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Capitals punch their way through Anaheim for the win and California sweep

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Capitals punch their way through Anaheim for the win and California sweep

The Capitals survived a physical affair in Anaheim on Friday to earn a narrow 3-2 win over the Ducks and complete the sweep of its four-game road trip. The bad blood from the previous matchup between these two teams boiled over as the game went on. There were two fights, multiple misconducts and plenty of scrums, but ultimately Washington was able to overcome all the extracurriculars to earn the win.

Here's how the Caps did it.

No angle

Travis Boyd opened up the scoring with a Houdini-like goal in that it came at a severe angle. How severe? The shot actually came slightly behind the goal line.

OK, how is that even possible?

Carl Hagelin made the pass behind the net and Boyd made the one-time shot from just past the goal line. When you look at the replay, the puck actually banked in off of goalie Ryan Miller.

The shot may not have defied the laws of physics as it originally appeared, but it was still a pretty darn good shot to put the Caps up 1-0.

Kuznetsov surprises Miller

When the Caps went to the power play, we all knew who was going to shoot, including Miller and that was the problem.

Washington's power play is run on the half-wall. From there the puck is typically distributed to John Carlson to setup Alex Ovechkin or down low to setup T.J. Oshie waiting in the slot. Typically Nicklas Backstrom plays the half-wall. He is one of the elite playmakers in the league but does not shoot nearly enough on the power play and as a result, no one seems to account for a half-wall shot as a possibility.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was playing the half-wall role on Friday. As he skated casually along the wall, Miller shrunk back into his net and planted against the post. That's not what a goalie does when he is expecting a shot. It looked like Miller was placing himself in anticipation of Kuznetsov passing the puck low behind the goal line. Instead, Kuznetsov called his own number and fired the puck on net which Miller was not expecting or ready for at all and the puck snuck through him for the goal.

A successful offside challenge

Sam Steele thought he had put Anaheim on the board in the second period, but for the first time all season, Todd Reirden challenged the goal as offside. The play was reviewed and showed that Cam Fowler had lifted his back toe off the ice just before Brendan Guhle brought the puck over the blue line. As ridiculous as the video review has made offsides, by the letter of the law the play was in fact offside and the goal was disallowed.

Ryan Getzlaf would score soon after for real this time so the review ultimately did not cost the Ducks, but the point wasn't so much that it cost Anaheim, but that it didn't cost Washington.

Had Reirden lost the challenge, not only would the goal stand as called, but the Caps would have been assessed a delay of game penalty. Instead, the goal was taken off the board and Washington maintained its two-goal lead...briefly.

A bad turnover

Anaheim tied the game at 2 just 45 seconds into the third period. They had complete control of the game. They were getting prolonged offensive opportunities in the Caps' zone and Washington's offensive structure was non-existent. They were skating the puck in, shooting and that was about the extent of the Caps' offense at that point.

And everything changed with one bad turnover.

Less than a minute after Adam Henrique pulled the game even Miller went behind the net and left the puck for Guhle. Guhle took it and put it right to the stick of Vrana. His initial shot was stopped, but he picked up the rebound and stickhandled it past the netminder for the go-ahead goal

Anaheim had all of the momentum and had finally pulled even and then handed the lead right back to Washington.

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Halaked: The series that almost defined an era

Halaked: The series that almost defined an era

The Capitals return from the bye week on Monday against the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m., NBC Sports), a team that brings back memories that most Caps fans would love to forget. The first team in franchise history to win a Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL saw its season end abruptly in the first round of the playoffs in 2010 at the hands of the Canadiens. It was a series that perhaps fans never would have truly gotten over if not for the Stanley Cup win in 2018.

On Thanksgiving Day In 2007, Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach of the Caps and promptly sparked a turnaround that saw Washington win the Southeast Division and reach the postseason for the first time since 2003. That team lost in the first round of the playoffs in seven games to the Philadelphia Flyers. The following year, the Caps again won the division and won a playoff series for the first time since 1998. That year, they lost in the second round in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite the loss, however, there was optimism the following year as the team continued to improve. In the 2009-10 season, it looked like there was no stopping them. Washington breezed through the regular season in one of the most dominant campaigns in league history, amassing 121 points. It was almost assumed that the team’s dominance would translate into the postseason, at least through the first round.

