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An emotional hangover leaves Capitals flat in 2-1 loss to Wild

An emotional hangover leaves Capitals flat in 2-1 loss to Wild

WASHINGTON – The Capitals were not quite ready to play on Friday against the Minnesota Wild and maybe you can’t blame them. 

Coming off one of the season’s most intense games, a wild 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, one of three games this month against the Presidents’ Trophy winners, Washington didn’t have it for a Wild team it had beaten eight times in a row. That 2-1 defeat offered a lesson they need to carry forward for the final two games of this homestand at Capital One Arena. 

The Capitals (43-24-8, 94 points) couldn’t match the desperation of a Minnesota team that entered the day one point out of a playoff position in the Western Conference. The Wild had to win. Washington would have liked a win. The difference showed on the ice.

“It was obviously a different game that way. I think you could tell they got more desperate as the game went on,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “They don't give up much, they're pretty stingy defensively. After coming off some emotional games lately I think we didn't ramp it up enough for this one, for their situation, how they were playing. It was a close game. It was one that we'd like to play a bit better, but we still did a lot of good things."

They just didn’t do enough of them consistently. The Philadelphia Flyers (80 points) are on the fringe of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference and down to their final gasps of breath. Expect a similar effort from them on Sunday afternoon when they visit Capital One Arena. For the Capitals, who lead the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders by three points (93), they need a win on this four-game homestand.

Another loss will suddenly put the Metropolitan Division back in play for multiple teams. The Islanders also have an extra game remaining and know they play in Washington on the final day of the regular season April 6. 

“We can use this and learn from it,” defenseman Nick Jensen said. “These teams are desperate for points and we still need to be, too.”

The Capitals weren’t bad; they just didn’t match Minnesota’s level. They were 0-for-3 on the power play, and on two of those attempts, didn’t generate any shots on goal. A couple of mistakes – a Brooks Orpik misplay late in the first period and a Matt Niskanen turnover in the neutral zone – led directly to goals by Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin. Holtby stopped 25 of 27 shots.

But it never felt like enough. Brett Connolly tipped home a shot from Jensen in the second period. But there weren’t enough puck battles won, there weren’t enough pucks sent behind the Minnesota defensemen. It was an average game and that was never going to be enough tonight. The Wild moved into sole possession of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Capitals stayed where they were in the standings.  

“That was a very intense game [against Tampa Bay], three games in four days for us, but that's a game that they deserved to win more than us,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “Our execution level and desperation wasn't as high as theirs was and they were able to convert on a couple more of their chances than we did.”

Added captain Alex Ovechkin: "Everybody needs points right now, and it doesn't matter who you play against, it's not going to be an easy one, especially a team who fights for a playoff spot. It's playoff hockey. I don't think we were ready tonight, and the blame's on us."

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Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are the stars aligning for another Capitals Cup run?

Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: Are the stars aligning for another Capitals Cup run?

Let’s get one thing straight: There are no easy roads to a Stanley Cup. Capitals fans know that better than most after seeing their team dominate the regular season just to get upset in the first or second round of the playoffs for several years. Having said that, seeing Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Winnipeg all lose in the first round, it seems like things are setting up very nicely for Washington.

The Caps should have one thing and one thing only on their minds on Monday and that is the Carolina Hurricanes. Washington still needs one more win to advance and they should not catch themselves looking ahead to possible future matchups.

But we can look ahead.

The top seeds in both conferences have been eliminated in the first round for the first time. Long-time nemesis Pittsburgh is out. Either Boston or Toronto will soon be joining them plus there is a possibility that both Nashville and San Jose could still lose as well.

This is not meant to discount any of the teams the Caps could still play. Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders swept the Penguins and earned a spot in the second round. He has proven his worth as a coach and his team is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to score on, let alone beat. The Columbus Blue Jackets jumped out to a 2-0 series lead on Washington last season and got better this year as they showed Tampa Bay with a four-game sweep. Whoever comes out of the West no doubt will be a great team as well.

But if you were to draw up the best-case scenario for the Caps through the first round, having Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Calgary and Winnipeg all lose would likely be part of that scenario.

The Cup is truly up for grabs. This is true every year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it is especially true this year. If the Hurricanes find a way to win Game 6 and shock the Caps in Game 7, we are going to look back at this season as a missed opportunity considering the number of contenders ousted in the first round.

SEE THIS WEEK’S STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS HERE

Here are a few recent observations and thoughts on the Caps.

