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A wish granted: Cancer survivor Brock Witmoyer spends a weekend with T.J. Oshie and the Capitals

A wish granted: Cancer survivor Brock Witmoyer spends a weekend with T.J. Oshie and the Capitals

WASHINGTON — The limo pulled up to Capital One Arena with T.J. Oshie and a special guest just hours before the Capitals’ game Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.

Brock Witmoyer, an 18-year-old from Reading, Pa., has been fighting cancer since 2016. His big wish was simply to meet Oshie and talk hockey. Through Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic he got more than he could have ever hoped this weekend.

Witmoyer has used hockey as a temporary escape from his fight. He plays club hockey at his high school and admires Oshie’s flashy skill and hard game. On Friday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, he got to wear a lavender No. 21 Make-A-Wish jersey with his name on the back and take the ice with Oshie and the other Capitals.

As he laced up his skates after watching practice, Witmoyer was nervous. He hadn’t picked up a stick in almost a year. But he got a fist bump from Oshie and a warm greeting from the other players and an introduction by coach Todd Reirden. Then he skated with Oshie and took some shots on goal. Oshie even let him use his stick.

“Brock was using my curve. I have a pretty big curve. So I was just telling him to just keep it on the heel,” Oshie said. “That was pretty much it. Once I did that he scored three in a row. That’s what we were trying to do – get him three in a row. He got her done. He’s got some skills out there. I was impressed.”

Witmoyer’s dream weekend wasn’t finished. He attended Saturday’s Hockey Fights Cancer game against the Vancouver Canucks and was introduced with the starting lineup alongside Oshie and five other Make-A-Wish kids. He also picked up Oshie at his house in a limo and they rode to Capital One Arena in the morning for the 12:30 p.m. game.

“Just getting a fist bump from [Oshie] was enough, but being able to talk to him and see what he’s like, it’s just an insane experience. It’s surreal,” Witmoyer said. “I never thought I would have this opportunity.”

Witmoyer became an Oshie fan when many people did: During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Oshie’s legendary performance in the shootout round of a quarterfinal game against Russia helped the United States advance to the semifinals in a 3-2 win.

Doctors couldn’t get all of Witmoyer’s brain tumor during a 2016 surgery and he needs regular checkups to make sure it isn’t growing again. But he is done with treatment for now and that is a blessing. MRI results this week showed no growth in the tumor over the past year. There is hope for the immediate future.

Now a student at Reading Area Community College after graduating from Wilson High in Reading, Witmoyer hopes to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania next semester and maybe even join the hockey team there.

But for 36 hours this weekend he was part of the Capitals. He watched warm-ups from the bench, was interviewed on the scoreboard and stood on the ice with Oshie and the Capitals as the Canadian and American national anthems played and the big crowd roared cheers for him and his fellow fighters, a dream come true for kids who deserved the ovation.

“It was kind of like a blur,” Witmoyer said. “Skating on the ice at first I was really nervous, but as I started talking to players and shooting more it started to go away. It felt natural.”

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Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

Possible playoff opponents for the Capitals are starting to come into focus

With their 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, the Capitals' playoff future is starting to come into focus. Washington has only one game remaining and can finish in either third or fourth in the round robin standings. That limits the number of possible playoff opponents for the Caps when the games really start to matter.

First, before talking about who the Caps may play, it is important to remember why. Under the NHL's regular format, a normal year would see teams advance in a bracket, meaning each team knows going in they will be playing the winner of a specific matchup if they advance. This year, the NHL is going back to its old format of re-seeding after each round. This makes determining matchups a bit harder to figure out.

Here's what we know. The Caps are going to finish in the bottom half of the round robin meaning they will play one of the highest two seeded teams coming out of the qualifying round. The Carolina Hurricanes swept their qualifying round series against the New York Rangers. As the No. 6 seed coming in, Carolina is going to be one of the top two qualifying round teams.

RELATED: DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWNS AND MORE FROM CAPS LOSS TO FLYERS

Washington's final seed will be determined by Sunday's game against the Boston Bruins. A win in regulation, overtime or a shootout will mean the Caps are No. 3, while a loss in any fashion will bump them down to No. 4.

The simplest scenario for Washington is that If the Pittsburgh Penguins rally to win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, the Caps are guaranteed to play either Pittsburgh or Carolina as the No. 5 and 6 seeds, respectively. It gets a little trickier if the Penguins lose. If that happens, the Hurricanes become the top qualifying team and will play No. 4. The top team behind them then becomes No. 6 which, as of now, could be the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs or the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So a rematch with the Hurricanes is a definite possibility for the Caps, as is a matchup with the rival Penguins.

