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With Kempny out indefinitely, Djoos set to play for Capitals tonight vs. Minnesota

With Kempny out indefinitely, Djoos set to play for Capitals tonight vs. Minnesota

ARLINGTON, Va. – Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny will be out “an indefinite” amount of time, according to coach Todd Reirden. 
 
Kempny sustained a lower-body injury in Wednesday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning when he fell to the ice during a scrap with forward Cedric Paquette. He had to be helped off the ice and could not put any weight on one leg. He did not return to the game. 
 
“I'd say we're going to have to be without him for an indefinite amount of time right now,” Reirden said. “We're just getting some more tests before we can make an official time statement on that, but I would just say right now that indefinitely he's out of our lineup.”
 
Christian Djoos will take Kempny’s place on the top pairing next to John Carlson. Djoos was bumped from the lineup on Feb. 23 after Washington acquired Nick Jensen in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings. Djoos finally returned to the lineup on Tuesday in a 4-1 win against the New Jersey Devils when the team rested 38-year-old veteran Brooks Orpik. 
 
Djoos and Carlson played together last season when Matt Niskanen missed 13 games with a left thumb injury. They have some history, which should help with on-ice communication. The duo have played together 600 minutes, 15 seconds since last season. Their Corsi-for percentage (53.45) is above water. That’s lots of shots directed at their own net, though that sample size is reasonably small over the course of a full season. With Kempny, Carlson has played 1150:19 and they are at 51.11 percent in 92 games.  
 
"I don't know about communication. I think just not having to communicate is the big thing, and fortunately for me I think Djoos, he could be the smartest hockey player in this room altogether,” Carlson said. “That's everyone. We've had stints. When [Niskanen] went down beginning, middle of last year, we played a lot together. Always kind of sneak in shifts here and there with him this year. I feel comfortable with him. That's not an issue for me.”
 
Losing Kempny is a blow, however.

The Feb. 19, 2018 trade for Kempny helped stabilize a blue line that was constantly in flux and relying on rookies in key spots last season. His addition helped balance Washington’s pairs, gave them another strong skater and was a big part of their 15-7-0 finish in the regular season and their Stanley Cup title run. 
 
Djoos is also a fine skater and makes for an interesting match with Carlson. But he’s also undersized at 6-foot, 169 pounds. He did play the final 22 playoff games last season on the right side next to Orpik on the third pair. Djoos is more comfortable on the left side, where he will be with Carlson. For now. 
 
“That opportunity for Christian is first and foremost tonight for him,” Reirden said. “It's a great opportunity, I've seen those two play together before and I thought he had a strong game the other day against New Jersey. This is why we have the depth we do. We'll put him in that situation tonight, but it's going to be probably a little bit of a committee as you move forward depending on the game.”
 
Reirden was not ready to say Kempny will miss the rest of the season. It’s too soon for that. 
 
“Obviously we'll miss Michal, he's been a really good player for us in the playoffs last year,” Reirden said. “He's had a strong regular season push his numbers to career highs and stuff. Hopefully we can get some better news on that, but for now Christian will be starting there and expect to see some movement in those spots as well.”
 
Added Carlson: “I think I'm a little bit more aggressive at the line and keeping guys out of the zone, and in-zone [Kempny is] a little more aggressive in terms of down below the goal line. We obviously know each other's games and work off each other pretty well. He's a big piece of this team and we're gonna have to all step up."

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And so this is goodbye, Lord Stanley…for now

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And so this is goodbye, Lord Stanley…for now

On June 7, 2018, Alex Ovechkin triumphantly hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head as the Capitals claimed their first championship in franchise history. Whether you have been a fan of the team since the beginning or were brought into the fold during the Ovechkin era, that moment in 2018 was a special one. Year after year of early playoff exits made some doubt if the moment would ever come. But finally the patience, the perseverance, the unwavering support was rewarded as the team finally claimed the sports’ ultimate prize. It was a moment for Caps fans to celebrate and really the entire city of Washington as it was the first championship the city had seen since 1992.

The ecstasy of the moment was followed by an epic party, a party that included swimming in fountains, a world tour, impromptu tattoos, championship rings and a banner ceremony.

But the party was not meant to last forever.

Sports offer every team a chance of redemption each year. With only one champion, that means every other team has something to strive for. For the first time, however, Caps fans saw the other side of winning a championship. The new season offers 30 teams a chance to improve upon last season. But for the defending champs, the best they can do is defend the Cup. Anything else feels like a disappointment.

With the flick of his stick, Carolina Hurricanes forward Brock McGinn officially ended the Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions on Wednesday. It confirmed the truth that everyone knew in their hearts but did not want to accept: You cannot remain champions forever.

There is an important takeaway from Wednesday’s gut punch that Caps fans should remember and hold with them: It still matters.

How many times had Caps fans left a season thinking to themselves, just gives us one, that’s all we want! After years of hoping, wishing and praying for a championship, it was hard to know how to feel as the new season began. Would it still matter? Would we still live and die with every shot, every save and every goal? Would the game still mean as much as it did before now that the Caps had claimed the Cup or would nothing else ever be as sweet as that first championship?

We got our answer on Wednesday.

As Game 7 drew near, all of those familiar feelings returned, the nervousness, the excitement, the hope, the despair. If Game 7 of the first round could still mean so much, if losing in the playoffs still could make us feel this way, it means the game still matters. If we can all feel as sad as we felt Wednesday, it means the next championship will taste just as sweet.

