Capitals

Rubio starting light practice work

Rubio starting light practice work

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Ricky Rubio is back on the practice court with the rest of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It's still going to be a while before he can join them in games, but just seeing their dynamic point guard inching closer to a return is one of the first health positives this injury-plagued team has seen this season. Rubio has started to do some light five-on-none work in practice for the Timberwolves, another encouraging sign in his long rehabilitation from a torn ACL in his left knee.

Kevin Love, who has yet to play this season because of a broken right hand, also joined in the instructional portions of practice on Sunday. It was a sign that help is on the way for a team that has played the last three games with just nine players, even if it doesn't come until next month.

``Just having them five-on-(none) gives you a sense that when you get them back we'll be pretty good,'' coach Rick Adelman said after practice. ``We can't wait for them. We have to go out there and play. But it gives us a sense.''

Love is expected back at the start of December, while Rubio is hopeful to return to game action sometime in the middle of next month.

Rubio was injured in a game against the Lakers on March 9. Losing him coincided with several other injuries to turn a promising season south in a hurry, and the bad luck has followed the Wolves into this season. Love broke his hand less than two weeks before opening night. Chase Budinger is out three to four months after having surgery on his left knee and Nikola Pekovic (sprained left ankle), J.J. Barea (sprained left foot) and Brandon Roy (sore right knee) have all suffered injuries that the Wolves are hopeful have much shorter recovery times since the season began.

Despite all the injuries, the Wolves won five of their first seven games. But they've lost two in a row, with Andrei Kirilenko saying after the loss to Golden State on Friday night that it appeared the short-handed team was running out of gas.

Pekovic said Sunday he expects to play when they return to the court on Wednesday night. It remains unclear if Barea and Roy will join him.

But everyone is waiting for Love and Rubio, the dynamic point guard whose infectious attitude, flashy passing and perimeter defense fueled a basketball revival for a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since 2004. Rubio started doing lateral movement earlier this month, but Adelman said they won't have a clear timetable for his return until he begins full-contact work in practice.

``Ricky's so smart,'' Adelman said. ``He knew everything, every play we had and where everybody should be. That's just who he is. The more we get him on the court, even if it's five-on-none and doing some shooting, it's good for the team.''

While he's been out, Rubio has been a constant presence on the Timberwolves bench, encouraging teammates and handing out some advice whenever he can, particularly to rookie guard Alexey Shved.

Even though Rubio is starting to ramp things up, Adelman said the team will be cautious bringing him back.

``We have to be careful about the expectations,'' he said. ``He had a serious injury. You want him on the court and everything but you're going to have to judge how quickly. ... He's going to have his ups and downs. But he's just the type of young man that he's going to get through it. He's just going to have to have the type of patience himself.''

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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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