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The Capitals and Hurricanes are about to spend a lot of quality time together

The Capitals and Hurricanes are about to spend a lot of quality time together

ARLINGTON, Va. – If the season were to end today, the Capitals would be playing the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The season does not end today, but as the Caps prepare to host the Hurricanes on Tuesday (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) in the first game of a home-and-home with Carolina, a potential playoff meeting is sure to be on the mind of all the coaches and players.

Washington currently sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division, holding a one-point lead over the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps have a game in hand over Pittsburgh and also play the Islanders in the season finale. If they cannot lock up the division before then, that last game may well prove to be for the division crown.

Carolina meanwhile sits four points behind Pittsburgh and three points ahead of the second wild card team, the Montreal Canadiens, with a game in hand.

A lot can happen in the final two weeks of the season, but a Caps-Canes first-round series is a very realistic scenario.

So how do you approach a regular season home-and-home against a possible playoff opponent?

For the Caps, it provides them the opportunity to keep experimenting with lines and defensive pairings. The injury to Michal Kempny has left Washington’s blue line in flux. If he can find combinations that are successful against the Hurricanes, it could ease the fears of many who are wondering how the Caps can win without one of their top defensemen.

For Carolina, this is a measuring stick game to see how the team handles playing the defending champions who, before the loss of Kempny, seemed to be rounding into playoff form.

As far as the players are concerned, to a man they said playing a potential first round opponent would not change how they prepared or approached this game. Having said that, don’t be surprised if this game is a bit more contentious than normal as both teams try to send a message to the other.

Game notes

Hagelin promoted

Here are the lines from morning skate:

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Tom Wilson
Carl Hagelin – Evgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana – Lars Eller – Brett Connolly
Andre Burakovsky – Nic Dowd – Travis Boyd

Christian Djoos – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik – Nick Jensen

Braden Holtby starts

Head coach Todd Reirden began shuffling lines on Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers and he decided to stick with Hagelin on the second line. That may also have something to do with the chemistry that Vrana and Connolly seem to have together. Connolly assisted on Vrana’s breakaway goal that put the game away on Sunday.

Expect more defensive shuffling

The defensive pairs look the same as they did to start Sunday’s game, but you can expect more shuffling as Reirden tries to find the right combination. Djoos got 13:47 of ice time Sunday despite being on the top pair. It seems likely his time will be limited a bit again on Tuesday as he has struggled since coming into the lineup in place of Kempny.

Also of note, Tyler Lewington was sent back to Hershey and Jonas Siegenthaler was recalled. The Caps are very close to the salary cap and Lewington had a lower cap hit than Siegenthaler. They needed to wait until Monday before they could recall Siegenthaler. While Lewington was unlikely to get into the lineup, Siegenthaler may get a look to see if he fits into the team’s top six now with Kempny out long-term.

Watching the standings

The Islanders will also be in action on Tuesday as they play the Columbus Blue Jackets. Should the Caps lose, New York will have a chance to reclaim first place. Two points for Washington will ensure they retain first place in the division regardless of the result in Columbus.

Clinching scenarios

The Caps can punch their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday if they win and both Montreal and Columbus lose in regulation.

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Caps rookie Jonas Siegenthaler ready for playoff debut

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USA Today

Caps rookie Jonas Siegenthaler ready for playoff debut

RALEIGH — Jonas Siegenthaler’s friends and family back in Zurich should take a long nap today and drink plenty of coffee. 

The rookie Swiss defenseman makes his Stanley Cup playoffs debut when the Capitals play the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 4 of their first-round series at PNC Arena on Thursday. 

The 7 p.m. puck drop will be at about 1 a.m. in Switzerland due to the six-hour time difference, but it’s a dream for the 21-year-old. He replaces Christian Djoos in the lineup. The Capitals still lead the series 2-1. 

“Not everyone is able to play a Stanley Cup Playoff game,” Siegenthaler said. “Next to my debut this year, I think it's probably one of my biggest days in life.”

Siegenthaler will skate with veteran Brooks Orpik to start. That will help calm any nerves. But Siegenthaler is in for two reasons: His ability to take physical contact and still make a play (he’s 6-foot-3, 206 pounds) and his poise under pressure. He isn’t the skater that Djoos is, but the Capitals hope he can withstand Carolina’s intense forecheck pressure better.

Just do that and they’ll be fine with it. It’s unlikely Siegenthaler plays much more more than 10 minutes anyway. Djoos never broke 8:40 in his first three games and had a bad turnover in the first period of Game 3 that led to a goal and opened the floodgates for the Hurricanes. 

One added bonus: Siegenthaler can kill penalties. That was something he showed during 26 games with Washington as a rookie. He spent the first 14 games in the minors with AHL Hershey. Then he was in and out of the lineup from his recall on Nov. 9 until Feb. 7 when a numbers crunch on the blueline sent him back to Hershey. Siegenthaler was back in the NHL on March 26, but has only played once since: The regular-season finale on April 6 against the New York Islanders. 

“The guys here kept me in shape on the ice, off the ice,” Siegenthaler said. “I didn't play the last two weeks, but I don't think it should be too bad. I feel ready. My body feels ready and my mind feels ready too.”

The Capitals hope so because they need everyone working together to get the puck out of their defensive zone. That didn’t happen near enough in Game 3, a 5-0 loss. A video session that Orpik called “kind of trash” made that obvious. But it gives Siegenthaler an opportunity. 

Reirden said Siegenthaler could move around some as the Capitals continue to try to find a fix without Michal Kempny (torn hamstring) available. It’s a different look. It remains to be seen how he handles it. 

“It's pretty physical. It's a lot faster,” Siegenthaler said. “I think it's going to be a challenge from the first minute on, for me. I've got to match the pace and everything so I know I'm capable to do that and I've just got to be ready.”

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Sorry Wizards fans, Zion Williamson is a... Hurricanes fan

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Carolina Hurricanes Twitter

Sorry Wizards fans, Zion Williamson is a... Hurricanes fan

Zion Williamson released a message today that no Wizards or Capitals fan wanted to hear.

The beloved basketball star - who, if the NBA Draft lottery ball takes a very lucky spin for the Wizards, could become an instant sensation in the District - is in fact, a fan of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Gasp.

The former Blue Devil's statement dropped early Thursday morning in anticipation for NHL Playoff 2019 Game 4.

After being dominated by Washington in Games 1 and 2 of the series, Carolina absolutely squashed the Caps in their last matchup 5-0, giving Hurricane fans a glimmer of hope.

The two will face off again tonight in PNC arena at 7 p.m., and hopefully Williamson is disappointed with the outcome. 

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