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Lightning chasing history, but Caps know that's no guarantee in Stanley Cup playoffs

Lightning chasing history, but Caps know that's no guarantee in Stanley Cup playoffs

When the Capitals play the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at Amalie Arena they will see a familiar sight. 

Yes, the two teams met last year in an epic Eastern Conference Final series that went seven games and eventually led to Washington’s first Stanley Cup. That’s a natural story angle. But this year’s Lightning are chasing history, too, and that is something the Capitals know all about. 

Tonight’s game (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) is the first of three in 15 games. The two teams have not yet met this season as the NHL crams a playoff-worthy series of games into the final month. But they are in distinctly separate realms in the standings. 

The Capitals (42-22-7, 91 points) are in first place in the Metropolitan Division. They are 15-5-1 since returning from the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak. They are in a fight for a fourth consecutive division title, but should comfortably make the playoffs.

Tampa Bay, however, has already clinched a playoff spot. They needed just 68 games to tie the 2008-09 San Jose Sharks for second-fastest clinching. The only team better? The 2009-10 Capitals, who won the Presidents’ Trophy and went into the playoffs as heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup. 

The Lightning (54-13-4, 112 points) are one win away from setting the franchise record for a single season. They need to go 8-3-0 to match the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a season (62). They would have to collect 20 of a possible 22 points to reach the gold standard of 132 points set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens. 

But while those Red Wings and those Canadiens went on to win the Cup, it is the 2009-10 Capitals and 2008-09 Sharks that should serve as a warning sign to Tampa Bay. Neither of those teams made it out of the first round. Washington was one of the best offensive teams of the salary-cap era at 3.82 goals-per-game. That’s exactly what Tampa Bay is averaging now. But Washington lost to Montreal, the No. 8 seed, in seven games because goalie Jaroslav Halak stopped everything it could throw at him up 3-1 in the series and looking for the clincher. 

The Sharks didn’t even make it that far. They were dropped in six games by the Anaheim Ducks, the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference that season, and lost the concluding game 4-1.

None of that to say the same fate is in store for the Lightning. They have 20 more goals than any other team this year (277). They have the fourth-fewest goals allowed (187). They are a deep, complete team led by captain Steven Stamkos and likely Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov, who tops the NHL with 115 points. Goalie Andrei Vasilevsky has a .929 save percentage, which is second overall. 

The core of Tampa Bay’s team played for the Cup in 2015 against the Chicago Blackhawks and have been to the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018 and lost in seven games to the Pittsburgh Penguins and last spring to the Capitals. 

“They’re obviously tearing the league up, there’s no question,” Capitals forward Brett Connolly said. “They’re going to want to make a statement with how it ended for them last year so we’ve got to be ready to go. They’re obviously a dangerous team and it’s going to be a good test for us, a good test for them. Can’t wait to get there and get that game going.”

No lineup changes

The Capitals will stick with the lineup they used in a 5-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. Chandler Stephenson will center the fourth line with Travis Boyd on the right and Andre Burakovsky on the left. Otherwise the top nine remains the same as it’s been. 

Lightning health

Only defensemen Dan Girardi (lower-body injury) and Anton Stralman (lower-body injury) are likely out tonight. Both have missed the past three games.

Milestones possible

Nicklas Backstrom needs just one assist to reach 50 for the sixth year in a row. Only 25 players have ever posted that long a streak and 23 of them are in the Hockey Hall of Fame and the other two (Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton) are not yet eligible. Alex Ovechkin, meanwhile, is still pushing for his eighth 50-goal season. He has not had a goal the past four games and is stuck on 46, which remains four ahead of Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (42).   

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Blues eliminate Jets, Stars and Capitals pull ahead 3-2

NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Blues eliminate Jets, Stars and Capitals pull ahead 3-2

Friday saw the Toronto Maple Leafs pull ahead 3-2 and the Colorado Avalanche eliminate the favored Calgary Flames. Saturday provided another elimination game and two teams pulled ahead 3-2 in their series.

Here are the results from Saturday.

