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Caps beat Ducks in game dominated by fisticuffs and physical play

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Caps beat Ducks in game dominated by fisticuffs and physical play

WASHINGTON -- A huge fight in the second that resulted in the ejection of Garnet Hathway stole all the attention from Monday's game between the Capitals and Anaheim. On the scoresheet and in the standings, however, it will still count as two points as the Caps defeated the Ducks with little trouble, 5-2.

Here's how the Caps won.

Panik's first goal

Coming into Monday's contest, Richard Panik had zero points in his first 12 games as a Cap. He finally got the monkey off his back on Monday 50 seconds into the game.

The third line had a dominant shift early in the game, keeping possession with strong forecheck work and cycling the puck. Travis Boyd, playing in his second game after getting recalled from Hershey, took a pass and found Panik from behind the net. Panik had room and fired a wrist shot to the opposite corner, beating John Gibson for his first of the year.

Panik has played well since returning from LTIR but has been robbed by goalies like Carter Hart, Cary Price, and Jaroslav Halak. That first one must feel like a huge relief. 

Kuznetsov fakes on the power play

The Caps had only one opportunity on the power play Monday, but took advantage thanks to an epic fake by Evgeny Kuznetsov. John Carlson fed Kuznetsov near the blue line and he inched his way towards the net. He got to the top of the faceoff circle, lifted his leg and looked like he was about to wrist one on net. That's what I thought, that's what Gibson thought, that's what the penalty killers thought. Instead, Kuznetsov fed Alex Ovechkin in the office, giving him an empty net to shoot on.

Give Ovechkin an open net from the office and he's going to finish that play.

Stephenson scores before all hell breaks loose

Just when things were getting crazy, Chandler Stephenson took a pass from Hathaway and fired a wrister from the high-slot to beat Gibson. Except no one noticed. Right before the pass, Brendan Leipisic crushed Derek Grant at the goal line and it was on. It was not even clear if the goal counted until the players were finally separated several minutes later. When it stood, the score was 3-0 and the game was over because, at that point, both teams were focused on all the extracurriculars.

A goal and a goal washed out

Jakub Vrana added an exclamation point in the third period to make the score 4-0. Anaheim also had a goal washed out as Rickard Rakell was called for incidental contact for clipping Holtby in the shoulder, spinning him before the shot was fired. Anaheim mustered a minor comeback bid in the third, but Vrana's goal and the Ducks' no-goal made the lead insurmountable.

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It's been fun, but the NHL should not stick with the 2020 playoff format

It's been fun, but the NHL should not stick with the 2020 playoff format

This was going to be the year to experiment. No matter what, the 2020 postseason was going to be different. The coronavirus dictated that. The NHL should be applauded for thinking outside the box and trying different things this year, but when the league looks forward to the next season and beyond, let's not get nuts.

The 2020 postseason format has been great given the time we are living in and the adjustments that had to be made, but no, the NHL should not adopt this postseason format going forward, regardless of how fun it has been.

Let's be clear, the regular NHL's playoff format is bad. This is in no way a defense of the nonsensical divisional format which sets up the same matchups over and over and over again and punishes teams in good divisions. A wild card format so complicated you can't explain it to a casual fan? Having the two best teams in a division play in the second round even if they are the two best teams in the conference? Blech. It's terrible. The 2020 postseason format, however, is not a good alternative.

RELATED: POSSIBLE PLAYOFF OPPONENTS FOR CAPS COMING INTO FOCUS

Look, I get it. The best-of-five series are fun! The best-of-seven series can feel drawn out by comparison. In a best of five, every game feels really important!

When the NHL was presenting its plan for the 2020 postseason, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about why the league elected not to shorten some of the playoff series to best-of-five as well and he said the players advocated not to do that so as not to cheapen the Stanley Cup. It takes 16 wins to win the Cup. Period. Even in a pandemic.

The NBA used to have best-of-five series in the first round and that made sense because a lot of those first-round matchups were garbage. The NBA does not have nearly the same level of parity as the NHL and the top teams almost always advanced with little drama at all. The first round of the NHL playoffs is fantastic and full of upsets. There's no reason to fast-forward through those series and play fewer games because those series are compelling.

OK, so keep the four-round, best-of-seven format. What about a play-in best of five series?

First, you can't have 24 teams out of 31 (soon to be 32) reach the postseason. For a league that wants its fans and players to care about an 82-game season, having 24 teams make the playoffs renders the regular season nearly meaningless. The only reason the NHL extended the postseason out to 24 teams this year is because the league canceled the end of the regular season and those bottom teams did not have a chance to make a final push for the playoffs like we see every year. There's no reason to extend the field in a normal season.

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While there are few who would advocate expanding the playoffs to 24 teams, there is a case to be made for adding one or two more teams per conference and having a play-in. Even that, to me, is a step too far. When the league expands to 32 teams, exactly half of them will make the playoffs. Do we really need more than that? It's easy to get excited about that prospect now in the midst of the postseason when the level of play is at its best and interest is at its peak, but let's think about the real dog days of the season in January and February. Would devaluing the regular season by adding more teams to the playoff make those January and February games when the season starts to drag more fun to watch or less? We all know the answer to that question.

And, by the way, all of the support to change the playoffs is a reaction to the qualifying series. We haven't seen what this postseason will look like when the playoffs actually get started. Will the round-robin teams end up at a disadvantage when they face off against teams that already played in a do-or-die series? Will injuries become even more rampant in the always grueling postseason because of those teams playing an extra round? It certainly seems like the proponents of adopting the 2020 postseason format are all being quick to declare this a success before seeing how everything ultimately plays out.

The best-of-five series are fun, but this year is different. It's OK to let 2020 be its own success and move on. The only thing the NHL needs to do is get rid of the awful divisional format, take the top eight teams from each conference and re-seed after each round. This year is different. Let's not pretend we need all these changes when life returns to normal.

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Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

With their 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, the Capitals' playoff future is starting to come into focus. Washington has only one game remaining and can finish in either third or fourth in the round robin standings. That limits the number of possible playoff opponents for the Caps when the games really start to matter.

First, before talking about who the Caps may play, it is important to remember why. Under the NHL's regular format, a normal year would see teams advance in a bracket, meaning each team knows going in they will be playing the winner of a specific matchup if they advance. This year, the NHL is going back to its old format of re-seeding after each round. This makes determining matchups a bit harder to figure out.

Here's what we know. The Caps are going to finish in the bottom half of the round robin meaning they will play one of the highest two seeded teams coming out of the qualifying round. The Carolina Hurricanes swept their qualifying round series against the New York Rangers. As the No. 6 seed coming in, Carolina is going to be one of the top two qualifying round teams.

RELATED: DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNS AND MORE FROM CAPS LOSS TO FLYERS

Washington's final seed will be determined by Sunday's game against the Boston Bruins. A win in regulation, overtime or a shootout will mean the Caps are No. 3, while a loss in any fashion will bump them down to No. 4.

The simplest scenario for Washington is that If the Pittsburgh Penguins rally to win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps are guaranteed to play either Pittsburgh or Carolina as the No. 5 and 6 seeds, respectively. It gets a little trickier if the Penguins lose. If that happens, the Hurricanes become the top qualifying team and will play No. 4. The top team behind them then becomes No. 6 which, as of now, could be the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs or the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So a rematch with the Hurricanes is a definite possibility for the Caps, as is a matchup with the rival Penguins.

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