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Defensive breakdowns, Evgeny Kuznetsov benched and the Capitals' penalty kill put to the test

Defensive breakdowns, Evgeny Kuznetsov benched and the Capitals' penalty kill put to the test

The Philadelphia Flyers' dominance over the Capitals carried over from the regular season into Thursday's 3-1 round robin win, as Washington was eliminated from contention for the top seed in the East.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the loss

The Flyers forced the Caps into defensive breakdowns

The first of Philadelphia's three goals was a bad turnover by Radko Gudas. The other two were defensive breakdowns forced by the Flyers' movement in the offensive zone.

In the second period, Kevin Hayes had all eyes on him as he stickhandled around in Washington's defensive zone. He battled with Jonas Siegenthaler in the corner, then retreated to the top of the circle, closely followed by Siegenthaler. Dmitry Orlov stayed on Scott Laughton. That left room for Travis Sanheim who skated in behind the right side of the defense. Hayes found him with a seam pass and he beat Holtby one-on-one for Philadelphia's second goal.

That player in the top left doing a double-take? That's Evgeny Kuznetsov. He was in front of the net, skated away and reacted to Sanheim going in on net too late. More on him later.

In the third period, Orlov went behind the net after Travis Konecny who passed it off to Hayes. Siegenthaler went after Hayes while Konecny stopped behind the net. As Hayes stickhandled on the right, Laughton charged in from the left where there was no defense to be found. Kuznetsov recognized the net was open and parked in front, but was too far up and was caught standing when Hayes made the seam pass. Laughton put the puck into the net before Kuznetsov even reacted.

"It's a breakdown in coverage and they take advantage of it," Reirden said. "It's individual responsibilities that happen from mistakes prior to that. That's how goals happen and we have to execute better with the puck to give ourselves the chance to play in the offensive zone. We need to be better, we need more from everybody right down our list."

In both situations, the defensive was drawn away from the front of the net. It was Kuznetsov's responsibility to cover the front for the defense and he did not do a good enough job. Both mistakes resulted in goals.

And we know these plays were breakdowns by Kuznetsov because....

Reirden was displeased with Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov got tangled near the end of the first period and was slow to get up and skate to the bench. He returned for the start of the second period, but played only three shifts in the third. Because of what happened in the first period, I assumed this was because of an injury and I asked Reirden for an update on Kuznetsov's status after the game.

"How we break down ice time and use certain guys, we're going with who's playing the best at that time," Reirden said. "We need a different level of play and we know we have it. It's not a secret. We have a different level of play and we need to get to it if we want to have success. We need more from everybody and we didn't have that."

What Reirden appears to be saying here while trying not to single out Kuznetsov is that Kuznetsov was benched.

Kuznetsov's last shift came with 11:23 left in the third period. That was the Laughton goal in which Kuznetsov was caught standing in front of the net.

Too many penalties

I'll keep this one short because it's fairly obvious. You can't give up six power plays in the first two periods of a game and hope to win. And those penalties were blatant.

No, it's not just because it's the round robin

Sorry, you can't explain this loss away by just saying it was the round robin and the Caps are looking past this towards the playoffs.

Yes, Washington was without Carlson who is being held out, we believe, as a precaution, but Philadelphia started Brian Elliott in net over starter Carter Hart and James van Riemsdyk was out for them. Both teams made roster decisions with an eye on the playoffs, but one of them played much better than the other. I don't think Thursday's game was a product of the Caps not taking a round robin game seriously, it was just a bad game.

Turning point

When Tampa Bay went up 2-0 against the Caps on Monday, the Caps ramped up the intensity and rallied to tie the game before the end of the second period. When Philadelphia went up 2-0 on Thursday, the goal was completely deflating and I don't think anyone watching the game had any real confidence the Caps were going to be able to rally from this one. Hayes just stickhandled as much as he wanted until the seam opened up for Sanheim. That 2-0 lead felt like 5-0 at that point.

Play of the game

The game was leaning more and more in favor of the Flyers in the second period, but a 3-on-1 opportunity for Philadelphia could have made things even worse if not for the pad save by Braden Holtby.

Stat of the game

Washington's lone goal on the night came from Travis Boyd. It was his first playoff point.

Boyd played in two games during the 2018 Cup run but did not record a point in either game. While this may be the "round robin" and not a playoff series, these points do technically count as playoff points.

Quote of the game

Reirden summed this one up pretty well: "You need everybody’s top game. And we didn’t have that tonight. That’s really, to me, the story of this game, is that we need more from everybody.”

To end on a lighter note, Boyd was asked about his goal and said, "First playoff goal, I guess I will take that."

T.J. Oshie then cut in saying, "Many more to come."

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