Nationals

Ovechkin sends Caps into Game 7 with Rangers

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Ovechkin sends Caps into Game 7 with Rangers

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lose one game, win the next. No matter how seemingly devastating a defeat, in overtime or otherwise, the Washington Capitals -- from two-time NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin to playoff rookie goalie Braden Holtby -- simply do not allow setbacks to bother them. They regroup, get back out there and follow a loss with a victory, each time by the slimmest of margins. Ovechkin rebounded from a rare zero-shot performance by scoring after 88 seconds Wednesday night, Holtby made 30 saves, and the Capitals recovered the way they always seem to, beating the top-seeded New York Rangers 2-1 to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinal series. "We're resilient," Washington defenseman Karl Alzner said. "We have that thick skin. We know when to battle back when we need to and have to." Never moreso than after Game 5 on Monday night, when No. 7-seeded Washington managed to blow a lead in the last 10 seconds of regulation. New York scored a power-play goal with 7.6 seconds left in the third period to tie it, and another 1 12 minutes into overtime to win it. The Capitals could have folded. Instead, they staved off elimination, and the teams will meet in New York on Saturday night to determine who will face the New Jersey Devils in the conference finals. "It's where we want to be," Holtby said. "We didn't expect a short series." He improved to 6-0 in games immediately after losses this postseason. That's why the Capitals are 4-0 in games that follow overtime losses in the playoffs. One other bit of proof that they know how to bounce back: They haven't lost consecutive games since March 22-23. "Everyone, I think, counted us out," said Jason Chimera, who scored in the second period to make it 2-0, Washington's second two-goal lead of the series. "This is the way we are. ... We don't really crack." Ovechkin's reduced role became a major talking point throughout these playoffs: Usually a 20-minute-a-game guy, he played as few as 13 12 minutes in Game 2 against New York. He also came up quiet in Game 5 on Monday night, with no shots on goal, only the second time in 49 career playoff games that had happened to the man they call Alex the Great. Before Wednesday's game, Ovechkin told reporters: "We just can't go home right now." He helped make sure they didn't yet. About 1 12 minutes after the opening faceoff, Ovechkin dropped to a knee as he powered a slap shot just inside the right post from about 30 feet in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist. It was Ovechkin's 30th career playoff goal, tying the franchise record held by Peter Bondra, and came 15 seconds after Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman was sent to the penalty box for tripping Chimera. Another miscue followed: Defenseman Ryan McDonagh wasted a chance to clear the puck, instead sending it along the boards right to a Capitals player. That giveaway led to a series of crisp passes by the Capitals -- Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green were credited with assists -- and an animated earful for McDonagh from Rangers coach John Tortorella. That early edge proved to be a good omen for the Capitals, who are 7-1 this postseason when scoring first -- and 0-5 when their opponent scores first. In this series, all six games were won by whichever team led 1-0. "Obviously, we talked about coming out and starting well, and they get a goal right away on the power play. It kind of set the tone for the game," Lundqvist said. "From there, it was just hard for us to get going." Later in the first period, Ovechkin nearly scored one of his YouTube-ready, "How did he do that?" goals, somehow managing to lift the puck past Lundqvist while belly-flopping onto the ice. But the puck hit the crossbar. Then, at the opposite end of the rink, Ovechkin used his back to block a shot by McDonagh, preventing the puck from even approaching Holtby -- the sort of thing the Russian wing is not known for, but his teammates have turned into an art form this postseason. The Capitals rank No. 1 in blocked shots during these playoffs -- the Rangers are No. 2 -- and Washington put together a 24-6 edge Wednesday. Ovechkin contributed three blocks. "He had a lot of energy," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "He's ready to go when he's called upon, and he played a good game tonight." A little more than a minute after Chimera made it 2-0, the Rangers got a good chance to change the tenor of Game 6, when Capitals forward Jeff Halpern -- playing for the first time in more than six weeks -- was called for high-sticking John Mitchell, a 4-minute double minor. That was the same penalty called on Washington's Joel Ward in the final 30 seconds of regulation in Game 5, while the Capitals nursed a 2-1 lead. And, well, we know how that turned out. This time, though, the Capitals' penalty killers were up to the task, allowing the Rangers only three shots and no goals. When Halpern skated out of the box, the lead intact, the red-clad Capitals fans gave their team a standing ovation. "It kills you," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. There was one final moment of trepidation for the Capitals and their supporters. With his mom covering her eyes in the stands, Holtby gave up a goal with 50.5 seconds left -- a score that was credited to Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, whose shot deflected off Capitals forward Matt Hendricks' skate and defenseman John Carlson's hip in the crease. Said Ward: "You kind of think, Oh, no. Not again!' But we're a confident group." NOTES: Game 7 starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT. ... The Rangers haven't reached the conference finals since 1997; the Capitals haven't since 1998. ... Capitals F Jay Beagle was scratched because of what the team said was a lower-body injury and replaced by Halpern, who hadn't played since March 23.

