Capitals

Heat to get rings, then meet Celtics

Heat to get rings, then meet Celtics

MIAMI (AP) LeBron James is finally getting his championship ring.

Somehow, that seems like an ancillary element to opening night in Miami.

It's Boston vs. Miami, a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference finals that went seven games before the Heat prevailed. It's Ray Allen vs. the Celtics for the first time since he left after five seasons to join Boston's biggest current rival. And, oh, it's also the night where the Heat celebrate last season's NBA championship with a splashy ring-and-banner ceremony.

``We'll honor and respect what we were able to accomplish before the game,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

After that? All business - for both teams.

The Heat and Celtics practiced simultaneously Monday in Miami, because Boston arrived a day ahead of schedule to avoid dealing with the brunt of Hurricane Sandy. And both preached the same mantra - yes, it's a big game, but win or lose, both teams will still have 81 games left to go in the regular season when they wake up Wednesday morning.

``If we win, do we get a trophy? We get one win and that's it,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ``And if we lose, which we don't want to do, we get one loss and it doesn't mean we still can't win it. But at the end of the day, we're all human. ... These games, they don't really have more meaning, but they do have more meaning.''

It comes as no surprise to either side that the schedule-makers sent Boston to Miami for ring night.

``Every time there's something big going on,'' Heat forward Chris Bosh said, ``we're playing the Celtics.''

There has been a slew of upgrades at the arena over the summer - slightly different looks here and there, a new nightclub and restaurant, more concessions and bars for ticketholders to enjoy. The Heat will even offer fans the chance to purchase championship-ring-related merchandise, designed in the same manner as the players' title-reward jewelry.

The upgrades extend to what's going to be on the court as well.

Miami kept its championship rotation intact, plus added Allen and Rashard Lewis to the mix. Allen knows it will be unusual to see the Heat get their rings, especially since five months ago, he was busy trying to thwart their title march.

``I'm excited for these guys, having spent time around them over the last two, three months, getting to know them and their families,'' Allen said. ``I'm happy for them that they won, but at the same time, they beat me and put us out. I understand the emotions that Boston will feel, watching the whole ceremony. But at the same time I'm excited for these guys. And once it's over with, it's business as usual.''

Boston figures to be better as well. Jason Terry now comes off the Celtics' bench, there's an influx of youth in the rotation, Jeff Green is back after heart surgery, and the remaining members of what was a Big Four - Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett - are loaded up for another championship push.

``It's just another basketball game,'' Rondo said.

Not even he probably believes that. The rivalry and the Allen reunion, make no mistake, weighs heavily on both sides. Neither Garnett nor Pierce has spoken to their former shooting guard since he signed in Miami.

``We're not going to make this into a Ray Allen or Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rondo thing,'' Pierce said. ``Right now my focus is on playing in the game tomorrow vs. the Miami Heat. Everything's that happened has already happened. He's here. He's happy to be here. We wish him the best for his family and the situation, but I'm more focused on the Boston Celtics.''

It's the second ring-night in Heat history.

It's almost certain to go better than the first one after Miami's 2006 title.

Any mention of the score from that Chicago-Miami opener - 108-66 - still makes Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem cringe. They're the last two players remaining in Miami from that Heat team, which endured the worst opening-night loss ever for a reigning champion.

``I just remember we got beat,'' Wade said. ``I don't remember the game. That's how long ago that was. Different time.''

Haslem remembers plenty.

``It sticks,'' Haslem said. ``But it's six years later. You learn and you move on and you try not to let it happen again. We've got a different group of guys. We're smarter, me and Dwyane are. And we understand the challenges of defending the title now. We were naive. At that point, we thought we could do it again the next year and just do it again and do it again and do it again.''

Well, actually, that is James' goal.

He didn't come to Miami for one title. He came for multiple ones. That's one of many reasons why even he's downplaying the ring ceremony and placing his focus squarely on another marquee matchup with Boston.

That being said, he's not overstating it, either.

``Game one doesn't determine who's the better team,'' James said. ``I mean, it's game one. Tomorrow night will not be what we want to be in April.''

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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