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Up 1-0, Caps face desperate New York team in Game 2

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Up 1-0, Caps face desperate New York team in Game 2

NEW YORK - News, notes and a few quotes as the Capitals and Rangers prepare to butt helmets today in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden:

Where they stand: The Caps hold a 1-0 series lead on the Rangers after taking the series opener 2-1 on Joel Ward’s goal with 1.3 seconds remaining. Two years ago the Caps won the first two games against the Rangers on home ice, but lost four of the following five games to fall in seven.

Day of rest: Aside from some stretching, meetings and a team dinner, the Capitals’ players were given Friday off to roam the streets of New York City. Alex Ovechkin said he’d peruse the Nike store for shoes, while Brooks Orpik said he’d catch some playoff hockey on television.

The Caps went 4-5-1 in afternoon games during the regular season and lost both afternoon games against the Islanders in Round 1.

“I think it was important for us to get our rest,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “You’re going to see [the Rangers’] absolute best this afternoon, just because of the desperation factor.

“We went through that in Game 2 in our first series [a 4-3 win fueled by backup goalie Philipp Grubauer following a series-opening loss], so hopefully we understand that.  We need to try to match that desperation and that commitment and that urgency. As I said before, let’s not go around this game; let’s make sure we’re going through it. And if we do, then with our best effort we’ll see where the chips fall after that.”

Trotz said he does want to dwell on the Caps’ afternoon struggles with his players, but …

“I don’t think we’re ignoring it,” he said. “I think we’re learning from it. The more you have them the more you get used to it.

“I think the tank wasn’t quite full [in Game 1]. Hopefully, with what we did yesterday our tanks are full again and we go from here.”

Swallow the whistles? On Friday, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said the “standards have been set” on  what will be called and, more specifically, what will not, during the playoffs. He cited as examples Alex Ovechkin’s Game 7 hit on Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey and Nicklas Backstrom’s hit on Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle in the final seconds of Game 1 to set up Ward’s game-winner.

Trotz was asked Saturday if he thinks the standards of officiating change during the playoffs.

“No, not really,” Trotz said. “That’s one of the misconceptions of the whole thing. There’s more physicality in the playoffs but that doesn’t mean the standards change. It’s just more physical, that’s all.

“You see the number of hits increase in the playoffs. I think the referees have been really diligent in calling he game fairly. They’re human and they’re probably not going to get every play. We see things on monitors in slow motion 8 to 10 times and then we’re making judgment on a split-second decision. I have a lot of admiration for the officials.”

Boyle in or out? Boyle skated with the team on Friday but Vigneault did not say whether the 38-year-old defenseman, who missed seven games with a concussion during the 2013-14 season and had trouble sleeping for another couple months, would be in the lineup today.

“We’ll see soon,” Vigneault said of his lineup.

RELATED: Can Caps afford to bring Joel Ward back next season?

If Boyle cannot play, look for defenseman Matt Hunwick to take his place.

Praising Holtby: Vigneault was complimentary of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who stopped 31 of 32 shots in Game 1 and ranks first among playoff starting goalies in goals-against average [1.54] and first in save percentage [.947].

“He’s one of the best goalies in the league and he;s proven that,” Vigneault said. “He’s played a lot of hockey [80 games]. I could give you all the ‘we need to get more traffic, better presence in front of him,’ all the things we know. But without a doubt he’s one of the best in the league. Goalies are at the top of their game, especially in the Eastern Conference [where Carey Price and Ben Bishop have been tremendous] and we’re going to have to be real good.”

No O: The Rangers were the third-highest scoring team in the regular season at 3.02 goals per game, but are averaging just 2.00 goals per game in the playoffs.

Special teams: With a 1-for-2 performance in Game 1, the Caps’ power play is now at 20 percent [3-for-15], while the Rangers [0-for-2] are at 13.6 percent [3-for-22]. The Caps remain a perfect 16-for-16 on the penalty kill, while the Rangers are at 80 percent, allowing three goals on 15 man-advantages.  

Here are projected lineups for Game 2:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Joel Ward

Marcus Johnasson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jason Chimera

Andre Burakovsky – Jay Beagle – Troy Brouwer

Curtis Glencross – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson

Defense pairings

Brooks Orpik – John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Tim Gleason – Mike Green

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby – Justin Peters

Scratches: C Michael Latta, D Dmitry Orlov

Injuries: Eric Fehr [upper body, day-to-day]

RANGERS

Forward lines

Rick Nash – Derrick Brassard – Marty St. Louis

Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – J.T. Miller

Carl Hagelin – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast

James Sheppard – Dominic Moore – Tanner Glass

Defense pairings

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi

Marc Staal – Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle – Kevin Klein

Goaltenders

Henrik Lundqvist – Cam Talbot

Scratches: D Matt Hunwick, D Chris Summers

Injuries: Mats Zuccarello [head, indefinite]

MORE CAPITALS: How a long chat in Vegas changed Ovechkin

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4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

It all starts Monday!

The Vegas Golden Knights will host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as both teams look to take early control of the series.

Can the Caps steal one on the road to start? Here are four keys to winning Game 1.

