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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Caps secure playoff spot thanks to the Penguins

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USA TODAY Sports

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2018: Caps secure playoff spot thanks to the Penguins

For the fourth consecutive season and the ninth time in the last 10 seasons, the Caps are headed to the postseason. They may have had the night off, but Washington punched its ticket to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the New Jersey Devils lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in overtime on Thursday.

Even more ironic is the fact that it was Sidney Crosby who scored the decisive overtime goal.

RELATED: TED LEONSIS IS THINKING ABOUT THE CAPS' GOALIE SITUATION AS MUCH AS YOU ARE

Just who Washington will face has yet to be decided. With a five-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Metropolitan Division plus a game in hand, however, Washington will almost certainly win the division and face the first wild card team in the conference. Most likely, that will be the Philadelphia Flyers or Columbus Blue Jackets.

Pittsburgh may have done Washington a favor on Thursday, but as the second place team in the division they look to be on a second round collision course with the Caps yet again, should both teams advance that far.

Of course, both teams have to win their first round matchup before they can worry about the second round.

Washington has yet to miss the playoffs during the Barry Trotz era, making him a perfect four-for-four. This is also the third time during his tenure in which the team enters the postseason as the top team in the division.

MORE CAPITALS: SHANE GERSICH PLAYED LIKE HE BELONGED IN NHL DEBUT

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3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

Nicklas Backstrom scored with less than seven seconds remaining to give the Capitals the 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday in a preseason preview of the regular-season opener. Radko Gudas and Richard Panik also scored.

Here are three players who impressed for the Caps.

1. Richard Panik

Panik got plenty of practice on the penalty kill with 4:16 of shorthanded ice time shorthanded. In that time he gave a glimpse of why he was so coveted by the Caps as a free agent.

In the first period, Panik pounced on a loose puck at the top of the faceoff circle in the defensive zone. Seeing he had room to work with, he did not just clear it down the ice and instead elected to skate up with it. He fought off the backcheck from Tyler Bozak through the neutral zone, drew an additional two Blues players to him, then drew a holding call from Bozak because he would not give up the puck.

Panik's 4:16 of penalty kill time was more than top penalty killer Carl Hagelin's 2:26, though the fact that Hagelin took two minors on the night probably had something to do with it.

Late in the game, Panik was also added to the power play as a sixth attacker with the goalie pulled. He would score the game-tying goal with just 1:09 left in regulation.

2. The goalies

Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov both played about a half of the game. It is really hard to evaluate a goalie on just 30 minutes of work, so I will give a shoutout to both as both played very well.

Vanecek got the start. He looked a little awkward at first, but settled in as the game went along for a solid performance. He stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced with the only goal he allowed a weird deflection off of Brett Leason’s skate.

Samsonov took over about halfway through the second period and within minutes found himself defending the net on a 5-on-3 penalty kill. The penalty killers helped out their young netminder allowing only one shot on goal, but it was a good one. Colton Parayko one-timed a slap shot, but Samsonov was there to stop with no rebound. Soon after the penalty was over, Vladimir Tarasenko was all alone in front of the net, but was denied by Samsonov’s who stretched the blocker to deny the high shot.

Sanford scores on the PP. Samsonov wasn't tight against the post. Showed him too much daylight and Sanford made him pay.

Samsonov finished with 11 saves on 12 shots.

3. Connor McMichael

Boy, somebody got a confidence boost from Monday’s game. 

McMichael was given a second preseason game as a reward for his solid performance on Monday and he definitely showed off the confidence that comes along with being a first-round draft pick.

In the first period, McMichael found himself all alone with the puck on a mini-breakaway on Jordan Binnington. Just a reminder, this is the Binnington who was the starting goalie for the Stanley Cup champions.

So what did McMichael do? He skated to the front and tried the stick between the legs shot. It may not have worked, but you have to respect the confidence this kid had just to try, though no doubt the coaches probably had a few words for him in the locker room about it.

There was one area in which McMichael struggled, however, and that was on the faceoff where he lost all five draws he took on the night.

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Ovechkin awarded the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award

Ovechkin awarded the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award

Alex Ovechkin has already collected almost every award in hockey imaginable, and he just won another.

USA Hockey announced on Wednesday that Ovechkin will receive the prestigious Wayne Gretzky International Award. He will be honored at the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Dec. 12.

The award recognizes international players who have had a significant impact on advancing hockey in the United States.

After the Capitals drafted him first overall in 2004, Ovi has used his prominence in hockey to make an impact on the Washington area. Ovechkin started Ovi's Crazy 8's in 2006, providing more than 5,000 tickets to help underserved children attend Caps games.

2019 marks the sixth consecutive season that he will be hosting a skating event for the American Special Hockey Association. Ovi has also worked with several foundations to grant the wishes of ill children.

Over the course of Ovechkin's NHL career, youth participation in hockey in the DMV has nearly doubled, rising from 13,923 to 22,500, according to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

“His performance on the ice and efforts off the ice have certainly translated into more kids and families wanting to be involved in our sport,” said Pat Kelleher, executive director of USA Hockey, in a press release. “He’s been a great ambassador for hockey and embodies what the Gretzky Award represents.”

Entering his fifteenth season in Washington, Ovechkin has made a habit out of winning awards.

Ovi's scoring prowess has him ranked thirteenth on the NHL's all-time goal list, and another 50 goal season would push him all the way to seventh.

Finishing his career as the top-ranked goal scorer is not out of the question, as Ovechkin continues to chase the namesake of his most recent award.

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