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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals-Flames

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals-Flames

The Capitals (11-4-0, 22 points) return home tonight to face the Calgary Flames (5-11-1, 11 points) at Verizon Center (6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN). Here are our AAA keys to the game:

Chasing history: Alex Ovechkin is one goal away from becoming Russia’s No. 1 goal scorer in the NHL. Ovechkin boldly stated after Thursday night’s 5-2 win in Philadelphia that he is looking forward to passing Sergei Fedorov’s mark of 483 goals at home in front of his family, future in-laws and fans.

Twice in the last three games Ovechkin has had goals overturned on coach’s challenges, with teammate Justin Williams (goalie interference, offsides) committing an infraction both times.

Another night without Orpik: With four days between tonight’s game against the Flames and the Caps’ Wednesday night visit to Detroit, the Caps decided to give defenseman Brooks Orpik a second straight night off to recover from the lower body injury he sufferedTuesday night in Detroit.

With Orpik sidelined, look for the Caps to go with Nate Schmidt on a top defense pairing with John Carlson and Taylor Chorney to remain on a third pairing with Dmitry Orlov. Schmidt and Chorney played well in the Caps’ 5-2 win in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

O say can Grubi see?: Playing the tail end of back-to-backs, the Caps will turn to Philipp Grubauer (2-0-0, 2.44 GAA, .900 SP), giving Braden Holtby (9-4-0, 2.01, .919) a rest. The Flames are expected to turn to starter Karri Ramo, who is 3-6-0 with a 3.54 GAA and .888 SP.

Grubauer took a stick to his face during Thursday’s morning skate in Philadelphia and needed stitches to close a cut under his eye. Grubauer will be making his first start since Halloween night, when he stopped 26 of 27 shots in a 2-1 overtime win over the Florida Panthers  

“He’s fine,” Trotz. “He can see through it, so he’s good. He still has a black eye, that’s all.”

See what Brown can do for Hershey: Trotz said that with four days between games he wanted Chris Brown and Chandler Stephenson to get some playing time in Hershey, which is why the club sent both players down to the AHL earlier on Friday. The Caps are down to the minimum of 12 healthy forwareds, with Stan Galiev expected to join them on Friday if he clears NHL waivers.

Brown was assigned to Hershey on a two-week conditioning assignment, which prevents another team from claiming him off waivers. Once that two-week assignment passes, Brown will be eligible for waivers.

Something’s gotta give: Both teams played games on the road Thursday night. While the Caps were winning in Philadelphia, the Flames were in Tampa, where they fell to the Lightning 3-1. The Caps hacve won three of the last four and five of their last seven, while the Flames have lost two in a row and seven of their last 10.

The Caps rank fifth in the NHL on the power play (23.4 percent), where Jason Chimera netted a pair of goals Thursdya night, while the Flames rank 29th on the penalty kill (74 percent), where they’ve allowed a power-play goal in three straight games.

Here are projected lineups for both teams:

CAPITALS

Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Andre Burakovsky

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Justin Williams

Brooks LaichMichael Latta - Tom Wilson

Defense pairings

Nate Schmidt - John Carlson

Matt Niskanen - Karl Alzner

Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goaltenders

Philipp Grubauer (starter) – Braden Holtby

Injured: Brooks Orpik (lower body), Chris Brown (hand)

FLAMES

Forward lines

Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Jiri Hudler

Sam Bennett - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik

Joe Colborne - Matt Stajan - David Jones

Micheal Ferland - Derek Grant - Brandon Bollig

Defense pairings

Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie

Kris Russell - Dougie Hamilton

Deryk Engelland - Dennis Wideman

Goaltenders

Karri Ramo (starter) - Joni Ortio

Injured: Jonas Hiller (lower body), Lance Bouma (broken fibula)

Scratches: Ladislav SmidMason RaymondJosh Jooris

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Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby saved his best performance of the season for when the Caps needed it most

Braden Holtby has been largely overshadowed in the headlines of the Eastern Conference Final by Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

After two games, Vasilevskiy was one of the bigger storylines for how poorly he played in giving up 10 goals in just five periods. The next three games after that, the storyline changed to how well he was suddenly playing and how he had helped the Lightning steal two wins in Washington and take a 3-2 series lead after Game 5.

Holtby was not mentioned much. His play was not the reason the Caps went up 2-0 or the reason they went down 3-2.

But if the Caps hoped to force a Game 7, they needed him to at least be a reason why they won Game 6.

Holtby responded in a big way. With his team facing elimination, Holtby registered his first shutout of both the regular season and the playoffs.