Win the first period

The Golden Knights have not played a game since May 20. While rest can benefit a team at this time of the year, there is such a thing as too much rest and over a week would certainly qualify. If there is absolutely any rust in Vegas’ game to start, the Caps need to take advantage.

T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas crowd have already built a reputation in year one. The atmosphere is going to be electric, but the Caps can combat that with a good start to the game and by scoring first.

Vegas is 10-1 when scoring first this postseason. If they are able to come in and get on the board right off the bat in the first period after seven full days between games, that does not bode well for the Caps’ chances.

Don’t allow Marc-Andre Fleury to pick up where he left off

Fleury is having a postseason for the ages, but it’s hard to believe momentum is simply going to carry over to a new series after such a lengthy break. Players are not simply going to pick up where they left off and play as if there’s no rust to shake off. The need to get to Fleury as early as possible.

What that means is getting traffic in front of the net, making him move, contesting rebounds, making him feel uncomfortable as much as possible and generating quality offensive chances.

The Caps can do is starting flinging pucks at the net and giving him easy saves. Getting 12 shots in the first period would be great, but not if they are all perimeter shots for easy saves that help bring Fleury's confidence back to where it was in the Western Conference Final.

Limit the turnovers

Turnovers are blood in the water for Vegas. The high-effort, high-speed style of play of the Golden Knights has caught several players off guard at points this postseason. No one can afford to be casual with the puck at any point in this game because Vegas has a knack for turning those turnovers into goals.

Winning Game 1 on the road will be hard enough without giving the Golden Knights at any help.

Shut down the top line

Only three players have reached double digits in points for the Golden Knights in the playoffs: Jonathan Marchessault (18), Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (13). What do these three have in common? They all play on Vegas’ top line. To compare, the Caps have seven players in double digits.

Much has been made of Vegas’ offensive depth and their ability to roll four lines, but the play of Fleury in net has really masked how much this team relies on its top line for offense. The Caps need to get Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against them and focus on shutting them down. Force the Golden Knights to win with their other three lines and see if they can.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

LAS VEGAS—One of the more intriguing storylines of this year’s Stanley Cup Final centers on a couple of men who make their living behind the scenes: Brian MacLellan of the Caps and his counterpart with the Golden Knights, George McPhee.

They’ve known each other for 40-plus years, dating back to their time as bantam teammates in Canada. And, starting Monday, they’ll be on opposing sides, with hockey’s Holy Grail at stake.  

Caps fans, of course, are familiar with McPhee’s work. He served as GM in Washington from 1997-2014 and drafted 13 players who are currently on the Caps’ roster. McPhee was also the Caps’ rookie GM the last time the franchise appeared in the Final 20 years ago.

But here’s what Caps fans might not know about the connection that MacLellan and McPhee share:

  • They were born in a few months apart in 1958 in Ontario.
  • They captured the Canadian Jr. A championship as members of the 1977-78 Guelph Platers.
  • Both were on scholarship at Bowling Green from 1978-1982.
  • They played together with the New York Rangers in 1985-86.
  • And, finally, they worked side-by-side in Washington from 2000-2014. After working his way up from the scouting ranks, MacLellan replaced his managerial mentor, who had been let go following a disappointing season.

 

“It's kind of a weird experience,” MacLellan said. “We kind of have been texting back and forth how strange it feels to have this line up the way it has. It's a little awkward, but it's going to be a fun experience, I hope.”

At one point, MacLellan got choked up when talking about his relationship with McPhee, who’ll become the first GM in the expansion era to face a former team of which he served as GM.

“We played junior together and then we both went to Bowling Green on scholarships, so we lived together,” he said, fighting back tears. “It was fun.”

MacLellan also acknowledged that the two weren’t as tight—for a time, at least—after he replaced McPhee four years ago. McPhee also hinted at some strain, though he said the two men had dinner at the most recent GM’s meetings.

“Not as close, I don't think,” MacLellan said of his relationship with McPhee following McPhee’s dismissal. “A little bit of communication here and there. But I think it just took a little time for things to evolve. I think he needed a break from the game, needed a break from how it went down for him here and it just took time.”

When the two negotiated during last year’s expansion draft, which saw McPhee pluck promising you blueliner Nate Schmidt from Washington’s roster, MacLellan said the two old friends keep things “businesslike.”

“He was all business,” MacLellan said. “He wasn’t giving in on anything.”

Although McPhee drafted most of the core players who delivered the Caps to this year’s Final, MacLellan also deserves credit for getting this team over the second round hump. Among his first acquisitions were defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, a pair of vets that helped shore up a shaky defense. MacLellan also added forwards T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller via trade in recent seasons and, this year, added defenseman Michal Kempny, a particularly shrewd move that bolstered a blue line that needed a little tightening.

As weird as the next few days will be for MacLellan as he faces his old friend, it figures to even more strange for McPhee, who will look down from the GM’s suite on Monday and see not one, but two teams that he built on the ice. McPhee also pilfered a handful of current and former front office employees from Caps, including Goalie Coach Dave Prior, while building the Golden Knights.

Indeed, the history between MacLellan and McPhee runs deep. But for the next couple of weeks, they’ll put aside their decades-old friendship as their clubs battle for the NHL’s ultimate prize.
 

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