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3 bold predictions for Game 1: Here we go again

3 bold predictions for Game 1: Here we go again

The Caps and Penguins renew their postseason rivalry on Thursday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN). Here are three bold predictions for Game 1.

1. Washington will score first

It’s always hard to tell how teams will react to a long layoff. Sometimes they come back rusty, sometimes they look even better than before because of the rest. Six days between games, however, is a long time. When the Penguins returned from their bye week, they did win their first game back, but they lost their first three games on the road each by three goals. I am not going to come out and predict a win or a loss, but the layoff will be evident at the start of the game, especially against a Capitals team that was at its best at the end of Game 6 on Sunday.

RELATED: Holtby jokes that he'd play like Hornqvist if he were a forward

2. Patric Hornqvist will draw a penalty

One frequent topic of conversation leading up to this series has been Hornqvist and how he likes to plant himself in front of the net. Barry Trotz even said of him, “He conveniently will fall on your goalie many times.” If the Caps are talking about it, they are aware of it. The first game of the series is not just about winning and losing, teams often try to send messages to the other team too. Washington is going to tell Hornqvist he will be punished for standing in front of Braden Holtby and they are not going to use their words. That someone could even be Holtby himself who was caught slashing Nazim Kadri in Game 2 of the Caps’ first-round series against Toronto.

3. Sidney Crosby will not get a point

Crosby was held to two points in six games in last year’s series. With home-ice advantage, Barry Trotz will be able to get the matchup he wants, namely Nicklas Backstrom on Crosby. It worked last year and he is likely to go with it again. If you are Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, you could try to avoid the matchup, but you probably trust that no one in the NHL can stop Crosby forever and you still won the series despite Crosby getting only two points. If you can occupy the Caps’ top shutdown center, still produce and free up the rest of your lineup, why wouldn’t you? If Sullivan has to re-evaluate after Game 1 he will, but for Thursday I anticipate primarily seeing Washington’s best vs. Pittsburgh’s best.

MORE CAPITALS: Alzner is not yet ready as Caps prepare for Penguins

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Yeah, Tom Wilson knows all about the Ryan Reaves autographs

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NBC Sports Washington

Yeah, Tom Wilson knows all about the Ryan Reaves autographs

ARLINGTON, Va. – It’s been a frustrating season for Tom Wilson.

Wilson returned to the Capitals lineup on Nov. 13 after missing the first 14 games of the season due to a suspension. He caught fire offensively, but after just 11 games, he was injured when Vegas Goldn Knights forward Ray Reaves delivered a late, blind-side hit to Wilson that knocked him out of the game and out of the lineup.

Wilson has not played since, but he skated in a non-contact jersey on Tuesday and was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice. After practice, head coach Todd Reirden called his return for Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes a “possibility.”

When he does return, Wilson will try to continue the hot streak he was on with 14 points in just 11 games.

“It sucks,” Wilson said. “Timing is never good for those things, but especially when the team’s playing well and you’re feeling good out there. It sucks, but it’s hockey. Injuries happen.”

Following the game in Vegas, Reaves said, “I thought he was just looking at his pass and… ran into a lion in the jungle.”

With his chance to spark a war of words with the Vegas forward, Wilson elected instead to take the high road.

“There’s really no point in me talking about it at this point,” he said. “It was a week ago now. It is what it is. It’s hockey, a physical sport. Stuff happens.”

Following his postgame comments, Reaves doubled down and signed a number of pictures of an injured Wilson and wrote down “He ran into a lion in the jungle” from his postgame quote. The pictures were up for sale by a sports memorabilia company, but pulled by the company, reportedly per Reaves’ request.

News of the pictures practically broke the internet for a day so it would have been hard for Wilson to avoid, but he did confirm Wednesday that yes, he had heard about the signed pictures.

“Yeah, obviously heard about it,” Wilson said. “[Reaves] can do whatever he wants. It’s up to him. He controls that stuff. Everyone carries themselves differently. It’s up to him. There’s no point in me paying attention to any of that kind of stuff. I saw it, but it is what it is.”

Washington and Vegas will not play again this season so fans will have to wait until 2019-20 for these two to settle their differences on the ice, unless of course both teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final for a second year.

While Wilson downplayed all the talk about Reaves, the one thing he did sound fired up about was how well the team had played in his absence.

“It’s how you find out about your team and your teammates," he said. "[Injuries] happened to us a few times last year and made us a lot stronger. They’ve done a great job. There’s nothing better than when you’re out watching games and your team’s out there playing great and playing together and guys stepping up. It’s great to see.”

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Boyd, Jaskin sizzle as the Caps' fourth line continues to stay ahead of the curve

Boyd, Jaskin sizzle as the Caps' fourth line continues to stay ahead of the curve

Fresh off of a third-star recognition, Travis Boyd returned to home ice to score less than eleven minutes into Tuesday night’s game as the Capitals hosted the Detroit Red Wings.

Saturday’s goal, versus Columbus, was the first of Boyd’s career. The fact that his second came not even four days later may seem unusual – but with the Capitals’ fourth line cruising, it’s hardly a surprise.

The fourth line, consisting of Boyd, Nic Dowd, and Dmitrij Jaskin, has been together the past three games since Tom Wilson sustained an upper-body injury and the lineup changed. That version of the fourth line has combined for eight points in three wins. 

Dowd has had the most sustained success with seven points in his past nine games (three goals, four assists) - though not all of that came with Jaskin and Boyd. But together the trio continues to show that it shouldn’t be overlooked with significant contributions towards the team’s scoring.

“I think right now we're just having fun together,” Boyd said after the 6-2 win against the Red Wings. “It's kind of funny, you play games and you start making plays together and all of a sudden, it's kind of like a snowball effect. The more plays you make, the more confidence you get and it just kind of keeps going.”

The fourth line’s newfound confidence – and the fun they’re having with it – is tangible. Jaskin, after chipping past Detroit defenseman Mike Green, hustled to avoid an icing call and then helped feed Dowd, who passed to Boyd for a goal that put Washington ahead 2-0 just 10:50 into the game. 

The play looked effortless – so much so that the Red Wings were frustrated by the end of the first, down 3-0. It wasn’t until the third period that Detroit was finally able to get on the board thanks to a goal by Dylan Larkin that held up after a coach’s challenge for goalie interference.

Larkin spoke to the struggle to counter Washington’s fourth line’s success..

“There’s no bad players in this league,” Larkin said. “Whoever scores, it’s disappointing. But the next shift is the most important. We got penned in our zone a little too much tonight.”

Capitals coach Todd Reirden had high praise for the line’s developing chemistry.

“[There’s] a lot of chemistry,” Reirden said. “They're playing well and it’s great to see them get rewarded, and they could have had a couple more. They play the right way for the most part.”

Though Boyd, Dowd, and Jaskin have been outstanding in the past few games, it isn’t a completely new development, but rather, an improvement on a larger goal.

“It's something talked about in the summer,” Reirden said. “[There’s an] importance of having depth scoring and I think that was something we struggled with in the first 10 games of the year, getting scoring from that bottom six. Now it's been a really big part of our success.“

As the league evolves, requiring more skill and versatility from more players, Reirden remains positive that the Caps are ahead of the curve.

“The days of just having a fourth line guy that would be your tough guy, that's kind of gone away,” Reirden said. “I think where we're headed, [if] you can get offensive production from that fourth line, you become a very difficult team to match up against. That's a luxury as a coach if you can have that type of depth. Credit all goes to how our players have bought in and taken advantage of their opportunities. They've been given them, they've earned and deserved to be in that situation they're in right now.”


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