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Just a win away from history, Capitals treating business as usual

Just a win away from history, Capitals treating business as usual

LAS VEGAS — The Washington Capitals are one victory away from hoisting the Stanley Cup, but you couldn’t tell it from Wednesday’s practice at T-Mobile Arena.

Lars Eller performed the customary hot lap, much to the delight of his hooting and hollering teammates.

The energy on the ice looked the same as any other practice during this run.

The vibe in the room afterward felt familiar.

In other words, it was the same old steady, loose Caps. And that, according to a handful of players and Coach Barry Trotz, is a good thing as they get ready for biggest game in franchise history.

“Once that puck drops, it’s just another hockey game,” Tom Wilson said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re executing the game plan and doing the things that have made us successful to this point.”

Trotz said his message to the dressing room ahead of Game 5 on Thursday night will be a simple one.

“It’s just one game,” he said. “You just focus on the next game. I can’t tell you want is going to happen tomorrow. But I can tell you that you’re going to need your best game.”

The Caps are exuding confidence right now. And why not? They’re finally doing what previous versions had failed to do: they’re playing their best hockey of the season at the most critical time of the year.

Consider this:

  • They’ve scored 4, 3, 3 and 6 goals so far in this series. The last team to average 3-plus goals in every Final game was the 1982 Islanders. Those goals have also been supplied by 11 different players.
     
  • Defensively, they’ve returned to the form they flashed at the end of the Tampa Bay series, which concluded with back-to-back shutouts. In fact, since allowing six goals in Game 1 (one was scored into an empty net), they’ve yielded a total of five goals in the last three contests.
     
  • And, perhaps, most important, Braden Holtby is outdueling Marc-Andre Fleury, who entered the Final as the odds on favorite to claim the Conn Smythe as the NHL’s playoff MVP. Through four games, Holtby boasts a .919 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average, while Fleury is saddled with an .845 and a 4.08.

 

And, finally, the Capitals are confident because they are comfortable on the road. They’re 9-3 away from Capital One Arena this spring. They’re also 3-0 in clinching games, all of which have come on enemy ice.

To a man, the Caps are keenly aware of where they stand. They know the crowning achievement for a hockey player is now within arm’s reach.

But they also know it does them no good to look ahead.

Captain Alex Ovechkin joked that he’s been thinking about just about anything other than lifting the Stanley Cup over the past 24 hours to keep his mind from wandering too far ahead. 

   

“For me personally, I don’t try [to] think about it too much, what’s going on,” Ovechkin cracked. “I’m trying to focus on different things, but it’s hard.”

What kinds of things, Alex?

“Cars, hotels,” he said with a big smile, “Vegas.”

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Bruins and Stars draw even, Avalanche take 3-1 lead

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Bruins and Stars draw even, Avalanche take 3-1 lead

Tuesday's playoff action included two sweeps, an overtime winner and a shutout, while Wednesday's three games provided two teams drawing even and one team pushing the other towards the brink of elimination.

Here's everything you need to know about Wednesday's games from around the league.

Bruins draw even with Leafs in 6-4 win

The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the night with a 2-1 series lead and a win on home ice would have pushed the Boston Bruins to the brink of elimination.

But the Bruins started the game strong, taking a 2-1 lead into the first intermission thanks to Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand.

The Leafs battled back with two goals from Auston Matthews. It's Matthews' first multi-goal game of the playoffs in his career.

The Bruins evened the series with a win thanks to Zdeno Chara's bomb from the point in the third period.

Chara became the oldest blueliner in NHL history to score a game-winning goal at 42.

Stars pummel Predators with 5-1 victory

The Dallas Stars took it to the Nashville Predators early, scoring two consecutive power play goals within the first five minutes of the first period courtesy of Roope Hintz and Alexander Radulov.

The Stars ended the first period up 4-0 and never looked back. Roope Hintz added a second tally to make it 5-0 by the end of the second period, and it's his first career multi-goal game of the playoffs.

Nashville regains home ice on Saturday and will look to pull ahead after dropping their last two games. Neither team has won an away game yet in this series.


Avalanche pull off 3-2 overtime win

Mikko Rantanen was the difference maker as the Colorado Avalanche took a 3-1 series lead over the Calgary Flames.

The Flames held a two goal lead with 10 minutes remaining in the third period due to Elias Lindholm and Derek Ryan's goals.

The comeback was on for the Avalanche, and Rantanen tied the game at two with just under three minutes remaining.

Former Capitals backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer provided a key save on the penalty kill to keep the Avalanche in it in overtime.

Rantanen sealed the win with a one-timer from the left circle. If the Avs go on to win the series, it will be their first playoff series win since the 2007-08 season.

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Capitals make lineup changes after Game 3 debacle

Capitals make lineup changes after Game 3 debacle

RALEIGH — Adjustments are the name of the game in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After a 5-0 drubbing by the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday, the Capitals need to make a few. 

Washington coach Todd Reirden has made some tweaks to his lineup with Game 4 approaching on Thursday. The Capitals are still in front with a 2-1 series lead, but they know that can change quickly with another performance like Monday’s. 

Reirden shifted his forward lines around at practice on Wednesday at PNC Arena. T.J. Oshie moves up to the top line to play with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom while Tom Wilson drops to the second line to play with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana. 

Oshie was critical of his own play, but he does have a goal in this series and this seems like a move more to help Kuznetsov and Vrana get more space with Wilson on their line. Shots have been hard to come by in the series for Washington. Kuznetsov does have three assists, but Vrana doesn’t yet have a point. 

“Playoffs you kind of make adjustments and there’s pushbacks from both teams depending on how the last game went – or even the last period went,” Oshie said. “And they won the Game 3 pushback. Game 4 momentum is on their side, we have to get it back, play physical, play strong, play for each other, block shots, be better.”

So while Reirden flipped his top two right wings, he also flipped his bottom two left wings. Carl Hagelin will play on a revamped fourth line with Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd. Andre Burakovsky moves up to play with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly. The bottom six forwards have just one point in the series – Eller’s empty-net goal in Game 1. 

Depth scoring was so critical for Washington in its run to the Stanley Cup last spring. Hagelin kills penalties, but this move only makes sense if they’re trying to add to that depth scoring and get the fourth line more ice time. Boyd joins the lineup for the first time this series and is more skilled offensively than Chandler Stephenson, the man he replaces. That theoretically should make it harder for Carolina to match lines the way it wants to.
 
“You need to forget about it, but also realize what went on,” Wilson said. “I think as a group our compete and our effort just wasn’t what it needed to be. So you have to use that. You can’t just think it’s all good.”

The blueline had just one change. Rookie Jonas Siegenthaler will make his playoff debut in place of Christian Djoos, who has been on the ice for four of Carolina’s 10 goals. Siegenthaler’s size and poise under pressure could help there. Djoos is just 170 pounds and has been targeted by Carolina in his limited ice time. But he can always skate the puck out of trouble and that’s a question mark with Siegenthaler, who played 26 games in the NHL this season. 

“I felt like we wanted the game to come a little easier to us and they ramped up their game,” Oshie said. “You could tell with not only the score, but the shots and how the play went. We’ve got to be better and we will.” 

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