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AAA Keys to the Game: Caps face NYR as Ovi nears 500

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AAA Keys to the Game: Caps face NYR as Ovi nears 500

NEW YORK -- The Capitals (30-7-3, 63 points) will face off against the New York Rangers (22-14-4, 48 points) today in Madison Square Garden (1 p.m., CSN). Here are our AAA Keys to the Game:

Holtby vs. Lundqvist: Braden Holtby (26-4-2, 1.90, .933) puts his 18-0-2 streak on the line when he faces Henrik Lundqvist (18-11-3, 2.49, .920), who is 4-6-0 in his last 10 decisions, including a 7-3 loss to the Caps on Dec. 20 in New York in which he allowed five goals on 24 shots and was yanked after two periods.

Johansson out, Latta in: Caps coach Barry Trotz said he was disappointed in the two-game suspension Marcus Johansson received for his illegal check to the head of Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey Thursday night. “I thought it was a pretty legal hit,” Trotz said. “Hickey said after the game that it was partially his fault. Marcus is not even close to that type of player. I was surprised he got two games. It is what it is and we move on.”  

With Johansson out, center Michael Latta will move into his spot on the third line between Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson. Brooks Laich will move to fourth-line center on a line with left wing Paul Carey and right wing Stan Galiev. Trotz said he sees this as a “great challenge” for Latta.

Trotz said Carey, who will wear No. 28, has good speed and skill and can play center or wing. Trotz said he might also double shift centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Hat trick from 500: Alex Ovechkin will be playing in his 800th NHL game and is three goals away from 500 in his career. In 41 career games against the Rangers he has 24 goals and 39 points but has never scored a hat trick against the Blueshirts.

Trotz was asked if he senses any nervousness from his 30-year-old captain as he approaches the milestone.

“Nothing,” Trotz said. “We haven’t even talked about that.

“I think the Russian one (his 484th) got a lot of play when he passed (Sergei) Fedorov (on Nov. 19). I think he was more nervous for that one than he is now.

“He’s going to score a lot more than 500 goals. I’m pretty sure on that. It’s a big milestone, but I think he’s got other milestones he wants to achieve as well.”

What the Rangers are saying: The Rangers are 5-8-2 since the start of December, including that 7-3 loss to the Caps in which they blew a 3-1 lead. Coach Alain Vigneault said the Rangers will need to play their “best game” to beat the Caps, who have won two straight after a brief 0-1-1 slide.

“Skill, size, speed, great transition game and probably the hottest goaltender in the league right now,” Vigneault said of Holtby and the Caps. “…We’re ready. We know right now that Washington’s the best in the league and it’s gonna take our best game.”

[RELATED: Backstrom, Holtby selected to NHL All-Star Game]

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Alex Ovechkin scored the goal that sent the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final

Alex Ovechkin scored the goal that sent the Capitals to the Stanley Cup Final

On June 4, 1998, Joe Juneau scored the biggest goal in the history of the Washington Capitals.

In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, Joe Juneau attacked the crease and shot in a rebound past a helpless Dominik Hasek in overtime to defeat the Buffalo Sabres and win the Eastern Conference.

That goal sent the Capitals to its first and, before 2018, only Stanley Cup Final.

Alex Ovechkin’s name was already etched in the history books for the Capitals several times over, but on Wednesday he added it again with the biggest goal of his career. His goal in Game 7 stood as the game-winner meaning it was the goal that sent the Capitals to their second Cup Final.

You can watch it here:

It did not come in overtime and was not quite as dramatic as Juneau’s. In fact, no one knew the significance of the goal at the time. It came just 62 seconds into the contest. It was a significant goal, but no one realized right away that it would be an historic one.

How fitting is it that Ovechkin scored the game-winner? Ovechkin who this team was built around, who reignited the franchise and built Washington into a hockey city. After all the criticism over the years, all the talk about how he can’t win, all talk about how the team should take away the C and all the talk about how the Caps should trade him and start over, this goal was not just a moment of history, but one of vindication.

When we look back on Ovechkin’s career, at all the individual awards and accomplishments, this one single goal will stand above the rest. This was the biggest game of his career and he scored the biggest goal of his career just 62 seconds in.

There’s one way he can top that: lead the Caps past Vegas for their first Stanley Cup.

MORE CAPITALS STORIES:

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning to win the Eastern Conference

4 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning to win the Eastern Conference

The Capitals dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday to claim the conference crown and a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. Washington took an early lead and never looked back.

Here is how they bucked their Game 7 history to win.

62 seconds

The last time these two teams met in Tampa, the Lightning struck just 19 seconds into the game and it set the tone for the entire contest. This time, it was the Caps who struck early.

A big hit by Tom Wilson in the neutral zone created a turnover that started the rush for the Caps. Evgeny Kuznetsov fed Ovechkin for the one-timer and he fired it past Vasilevskiy just 62 seconds into the game.

Andre Burakovsky’s big night

Injury limited Burakovsky to just 56 games this season. He suffered another injury in Game 2 of the first round and did not return until Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. He was a healthy scratch in Game 5 and was talking about talking to a sports psychologist over the summer. He had not recorded a point this postseason heading into Wednesday game.

And somehow, he rattled off two goals to lead the Capitals.

The start of the second period was all Tampa Bay. The Lightning were dictating the play and buzzing around Braden Holtby. They outshot the Caps 8-1 to start the frame, but Burakovsky got the momentum right back as he stole the puck away from Dan Girardi and fired a beautiful shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy. John Carlson sprung him on a breakaway later in the second period which he put through the five-hole of Vasilevskiy for his second goal of the game.

Braden Holtby is suddenly unbeatable

The last goal Holtby allowed was 33 seconds into the second period…of Game 5. After not recording a single shutout at all this season, he blanked the Lightning in both Game 6 and Game 7 for back-to-back shutouts.

The Lightning had their opportunities. They pushed and pushed hard all game long, especially in the second period as they recorded eight of the first nine shots on goal of the period.

It didn’t matter.

Holtby was up to the task as he dominated the Lightning yet again, even turning aside a breakaway from Alex Killorn to keep the clean sheet. He made 60 straight saves and did not allow a goal for 159:27. This is just the fifth time in NHL history a goalie recorded a shutout in both Game 6 and Game 7 of a playoff series.

Team defense

The Lightning had their chances, but they were frustrated all night long by the all-in defense the Caps played. As good as Holtby was, he let up a lot of juicy rebounds early on. But Tampa Bay could not get a stick to any of them because the Caps defense beat them to the puck all game long.

The Caps recorded 15 blocked shots in the game. Devante Smith-Pelly took a shot block off the back of the neck, T.J. Oshie took one off the boot.

This team was all-in all night long and it frustrated what was the league’s top offense.