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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Rangers

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AAA Keys to the Game: Capitals vs. Rangers

The Capitals (33-8-3, 69 points) will try to rebound from Saturday night’s 4-1 loss in Buffalo today at home when they face the New York Rangers (24-15-5, 53 points). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Holtby vs. Raanta: Braden Holtby (28-5-2, 1.97 GAA, .931 SP) will return to the nets after allowing three goals on 16 shots against the Sabres. “He didn’t get enough work, so we’ll just put him back in,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said, referring to Holtby’s 27:14 of ice time Saturday. “He has nothing to prove to me or any of his teammates. He’s probably our MVP this year.” Rangers backup Antti Raanta (4-3-1, 2.08, .919) will get the call for New York after starter Henrik Lundqvist led the Rangers to a 3-2 shootout win in Philadelphia.

Richards in, so is Laich: Mike Richards will be back in the lineup for the Caps after logging 13:01 of ice time in Buffalo Saturday night. Trotz said Richards told him “things got quick” on him at times, where he thought he had more time than he actually had. “He had some adrenaline yesterday. We’ll see how this week progresses.” Brooks Laich, who was a healthy scratch for the first time this season in Buffalo, will be back in the lineup today. He’s likely to replace Michael Latta, leaving a fourth line of Richards, Laich and Zach Sill. Laich is two games shy of passing Rod Langway (726) for eighth place on the Caps’ all-time games played list.

Rebounders: The Caps are 9-0-1 following losses this season and are the only team in the NHL that has not suffered back-to-back regulation losses. They have outscored opponents 35-19 in games following losses. “We take a lot of pride in that,” Trotz said. “We understand there’s a certain standard we need to play by. Any time you lose a game you just want to stop the bleeding and go forward.”

Old schoolin’: The Caps will be wearing their old-school third jerseys today.

MORE CAPITALS: WASHINGTON WANTS TO TURN THE PAGE

How they’ve fared: The Caps had a five-game win streak snapped Saturday night but hold a 16-point lead on the Rangers, who sit in a second-place tie with the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division standings. This is the fourth of five meetings between the Caps and Rangers this season. The Caps lost 5-2 in New York on Nov. 3, won 7-3 in New York on Dec. 20 and won 4-3 in New York on Jan. 9 with a mad overtime rush by Alex Ovechkin, his 499th goal of the season. Justin Williams has three goals and three assists in three games against the Blueshirts this season.  

Home cooking: The Caps have won 11 straight at Verizon Center, dating back to Nov. 21. The franchise record is 13 set in 2009-10. Overall the Caps are 17-3-1 at home this season.   

Rangers rants: The Rangers are looking for their first back-to-back wins since Nov. 21 and 23. They have gone 8-12-3 since then. Defenseman Kevin Klein is questionable with a sore thumb. Kevin Hayes leads all Rangers with two goals and two assists in three games against the Caps.

Former friends: Rick Nash, Dererick Brassard and Jason Chimera were teammates in Columbus for parets of three seasons (2007-10).   J.T. Miller and Tom Wilson were teammates with the OHL Plymouth Whalers for one season (2011-12). Kevin Klein played for Barry Trotz in Nashville.

Iron men: Karl Alzner and Keith Yandle are the only NHL defensemen who have played every game since the 2010-11 season. Alzner has played in 420 straight games, two shy of the club record held by Bob Carpenter. Yandle has played in 513 straight games for the Rangers.

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In a surprise twist, Barry Trotz takes The Hot Lap ahead of Game 7

In a surprise twist, Barry Trotz takes The Hot Lap ahead of Game 7

TAMPA—Head Coach Barry Trotz skated the hot lap prior to Wednesday’s Game 7 at Amalie Arena, taking over the superstitious tradition from captain Alex Ovechkin.

Why the change?

The Caps lost Game 5 here on Saturday. And when the Caps lose on the road—the only place where the morning-skate-starting hot lap takes place—a new skater is selected.

The weird tradition began in the first round at Nationwide Arena in Columbus when Jay Beagle grew tired of waiting for the ice to freeze over following a fresh Zamboni cut. Beagle's teammates implored him to wait a little longer for the ice to cure, but he grew impatient and took it upon himself to kick off the skate by racing around the rink, a la the fastest skater competition at the All Star Skills competition.

Ovechkin took it over prior to Game 6 in Pittsburgh because the Caps had lost Game 4 at PPG Paints Arena.

Ovechkin proudly carried on the tradition as Washington won three in a row—Game 6 in Pittsburgh and Games 1 and 2 of this series vs. Tampa Bay.

Following the Caps’ 3-2 defeat in Game 5 here, though, it was expected that a change would be made.

And on Wednesday morning the baton changed hands, with the least obvious of all the Caps busting his 55-year-old hump around the rink much to the delight of his players and assistants.

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Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

Regardless of what happens in Game 7, these are not the 'same old Caps'

These are not the same old Caps.

Heading into Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Monday, there was a lot of handwringing around Washington and with good reason. The Capitals were facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Of course the fans were on edge; no one wanted this run to end.

But even though the Caps are competing for the conference crown and have gotten past their archrivals to get here, the refrains leading into Game 6 were the same ones we’ve heard from past years.

 “They don’t want it enough.”

“There’s no heart.”

“Totally outcoached.”

“Chokers.”

And perhaps most damning, “Same old Caps.”

Stop it already.

Seriously, how can anyone have watched this postseason and walked away thinking this is the same Caps team?

Does no one remember the start of the season? Some people didn’t even think they would make the playoffs. Others were advocating the team trade Alex Ovechkin and start over. Yet here they are.

Finally, finally they got past the second round hump. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins—ending their two-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions—and handed Mike Sullivan his first ever series loss as the Penguins head coach.

And no, Mike Wilbon, just because they made it past the second round doesn’t mean it’s OK to lose in the Conference Finals. But considering how they got there, they showed they have at the very least changed the narrative surrounding the Capitals.

Washington lost the first two games of its series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round and went on to win four straight to advance. In the second round, they faced the two-time defending champions, a team they had beaten only once in the playoffs in franchise history and a team that had not lost a playoff series since 2015.

And they won.

And yet, people are acting like nothing changed with the Caps. Why? Because they lost three in a row to Tampa Bay?

OK, you've got a point. What kind of a team loses three straight in the playoffs? Hard-nosed teams with tough coaches that play the right way like Columbus or Anaheim wouldn’t let that happen to them. Oh, actually Columbus lost four in a row to the Caps and the Ducks got swept in the first round. Never mind.

Well, certainly not a team with a championship history like the Los Angeles Kings. Oh wait, never mind, the got swept by Vegas. Bad example.

Well, surely an original six team with a championship pedigree like the Boston Bruins would never let that happen. Oh yeah, they lost four straight to the same Tampa Bay team.

OK, OK, but were any of those teams really contenders this year? I mean, none of those teams were as good as Winnipeg and they won’t let themselves lose three in a row in the playoffs.

That’s because they lost four straight to Vegas in the conference final.

You see where this is going, right?

It just boggles the mind that anyone could see the game plan Barry Trotz put together in Game 6 in Pittsburgh, without three top-six forwards including Nicklas Backstrom, and win in overtime and still complain that he is always outcoached in the playoffs. He certainly wasn’t outcoached in that game or that series.

It’s baffling that anyone can see how Washington rallied past Columbus after losing Game 1 and Game 2, recovered from a disastrous Game 1 to Pittsburgh and won the first two games in Tampa Bay against a favored Lightning team and complain that this team “doesn’t want it enough.”

Chokers don’t advance to the third round. Chokers don’t beat the two-time defending champions when no one else could. Chokers don’t force seven games against a Tampa Bay team that finished off both of their prior series in just five games.

Just stop. Find a new storyline to push because this one is lazy and played out. It’s been done.

Don’t get me wrong, losing four in a row after winning Game 1 and Game 2 on the road would have really stung. With the history this team has, the fact that they finally got past Pittsburgh gave this team a feel of destiny. If they go on to lose Game 7 and end their run without a Stanley Cup or even a conference crown to show for it, that would be disappointing. No question about it.

But to say these are the “same old Caps” if they lose to Tampa Bay? That’s ridiculous. They have already put those demons to rest. Three straight losses to the Lightning don’t change that and neither will whatever happens in Game 7.

Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, whether the Caps win or lose, no one should come out and say these are the same old Caps. They have already proven that’s not the case.

Those Caps are gone. Now let’s see how far these Caps can go.

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