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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

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USA TODAY Sports

Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

WASHINGTON -- A teenager among men, Juan Soto has impressed his teammates on the Washington Nationals with his maturity and, even more so, his potent bat.

Soto hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Thursday night in the deciding matchup of a three-game interleague series between neighboring rivals.

Soto, a 19-year-old rookie, is batting .326 with 16 RBIs in 28 games. Starting in the cleanup spot for the first time, he drew a walk and delivered the game's pivotal hit.

"I think we're all amazed every single day," Washington ace Max Scherzer said. "He puts together great ABs. He has antics and has some flair. He's a great young player. He's just enjoying himself."

Bryce Harper led off the eighth with a double off Mychal Givens (0-4) and Trea Turner followed with a single. After Anthony Rendon struck out, Soto hit a liner into the gap in left-center.

"He's got unbelievable poise," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Soto. "No matter what the situation is, he goes out there with a game plan."

Whatever that plan is, it's effective.

"I just try to be focused and keep working," Soto said.

Rendon homered for the Nationals, who received seven strong innings from Scherzer and flawless work from their bullpen.

Newcomer Kelvin Herrera (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sean Doolittle got three straight outs for his 20th save in 21 tries.

Seeking to end a rare run of two straight losses, Scherzer left a tied game after allowing two runs -- both on solo homers -- and striking out nine.

Afterward, the right-hander heaped praise upon Soto for the manner in which he's adapted to playing in the big leagues.

"He has a great feel for the strike zone," Scherzer said. "To have that type of eye, it's remarkable for him to be able to do that at this time and this age and this level."

Activated from the 60-day disabled list before the game, Colby Rasmus homered for the Orioles in his first at-bat since April 6.

"Me and Max, we go way back, so I felt real good," said Rasmus, who had been sidelined with a hip injury.

In addition, Rasmus made an outstanding throw from right field to the plate, nailing Wilmer Difo on a tag-up play in the seventh inning with the score tied.

Mark Trumbo also homered for Baltimore, his sixth of the season and third in four games.

Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman gave up two runs and four hits over six innings. The right-hander was lifted with the score tied, leaving him winless in his last seven starts.

MORE NATS COVERAGE: 

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How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

How drawing up a play in the interview process helped sell the Wizards on Troy Brown

While meeting with Oregon's Troy Brown during the pre-draft interview process, evaluators from the Washington Wizards issued him an on-the-spot challenge. Head coach Scott Brooks pulled out a dry-erase clipboard and a pen. He wanted to see Brown draw up a play.

This is a test Brooks has administered before to other players. Some have failed miserably.

"It sounds easy to throw a board at somebody in front of a big group and say 'okay draw a play' and I have seen many plays drawn, and I have seen it where there are not five players on the floor," Brooks said.

That wasn't the case with Brown. He didn't just draw up one play, he drew up several. One in particular came to mind when asked by reporters on Thursday night soon after the Wizards took him 15th overall in the first round of the NBA Draft.

“I think it was a situation where we were down by two or something like that," he said. "It was like a back screen into a slip, and then the fade three and they gave you a lot of various options to cause mismatches on the court for a last minute shot to either go ahead, or even attack the basket for a layup to go into overtime.”

NBC Sports Washington analyst Cory Alexander, a veteran of seven NBA seasons, demonstrated what Brown's play looked like on a whiteboard:

The Xs and Os of basketball flow effortlessly for Brown and Wizards' brass couldn't help but be impressed.

"He really understands the game. I think for a kid that is 18 years old, that is rare but he just has a good feel," Brooks said. 

"We were impressed with his character and the type of person he is and his basketball knowledge," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "Obviously, like any young player, he has a lot of work to do but he has a lot of the intangibles that I think you need in today's game."

Smarts are a big part of what makes Brown a good basketball player. He isn't a particularly explosive athlete, with a modest 33-inch max vertical leap, but he boasts a 6-foot-10 wingspan and solid agility. Being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to operate an offense helps him make the most of his natural abilities.

Passing is where his basketball IQ comes in handy. Brown is unusually good at distributing for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He averaged 3.2 assists as a freshman at Oregon and nine times had five assists or more in a game.

He can pass like a point guard and the Wizards are excited to implement that skill into their offense.

"Passing is contagious. We’ve been pretty good the last two years and with talking about that how we even want to take another step," Brooks said. "He has the ability to make a lot of quick plays and his ball handling is pretty good for a guy his size. That is one thing I was impressed in his workout last week or when we had him. He is able to take the contact and use his strong frame to get inside the key and make plays.”

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