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3 bold predictions: Can the Caps' offense break out against St. Louis?

3 bold predictions: Can the Caps' offense break out against St. Louis?

The Caps will host the St. Louis Blues Wednesday on the day before Thanksgiving at 7 p.m. Here are three bold predictions for what to expect Wednesday.

1. The Caps will score three or more goals

Jake Allen got the start in net for St. Louis on Tuesday meaning Carter Hutton will likely start in Washington in the second game of the back-to-back. This season has been a struggle for Hutton who has registered a .900 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against average in six games. The Caps may be without T.J. Oshie, but they will find success on offense against the Blues’ struggling backup.

2. Washington will not score a 5-on-4 goal

This one actually isn't all that bold at this point given that the Caps are dead last in the NHL in 5-on-4 goals this season with only five. They spent a good amount of time practicing the power play on Tuesday, but they will not turn things around Wednesday against St. Louis. The Blues boast the second best penalty kill in the league at 88.8 percent. That’s a tough matchup for a struggling power play.

3. Nicklas Backstrom will have more points than Vladimir Tarasenko

Tarasenko is averaging a point per game this season with 20 points in 20 games. Backstrom is not far behind with 17 points in 18 games. Tarasenko has been a consistent producer this season, but Backstrom is riding a hot streak. Add in the fact that Backstrom will be playing against Hutton while Tarasenko will be trying to beat Braden Holtby and that points to a bigger day for the Caps’ center.

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How the Capitals are dealing with the fallout of an unexpected early exit

How the Capitals are dealing with the fallout of an unexpected early exit

WASHINGTON — The silence was the thing. 

There were murmured conversations in the Capitals’ locker room and equipment managers came and went without their usual racket. There were no slammed doors or angry voices. Just a sound void filled by disappointment. 

A year ago, the Capitals turned visiting room at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas into an impromptu club. The party lasted for days and captivated the city. There’s a reason that celebration meant so much. Winning a Stanley Cup is so, so hard. 

And when you think you have a legitimate chance to go “back-to-back” - as forward T.J. Oshie said with such glee last summer - and the playoff bracket opens up for you and another Cup seems within reach, it is a gut punch when you’re shown the door in the first round. The Capitals tried their best to make this a new year, a new journey. But it was always colored by what they did last June.  

“You’re always trying to re-set after every season,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “You knew that was the case, but you were trying to re-set and trying to play every game like normal. We would have liked a better outcome, but it happens.”

Brock McGinn deflected home a pass by former Capitals forward Justin Williams at 11:05 of the second overtime to win Game 7 of this bizarre, back-and-forth series. The Carolina Hurricanes advanced to the second round, where they will play former Washington coach Barry Trotz, who led them to that Cup before leaving after a contract dispute, and his new team, the New York Islanders.

The Capitals will instead head to their offseason homes and wonder how this series got away from them, how this game got away from them, after leads of 2-0 and 3-1. Instead of parades and days with the Cup and they are left with questions. 

General manager Brian MacLellan waited in the hallway outside the coaches’ office, pacing back and forth absent-mindedly. His cheeks puffed and he blew out a deep sigh. Defenseman Brooks Orpik finished his media interviews and hobbled out of the locker room, a giant bag of ice strapped to his right knee. The 38-year-old is an unrestricted free agent and doesn’t know if this was his final game. 

If last year’s Cup took the edge off the loss you couldn’t tell. There were no sobs as in 2010 when Washington, the Presidents’ Trophy winner that year, was shocked in seven games by the Montreal Canadiens. Alex Ovechkin patiently answered questions this time, but he did not sit in full uniform for 45 minutes after the game, alone in his anguish, the way he did after a second-round loss to the New York Rangers in 2012. 

“You saw across the league, Winnipeg, Vegas, Tampa, Pittsburgh. There are teams that everyone expects to at least get past the first round,” Orpik said. “And it’s a probably a good reminder and indication on how tough it is to not only win one round but do what we did last year. I don’t think anyone in here took that for granted. It just proves how tough it is.”

