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After crushing loss, Caps look to feed the right wolf

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After crushing loss, Caps look to feed the right wolf

In his first year as coach of the Capitals Barry Trotz has introduced to his players quite a few catch phrases.

One of them has become a mantra they could probably employ right about now.

“Feed The Right Wolf.”

Based on an old Native American tale, the phrase comes from a story a father is telling his son. Two wolves, the father says, live inside each of us – one good, one bad. The boy asks his father which wolf wins and the father replies, “The one you feed.”

After Friday night’s crushing 2-1 overtime loss in New York the Capitals now lead their best-of-seven playoff series with the Rangers three games to two. The Caps can clinch a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals with a win Sunday night at Verizon Center. Or, they could lose on Sunday night and head to MadisonSquare Garden for a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night.

“Everybody has two wolves in their body,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said, pointing to a placard hung inside the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden. “The right one and the wrong one. It just depends which one you give the power to.”

Today the Capitals find themselves confronted by those two wolves. One is asking them to feed off the negative energy of blowing a third-period lead with 1:41 remaining in regulation, then committing a turnover to lose the game in overtime.

The other asking them to feed off the positive energy of returning home to a raucous home crowd with a chance to go somewhere they haven’t been since 1998.

“It’s putting your energy in a place that’s going to best help the team,” Capitals center Brooks Laich said. “In the course of a playoff series you go through momentum swings. In a game there could be a bad call by an official, or a break not go your way and it’s all how you react to things and how you channel your energy and put it into the right wolf so that we can still be focused on our goal.”

On Friday night, the Caps had a goal by Joel Ward disallowed. They had an overtime pass by Curtis Glencross picked off in the neutral zone, resulting in Ryan McDonagh’s game-winning goal.

And now they are faced with turning the page and re-telling the story their coach first told them at the start of the season.

“It means making the right decisions when it comes to being disciplined, playing the system, not going off on your own page because that’s not the right thing to do,” Alzner said. “It’s kind of a mindset of thinking positive and that’s what the team has been trying to do. When we get scored against, it’s not, ‘Oh, shoot, we’re down a goal.’ It’s ‘Let’s get that back.’ It’s a positive outlook when things can get negative.”

“It’s a small little reminder,” Laich said, “that if a certain player or if the team starts coming off track, it’s just a small reminder to feed the right wolf and get back on track and get your focus on winning the hockey game.”

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Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

The Caps looked like they were in good shape in the third period on Wednesday. With a 3-2 lead in the final frame against a New York Rangers team that had played the night before, Washington looked like they were starting to wear down the blue shirts and tilt the ice in their favor.

But everything changed just before the midway point of the period.

Nathan Walker, in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 4, chased down Neal Pionk behind the Rangers net as Pionk went to collect the puck. Walker put his arms around the Rangers’ defenseman to slow him up and he was called for holding.

“That was the safest thing possible for me to do is to wrap him up and take him in the corner like that,” Walker said to NBC Sports Washington on Friday. “Personally, I didn't think it was a good call on the ref's side, but that's the way it goes.”

Just over a minute later, Chris Kreider deflected a shot that was going wide past Braden Holtby for the power play goal to tie the game at 3.

A third period mistake that tied the game from a player in and out of the lineup could have been a devastating moment for Walker, but head coach Todd Reirden was adamant after the game that he did not want Walker to lose his aggressiveness or change the way he plays as a result of Wednesday’s mistake.

“I insert him to be aggressive and his intensity was something we needed,” Reirden said. “I thought he won a lot of puck battles earlier in the game and at different points. He's pursuing the puck trying to force a turnover and it ends up as a call against. That's I think a tough call in that situation, but we're able to pick him up and if there's a guy on our team that we want to rally around and try to come back for, it's someone like that with a work ethic and just commitment and dedication and how he is as a teammate.”

Luckily for Walker, the Caps were still able to get the win thanks to Matt Niskanen’s overtime goal. Those were nervous moments for him watching as the team tried to overcome his mistake.

“It's definitely nerve-wracking for sure,” Walker said. “You kind of feel like you're the reason why they got back into the game. I personally thought we were all over them in the third period up until they got that goal. I think we still played really well, but obviously the play with the lead is a lot nicer than playing tied up 10 minutes to go in the third. It was nerve-wracking, but it was good that the guys came through and we got the two points at the end of the day so that's the main thing.”

The fact that Walker’s mistake did not end up costing the team will make it easier for Reirden’s message to sink in. It’s his aggressiveness that makes him valuable. One mistake should not make him change that aspect of his game.

Said Reirden, “It's something that if he stops hunting pucks and creating havoc up ice then he's just a very average player that's going to find himself in and out of the league.”

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Capitals vs. Panthers: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Capitals vs. Panthers: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Washington Capitals (3-2-1, 7pts) are coming off of an overtime thriller at home over the Rangers thanks to Matt Niskanen's crafty timing.

Through the first six games of the season, Washington is undefeated on Wednesdays, yet has failed to win consecutive games. The Caps hope to change that trend Friday night at home vs. the Florida Panthers (0-2-2, 2pts).

The Panthers have yet to win a game this season, with each of the four games being decided by just one goal. The Panthers have no problem scoring, netting at least five goals in two of the first four games, but have failed to seal the deal. This is where the defending Stanley Cup champions will need to capitalize.

Only the Maple Leafs (33) and Hurricanes (33) have scored more times than the Capitals (24). Washington has a clear advantage in firepower. The biggest key to victory is keeping the space in front of Braden Holtby clean as a whistle. If the Caps control their goalmouth, they should have no issues dispatching the Panthers.

Here is everything you need to know about the Friday night game, which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington. 

CAPITALS-PANTHERS GAME: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. Florida Panthers

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: Friday, October 19, 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals-Panthers will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

Live Stream: Watch Capitals vs. Panthers on the NBC Sports Washington live stream page and the NBC Sports MyTeams App.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS-PANTHERS TV SCHEDULE:

6:00 PM: Caps FaceOff Live
6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
7:00 PM: NHL: Florida Panthers at Capitals 
9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live
10:00 PM: Caps Overtime Live

CAPITALS vs. PANTHERS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: Travis Boyd (OUT, IR), Tom Wilson (OUT, Suspension)

Panthers: Michael Haley (OUT, Leave of Absence), Roberto Luongo (OUT, MCL injury), Mike Matheson (OUT, Suspension) 

CAPITALS vs. PANTHERS PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Evgenii Dadonov, W, Panthers: Dadonov is leading the Panthers this season with two goals and two assists on the season.

John Carlson, D, Capitals: Carlson had a heck of a game vs. the Rangers Wednesday night with a goal and two assists. The Capitals worked on faceoffs in practice leading up to Wednesday night's game and all of the hard work paid off with Carlson's goal coming right off the faceoff from Backstrom. 

CAPITALS vs. PANTHERS SERIES HISTORY

Number of all-time Meetings: 123

All-Time Series Record: 64-50-9

Playoff Record: N/A

Last Meeting: Panthers beat Capitals 3-2 (2/22/2018)

Last 10 Meetings: Tied 5-5 

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