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The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The last three games have been pretty awesome if you're a Caps fan. For one minute, however, let's consider what it must feel like for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus has seen a 0-2 series lead evaporate, they have lost both of their home games and now they face elimination after three straight losses including two overtime games and in two of those games, the Blue Jackets outplayed the Caps.

Oh, and head coach John Tortorella kinda, sorta guaranteed the Blue Jackets would force a Game 7.

As the series shifts back to Ohio for Game 6 on Monday, do you think the Blue Jackets may be a tad motivated when they take the ice in front of their home fans?

"We’ve got a chance in front of our home crowd to push this thing to seven games and we’re excited about it," Columbus forward Matt Calvert said Sunday. "... Got home last night and I was here a little earlier, got a chance to watch the news and they’re interviewing fans and how they’re pumped up, already saying it’s going to Game 7, so I can’t wait. The atmosphere’s going to be great. I know they’re going to give an all-out effort and so are we.”

In the third period of Game 5, the enormity of their situation began to set in for Columbus. Down 3-2 and facing their third straight loss, the Blue Jackets made a tremendous push to try to win the game. They tied the score at 3 early in the period and ultimately outshot Washington 16-1. If not for the tremendous effort of Braden Holtby in net to force overtime, the roles of this series could easily be reversed with Washington facing elimination in Game 6.

Now imagine that effort, plus the home crowd plus the desperation of a team facing elimination. An early lead for the Jackets could start a snowball effect in which their momentum and the crowd carry them through the rest of the game. But the longer the Caps can survive, the more doubt will begin to creep into Columbus, the antsier the fans will become and the more confident Washington will play.

The Caps better be ready.

The good news for Washington is that its been here before. Just last season, the Caps went to Toronto in Game 6 with an opportunity to close out the Maple Leafs. Toronto outshot Washington 14-10 in the first period, but they could not get the early goal and the game was scoreless through the first 20 minutes. Auston Matthews scored in the third period to break a scoreless tie, but Marcus Johansson scored five minutes later and then again in overtime to close out the series.

After experiencing last year's series in Toronto, the Caps know what they are going to be up against in Columbus.

"It's the toughest game to win because the other team is desperate," head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday on a conference call with the media. "Their backs are against the wall. They're there. They're going to give their absolute max effort tomorrow, and we've got to make sure that we have a max effort. If we do that, then we have a chance to win in Columbus."

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Braden Holtby’s save in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup wasn’t even nominated for an ESPY

Braden Holtby’s save in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup wasn’t even nominated for an ESPY

On Wednesday night ESPN hosts their yearly sports award show, the ESPYs, to celebrate the best of the last 365 days in sport. 

One thing they will not be celebrating, or did not even consider celebrating, was Braden Holtby’s save in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final

This year there were 16 plays nominated to be the “Best Play” and were seeded into a bracket. For the past month fans have been voting in each head-to-head matchup culminating in four pretty outstanding plays:

All of those plays can be viewed here

Three of those four were in a championship game, the other was a just a once in a lifetime play from a teenager. 

But the ESPYs are saying that there are 16 plays from this past year that were better than Holtby’s save… Can we really believe that? Everyone loves buzzer beaters, but they accounted for six of the 16 plays. One of them could have easily gotten bumped. 

And aside from the three listed above there were only two that were in the championship event for each sport. Holtby could have rounded it out for six.

We’re not saying that Holtby’s play was the best in the past year, or even in the top four. Heck, there should be no one that tops Ogunbowale’s incredible heroics. But arguably the best play in D.C. sports history not making the top-16 for best plays in a 365 day period? 

It must have been one heck of a sports year.  

For those that are nominated, Alex Ovechkin is a finalist for Best Male Athlete and Best NHL Player. The Capitals are in the running for Best Team.

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Key Caps questions: Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?

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Key Caps questions: Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: At 33 years old, can Alex Ovechkin challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top-goalscorer?

Tarik: By scoring 49 goals last season, Alex Ovechkin didn’t just defy Father Time, he also did something historic: at 32 years old, the Caps’ captain became the oldest player to lead the league in scoring since Phil Esposito did it at 33 in 1974-75.

Which brings me to today’s question.

I see more reasons Ovechkin will challenge for a record eighth goal-scoring title rather than reasons he won't. (By the way, he’s currently tied with Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, who led the league in goals seven times).

Consider:

  • No. 1—Ovechkin, who turns 33 on Sept. 17, has shown no signs of breaking down physically, despite logging some hard miles over the course of 13 seasons. And if you’re going to lead the league in goals, you’ve got to play, and play a lot. Last season, in fact, he averaged nearly two minutes MORE per game (20:09) than he did the previous year.
  • No. 2—Something tells me that now Ovi has done a keg stand from the Stanley Cup, he’s more determined than ever to take another swig next summer. I don’t have any stats to back up this bullet point. It’s just a hunch from someone who’s covered a lot of his career.
  • No. 3—From an Xs and Os standpoint, not much is expected to change in 2018-19. His line will be centered by Evgeny Kuznetsov. If things go stale, new head coach Todd Reirden will have the ace-up-the-sleeve option of reuniting Ovechkin with Nicklas Backstrom. Meanwhile, the power play—where No. 8 does so much of his damage—will have the same structure and pieces.

To me, the only thing that could prevent Ovechkin from challenging Patrik Laine, Evgeni Malkin, Connor McDavid and Co. for another goal scoring title will be complacency. And I just don’t foresee that being an issue.

Ovechkin has an opportunity to help the Caps make up for some lost time. But there’s no way they’ll be contenders if their best player isn’t at, or near, the top of the league in goals once again.

And he knows it.

JJ: Ovechkin has shown people throughout his incredible career that you should never doubt him. He only scored 32 and 38 goals in 2010-2012. Think he's not going to reach 50 again? Well, he did it three times. Think Ovechkin's 33-goal season in 2016-17 shows he's on the decline? Well, he just led the NHL in goals for the seventh time in his career. Think Ovechkin can't lead his team to a Stanley Cup? Well, we all know how that turned out.

Ovechkin was challenged at the end of the 2016-17 season by Brian MacLellan who noted Ovechkin would have to change the way he trained in order to keep up with the quicker NHL. He took those words to heart and showed up for training camp a little earlier and little lighter than usual.

After his day with the Stanley Cup, Ovechkin sent it off with the words, "See you next year." He knows what it takes to be successful and he will be extra motivated to once again come into camp ready for a big season.

Having said all of that, Father Time will always be undefeated.

As Tarik noted above, the 32-year-old Ovechkin was the oldest player to lead the league in scoring since Esposito in 1974-75. It's hard to do. Plus, there are a lot of young players like Laine and McDavid who are only getting better. While they're hitting thier prime, Ovechkin is fighting a losing battle with time.

That does not mean I expect Ovechkin's production to fall off a cliff. I still think he can surpass 40 goals, but the league's offense is trending up with the league average for goals per game per team climbing all the way up to 2.97 last season. That's the highest it has been since 2005-06. I am of the opinion that the offense is going to continue trending upward and it is going to take more than 49 goals to win the Rocket Richard this year.

Can Ovechkin score 40+ goals this season? Absolutely. Can he score more than that? I'm not so sure.

The Great 8 will remain a great goal-scorer and the Capitals' best offensive weapon, but I do not foresee him earning his eighth Rocket Richard Trophy or even finishing in the top three among the league's goal scorers.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?