"It's a perfect time," Devante Smith-Pelly said after the game. "He's been great all year. Obviously an up-and-down year for him personally, but the way he's bounced back, he's been amazing all throughout the playoffs."

Holtby is now just the seventh goalie in NHL history to record his first shutout of the season in a game in which his team faced elimination.

Holtby, however, was not concerned with the stats or the shutout.

"The only reason it’s good is we won," Holtby said of his shutout performance. "Aside from that, it’s just good for [the media], I guess you can write about it. But for us it’s just that W."

Vasilevskiy made a number of jaw-dropping saves, especially in the first period, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled for the first goal. With the score knotted at zero, Holtby made a toe save on Anthony Cirelli on a 2-on-1 opportunity to keep the Lightning off the board. He really upped his game in the third period as Tampa Bay made a late push to tie it. He turned aside 10 shots that frame including a nifty snag on Nikita Kucherov and a glorious glove save on Ondrej Palat.

Holtby's performance ensured the Caps would live to fight another day...for now.

As the series shifts back to Tampa Bay, Washington will again be facing elimination. This time, however, so will their opponents.

Anything can happen in a Game 7. In a winner-take-all game, it may come down to who has the better goalie on Wednesday and Holtby seems to be picking a good time to up his game.

"Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club," Barry Trotz said. "You can’t go anywhere without goaltending and he’s been solid. ... Braden is a true pro, he works on his game, he finds ways to make a difference and he does."

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

5 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning in Game 6

After losing three straight, the Capitals battled back in Game 6 on Monday. With their 3-0 win, Washington forced the Eastern Conference Final into a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday.

Here is how the Caps did it.

1. Braden Holtby matched Andrei Vasilevskiy save for save

Andrei Vasilevskiy was just as great in this game as he was in the three previous, but one of the major differences in this one was that Holtby was just as good. He may not have been tested as much (Vasilevskiy made 32 saves, Holtby 24), but he was big when the team needed.

In the second period with the scored tied at 0, Holtby made one of the most critical saves perhaps of the entire season when he denied Anthony Cirelli with the toe on a 2-on-1. When the Caps took the lead, Holtby really shut the door in the third period with 10 saves to cap off what was his fifth career playoff shutout and first shutout of the entire season.

2. T.J. Oshie’s timely goal

Over halfway into the game, it looked like it was just going to be one of those nights. Caps fans know it well by now. Washington outplays their opponent, they get chance after chance and develop a whopping advantage in shots, but they run into a hot goalie and a random play suddenly turns into a goal for the other team, game and season over.

Vasilevskiy was on his way to having perhaps his best performance of the series. Considering how he played in the three games prior to Game 6, that’s saying something. The Caps were doing everything right, but he continued to make save after save. Then on the power play in the second period, John Carlson struck the inside of the post, the horn went off and the roar of the crowd gave way to dismay as the referee waved his arms to indicate there was no goal and play continued. Just seconds later, T.J. Oshie gave the Caps the 1-0 lead.

You have to wonder if doubt was starting to creep into the back of the minds of the players when that puck struck the post as they wondered what else they had to do to beat Vasilevskiy. Luckily, that feeling didn’t last long.

3. Special teams

Braydon Coburn’s tripping penalty in the second period gave Washington its only power play of the night and its first since the second period of Game 4. They had to make it count given how well Vasilveskiy was playing and they did.

Washington now has a power play goal in each of their three wins against the Lightning and no power play goals in their three losses. So yeah, it’s significant.

Tampa Bay had two opportunities of their own, but Washington managed to kill off both power plays in the penalty kill’s best performance of the series.

4. Washington’s physical game plan

On paper, the Lightning are better than the Caps in most categories. One area in which Washington has the edge, however, is physical play and it was clear very early that they intended to use that to their advantage in Game 6. Tampa Bay was pushed around and they seemed to struggle to recover.

Ovechkin was a one-man wrecking ball out there hitting everything that moved. The energy he brought with every hit was palpable and both the team and the crowd fed on it.

Washington was credited with 39 hits on the night compared to Tampa Bay’s 19. Ovechkin had four of those as did Nicklas Backstrom while Devante Smith-Pelly contributed five and Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six.

5. Fourth line dagger

Tampa Bay’s fourth line was the story of Game 5, but Washington’s fourth line sealed the deal on Monday with its third period goal.

Chandler Stephenson beat out an icing call, forcing Braydon Coburn to play the puck along the wall. Jay Beagle picked it up, fed back to Stephenson who backhanded a pass for the perfect setup for Devante Smith-Pelly.

Smith-Pelly scored seven goals in the regular season. He now has four in the playoffs.

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