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Burakovsky's two goals lift Capitals to Game 4 win

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Burakovsky's two goals lift Capitals to Game 4 win

Instant analysis of the Capitals’ 2-1 win over the New York Rangers Wednesday night at VerizonCenter in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifnals:

How it happened: One night after Barry Trotz described him as having “boy strength,” 20-year-old rookie Andre Burakovsky flexed his biceps in a big way, scoring the first two playoff goals of his career to provide the Caps with all the offense they needed. Braden Holtby stopped 28 of 29 shots, including a penalty shot by Carl Hagelin with 11:59 remaining in regulation.  

What it means: The Capitals have taken a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, which heads back to MadisonSquareGarden on Friday night for Game 5. If the Caps can close out the series in New York, they will face the winner of the Tampa Bay Lightning-Montreal Canadiens series. The Lightning hold a 3-0 lead in that series.

The Caps have never reached the Eastern Conference Finals since the arrival of Alex Ovechkin.

How the Rangers scored: New York scored first for the sixth time in nine playoff games when Derick Brassard netted his team-high fifth of the season on an odd-man rush with 6:12 gone in the second period. Brassard got a step in front of Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, took a pass from Marty St. Louis and beat Braden Holtby high over his left shoulder. The goal was the Rangers’ first in five periods against Holtby, who saw his shutout streak end at 100 minutes, 5 seconds, dating back to Game 2.

How the Caps scored: With 3:31 remaining in the second period, Burakovsky found space in the high slot and despite right winger Troy Brouwer calling for a shot on his left, Burakovsky elected to shoot and beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with a tracer over his right shoulder. It was Burakovsky’s first career playoff goal and it came on his third shot of the game and 11th of the playoffs.

MORE CAPITALS: NATIONALS COME OUT TO SUPPORT CAPS IN GAME 4

On his first shift of the third period Burakovsky struck again just 24 seconds into the period. This time, Brouwer blocked a shot by New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh at the Rangers’ offensive blue line, allowing Burakovsky to beak in alone on Lundqvist. Burakovsky shielded the back-checking McDonagh and beat Lundqvist past his glove with a backhander.

Save of the game: The game’s most pivotal moment came with just under 12 minutes remaining in regulation when Holtby stoned Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin on a penalty shot. Hagelin was awarded the shot after Caps defenseman Mike Green hooked him from behind and took away a scoring chance on a clean breakaway. With a chance to tie the game, Hagelin weaved in on Holtby and went forehand to backhand. But Holtby stayed with him and snatched Hagelin’s backhander with his catching glove.

Hit of the game: In the first period, Tom Wilson plastered his old junior teammate, J.T. Miller into the glass, then had a few choice words for his good friend.

Fight night: Caps defenseman Tim Gleason had his left eye bloodied in a third-period fight with Tanner Glass, just a coupel seconds after Gleason was checked into the Caps’ goal post by James Sheppard.

They don’t know Jack: Despite his role in the Capitals’ turnaround this season, coach Barry Trotz was passed over in Jack Adams award voting for NHL Coach of the Year voting. His replacement in Nashville, Peter Laviolette, is a finalist, along with Rangers coach Alain Vigneault and Flames coach Bob Hartley.  Members of the NHL Broadcasters’ Association vote for the Jack Adams.

What’s next: The Caps and Rangers will go back at it Friday night at 7:30 in Game 5 at MadisonSquareGarden. 

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

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Prospect Joe Snively was cheering outside Capital One Arena when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup

There were many incredible aspects to the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run, but one of the best was how fans took over the streets in the Stanley Cup Final. Little did we know that a future Cap was among the faithful outside of Capital One Arena.

Forward prospect and Herndon, Va. native Joe Snively was signed as a college free agent in March 2019. He is an alum of the Little Capitals local youth hockey program and, not surprisingly given his background, he grew up as a Caps fan.

For all Washington fans, June 7, 2018, is a day that will never be forgotten as it was the day the team won its first Stanley Cup. We all have our own story of where we were that day and how we watched. Snively is no different.

“I was downtown DC outside the arena watching on the big screen,” he told Mike Vogel in an interview at the team’s development camp.

“It was a great feeling,” Snively continued. “At that time I didn’t know I’d have the opportunity to sign with the Capitals and it was an amazing feeling. I’ve been a Caps fan ever since I started watching hockey and it was great to see them after all those years in the playoffs to win the Cup. It was amazing.”

The Alex Ovechkin era is important to Washington hockey not just because he brought the city a Cup, but because of the increased interest at the youth level. Interest early on should increase the sport and the team’s popularity. That, in turn, should lead to more youth participation which should lead to a more competitive youth program and homegrown talent entering professional hockey. The increased interest from that should further boost hockey in the region thus repeating the cycle.

Snively is just the first example.

