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Remembering the 2018 Eastern Conference Final and the best two-game stretch in Capitals history

Remembering the 2018 Eastern Conference Final and the best two-game stretch in Capitals history

The epic 2018 playoff run that saw the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history is certainly full of great moments and games. There's Lars Eller's double-overtime goal against Columbus that saved the season, Eller's Cup-clinching goal, Evgeny Kuznetsov defeating Pittsburgh in overtime, the list goes on and on. But when you are thinking about the top moments from the 2018 Cup run, don't sleep on Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final as that was the best two-game stretch the Caps have played in the history of the franchise.

Sure, you could probably find games where they scored more goals, you could find games that were bigger nailbiters, you could find better individual performances from star players, but you will not find a more complete effort against great competition over the course of 120 minutes.

The conference final was new territory for Washington as the team had not made it that far since 1998. Sure, the Caps had just gotten past the Penguins, but they were playing a Tampa Bay Lightning team that, on paper, look far superior. Outside of Washington, not many believed the Caps would be able to stack up. The momentum from the previous round buoyed the Caps to a 2-0 series lead, but the Lightning quickly recovered to win three straight. Suddenly, Washington's magic run was one game away from ending. Somehow the Caps had to find a way to beat Tampa Bay not only once, but twice with Game 7 coming on the road.

With everything to lose in Game 6, Washington played one of the most brilliant games of hockey I have ever seen. They didn't run up the score, they didn't get a hat trick from Alex Ovechkin, it wasn't an overtime thriller, the Caps simply took one of the best teams in the NHL and dominated them in every facet of the game. While Tampa Bay may have had more skill, Washington was the more physical team and they let the Lightning know it in Game 6, hitting them at every conceivable opportunity to wear them down. The Caps out-hit the Lighting 39-19. Ovechkin led the way and was the best player on the ice that night despite not recording a single point. He led his team with his body and they responded.

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Despite the incredible performance, for half of the game it looked like that might not be enough. Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was unbeatable through 30 minutes and the score sat 0-0 midway through the second. In hockey, sometimes a team can do everything right and still lose because of a hot goalie and it began to look like Washington was in danger of that happening until T.J. Oshie struck on the power play late in the second. Devante Smith-Pelly would score one of his seven goals of the postseason in the third and Oshie added an empty netter to force a Game 7. When the Caps needed him to be perfect, Braden Holtby was as he outlasted Vasilevskiy with a sterling shutout performance.

Washington may have taken the first two games in Tampa Bay, but Game 5 was a win for the Lightning as Cedric Paquette scored just 19 seconds in. In Game 7, it was the Caps who struck early with Ovechkin firing a one-timer past Vasilevskity just 62 seconds in. Andre Burakovsky scored twice in the second period and it was over. The Caps would win Game 7 4-0 to punch their tickets to the Stanley Cup Final.

A power play that featured both Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov was shut down. One of the best offenses in the league was held off the scoresheet. One of the top goalies in the world was pierced again and again. Washington had to win two games against one of the best teams in the league, arguably the most talented. The Caps won both by a combined score of 7-0. It does not get more complete than that.

Winning the Prince of Wales Trophy as the conference champs obviously pales in comparison to the Stanley Cup, but the way in which the Caps won the conference should not be forgotten. That was the best 120-minute stretch of hockey from the Capitals we have ever seen.

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Alex Ovechkin selling ‘We Will Skate Again’ t-shirts and masks to help local community

Alex Ovechkin selling ‘We Will Skate Again’ t-shirts and masks to help local community

Alex Ovechkin will be selling custom "We Will Skate Again" t-shirts, face masks and neck gaiters with all proceeds going toward foundations in the DMV community, the Capitals announced in a press release Thursday.

