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Caps Top-20 Goals Countdown -- Goal 3: Lars Eller saves 2018 series vs. Columbus

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Caps Top-20 Goals Countdown -- Goal 3: Lars Eller saves 2018 series vs. Columbus

It wasn't a beautiful goal. It wasn't unforgettable. It wasn't the kind you can't take your eyes off of and watch 100 times.

But Lars Eller was in the right place at the right time and found a way to make the puck bounce perfectly across the Columbus Blue Jackets' goal line in Game 3 of the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With a little bit of luck, Eller might have saved the Washington Capitals' playoff run.

There's a reason this goal is No. 3 on our list of Top-20 Goals of the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Run.

Three games into the postseason, the Caps were in their third consecutive overtime battle against divisional foe Blue Jackets. Washington had dropped the first two OT matchups, and as the teams entered double-overtime in Game 3, had Columbus been the team to get a lucky bounce, the Caps would have been down 3-0 in the series and staring at another early playoff exit. 

Instead, the Caps' center found what was literally a lucky bounce as the puck pinballed off his stick, ricocheted off Blue Jackets'defenseman Zach Werenski's leg and strolled across the line past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. 

Rushing up the ice on a 3-on-2 fast break in favor of the Caps, Devante Smith-Pelly -- who became a playoff hero in his own right down the road -- passed the puck left to Brett Connolly, who sniped a shot at the goal. To his credit, Bobrovsky made a spectacular save with Connolly, Smith-Pelly and Eller charging at him. 

But instead of Bobrovsky grabbing the puck, he couldn't help but let it bounce off his glove. If you watch the replay enough times, you'll notice Werenski actually attempts to swat it away, and that's when the puck hits Eller and bounces back and forth between the two before crossing the goal line.

Nine minutes into the second overtime, the Caps got their first win of the series and avoided going down 3-zip and being forced to win four consecutive games to stay alive -- although they did that anyway and took the series in six games.

Eller walked away from Game 3 a hero with a goal that's surely undercelebrated among all of Washington's jaw-dropping and memorable moments from their playoff run. It was his first of seven postseason goals, and without it, the Caps might still be in search of their first Stanley Cup.

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The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

The biggest 'what ifs' for the 2019-20 Capitals' season: What if Vrana had a top power play role all season?

We are looking at some of the biggest “what ifs” for the Capitals for the 2019-20 season.

Today’s what if: What if Jakub Vrana had a top power-play role all season?

Jakub Vrana may be having the best season that no one is talking about. When you are teammates with one of the best goal scorers of all-time and a bonafide superstar, other players tend to get overshadowed. Just ask Nicklas Backstrom.

Vrana scored 24 even-strength goals in the 2019-20 season, tied for 11th in the NHL. It’s only four behind David Pastrnak, three behind Leon Draisaitl, one behind Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin, tied with Jack Eichel and more goals than players like Mika Zibanejad (23), Nathan MacKinnon (23), Connor McDavid (23) and Brad Marchand. So why isn’t Vrana viewed as the same caliber offensive player as those others? The answer is the power play.

While Vrana ranks 11th in even-strength goals, he ranks tied for 35th overall with 25 goals. That’s right, he has one single power-play goal this season. The 10 players ahead of him in the even-strength goals list averaged just over 10 power-play goals for the season. An extra 10 goals would have tied Vrana with McDavid for 10th in the NHL.

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Vrana did not start the season on the top player play unit. He was actually only moved there late in the season as Washington’s power play struggled. Relegated to the forgotten and rarely used second unit, Vrana only recently started to see more opportunity on the power play resulting in just one goal which came on Jan. 11.

But what if Vrana had been on the top power-play unit all season? Would he have racked up enough goals to garner national attention?

RELATED: 2003 NHL REDRAFT

Probably not as much as you may think.

