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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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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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