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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Backstrom surges, Leafs rewriting storyline, Flames off to hot start

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Backstrom surges, Leafs rewriting storyline, Flames off to hot start

Although the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup 10 months ago, it feels as if it was just yesterday that the 2018 postseason came to a close, and now, it's already the 2019 playoffs.

Last night, the Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche, started their respective playoff series, and there was no lack of action. Here's how Thursday's games played out.

Capitals top Hurricanes, 4-2

Although the Capitals were struggling to get scoring chances halfway through the first period, two goals from Nicklas Backstrom and a power-play goal from Alex Ovechkin put Washington up 3-0 over Carolina after the opening frame, and the score would hold through the second period.

However, Andrei Svechnikov had two goals in the third to bring the Hurricanes within one as they ignited a late rally. However, the comeback was stopped short thanks to blocks and strong defense from Backstrom and company, and Lars Eller was able to score on the empty net to secure the victory.

The Caps have a 1-0 series lead over Carolina in their first playoff series agianst the Hurricanes, and will look to carry that success over into Game 2. However, the Hurricanes proved to be dangerous Thursday, and are ready to compete and tie things up.

Maple Leafs dominate Bruins, 4-1

Heading into Thursday's Game 1, the Maple Leafs were reminded of their previous playoff demons against Boston, but they a glimpse that perhaps things would be different this season with an impressive Game 1 victory Thursday.

Patrice Bergeron gave the Bruins an early 1-0 lead with a power-play tally, but Mitch Marner followed up with two consecutive goals, scoring one shorthanded on a penalty shot, and William Nylander also scored on a breakaway to put the Leafs up 3-1 heading into the third. John Tavares added another goal in the final frame, and also recored an assist in the win.

Toronto now holds a 1-0 series lead over Boston and will look to continue capitalizing on their offense in order to finally overcome the Bruins and advance to the second round.

Flames blank Avalanche, 4-0

Calgary proved their worth as the top team in the Western Conference to close out the season, and the Flames' success carried into the playoffs as they defeated the Avalanche, a team that has had its fair share of struggles this year.

Andrew Mangiapane opened the scoring for the Flames late in the first, and from there, Calgary continued to dominate. Matthew Tkachuk had two goals, and Mikael Backlund also added a tally in the victory. But the first star of the night was 37-year-old goaltender Mike Smith, who made 26 saves to shut out Colorado and also had an assist on Tkachuk's second goal of the game in the third period.

Having qualified for the playoffs just three times over the last 10 years, the Flames made a statement with their Game 1 performance and established themselves as early favorites with their victory. They now have a 1-0 series lead.


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The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

ARLINGTON, Va. --  While the Capitals were on the road, Brian MacLellan was hard at work and finalized a deal on Tuesday to bring San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington. On Wednesday he met with the media to talk about the newest Cap.

"He's got playoff experience, he's a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy," MacLellan said. "I think he'll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He's a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed."

Here are the six most important things MacLellan said about Dillon.

Dillon may be a top-pair player

Dillon is certainly a top-four defenseman, but the Caps added a player they feel can play on the top pair.

"I think we move him around a little bit," MacLellan said. "He could play with [John Carlson], could play with [Dmitry Orlov]. He's played with two good guys in San Jose. I anticipate the coaches trying him at both spots and see what works best for us."

Todd Reirden echoed those thoughts after practice.

When asked if Dillon playing with Brent Burns made him a natural fit to play with Carlson on the top pair, Reirden said, "That's my first initial thought. That is a similar type of player for sure."

Either Kempny or Jensen is going to get bumped out of the top four

When you re-read MacLellan's comments on Dillon playing in the top four, he said he could play with either Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. Adding a player into the top four means taking someone out and, based on those comments, that player is either going to be Michal Kempny or Nick Jensen.

Dillon is not the solution for the team's problems on the right

Right defense has been an issue for the Caps this season, but it does not sound like the plan is to plug Dillon in on the right side.

MacLellan was asked if Dillon could play on his off-side and he gave a tepid endorsement.

"He could, yeah," MacLellan said. "I think he's played a little bit on the off-side, but Orly's had some experience playing on the off-side. There's a number of different combinations we could try."

Reirden was asked who would play the right if Dillon and Orlov played together, and he said it would be Orlov.

While both MacLellan and Reirden said it would be an option to try Dillon on the right, it did not sound like that was the long-term plan at all.

This was not a reaction trade

Washington has lost four of its last five games and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23. The team suddenly no longer sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division and trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by a point in the standings. The Caps' recent struggles, however, did not influence this deal, at least according to MacLellan.

MacLellan stated twice that he would have made this deal "regardless because I think it's a great fit for us — I think his skillset and the group we do have. I think one of the things that's been frustrating for me is the play in front of our own net, the compete level in front of our own net, and this is something he brings to the table here. I think he does a great job in front of our net. So I think we addressed that through him."

It should be noted that MacLellan has previously stated he was only looking for depth at the trade deadline and now has acquired a player who may well end up playing on the team's top pair. If you take him at his word, however, MacLellan liked Dillon and liked the upgrade, and that's why this deal got done — not because of the team's current struggles.

Dillon's playoff experience is a major reason why he is now with Washington

Last season, MacLellan traded for a defenseman playing a significant role on a bad team in Nick Jensen. Jensen had zero playoff experience and that showed in the team's postseason series against the Carolina Hurricanes. This year, MacLellan elected to go a different route.

Dillon has 62 games of playoff experience under his belt and helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Western Conference Final in 2019.

MacLellan was asked how much that experience mattered to him, and he said, "A lot. A lot. I think he’s been in the final. He’s been on good teams, similar to us. I think San Jose and Washington had top teams for a long time and he’s been in that environment, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Physical play is still a major part of the team's identity

Dillon is not the type of player you go out an acquire if physicality is not a priority.

For the season, Dillon ranks ninth in the NHL with 178 hits. His acquisition means the Caps now have five of the top 21 hitters in the league.

"I think we're all attracted to size as long as it can play," MacLellan said. "We like having the big bodies and playing a heavier game, and he's a good skater for his size, too. He has that physical presence, and we're excited to see how it fits for us."

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Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Now's your chance to score some free Chipotle, Caps fans!

By wearing your favorite Capitals jersey on Friday, you can earn a free entree through Chipotle's "suit up and score" campaign with the purchase of another entree of equal or lesser value.

While all jerseys qualify for the promotion, we recommend Alex Ovechkin's as he goes for goal No. 700.

So rock your red, grab a friend and head to Chipotle for this awesome deal redeemable Friday, Feb. 21 only.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.