First, let’s remember that the power play has been terrible this season. It ranks 17th in the NHL overall, but is actually 24th since Dec. 23. Second, there is not a natural spot where Vrana fits on the top power play. He is a sniper, his best asset is shooting and he is not going to replace the player tasked with taking the one-timer from the far faceoff dot, Alex Ovechkin. Vrana was playing the goal line in place of Evgeny Kuznetsov. Based on how Washington's power play has worked the last few years, this spot is primarily for setting up the slot or bouncing it back to the half-wall. Vrana is a better set-up player than many give him credit, but this role really does not put him in the best position to use his shot. More time on the power play should increase his goal total just as a result of him being on the ice more, but based on how the power play has played and how he is used, it probably would not have boosted his totals into being one of the top 10-15 scorers in the NHL this season.

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Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

Redrafting the 2003 draft: Patrice Bergeron could have been a Penguin

It takes years to determine who the best players in any given draft are. How would past NHL drafts look if they were redrafted today? Let's look back at the 2003 draft and see how it shaped today's NHL.

Here's a look at the first round of 2003 redrafted.

The draft was a total bust for Washington

In the real draft, the Caps took Eric Fehr 18th overall. He played in 652 NHL games. The remaining five players the team drafted combined for one single NHL game. Yikes.

Phaneuf to the Caps?

In the redraft, I had defenseman Dion Phaneuf going to Washington. Before you groan, let's not forget that he played in over 1,000 NHL games and, while he was with Calgary, he looked absolutely dominant. I don't think there are any questions that he struggled handling the pressure as captain of Toronto. Almost every stat takes a precipitous decline when you compare his Calgary numbers to when he was with the Maple Leafs. I don't think that would have been a problem in Washington as just one year after this draft, the Caps selected a guy by the name of Alex Ovechkin who took all the attention. If Phaneuf had been in a city where he could just play, he would have been a top-pair defenseman for most of his career.

This also would have affected the 2004 draft for Washington. The Caps had three first-round picks. They used one on Ovechkin then took Jeff Schultz and Mike Green late in the round. Do they go both defense at that point if they had taken Phaneuf the year before? I'm not so sure.

Would Bergeron have helped Pittsburgh?

Patrice Bergeron was the best player in the 2003 draft. He went with the 45th overall pick to the Boston Bruins. The Pittsburgh Penguins had the No.1 overall pick that year and selected goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. That is not a bad pick by any stretch, but with one of the best two-way forwards of all-time available to them, would Pittsburgh have been able to pass him up knowing how good he really was?

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The interesting thing about this is that if Pittsburgh had taken arguably the better player in Bergeron, it may have cost them in the long run. Fleury was the backstop of three Stanley Cup runs for the Penguins. OK, so he only played in two playoff games in 2016 and yielded the crease to Matt Murray, but he retook the No. 1 job in 2017 when again Pittsburgh won the Cup. Also, just two years after the 2003 draft, the Penguins ended up with a pretty decent two-way center by the name of Sidney Crosby. The idea of a team with both Crosby and Bergeron on it is daunting, but its two players of the same position and they would have still needed a goalie.

The Penguins may not have ended up with the better player overall, but they did get exactly the player they needed in Fleury.

Fleury to Columbus?

In the redraft, Fleury dops from first to fourth and is snagged by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Would Fleury have been able to get Columbus over the playoff hump sooner? That's a tough question to answer.

Goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Yes, he could have given the team a boost, but the roster was awful there for several years after the expansion draft. When the team did finally make the playoffs for the first time in 2009, it was off the back of an incredible rookie season from goalie Steve Mason. They also had a pretty good netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky from 2013 to 2019, or at least he was pretty good in the regular season.

Correction: regular season goaltending has not been a major weakness for Columbus. Actually, Bobrovsky was terrible in the playoffs for much of his career. Perhaps there is some validity to the argument that better netminding from Fleury -- who is a strong postseason performer -- could have potentially changed the trajectory of the franchise.

See the first round of 2003 redrafted here.

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