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A dominant fourth line, a dirty hit and Carlson's legendary season continues

A dominant fourth line, a dirty hit and Carlson's legendary season continues

The Capitals got their California trip off on the right foot with a dominant 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday thanks to John Carlson and the fourth line.

Check out the game recap here.

Observations from the win

The fourth line was incredible

Knowing full well how dire the team's salary cap situation was, Brian MacLellan still added Brendan Leipsic and Garnet Hathaway in the offseason to bolster the team's fourth line. What we saw on Tuesday is what I imagine MacLellan was hoping this fourth line could be.

In a game with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, Jakub Vrana, Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture, it was Washington's fourth line that took over the game. Leipsic, Nic Dowd and Hathaway were brilliant especially Hathaway. In addition to Hathaway's two goals, the forecheck gave the Sharks fits.

When you can score five goals with the top line registering zero points, you have a deep team.

No penalties

One sign of how dominant the Caps were? They took zero penalties.

The best of the year?

Was this Washington's best game of the season thus far? Considering they have a tough time stringing together a full 60 minutes, this was probably about as complete a performance as we have seen from them this year. That's a scary thought for the rest of the NHL considering Nicklas Backstrom is still out and Ovechkin and Kuznetsov were both held without a point. They could be even better.

Kane's hit was dirty and there's no debate

Few things in hockey are black and white. Get 20 people to look at an illegal hit and you will probably get 20 different opinions on it. Evander Kane's elbow to Radko Gudas, however, is about as black and white a play as you will ever see.

Gudas didn't change his position suddenly, Kane didn't take a poor angle, Kane just looked up, saw Gudas coming and delivered a blow straight to the head. There's no debate. It was a dirty hit, end of discussion.

Don't forget, the Caps have just six defensemen with them on this road trip and the next game is Wednesday against Los Angeles. If Gudas can't play, the Caps could be in a sticky situation.

Turning point

San Jose took the early 1-0 lead, but the Caps scored three goals in a 3:01 stretch to take control of the game and they would never look back.

In addition to scoring the third goal, Carlson also assisted on the first two giving him three points in just the first period.

Play of the game

The fourth line was the big story of the game for Washington and it was because of plays like this.

It's not just that they scored, it's how. They did it with the dominant forecheck forcing the turnover and then converting. This is exactly what every team wants from its fourth line.

Stat of the game

Those are some pretty big names.

Quote of the game

Don't try to get Carlson to talk about himself. You won't get far. Carlson was asked what about his season he was most proud of:

"Our team's playing well so that's what I care about. It's nice to see the puck go in, always. There's no doubt about that, but whoever's scoring them, it's good for me."

Fan predictions

The top line had zero points, the bottom six had two and you're close on the final score.

Nailed it.

Well, you're going to be disappointed when you wake up.

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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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Penguins eliminated in qualifying round but now could win the top-overall draft pick

Penguins eliminated in qualifying round but now could win the top-overall draft pick

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ postseason came to an abrupt end on Friday as they were defeated in just four games by the 12th-seeded Montreal Canadiens.

The Canadiens shut out Pittsburgh in Game 4 to close out the series. Few gave Montreal, a team with a 31-31-9 record in the regular season, much of a chance, but the Canadiens have now authored the biggest upset in the postseason thus far.

The Penguins began faltering down the stretch of the regular season, but with four new additions at the trade deadline and over four months to adjust, no one thought Pittsburgh would not be able to at least make it past the Habs.

And yet here we are.

RELATED: POSSIBLE PLAYOFF OPPONENTS FOR CAPS COMING INTO FOCUS

In four games, Sidney Crosby was limited to three points, Jake Guentzel three, Jason Zucker two and Evgeny Malkin only one. The only chance many gave Montreal was if goalie Carey Price stood on his head, but in fact he was not tested nearly as much as one may have thought in a series as seemingly lopsided on paper as this one.

Pittsburgh has now lost nine of its last 10 playoff games and the future of the team with the current core now is very much in doubt.

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Before you cheer too hard, Capitals fans, the silver-lining for Pittsburgh is that they will now have a 12.5-percent chance of winning the draft lottery and earning the chance to select phenom Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 overall pick. As Pittsburgh begins to think about life after Crosby and Malkin, getting the No. 1 overall pick will certainly jumpstart the eventual rebuild.

The loss means that Washington will play either the Carolina Hurricanes or New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. If the Caps win their final round robin game against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, they will face the Islanders. If they lose, they will play the Hurricanes.

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