Oshie, an integral part of last year’s championship team, was out for the series with a broken collarbone. Instead of helping his teammates on the ice, he was wearing a sling and eating popcorn in the press box eight stories above the ice and watching from a suite. He put on a brave, forced smile, but not playing was clearly killing him. 

Carolina had key injuries, too, but Oshie epitomized so much of what was good about the 2017-18 Capitals. It’s why the championship banner hangs at one end of the arena. But there was nothing he could do tonight, but watch.  

And Oshie’s teammates weren’t quite good enough after a strong start had the Capital One Arena crowd roaring. The Hurricanes, though, were like hockey zombies. They couldn’t be killed. A short-handed goal by Sebastian Aho gave them life. A ripper by Staal, long a Caps killer dating to his days in Pittsburgh, tied the game 3-3 early in the third period and set the stage for the overtime dagger.  

“We didn't envision this happening so I don't know,” goalie Braden Holtby said as he searched for answers. “It's tough right now.”

Afterward, as he answered questions in the locker room, a pair of well-dressed twenty-somethings wandered into the room and sat down at an empty locker to watch Holtby address a large scrum of reporters. The two bros weren’t exactly supposed to be there. They wandered in through an open door and looked sadder than some of the players. When Holtby was finished, one of the men yelled “Shake it off, champ!” and they gave a golf clap. Security quickly escorted them out after team staffers confronted the men. It was a fitting coda to a weird series. 

A year ago, before the Capitals turned the visiting room in Vegas into a beer-soaked frat party, Ovechkin had hatched a plan: He made sure all of his teammates were in the room, chided the ones who were lingering on the ice and when all was ready he skated the Cup to the bench. There he lifted it up one last time for the cameras and reporters, yelled “Thank you, Vegas!” and disappeared down the tunnel to his waiting teammates. The party lasted for days. 

On Wednesday, Ovechkin, dressed in his game-day suit, walked down the long hallway at Capital One Arena with his wife, Nastya, at his side and his mother, Tatyana, a few paces behind. His head was bowed, their footsteps the only sound as they made their way toward the exit. Earlier, he, too, had tried to make sense of the loss. 

“This group of guys has been in different positions, hard times, good times, and we never said, ‘It was his mistake or it was somebody’s mistake.’ It was our mistake,” Ovechkin said after the game in the locker room. “We didn’t execute. We didn’t sometimes play the right way. But it’s over. It’s hard - especially after last year. But nothing you can do right now, right?”

Nastya playfully patted her husband on the butt a few times to try to lift his spirits and he smiled, briefly. The couple have a son, now. So much has changed since last June. Ovechkin turned toward the arena and security staff watching the scene and said “Thank you, guys!” while letting his hand linger in the air as he walked through the exit and into a longer offseason than expected. 

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NHL Playoffs 2019: All the division winners have been eliminated in the first round

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NHL Playoffs 2019: All the division winners have been eliminated in the first round

Never before has the NHL – or among other pro sport leagues in North America – seen all of the division winners knocked out in the first round of the postseason. That changed Wednesday.

The Carolina Hurricanes, who finished as the first wild-card in the regular season, were able to finish off the Washington Capitals with a 4-3 OT victory Wednesday, and with that win, they were able to emerge as the fourth and final wild-card team to advance to the second round.

Carolina joins the ranks of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars as the other underdogs to move one step over to the Stanley Cup.

Columbus has perhaps had the best series these playoffs so far, as they were able to claw back from a 3-0 Game 1 deficit against the top-seeded and Stanley Cup favorite Tampa Bay Lightning to win 4-3 and then win the next three games of the series for the sweep.

After falling 4-0 to the Calgary Flames in Game 1, the Avalanche were able to storm back and win four straight to take the series in five games. Calgary was the first Canadian team to be eliminated from the postseason, and there are no more Canadian teams moving on to next round.

Lastly, Dallas was up for a battle against the Nashville Predators, but in a back and forth series, they eventually went up 3-2 and were able to win Game 6 with a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory.

Columbus will face the Boston Bruins and the Stars will face the St. Louis Blues in the second round starting Thursday, while the Hurricanes will open their series against the Islanders and the Avalanche will face the San Jose Sharks starting Friday.

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