It kind of makes you wonder how many other future Caps were in that crowd watching the team win the Cup.

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20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

20 Burning Capitals Questions: Can the power play get back to an elite level?

The long, endless summer is only halfway done. The Capitals last played a game on April 24 and will not play another one until Oct. 2. 

But with free agency and the NHL Draft behind them now, the 2019-2020 roster is almost set and it won’t be long until players begin trickling back onto the ice in Arlington for informal workouts.  

With that in mind, and given the roasting temperatures outside, for the next three weeks NBC Sports Washington will look at 20 burning questions facing the Capitals as they look to rebound from an early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, keep alive their Metropolitan Division title streak and get back to their championship form of 2018.   

The list will look at potential individual milestones, roster questions, prospects who might help and star players with uncertain futures. Today we look at a power play that dipped out of the top 10 last season. Can a unit that has been so consistent for so long get back to that top level? 

This comes back to tactics more than personnel. The same players are back who have been part of this unit for years. Alex Ovechkin is the ultimate weapon in the left face-off circle, John Carlson mans the point, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov do their thing on the half wall and below the net and T.J. Oshie is the trigger man in the slot. 

Those five players all had 227 minutes of power-play time last year or more. Ovechkin had 17 goals which is about standard for the best ever. Kuznetsov came next with eight goals and 13 assists. Backstrom had four goals, but 17 assists. Carlson had two goals and 27 assists. 

Oshie missed 13 games so his numbers are a little down, but in the games he did play he still hit six goals and eight assists. Tom Wilson was Oshie’s primary replacement in that bumper position and he had three goals. 

Not too bad for Blaine Forsythe’s group. He’s the assistant coach who has run the power play the past five years. You can’t argue with the track record. Unfortunately, the expectations for Washington’s power play are massive given that talent level and it’s fair to say it fell short at 12thoverall in the NHL at 20.8 percent.

Again, 49-for-236 isn’t bad. It’s just the talent level says it should be better. The Capitals were seventh in 2017-18 (22.5 percent), fourth in 2016-17 (23.1 percent), fifth in 2015-16 (21.9 percent), first in 2014-15 (25.3 percent), tied for first in 2013-14 (23.4 percent) and first again in 2012-13 (26.8 percent). The last time Washington finished outside the top 10 on the power play was in 2011-12 when it cratered to 18th (16.7 percent). 

There are a few issues that could be tweaked. The Capitals managed just 236 power-play chances. That tied for 16thin the league. To even break into the top 10 in that category they’d need 16 more penalties drawn. 

Only three times after Oct. 22 did they score two power-play goals in the same game and never more than that. How does that even happen? They had two or more power-play goals four times in the first eight games alone, including four on opening night. After that? It was one and done, 

Kuznetsov is one of the best in the game at getting the puck into the offensive zone. Fans loathe it, but the drop pass – or “the slingshot” – has become an effective way, when used properly, to get the puck into the offensive zone on the power play. It just didn’t seem to work all that well for Washington last year. 

One wonders if Forsythe will make some tweaks there. Kuznetsov was often the player on the receiving end of the drop passes, which can keep the penalty kill off balance, but can also waste precious seconds when it doesn’t work. Then you have to regroup and try again. 

It’s not going away, though – even for those who want to slingshot the drop pass to the moon. It’s used all over the league. Some teams like to use two players as options when coming up ice using the slingshot. That’s easier to defend in some ways, but it also gives your team a certain level of unpredictability. 

Maybe teams have just become better at defending the Capitals on the PK simply because they have had the same personnel and coaching for years now. Opposing coaching staffs have hours of video on this group to break down and analyze. 

But there’s no reason to change too much. That Ovechkin one-timer is the ultimate weapon and you don’t want to stifle the creativity of players like Backstrom or Kuznetsov.

Maybe quicker unit changes would help keep players fresh. Ovechkin is almost always going to be out there for the full two minutes and it would be silly to take that shot off the ice. But developing a more reliable second group might help, too. 

Last year’s “second” unit by ice time was Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, Wilson, Brett Connolly and Dmitry Orlov/Matt Niskanen. Connolly is gone via free agency. Niskanen is gone via trade. One wonders why Andre Burakovsky was hardly used (18:25), but he’s gone, too, in a trade. 

Will be interesting to see if Forsythe can come up with a more reliable second group centered around Ovechkin, Eller and Vrana, who deserves more power-play time even if he’s buried on this roster, and Wilson as the big body in the middle. Richard Panik was fifth on the Arizona Coyotes in power-play minutes last season (146:16) so maybe he has a role there. 

The very best Washington power plays in recent years had secondary players like Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams around before the salary cap cleaved that depth. The Capitals were still a very good power play in 2018-19, but they could use more of that. These are minor changes that could get them back toward the very top of the league and helps take pressure off its 5-on-5 play. 

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