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Capitals overcome slow start, earn ninth straight win in blowout fashion

Capitals overcome slow start, earn ninth straight win in blowout fashion

The Caps didn't look all that good to start, but they overcame their early struggles for a dominating 5-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

How it happened: Washington was outshot 13-5 through the first period, but still managed to take a 1-0 lead in the second thanks to Andre Burakovsky. Michale Del Zotto whiffed on a clear attempt on the penalty kill and Burakovsky pounced on the turnover and fired the wrister past Steve Mason. The Caps then exploded in the third period for four goals as the Flyers completely collapsed in the wake of Washington's offense.

What it means: The Caps remain hot with their ninth win in a row. The victory was No. 1,500 for the franchise. With 63 points, Washington now sits atop the NHL standings. The victory also improves their record within the division to 8-5-4.

Honoring Backstrom: The Capitals held a ceremony prior to the game to honor Nicklas Backstrom for his 500th NHL assist which he recorded on Jan. 7 in Ottawa. He is the first player in franchise history to reach that mark. After a tribute video that included messages from several teammates including Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom was presented a golden stick from Ted Leonsis.

Offensive explosion: With five goals Sunday, Washington has now scored five or more goals an incredible six times in the past nine games.

Too many penalties: The Caps took five minor penalties on Sunday against one of the most dangerous power plays in the NHL. It didn't cost them on Sunday, but taking too many penalties remains one of the few issues surrounding this team right now.

No Holtby? No problem: The Flyers may have thought they lucked out with Philipp Grubauer in net instead of the red-hot Braden Holtby, but Grubauer was fantastic in net turning aside 24 shots to earn his second shutout of the season and the second of his career.

Carlson leaves early: Defenseman John Carlson left the game after the first period with a lower-body injury. He did not return. It was not immediately clear how he got hurt, or if it was related to the lower-body injury that forced him to miss Thursday's practice. Carlson missed Thursday's practice as well.

Grubauer lucks out: Things just seem to be going the Caps' way right now. That was evident in the second period when the Flyers were denied what looked like a good goal from Radko Gudas. The Philly defenseman hit a blistering slap shot from center ice that somehow beat Grubauer for what looked like an embarrassing game-tying goal. Philadelphia was denied the goal, however, because the whistle blew a fraction of a second before the puck went in. The call appeared to be offsides. Because the whistle blew before the goal was scored, it could not be challenged. No doubt Grubauer breathed a sigh of relief after that one. That would have been a major stain on what otherwise was a great day for him in net.

Look ahead: The Caps hit the road for a three-game road trip starting with a game in Pittsburgh on Monday. Then it’s off to St. Louis on Thursday before the trip wraps up on Saturday in Dallas.

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

1. Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

2. Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

3. Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

4. Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

5. Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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