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Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

The Caps are headed to the 2018 NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins… again.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Yes, for the third time in three years, the Capitals will play the Penguins, hoping to take down the defending Stanley Cup champions and advance out of the second round of the playoffs and to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since the 1998 season, when the team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.

It all begins in Game 1, on Thursday, April 26 at 7:00 p.m. ET.

The Capitals are riding momentum from their first-round series win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, where they fought back from an 0-2 series hole to win the series thanks to a 6-3 victory in Game 6 Monday night in Columbus.

That momentum coupled with home-ice advantage — should they choose to capitalize on that this time around — could create an ideal atmosphere for the Caps to take a 2-0 series lead before heading to Pittsburgh for Games 3 and 4.

A perennial problem, Sidney Crosby enters this series playing some of his best playoff hockey. In their 4-2 series win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pens’ captain scored six goals in six games, including a hat trick in the opening matchup.

But he’s not the only one creating havoc for goalies. Center Jake Guentzel is tied with Crosby at the top of the league in goals and points in the playoffs. The pair each had six goals and seven assists against the Flyers, as well as 17 shots on goal apiece.

Is it possible they’ll get stonewalled by Braden Holtby, who — despite not starting initially in the first two games for the Caps against the Blue Jackets — is rocking a 93.6 save percentage and ranks fourth in the league with a 1.66 goals against average among goaltenders who have played more than one postseason game.

If the Caps can find a spark in their offense with Holtby staying strong in goal, perhaps this could be the year they finally slide past the Pens.

However, history isn’t exactly on Washington’s side. In the second-round series from the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, the Pens hold an 8-5 record over the Caps, eliminating them both years on their way to back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Pittsburgh leads the Caps in the overall playoff game record, 38-24, and they’ve met for 10 series in the postseason, dating back to 1990-91. Four times the series was pushed to a Game 7, but the Caps never came out on top.

The one and only time the Caps have ever eliminated the Pens from the playoffs was in the 1993-94 season, when they beat Pittsburgh 4-2 in the first round before losing to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

But hey, this year could become the second time in franchise history the Caps take down the Pens.

Game 1 of the Capitals vs. Penguins series will take place on Thursday, April 26 at Capital One Arena. The game broadcast begins at 7:00 p.m. ETon NBC Sports Network with Caps FaceOff and Caps Extra preceeding it on NBC Sports Washington. Following the game, stay with NBC Sports Washington for Caps Extra at 9:30 p.m. ET (Approx.) and Caps OverTime at 10:00 p.m. ET.

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New York Rangers land No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft Lottery

New York Rangers land No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft Lottery

Just a few days ago, the New York Rangers were competing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, they are the owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

New York landed the first pick during Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery on Monday, as they were the lucky team to have their ping pong ball sitting at the top of the order. 

The league switched it up this season, as teams that fell in the qualifying round of the NHL restart were all eligible for the first pick. This was decided during Phase 1 of the NHL Draft Lottery when "Team E" ended up in the top spot. Here's how the draft shakes out now, before other teams are added after playoff results:

  1. New York Rangers
  2. Los Angeles Kings
  3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose)
  4. Detroit Red Wings
  5. Ottawa Senators
  6. Anaheim Ducks
  7. New Jersey Devils
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Minnesota Wild
  10. Winnipeg Jets
  11. Nashville Predators
  12. Florida Panthers
  13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto)
  14. Edmonton Oilers
  15. Pittsburgh Penguins (optional to Minnesota)

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There was an interesting moment leading up to the selection, as the ball with the Rangers logo was dropped prematurely before commissioner Gary Bettman was able to confirm that it was the correct ping pong ball. Twitter immediately went into conspiracy mode, given that the Rangers had the second pick last year, but the fact of the matter is New York is now on the clock.

For the Rangers, that most likely means the addition of Alexis Lafrenière, an 18-year-old Canadien winger who is considered to be the bell of this year's ball. While Lafrenière is certainly talented, he's not yet viewed as a franchise-altering selection such as Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby.

Still, there is reason for excitement in New York. A team that contended for a playoff spot in 2020 will now add another important piece for next season. 2019 first-round pick Kaapo Kakko, who struggled at times during his rookie season, is another talented scorer that carries lofty expectations. On paper, the future is bright for the Rangers.

However, dominating the lottery doesn't guarantee instant success. Dating back to 2015 when phenom Connor McDavid was selected by the Edmonton Oilers, the owner of the No. 1 pick has only made it past the first round of the playoffs once. That includes the New Jersey Devils, who have picked first overall in two of the last three years.

In terms of how this impacts the Capitals, it does potentially make Washington's matchups with the Rangers more challenging in the future. It's never ideal to see a division foe pick up another talented individual. Yet, the Rangers winning the lottery means the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were eligible, did not. That's always good news for the Capitals.

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Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

The Capitals may be without forward Lars Eller in Wednesday's Game 1 against the New York Islanders even if he is cleared by the NHL in time to play. That was the thought of head coach Todd Reirden on Monday who expressed he would have to make a decision to avoid any possible injury that could keep him out longer.

Eller left the bubble in Toronto for the birth of his second child. He is now back in Toronto under quarantine in his room and cannot leave until he tests negative four times over a four-day period, per NHL protocols. It is unclear when Eller took his first test. If it was Monday, he will not be ready in time for Wednesday's game. If it was on Sunday, there's a chance he could be cleared to play by Wednesday.

"The NHL will be the ones that decide that, have the overall final call on it," Reirden said.

But even if Eller just manages to clear before the 3 p.m. game time on Wednesday, there's a chance he still may not play.

While under quarantine, Eller is not allowed to leave his hotel room at all.

"He’s not allowed to leave his hotel room, so he hasn’t been doing any exercise outside of his room and until we’re told differently that will be how it is," Reirden said.

That could be a problem.

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Eller first left the bubble on Aug. 5. By Wednesday, he will have gone a week without being on the ice or being able to exercise, beyond whatever he can do in his room. Typically in these situations, players get a practice in before getting back into the game lineup and Reirden made it clear on Monday that he may have to consider sitting Eller for Game 1 to prevent any sort of injury after missing a week.

“I think it’s something you have to consider is the player hasn’t been on the ice," Reirden said. "He obviously plays a huge role on our team and if you remember a few years ago the success and kind of the X factor that he was for our team when we won against Vegas. So I think it’s important that we handle this situation and make the proper the decision to give this player the best chance to be able to, if it’s not Game 1, then he’s ready to go for Game 2 and he’s as close to healthy in terms of conditioning-wise, he’s ready to go on the ice and be able to add the things he can add and do it safely so that we can have him for an extended time here in this playoffs because he is definitely a big factor in our team success.”

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If Eller is out, Travis Boyd will likely play in his place. Boyd centered the third line in Eller's absence in the last two round robin games.

Luckily, that is the only real question mark down the middle for Washington. Nicklas Backstrom, who missed a practice last week but played against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, said Monday that he had "no concerns" in terms of his status heading into the playoffs.

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