakim Nordstrom scored after putting a pass from the top of the circle past Frederik Andersen to make it 1-0 for Boston. Just three minutes later, Marcus Johansson scored on a quick shot that made it 2-0 heading into the second.

John Tavares was able to cut the lead to one early in the second, but Sean Kuraly went top-shelf to restore the Bruins' two-goal lead in the first two minutes of the third.

Charlie Coyle and Patrice Bergeron added two more for Boston to guarantee the win and move onto the second round, and Tuukka Rask made 31 saves in the win. This is the third time in the last decade and the second year in a row that the Maple Leafs have fallen to Boston in seven games in the first round.

Sharks stun Golden Knights with 5-4 OT win

It was an interesting night for the Sharks to say the least. After trailing 3-0 after two periods, it seemed as if the season was over, but a costly major penalty for Vegas led to a comeback and eventual overtime victory for San Jose.

William Karlsson opened the scoring halfway through the first after jumping on a loose puck and firing it past Martin Jones. Cody Eakin added to the lead 10 minutes into the second to make it 2-0, and later, to start the third, Mark Stone struck to make it 3-0.

However, Cody Eakin then cross-checked Joe Pavelski in the head, receiving a five-minute major that led to a lengthy power play for San Jose and changed the momentum of the game. That's when the Sharks scored four goals on the lengthy man advantage.

Logan Couture struck first, scoring on a pass from Kevin Labanc to make it 3-1. A minute later, Tomas Hertl redirected an Erik Karlsson point shot past Fleury to pull San Jose within one. Couture put home his second of the night soonafter, then Labanc had a goal of his own to give San Jose a 4-3 lead with seven minutes remaining.

The Golden Knights were able to tie it with 47 seconds left, as Jonathan Marchessault was able to one-time a feed from Reilly Smith past Jones to make it 4-4. However, the Sharks eliminated Vegas after Barclay Goodrow deked the puck past Fleury in the final minute of the first extra period.

San Jose will face Colorado in the second round, which kicks off Thursday.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Capitals mailbag: Who needs to step up in a winner-take-all Game 7?

Capitals mailbag: Who needs to step up in a winner-take-all Game 7?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out the April 24 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Nathan S. writes: What do you think the atmosphere in Game 7 will be like? Loud like Carolina or tense like in years past? I noticed when game was tied in Game 2, the arena got quiet like in prior years. Old habits die hard I guess or are DC fans just not that rabid? 

This will depend on how the game goes. Look, Caps fans have gotten a bad rap over the years because it did not take much to take the wind out of their sails after seeing multiple playoff failures. I thought the fan base was past that, but when the Caps lost Game 3 and people began tweeting me that the series was over (despite the fact that the Caps were up 2-1 at the time) I realized that that culture of assuming the worst remained ingrained in a lot of the fans.

Having said that, no one who was in Capital One Arena for any of the conference final games or Stanley Cup Final games last year can say the fans did not bring it then. That was the loudest I have ever heard the arena and there was not a shred of doubt or gloom from the fans in those games, even as Washington dropped Games 3 and 4 to Tampa Bay.

To answer your question, yes, Caps fans are rabid, but also quickly deflated in early elimination scenarios. If the Caps come out swinging, the crowd will be behind them. If it’s 2-0 heading into the third period, however, the silence will be deafening.

Benjamin C. writes: I am concerned with the Capitals. Why do they look like they’re sleep walking out there? They don’t look energized out there and we know they have another level.

This may be a bit revisionist history. The Caps won Games 1 and 2. I know they were close wins, but let’s remember in Game 1 the Caps were up 3-0 when Petr Mrazek saved breakaways from Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin before Andrei Svechnikov scored twice to pull the Hurricanes close. Game 2 was won in overtime, but the Caps never trailed in that game. After Game 3 a lot of people were saying Carolina had dominated every game, but that was an overreaction to a blowout loss and to the fact that possession numbers were heavily in favor of Carolina.

Here’s the thing, the Hurricanes were always going to dominate those numbers because those numbers are based on shot attempts and Carolina is a high shot volume team, Washington is not. You have to know that going in and take those numbers with a grain of salt.

Game 3 was bad. The Caps were the better team for the most part in Game 4, but the issue there was an overreaction to the forecheck which had dominated them so completely in Game 3. The Caps adjusted with short passes and speed out of the defensive zone, but one player would zip down the ice with the puck and end up so far ahead of his teammates and surrounded by four Hurricanes in the offensive zone. He would shoot the puck or turn it over and the puck would be headed out of the zone as quickly as it went in. Game 6 started out well, but the last 40 minutes were bad and now it has come down to a Game 7. Overall, I would say the Caps have only really played poorly in two games, Games 3 and 6. It doesn’t take much in hockey to give a team hope, however, and two bad performances were all it took to push this series to seven games.

Let’s also remember that Washington is the only division winner to even make it to seven games. It will be disappointing if they lose in the first round, but it would certainly be par for the course in what is quickly becoming the year of the upset.

Carl Hagelin has played great the last two games so I am not going to bury him. Jakub Vrana has not been much of a factor at all, but really if we are going to talk about players the Caps need more from, the discussion begins and ends with Kuznetsov.

Kuznetsov was brilliant in last year’s Cup run and could easily have won the Conn Smythe over Ovechkin with 32 points in 24 games. So far he has just five assists in six games. That is not good enough. Washington does not win the Cup without him playing like a superstar and they may not even make it out of the first round if he does not step up his game on Wednesday. He was invisible in Game 6 and you just cannot have that from a player as important as he is.

Kuznetsov has to be better and if he’s not, he will easily be the biggest disappointment of this series. What’s more, his words from back in October about how it’s “not my style” to be focused 365 days a year are going to come back to haunt him.

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?

For whatever reason, the Caps have looked like a completely different team in Carolina. Having a Game 7 in Washington has not been much of an advantage in recent years, but in this specific situation, playing at Capital One Arena will be huge. The Caps have been much better at handling the Hurricanes’ forecheck at home and that will need to continue. The first period has been huge in each home game for the Caps so the opening 20 minutes of Game 7 is going to tell us a lot about who has showed up to play. I expect a very physical start for Washington as that is about the one clear advantage the Caps have established thus far through six games.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS: