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With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 5

With NHL season paused, a ranking of Capitals' best wins of 2019-20: No. 5

While we wait for the NHL to hopefully resume its season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the 20 best wins of the Capitals' season so far. Mark Zaner, producer for Caps Faceoff Live and Caps Overtime Live, has watched every game. His rankings continue with No. 5, a 6-5 shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 25 that featured a major comeback from Washington thanks in large part to Evgeny Kuznetsov and Michal Kempny. 
 
You can re-watch the game tonight on NBC Sports Washington at 8pm. 

WHAT HAPPENED 

The Caps got off to a quick start when Kuznetsov scored less than four minutes into the game. Then the Canucks took over. Vancouver ran up five straight goals including one on the power play and one shorthanded. With a 10pm start time, most Caps fans probably turned the game off and went to bed during the second period. They missed Kuznetsov’s next goal, which he scored right before the second period buzzer. 
 


 
The momentum continued in the third. The Canucks got sloppy in their own end during a man-advantage. Garnet Hathaway came up with the puck in the corner and threw it to the front of the net. Bo Horvat never saw it and Lars Eller poked the puck through his legs and past the five-hole of a surprised Jacob Markstrom. The Canucks lead was suddenly down to two. 
 

 
Washington got within one and tied the game from a most unlikely source. Michal Kempny was playing only his fifth game of the season due to his longer-than-anticipated recovery from a torn hamstring. He was not getting a lot of ice time and he certainly wasn’t the focal point of the Caps attack. Kempny scored twice in 2:44 of game time on identical screened slapshots from the blue line. Washington scored four goals in 7:42 to tie the game. 
 

 
This thriller eventually went to a shootout. In the bottom of the third round, Nicklas Backstrom helped the Caps steal two points in Western Canada. We think. It’s still hard to tell how the puck went past Markstrom. 

MEMORABLE MOMENTS 

It had to be Kuznetsov’s second goal. Hockey is not a sport that lends itself to things happening as the clock runs out. So it was cool and unusual to see Kuzy score with six-tenths of a second remaining and hear the buzzer sound as the puck cross the goal line. It’s also fair to say that the Capitals probably don’t come back and win if he doesn’t score right before intermission. 
 
"That goal at the end of the second was huge,” said Eller. “Just a little bit of life, and then we said we needed to get another one early, and we did that, and then after that it was just a big push. It was big for the character of the team going forward." 

WHY IT WAS SIGNIFICANT 

This wasn’t the first comeback win for the Caps this season. But the amount of goals they had to rally from and the speed at which they did it was significant. It was a sign of things to come (think of games against the Sharks and Islanders in January). Washington proved in October that it is never out of a game…even when falling behind by four goals during a 10pm start less than 24 hours after playing an overtime game in Edmonton. 
 
The Caps scored five goals in a game where Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and Backstrom combined for zero points. Both Ovechkin and Carlson had nine-game point streaks snapped. 

WHAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT 

Technically, we weren’t talking about anything. Because of the late start time we didn’t have a postgame show. Yours truly was fast asleep. But how about Kempny scoring three goals in his first five games of the season? He hasn’t scored since. 

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How the 24-team playoff both helps and hurts the Capitals

How the 24-team playoff both helps and hurts the Capitals

The return to play format for the NHL is not set in stone and there are still some details that need to be worked out, but it certainly appears as if there will be a 24-team playoff when the league resumes and the Capitals will get a bye through the first round as one of the top-four teams in the Eastern Conference. At face value, that's a good thing. Out of 24 teams, only eight are guaranteed to make it to the next round and the Caps are one of those eight. But no one is quite sure how teams will look when the season resumes and with that uncertainty comes the possibility that the first-round bye might not actually be a positive.

Let's be clear, a bye through the first round is not a bad thing. The NHL has more parity than any other sports league and no one is guaranteed to win a series regardless of who they play. Really, this is about how ready Washington is going to be for a playoff series after sitting out the first round.