If that’s how you feel as fans, you can bet the players, the coaches, everyone within the organization feels the same way.

There is also one other thing Caps fans should remember. The team’s reign as champions may be over, but it is not forgotten and not erased. There will always be the memories. We will always remember the moment of hope we had when Lars Eller scored in overtime against Columbus. We will tell our kids about the elation of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s overtime goal that ended an era of futility. Eller’s Cup clinching goal will live on in league history and the team’s names will be forever etched in the Cup’s rings.

McGinn’s goal ended the Caps’ season, but the Stanley Cup banner still remains in the rafters and nothing will ever take that away.

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The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

The Capitals’ reign as Stanley Cup champions is now officially over

WASHINGTON – This was not the way it was supposed to end.

The feeling after the Capitals’ Game 7 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday was one of shock. There is always an element of that when a team gets eliminated from the playoffs in overtime, but it wasn’t how they lost that made it so stunning. It was when.

“Everything can happen in a seven-game series,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “We all seen that. But right now it's just disappointing. We would've liked a better outcome. ... It's tough to swallow"

“We fight through 82 games and in Game 7, they score one goal and it’s a kind of situation where you’re disappointed, you’re frustrated, especially after last year,” Alex Ovechkin said.

After winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 and returning with largely the same core intact, returning as the defending champs to win the Metropolitan Division for a fourth consecutive year, no one envisioned Washington’s defense of the Cup and its quest to repeat to end in the first round. That was especially true when the Caps drew Carolina as their first-round opponent, a plucky team with a first-year head coach that made it to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

It looked like a favorable matchup for Washington. It wasn’t.

“All series long it was a game of mistakes,” Brooks Orpik said.

The Caps took a 2-0 lead in the series, Carolina battled back to tie it 2-2. Washington won the all-important Game 5 to push the Hurricanes to the brink, Carolina responded by winning Game 6 to force the all-or-nothing Game 7. The Caps even jumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 7 and yet the Hurricanes just kept coming.

In the end, the overtime loss was shocking, but not surprising. Carolina had taken control in the second period and never looked back. They fired the first nine shots on goal in overtime and were controlling the play over a Washington team that just looked gassed. The Caps needed to get a favorable bounce, otherwise it was only a matter of time before Carolina would finish them off and that was exactly what happened as Brock McGinn deflected in a shot for the overtime winner.

There are many reasons Washington ultimately lost this series, but it was for none of the typical reasons we see in most upsets.

This was not a case of a goalie standing on his head to completely shut down Washington’s offense. Petr Mrazek made some key saves at times, but ultimately finished the series with a .899 save percentage. Take away the six-goal blowout of Game 5 and Mrazek’s save percentage rises to .919. That’s better, but still would rank only sixth among goalie with at least four starts this postseason.

This was not a case of a superstar forward putting the team on his back and carrying them to the improbable upset. Sebastian Aho tallied five points in seven games, Teuvo Taravainen had four. Both had fewer points that Jaccob Slavin who had nine assists and Warren Foegele who scored an improbable four goals and two assists.

This was not a case of Washington’s best players not showing up. Alex Ovechkin scored four goals and five assists to lead the team with nine points. Right behind him was Nicklas Backstrom with five goals and three assists. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored only one goal in seven games, but his one goal came in Game 7 to restore Washington’s two-goal lead in the second period.

Washington finished with a 25-percent power play and an 88-percent penalty kill, bot respectable numbers.

The Caps lost Michal Kempny and T.J. Oshie – both significant injuries – but Carolina had a number of significant injuries as well.

Really, the biggest reason the Caps felt they lost is because they were out-played, out-hustled and out-worked.

“I think we were all guilty of some mistakes at different times that were maybe a little uncharacteristic of us,” Orpik said. “Two two-goal leads at home within the same game is kind of a tough one to swallow. I don’t know if unacceptable is the right word but you have to be able to maintain those leads, especially on home ice and this time of the year. We made mistakes but they played great all series so it wasn’t just us. Eventually you have to give them credit at some point.”

Now instead of preparing for the quick turnaround of playing and starting a second-round series against the New York Islanders on Friday, the season is over and the Caps are left to wonder what could have been.

Already eliminated in the first round were the Tampa Bay Lightning, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators, all thought to be Cup contenders. Heck, even archrival Pittsburgh was out. Alex Ovechkin was playing at the top of his game as he claimed his eight Rocket Richard Trophy after leading the league in goals yet again. That performance carried over to the postseason and he was brilliant in Wednesday’s game.

But despite how favorable the road in front of them looked for another Cup run, despite the unreal performance the team’s top stars were delivering, none of it ultimately mattered.

The only thing harder than winning a Stanley Cup is winning it twice. Perhaps to expect a second championship was unrealistic. But a first round exit felt too soon. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end for a team that had finally learned how to win.

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs were already turning into the year of the upset. The Caps became the latest victim of that on Wednesday. And finally, a party that had begun in June 2018, came to an end officially meaning a new champion will be crowned.

“Every opportunity missed is devastating, really,” John Carlson said. “You only get to do this for so long and I've been fortunate to be on great teams. When you don't do well, it's more than we were up in a series or a game. It's everything. It hurts.”

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