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Barry Trotz's line gamble pays off big time in Game 5

Barry Trotz's line gamble pays off big time in Game 5

Down 3-1 in the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps needed a spark. Barry Trotz tried to find that spark with a line change that made headlines when it was revealed on Friday. Alex Ovechkin, the greatest goal scorer of his generation, was on the third line. In his spot on the top line was Andre Burakovsky. It was a crazy move that, to some, reeked of desperation.

Following the 4-2 win in Game 5, Barry Trotz had one message for the doubters: How do you like me now?

Okay, so not really, but he was clearly pleased with the results.

“I was hoping to get some scoring out of Burakovsky, we got that tonight,” Trotz said. “Eller had a couple of assists, I thought he was real strong. It was more of our lineup that were getting contributions and that has been the success that we had during the regular season."

RELATED: 3 key observations: With season on the line, leaders respond

Many were skeptical when they saw Ovechkin on the third line, but it worked. The captain had his first goal since Game 1 while Burakovsky had his second career multipoint playoff game and hit the scoresheet for the first time since Game 4…of Washington’s first round series.

Hindsight, however, is 20/20. Getting the players to buy beforehand was no guarantee.

“I talked to [Ovechkin] just saying we need to change it up,” Trotz said. “Top players make people better. … I was looking to try to just give us a little more depth scoring and I said Alex, I'm asking you to go down and go with Lars. It's a big line, they needed some finish.”

It did not take much convincing.

“I don't think it's a matter of who is going to play with and who going to play against each other,” Ovechkin said. “Right now, it's not a good time talk about, well I'm going to play less or I'm going to play more. We're here to get result and we're here to get successful as a team not individual and that's a big part of our success.”

“At this point, it really doesn't matter who you play with, the puck's got to get in,” Nicklas Backstrom said.

It worked in Game 5, but the victory will be short-lived if Washington should lose Game 6 as it would still mean the end of the season.

So what now? Does Trotz ride it out and hope he to see similar results from his new-look lineup in Game 6 or does he make another change to boost the lineup and further confuse the Penguins?

That’s a question Trotz does not yet have the answer to.

“We'll see what we do next game, but I felt that all the lines were going pretty well for us today.”

MORE CAPITALS: Loss aside, a healthy Crosby is a win for Penguins

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All of the round robin scenarios tied to Capitals vs. Flyers

All of the round robin scenarios tied to Capitals vs. Flyers

If you're a Capitals fan, you may be tired of hearing about how these round robin games "matter." With the other teams playing actual playoff series, it's hard to view the round robin games the same way. While there may not be as much on the line Thursday for the Caps and the Philadelphia Flyers (4 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) as there is in the qualification series, that doesn't mean Thursday's game doesn't matter. With only three round robin games, there is a lot riding on this game.

Here are the standings heading in:

Tampa Bay 4 points (2 games played)
Philadelphia 2 points (1 game played)
Washington 1 point (1 game played)
Boston 0 points (2 games played)

With that in mind, here are all the possible scenarios for the Caps in Thursday's game.

If the Caps win in regulation...

Washington will finish ahead of Boston, but can still finish in first, second or third overall. The Caps will finish in first if they beat Boston on Sunday AND Tampa Bay loses in regulation to Philadelphia on Saturday.

If the Caps win in overtime or a shootout...

The scenario is exactly the same as above. Washington will finish ahead of Boston, but can still finish in first, second or third overall. The Caps will finish in first if they beat Boston on Sunday AND Tampa Bay loses in regulation to Philadelphia on Saturday.

It doesn't matter if the win is in regulation, overtime or a shootout. Just win baby.

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If the Caps lose in overtime or a shootout...

Washington could finish in second, third or fourth place, but will be out of the running for first. The Caps will earn second place if they beat Boston in the round robin finale AND Philadelphia loses in regulation to Tampa Bay on Saturday.

If the Caps lose in regulation...

The highest Washington could finish is in third place. The winner of Sunday's Boston-Washington game will determine who is in third and who is fourth.

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T.J. Oshie shows you don't always have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader

T.J. Oshie shows you don't always have to have a letter on your chest to be a leader

When T.J. Oshie took to the ice on Monday for the round robin game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, he did so with an "A" on his chest. With John Carlson out, his A went to Oshie. It was not a major talking point before the game and was mentioned only briefly afterward by head coach Todd Reirden. Oshie taking the A wasn't a major storyline not because no one cared, it was because no one needed Oshie to wear a letter to know he was a leader.

In the second period against the Tampa Bay, Oshie dropped the gloves with Tampa Bay forward Yanni Gourde in the second period while the Caps were down 2-0 and struggling to find any intensity in their game. Less than five minutes later, the game was tied at 2. It was the clear turning point of the game and helped the Caps earn a point in a game that looked like it was getting away from them.

"He has an A on his jersey without Carlson and clearly a leadership move right there and the results speak for themselves," head coach Todd Reirden said. "He does a tremendous job with our leadership group and that was another signal of the type of person he is, the character he has.”

The energy Oshie brings to a team is evident. You can watch his interviews, see his interactions with his family or even check out the butt tap. That type of energy is contagious and goes a long way towards loosening a team up and giving them confidence in key moments.

"He is a great teammate and everything he does inside the locker room on a daily basis that everyone doesn’t get to see," Nicklas Backstrom said, "He is always positive, comes in with a lot of energy."

He added, "[Oshie] brings everything to the table."

But it's not just about what he does off the ice that makes him a leader.

Oshie has fought before, but no one would label him a "fighter." It's not something he does not do often -- his last fight came back in May of 2018 against Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang -- but he did it when the team needed it on Monday and that's what makes Oshie a leader.

If the team needs a goal, Oshie scores. If the team is in a shootout, Oshie always goes. If the team needs a fight, he drops the gloves.

That fight against Letang? It came in the final minute of Game 4 in the second-round series against the Penguins. After that game, Washington would not lose to Pittsburgh again.

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When it comes to talking about the Caps as a contender, we can talk about the skill they have, the size, the speed, etc., but there's something else to consider: The leaders. The fact that the Caps can turn to someone like Oshie to wear the A when needed is a sign of the amount of leadership on the roster. And that's not even including guys like Braden Holtby, Lars Eller or Tom Wilson, a player many believe will be the next C after Ovechkin.

In terms of leaders, Washington is full of them.

And that's evident when a player like Oshie steps onto the ice wearing an A and no one notices. That's because he's always been a leader and it doesn't take wearing a letter for his teammates to recognize it.

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