When the NHL put its season on pause, just about everyone had an opinion on how things should look when play resumed. If there was one thing all of the players agreed on, except for Alex Ovechkin, it was that the league should not simply jump into the playoffs. Teams had to be able to play games before that whether it be regular-season games or exhibitions. After so much time away from the ice and away from the team, everyone is going to look rusty when they return to the ice. No one wants to go straight from an abbreviated training camp into a do-or-die playoff series. With the NHL pause stretching into May, however, and with no timetable for a return just, time is a factor the league must consider in terms of being able to finish the current season and still have a full 82-games season in 2020-21. As of the time of writing, it does not appear that teams will be able to play exhibition games upon returning...except for the top seeds.

Based on the format that is currently expected to be agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA, the top four teams from each conference will play a round-robin to determine playoff seeding during the first round. While 16 teams will have to go from no hockey, to an abbreviated training camp right to what will likely be a best of five playoff series, the top seeds like the Caps will get three exhibition games before starting the playoffs.

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Granted, these would not technically be exhibition games because they would matter in terms of seeding, but even if the Caps were to be blown out in all three games, they would still advance to the second round. Not having to step into a best of five series with the season on the line immediately out of the pause is a huge advantage, or at least it is when looking just at the first round. But what will happen in the second?

When teams like Washington get their first chance to step onto the ice in the postseason it won't be against teams coming off exhibition games. Instead, the Caps will be playing a team that battled through three to five playoff games. While Washington will be trying to dial up the intensity to playoff levels, they will be playing against a team that has been playing at that intensity for a series already.

Who would you give the edge to between a team that just played a playoff series and one coming out of a three-game preseason?

What will make the 2020 postseason fascinating is the fact that we have absolutely no idea what to expect. This is completely unchartered territory.  Maybe the bye-in round will see teams suffer a number of injuries as they ramp up the intensity too quickly from training camp to postseason and the top seeds breeze past their weakened opponents. Maybe three round-robin games will be all it takes to get the Capitals back up to game speed and ready for their first playoff series. Or maybe teams coming off of a playoff series will find themselves in better game shape, more in sync and better prepared for a playoff series than a team coming off a bye that was preceded by a pause of several months. If we look back at this postseason and see that an overwhelming majority of the top eight seeds lose in their first matchups against teams that were already playing playoff hockey, would it really be that big of a shock?

If given the choice between having to step directly into a do-or-die best of five series or being in the Caps' position of getting a bye and playing three exhibition games before a playoff series, of course you should pick the bye. No team is guaranteed to win that first-round matchup, especially with all the uncertainty of the current season. But that does not mean that the bye won't end up proving detrimental in the second round as teams struggle to get up to playoff speed.

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T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie is no stranger to success in shootouts, especially in big games. Namely, his performance in the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Russia earned him that reputation.

If the shootout style was ever brought to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the NHL, there's a chance that Oshie's name would once again be called upon. However, the Capital isn't set on that scenario becoming a reality. 

As of now, playoff matchups head into as many overtimes as needed rather than a shootout. While that can be draining for players, Oshie believes it is a more genuine way to determine results in the postseason. Hockey is a sport that forces a team to come together as a whole, and he feels that shootouts take that away.

“Selfishly I’d love to see it. But I just look back and see some of the games that went to five overtimes and played past midnight," Oshie told NHL on NBC during a re-airing of his performance in the 2014 Olympics. “In the playoffs you need everyone on the ice, everyone doing their job. The shootout just feels a little bit more one-on-one.”

"So I don’t think it has a place in playoffs," he added.

As Oshie noted, he could see the fun and excitement in having shootouts in the playoffs due to his personal success experiences in those moments. Yet, his time in postseason runs, including Washington's 2018 championship has given him a larger perspective on the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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The Capitals' Stanley Cup run was filled with grueling moments, but the success came from the team's effort altogether. Individual performances sparked big moments, but the Capitals were only as good as the sum of all their parts. To take that away in the biggest of moments is something that Oshie sees as wrong for the sport and the players who worked hard to get there.

“It’s just, after winning, I think you realize how much you need everybody playing well and so I think everyone deserves to play in those big moments," Oshie said.

So, while Oshie loves participating in late-game heroics, he'll take his chance at an overtime goal rather than a shootout. He does, however, understand that the continuation of the golden goal format could lead to more games with multiple extra periods. Though he is okay with those happening in place of a shootout, he also knows that he probably just talked himself into a lot more of those situations in the future.

“Watch I’ll go to like a five-overtime game and be dying an need an IV," Oshie joked. "And maybe change my tune.”

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