The products, which can be purchased at the Ovechkin's online store, feature his signature logo. The shirts also have the phrase "We Will Skate Again" written across the front. Here's a look at some of the designs from the press release:

Money raised from t-shirt sales will be donated to the Tucker Road Ducks and The Tucker Road Parent Hockey Organization. The youth hockey team from Prince George’s County, Md., tragically lost their ice rink in 2017 due to a fire. The organization is working to rebuild it, while also striving to make hockey available for kids of any economic background. 

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Proceeds from the masks and neck gaiters will go to the Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation's “Feeding the Frontlines” fund, which was created as a way to help those in the community who are dealing with the negative impact of COVID-19.

Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals are gearing up for the beginning of training camp on July 13 as the NHL gets closer to a return.

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How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

How a flat cap could affect the Capitals' approach to the Seattle expansion draft

The NHL salary cap is going to remain at $81.5 million for next two years at least. That is going to make life difficult for Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan. With the team already tight against the cap ceiling, he won't even get the annual relief of the cap rising. One way in which the team could find a modicum of relief, however, is through the 2021 expansion draft. Every team in the NHL will lose a player to Seattle which means taking a contract off the books. Given the team's cap situation, there is one player specifically to keep in mind when it comes to the expansion draft: T.J. Oshie.

For the expansion, each team will be able to protect eight skaters and a goalie or seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. It seems safe to assume Washington will choose the latter. Here are the forwards that will still be under contract after the 2020-21 season: Nicklas Backstrom, Nic Dowd, Lars Eller, Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Oshie, Richard Panik and Tom Wilson. The contracts for both Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana expire at the end of the 2020-21 season, but both will almost certainly be re-signed so we can add them to the list.

Of the forwards the team would want to protect, the most obvious choices are Backstrom, Eller, Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Vrana and Wilson. Most would assume that the seventh spot should go to Oshie, but should it?

As I wrote yesterday, one of the issues for Washington is that the team has several long-term deals on the books. For a team with little room under the cap, MacLellan had to offer longer-term deals instead of big money ones to remain competitive in the gree agent market. The risk is that it ties you to a player for longer, but even if a player is not living up to his contract, the percentage of his cap hit would decrease every year with a steadily rising salary cap. Well, now the cap is no longer rising and that means players on long deals, like Oshie, are not getting better as the players age.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Oshie. First, he will be 34 at the time of the expansion draft and will only be halfway through an eight-year contract that carries a cap hit of $5.75 million. Obviously, the chances that Oshie would be living up to that cap hit when he was 37 or 38 were low when Oshie first signed the deal, but that's OK because with a steadily rising cap, the percentage would probably be low enough at that point that it would not be a significant issue. But now the salary cap is flat which means MacLellan is going to have to take a hard look at all of the team's long-term deals and project out what the team can expect from those players towards the end of their contracts.

Oshie is having a great season with 26 goals and 23 assists. He was on pace for 58 points which would have been his best in Washington. He is a leader on the team and a real boost to the locker room. No one could question his value to Washington now, but the question is what will his value be in the second half of his contract?

RELATED: WHY A FLAT SALARY CAP IS BAD NEWS FOR THE CAPS

Granted, Seattle knows all of this, but there are three reasons why Oshie would still be an attractive acquisition. First, Oshie's cap hit is essentially a non-factor for a team starting from scratch. The Caps have very little room to work with under the cap while Seattle has all of the room to work with. A cap hit of $5.75 million would hardly be a deterrent. Second, Oshie is actually from Washington state. While most fans remember Oshie taking the Cup to his hometown of Warroad, Minn., Oshie was born in Washington and lived there until moving to Minnesota in 2002. Third, when building a team, you need players like Oshie who are personable and charismatic. He is the life of the locker room and a natural leader. He would be Washington's native son, returning to lead the team in its inaugural season.

To me, it is not a stretch to think that if Oshie is indeed selected, he would be in the running to be Seattle's first captain. His departure would also provide some cap relief to a Washington team in need of the extra room. Losing Oshie would mean losing that spark in the locker room, however, and MacLellan will have to decide whether that is a fair trade-off.

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