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Barry Melrose back to predicting Caps win series vs. Pens, with one caveat

Barry Melrose back to predicting Caps win series vs. Pens, with one caveat

Let's just be honest: My pick to win the Capitals-Penguins series has gone back and forth over the last six games. And I bet I speak for lots of fans when I say that. But I also speak for NHL analyst Barry Melrose, apparently. 

Melrose famously predicted the Caps would win the Stanley Cup all season, only to reverse course and pick the Penguins after the first round of the playoffs. 

Fast forward two weeks to this morning and a lot has changed. Washington dug itself a 2-0 series hole, only to rebound with three wins in the next four games, including back-to-back victories in potential elimination games. 

The Capitals beat the Penguins in Pittsburgh last night to force a Game 7 at Verizon Center.

And surprise! Barry's back on the wagon. 

He told the Sports Junkies this morning that he's leaning Caps again, with a caveat. 

It's going to be crazy because I never would have expected Pittsburgh to lay an egg like they did last night, but this is why you have a Game 7. The Caps have a Game 7. They earned it, it's in their building. They've been the better team the last two games by quite a bit, you can argue they've been the better team all series. The only thing I can say is Holtby's got to be as good as Fleury. If Holtby's as good as Fleury, I would think the Caps will win this game by the last two games with how good they've looked and how poor Pittsburgh has looked.

He also told the Junkies that he doesn't expect the Penguins to repeat Monday night's poor showing in Game 7. 

Melrose also caught flack from his colleagues after going on ESPN this morning to switch his pick back to the Capitals. 

I understand wanting the experts to be correct from the start and never waver, but what person with at least one working eye and one working ear watched the first two games and thought the Capitals were going to pull it out?

Hoped, maybe. Didn't tell everyone you changed your pick, maybe. But if your life or your mom's life or your dog's life depended on correctly predicting the winner of Caps-Pens after Game 2, you would have picked Pens. 

If gangsters tied you to a chair after Game 2 and said they'd cut your arm off unless you made the right pick, you'd go Pens to win. Big dudes are standing over you with a meat cleaver, so don't deny it. 

But now, the Capitals look like the team to save your arm. And if the gangsters let you change your pick before Game 7, you do it!

So don't be hard on Melrose. He's just trying to keep his metaphorical arms, or something.

MORE CAPITALS: Backstrom playing himself into Caps' all-time discussion

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The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

The 6 most important things Brian MacLellan said about new Caps acquisition Brenden Dillon

ARLINGTON, Va. --  While the Capitals were on the road, Brian MacLellan was hard at work and finalized a deal on Tuesday to bring San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon to Washington. On Wednesday he met with the media to talk about the newest Cap.

"He's got playoff experience, he's a veteran player, physicality, the ability to play with top-end guys, a good character guy," MacLellan said. "I think he'll add a lot of energy in our room and on the ice. He's a physical presence. He checked a lot of boxes for everything we thought we needed."

Here are the six most important things MacLellan said about Dillon.

Dillon may be a top-pair player

Dillon is certainly a top-four defenseman, but the Caps added a player they feel can play on the top pair.

"I think we move him around a little bit," MacLellan said. "He could play with [John Carlson], could play with [Dmitry Orlov]. He's played with two good guys in San Jose. I anticipate the coaches trying him at both spots and see what works best for us."

Todd Reirden echoed those thoughts after practice.

When asked if Dillon playing with Brent Burns made him a natural fit to play with Carlson on the top pair, Reirden said, "That's my first initial thought. That is a similar type of player for sure."

Either Kempny or Jensen is going to get bumped out of the top four

When you re-read MacLellan's comments on Dillon playing in the top four, he said he could play with either Carlson or Dmitry Orlov. Adding a player into the top four means taking someone out and, based on those comments, that player is either going to be Michal Kempny or Nick Jensen.

Dillon is not the solution for the team's problems on the right

Right defense has been an issue for the Caps this season, but it does not sound like the plan is to plug Dillon in on the right side.

MacLellan was asked if Dillon could play on his off-side and he gave a tepid endorsement.

"He could, yeah," MacLellan said. "I think he's played a little bit on the off-side, but Orly's had some experience playing on the off-side. There's a number of different combinations we could try."

Reirden was asked who would play the right if Dillon and Orlov played together, and he said it would be Orlov.

While both MacLellan and Reirden said it would be an option to try Dillon on the right, it did not sound like that was the long-term plan at all.

This was not a reaction trade

Washington has lost four of its last five games and is 11-11-0 since Dec. 23. The team suddenly no longer sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division and trails the Pittsburgh Penguins by a point in the standings. The Caps' recent struggles, however, did not influence this deal, at least according to MacLellan.

MacLellan stated twice that he would have made this deal "regardless because I think it's a great fit for us — I think his skillset and the group we do have. I think one of the things that's been frustrating for me is the play in front of our own net, the compete level in front of our own net, and this is something he brings to the table here. I think he does a great job in front of our net. So I think we addressed that through him."

It should be noted that MacLellan has previously stated he was only looking for depth at the trade deadline and now has acquired a player who may well end up playing on the team's top pair. If you take him at his word, however, MacLellan liked Dillon and liked the upgrade, and that's why this deal got done — not because of the team's current struggles.

Dillon's playoff experience is a major reason why he is now with Washington

Last season, MacLellan traded for a defenseman playing a significant role on a bad team in Nick Jensen. Jensen had zero playoff experience and that showed in the team's postseason series against the Carolina Hurricanes. This year, MacLellan elected to go a different route.

Dillon has 62 games of playoff experience under his belt and helped the San Jose Sharks reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and the Western Conference Final in 2019.

MacLellan was asked how much that experience mattered to him, and he said, "A lot. A lot. I think he’s been in the final. He’s been on good teams, similar to us. I think San Jose and Washington had top teams for a long time and he’s been in that environment, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Physical play is still a major part of the team's identity

Dillon is not the type of player you go out an acquire if physicality is not a priority.

For the season, Dillon ranks ninth in the NHL with 178 hits. His acquisition means the Caps now have five of the top 21 hitters in the league.

"I think we're all attracted to size as long as it can play," MacLellan said. "We like having the big bodies and playing a heavier game, and he's a good skater for his size, too. He has that physical presence, and we're excited to see how it fits for us."

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Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Here's how you can score free Chipotle by wearing your Caps jersey Friday

Now's your chance to score some free Chipotle, Caps fans!

By wearing your favorite Capitals jersey on Friday, you can earn a free entree through Chipotle's "suit up and score" campaign with the purchase of another entree of equal or lesser value.

While all jerseys qualify for the promotion, we recommend Alex Ovechkin's as he goes for goal No. 700.

So rock your red, grab a friend and head to Chipotle for this awesome deal redeemable Friday, Feb. 21 only.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.