  • The Caps are, at their core, a physical team. That is how they ultimately find success and they went away from that earlier in the series, especially in Games 3 and 4. When they reestablished it in Game 5, they blew the Hurricanes away. Any team can play well for one game. Any team can respond after losing a really good player for one game. The real test is to see how they play in Raleigh where they were beaten so thoroughly and the offense was held to only a single power play goal and zero 5-on-5 production.
  • If you want to know why physical play still matters in today’s NHL, watch Brett Connolly’s Game 5 goal again. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton is in a footrace with Alex Ovechkin to get the puck behind Carolina’s net and he completely gives up on the play. He does not go into the boards and put himself in a position to get checked by Ovechkin. It looked like he thought the play would be called icing, but if you’re not 100-percent sure you need to get to that puck even if it means taking a hit. Hamilton looked like he wanted no part of that which allowed Ovechkin to get the puck and set up a goal.
  • The Caps may finally have settled on defensive pairings. The defense has been a work in progress ever since Michal Kempny’s injury, but Todd Reirden may have finally found three pairs he can stick with. After making his playoff debut in Game 4, Jonas Siegenthaler played on the top defensive pair with John Carlson on Saturday. We have seen Reirden mix and match his defensive pairs throughout games, but things stuck in Game 5 as Siegenthaler and Carlson played 11:19 together at 5-on-5. The most Carlson played with any other defenseman at 5-on-5 during the game was 51 seconds. I asked Reirden afterward if he felt he had found his top defensive pair and he remained non-committal saying he still would mix and match as needed depending on the situation, but the numbers speak for themselves. Siegenthaler is a defensively responsible player, he has not looked rattled at all by the forecheck and, perhaps most importantly, he’s a left-handed shot allowing Carlson to play on his natural right side. I like the look of this pair a lot.
  • Nick Jensen has had a rough series. In fact, it looks like it has been a rough transition from Detroit to Washington since he was acquired. That’s OK. Sometimes players take time to adjust to a new team and a new system, but because of that, it benefits the Caps more to have him play on the third pair than the top, especially if moving him up means playing with Carlson on the left. That’s a lot to ask. With Siegenthaler up top, Jensen moved back down to the third pair on Saturday and it was easily his best game of the series. Pairing him with Brooks Orpik allows Jensen to step more into the offense, an area of the game in which his skills are greatly underrated. Jensen looked good on both ends of the ice in Game 5 and was particularly strong on the penalty kill. He can be a top-four defenseman, but I am not sure he is ready for that type of role in Washington yet. He is a definite asset on the third pair, however, and he showed that on Saturday.

The Caps are one win away from advancing to the second round. Here is where they stand among the other playoff teams in this week’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings.

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NHL Playoffs 2019: Capitals at Hurricanes Game 6 How to watch, streaming, TV channel, time

NHL Playoffs 2019: Capitals at Hurricanes Game 6 How to watch, streaming, TV channel, time

After capturing a dominant 6-0 victory over Carolina in a crucial Game 5 Saturday, the Washington Capitals seem to be getting back on track after dropping Games 3 and 4.

Washington now holds a 3-2 series lead and the chance to eliminate the Hurricanes in Game 6 on Monday. However, it'll be difficult to manage as they head back to PNC Arena, where they have yet to capture a victory this postseason.

Here's everything you need to know about Game 6. The puck drops at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

Capitals at Hurricanes Game 6 How to Watch:

What: 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Eastern Conference First Round. Game 6: Washington Capitals vs Carolina Hurricanes
Date: Monday, April 22, 2019
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Location: PNC Arena, Raleigh, North Carolina
TV Channel: NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder)
How To WatchStream pregame and postgame coverage Game 6 of Capitals vs. Hurricanes on the MyTeams by NBC Sports app or tune into NBC Sports Washington.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network (106.7 The Fan FM)

Don't already have the MyTeams By NBC Sports App? Click to download here and stream the Capitals-Hurricanes live!

Capitals at Hurricanes Game 6 TV Schedule:

NBC Sports Washington Daily TV Listing

NBC Sports Washington TV Schedule:

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
7:00 PM: Capitals vs. Hurricanes
9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live
10:00 PM: Caps Overtime Live

Capitals at Hurricanes Game 6 Injury Report:

Capitals: Michal Kempny (torn hamstring, out for season), T.J. Oshie (broken clavicle, out)

Hurricanes: Micheal Ferland (upper-body, out), Jordan Martinook (upper-body, out)

Capitals at Hurricanes Game 6 Players to watch: 

Nicklas Backstrom, F, Capitals (5 G, 3 A, 8 P)

With a four-point night Saturday, Backstrom has proven to be an absolute force and hero in this series. He has five goals in five games against Carolina in this round and is expected to be even better with the stakes raised higher Monday.

Jaccob Slavin, D, Hurricanes (0 G, 5 A, 5 P)

The Hurricanes have their backs against the wall, and Slavin is someone who has to step up. He not only is one of their top blueliners, but he has been able to generate scoring chances with five assists in his last four games. Look out for him Monday.

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