St. Louis Blues eliminate Winnipeg Jets with 3-2 win

The Blues return to the second round of the playoffs after they were eliminated in the first round last season.

The Blues rally started 23 seconds into the game, when Jaden Schwartz put home a Brayden Schenn rebound.

Schwartz followed with two more goals, completing the hat trick. It's the second natural hat trick in a playoff series clinching game since Geoff Courtnall in 1992.

The Blues await the winner of the Nashville-Dallas series.

Dallas Stars pull ahead of Nashville Predators in 5-3 victory

The Stars were able to steal one from the Predators at Bridgestone Arena thanks to Jason Dickinson and Alexander Radulov's two goal performances.

Tyler Seguin added a goal of his own to pull the Stars ahead 4-2 at the end of the second period, and Ben Bishop recorded 30 saves.

The Stars have a chance to close the series at home Monday night.

Washington Capitals take upperhand on Carolina Hurricanes with 6-0 shutout

After dropping Game 4 in Carolina 2-1, the Caps exploded for six goals against the Hurricanes in a 6-0 win.

Nicklas Backstrom scored the opening two goals. He leads the Capitals in playoff goals with five and had a four point night.

The Caps also got production from their bottom six with Brett Connolly's goal and Nic Dowd's converted penalty shot. It's the first penalty shot a Caps player has successfully made in the playoffs.

Braden Holtby's shutout gave him seven in the playoffs, surpassing Olaf Kolzig's six for the franchise lead. The Caps have a chance to win the series in Carolina Monday night.

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Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

Todd Reirden on TJ Oshie's surgery: 'It's a tough situation for our team'

ARLINGTON — Capitals forward T.J. Oshie had a surgical procedure Friday to repair a broken right collarbone and remains out indefinitely.  

Oshie was not at Capital One Arena for Washington’s 6-0 win in Game 5 of its Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He was injured with five minutes to go in Thursday’s Game 4 loss in Raleigh when nudged from behind by Hurricanes forward Warren Foegele and slamming hard into the boards near full speed. 

“There's not one person who can take T.J. Oshie's spot for all that he is as a human being, player on the ice, off the ice all the stuff that he adds,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said at his media availability on Sunday afternoon. “But what I did notice is that everybody picked their level up last night. And that's what we're going to need going into Raleigh for [Monday]."

That’s when Washington, ahead 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, can eliminate Carolina in Game 6. It’s something it has done successfully on the road in recent years in Philadelphia (2016), Toronto (2017), Pittsburgh and Columbus (2018). All series the Capitals were up 3-2. In all four they won Game 6. 

But they won’t have Oshie this time and he is the emotional engine that has helped fuel some of those series-ending performances. There is still no exact timetable for Oshie’s return. The Capitals have avoided ruling him out for the season and Reirden artfully dodged a question about whether he’d be ready for training camp. 

A broken collarbone usually doesn’t take longer than two months to heal barring complications. But that’s almost certainly going to be after the playoffs ends even if the Capitals make a repeat run to the Stanley Cup Final. Last year they won it on June 7 in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

“I do know that T.J. Oshie is going to do everything he can, and we're not willing to put a timetable on it right now with regard to any time,” Reirden said. “Just lots of these things take a different course in terms of how they rehab and don't rehab. I just know that I can tell you about T.J., he's all-in at all times, and that's a great person to have around our room at the very least." 

Oshie had 25 goals and 29 assists in 65 regular-season games. He missed 11 of 13 games with a concussion. He had eight goals and 13 assists in the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. He also plays the “bumper” role on the top power-play unit and kills penalties.

Oshie tweeted thanks to fans both before and after Washington’s 6-0 win on Saturday. In the third period, periodic “T.J. Oshie!” chants rang from the sellout crowd at Capital One Arena. 

“It was nice to see the crowd give [Oshie] a little love,” center Nicklas Backstrom said on Saturday.  

Added Reirden: “That's obviously a tough loss for us, but we're prepared to go without him as we saw last night. It's a tough situation for our team, but I certainly liked our response last night and was proud of our effort in terms of how we played and how we were playing with him in the back of our mind."

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