The first test for Washington was a Montreal Canadiens team who had just managed to squeeze into the final playoff spot by a single point. It wasn’t even really clear who would be the starting goalie for the Canadiens going into the series as the netminding duties had been split that season between Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price.

The Canadiens chose Halak and the rest, unfortunately, is history.

Washington stumbled out of the gate, dropping Game 1 in overtime. After Jose Theodore gave up two goals on the first two shots he faced in Game 2, Semyon Varlamov replaced him and seemed to right the ship. The Caps won that game as well as Games 3 and 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The series looked all but over.

But that’s when Halak put on his cape and dashed the hopes of Washington.

Over the next three games, Halak turned aside 131 out of 134 shots for a stunning .978 save percentage. Even typing that number still seems unbelievable all these years later.

It was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the league.

The next several years were full of playoff disappointments from a series sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a blowout Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers, a 3-1 blown series lead to the Rangers, and two straight second-round exits to Pittsburgh who, in each season, would go on to win the Cup.

But none of those seasons came to define Washington’s playoff futility quite like the loss to Montreal. Had the team never won the Cup, Halak would have stood as the asterisk to the whole of the Ovechkin era.

Thankfully, the Caps overcame their history in 2018 and all of those playoff disappointments made that Cup run all the more satisfying in the end. But that doesn’t mean Caps fans do not remember 2010 or get that much more enjoyment every time they see Washington beat the Canadiens.

It was the series that, until Ovechkin raised the Cup over his head on the ice in Vegas, had defined the era of playoff struggles.

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Caps at Canadiens: Washington returns to action without Ovechkin

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Caps at Canadiens: Washington returns to action without Ovechkin

With the bye week and the NHL all-star break now over, it is back to business for the Capitals (33-11-5) who return to take on the Montreal Canadiens (22-21-7) on the road in Montreal. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for all of the action. Pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Caps FaceOff followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. which will take you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here is what you need to know for Monday’s game.

In case you forgot

The Caps have not played since Jan. 18 so in case you need a refresher, Washington entered the bye week on a three-game winning streak. The final game before the break was an incredible come-from-behind win over the New York Islanders in which Washington erased a 4-1 deficit in the third period to win 6-4 in regulation. The team now returns from the bye still with the top record in the NHL with 71 points.

Washington currently boasts a one-point lead (with two games in hand) over the Boston Bruins for first in the conference and a four-point lead (with one game in hand) over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

No Ovechkin

For the first time this season, the Caps will be without Alex Ovechkin who is serving a one-game suspension for his decision not to attend the All-Star Game. That is about the only thing that can slow him down at this point as he scored eight goals in three games heading into the bye week.

Here is what the lines looked like without Ovechkin at the morning skate, per Samantha Pell:

Richard Panik - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Travis Boyd
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

Holtby in net

Braden Holtby, fresh off his appearance in the All-Star Game, will start in the first game back from the break. Heading into the bye week, Ilya Samsonov started two out of three games and came on in relief for Holtby in the only game in which he did not start. Holtby, however, remains the No. 1 for now as Todd Reirden continues to handle his rookie netminder with kid gloves.

Down the final stretch of the season, it is likely we see more of a split between the two netminders than we saw through the first 49 games (Holtby started 33 of those 49 games), but it remains unlikely Samsonov begins shouldering a bulk of the load barring any injury or a complete collapse by Holtby.

When last we met

Monday's game will be the second of three meetings against Montreal this season. These two teams last met on Nov. 15, a game in which the Canadiens won 5-2 to snap Washington's 13-game point streak. 

In a 0-0 game, Ovechkin smoked forward Jonathan Drouin with a huge hit that seemed to wake up Montreal which scored about two minutes later and would go on to score the first four goals of the game.

Here's a recap of that loss.

The power play is...still bad

The bye week was nice in that it gave everyone a break from having to think about how bad the power play has been. Now, however, it is back to reality.

Since Dec. 1, Washington's power play ranks 30th in the NHL at 14.1-percent. That is something the team needs to turn around quickly.

The Price is right

Carey Price is one of the best goalies in the world, but he has not looked like it all too often this season with a .908 save percentage. Having said that, he has been lights out in 2020 with a .935 save percentage since Jan. 1.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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