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The Caps are hopeful Matt Niskanen avoided serious injury

The Caps are hopeful Matt Niskanen avoided serious injury

PHILADELPHIA—The Capitals are hoping the injury suffered by Matt Niskanen during Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Flyers is not serious.

The veteran defenseman’s left leg appeared to buckle after a leg-on-leg collision with rugged Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas in the second period. You can see the replay in the video above. Niskanen returned for one shift but exited the game shortly thereafter and did not return.

As he walked out of the visitors’ dressing room following the game, he appeared to have a slight hitch in his step.  

“We don’t think it’s too serious,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ll look at him tomorrow.”

Trotz added: “When he first was diagnosed by our trainers it was more precautionary. We’ll get our doctors to look at that, and we’ll see where we are tomorrow.”

RELATED: Two disallowed goals for Flyers help Caps earn first win post-bye

Trotz said he did not take issue with the play that resulted in the injury. Gudas was pursuing Marcus Johansson in the corner when he appeared to turn into Niskanen, clipping Niskanen's leg. Niskanen was also bumped from behind by Wayne Simmonds on the play.

“No, he just got tangled up on a couple of guys,” Trotz said. “I haven’t looked at it that closely, on their defenseman [Gudas] coming down. I think [Niskanen] got wedged between two guys.”

Niskanen, 30, plays a vital role for the Capitals, skating an average 22:26 per game, including important minutes on the power play and penalty kill.

If his latest injury causes him to miss any time, the Capitals will not need to make a move as they have six healthy defensemen on the roster. The team could, however, call up veteran Tom Gilbert, whom they acquired last week via trade as injury insurance.  

Niskanen missed one game earlier this season due to an upper-body injury.

MORE CAPITALS: Breakdown of the Flyers two no-goals vs. Capitals

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How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

How the Capitals could face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs

For the past two weeks, updates to the 2020 postseason have been rolling in making it hard to keep track of them all. A very different 2020 postseason awaits when play resumes so you may not know all the ins and outs of how the playoffs will work. Right now the most important things for Capitals fans to remember are that Washington is in, we don't know who they will play in the first round or where they will be seeded and yes, they could play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.

So let's go over the specifics.

Where will the Caps be seeded?

We don't know. Next question!

Washington finished third in the Eastern Conference and first in the Metropolitan Division, just barely edging out the Philadelphia Flyers, but that won't get them much. All this means is that the Caps are among the top four teams in the conference so they will play a three-game round-robin to determine the top four seeds. Washington will play Boston, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia each one time in games with regular-season rules (meaning shootouts instead of endless overtime). The team with the best record in that round-robin will earn the top seed in the conference. It doesn't matter that Boston had 10 more points than Washington when the season paused, the Caps could still jump to the top of the conference should the finish with a better record in these three games.

The only way in which regular-season records matter at this point is to determine the four teams that get to play in the round-robin and as a tiebreaker. Regular season points percentage will be used as the tiebreaker for teams tied after the round-robin.

Who will the Caps play in the playoffs?

We won't know that specifically for three reasons. First, we have to know where the Caps will be seeded and we won't until after the round-robin; second, we won't know until after the play-in round; and third, it was announced on Thursday that the teams will be reseeded after each round so it's possible we won't know exactly who the Caps will play until the play-in round is completely finished.

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If that sounds like reseeding makes things more complicated, it does in a sense, but it was the right decision. Yes, when the playoffs begin we won't be able to have a clear bracket for the playoffs but...so what? I mean, does that really matter? What reseeding does is prevent the top seed from getting screwed. A bracket is made with the assumption that the top team will win each round. That means the No. 4 is supposed to play the No. 5 in the first round, but what happens if a No. 12 upsets the No. 5 in the play-in? All of a sudden, the No. 4 team would be playing the lowest seed left in the tournament while the No. 1 would have to play the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 series.

That does not make sense.

Yes, trying to explain who the Caps could play after their bye from the play-in series is enough to make your head spin, but trust me, it makes a lot more logical sense to do it this way and ensures the better playoff matchups in the later rounds as opposed to the early rounds which has been a problem for the NHL since they adopted their division system.

How could the Caps play the Penguins in the first round?

For most Capitals fans, whenever the playoffs roll around everyone starts looking to see if a Washington-Pittsburgh postseason rematch is in the cards. Despite describing how we basically don't know anything about who the Caps could play in the first round yet, there is actually a pretty straightforward path for a Caps-Penguins matchup.

As the No. 5 seed, Pittsburgh is the highest-seeded team in the play-in round. Now that we know the NHL will reseed after each round, if the Penguins win their series against the Montreal Canadiens, they are guaranteed to play the No. 4 seed in the first round of the playoffs. If Washington finishes last in the round-robin and Pittsburgh wins its series, get out the popcorn and work on that bird celebration, because it will mean a Caps vs. Penguins series yet again.

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NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

NHL to move to Phase 2 of return to play plan by June 8

The NHL will transition to Phase 2 of its return to play plan, the reopening of team facilities for training activities, on June 8, the league announced Thursday.

Since the season was paused on March 12, the league has considered itself to be in Phase 1 of the plan, meaning self-isolation. While the NHL and NHLPA have made progress off the ice towards a return to play negotiating things such as the playoff format, throughout all those talks the league still remained in Phase 1. This is the first concrete step the NHL has taken towards an eventual return to the ice.

"Beginning June 8 – subject to each Club’s satisfaction of all of the requirements set out in the Phase 2 Protocol – Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice)," a statement released by the NHL said. "Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning."

As the statement notes, participation in Phase 2 activities are voluntary and will be limited to six players at a time. The Capitals have not yet set a date for the team's start of Phase 2.

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Phase 3 of the plan is training camp and, despite Thursday's announcement, we remain far off from that point. According to Pierre LeBrun, the earliest the league would start camps is July 10. Phase 4 is then the resumption of the season.

Presumably, Phase 3 will not start without a date set for when Phase 4. It is hard to believe the NHLPA would agree to an indefinite training camp. Phase 2, however, can begin without any formalized dates for Phases 3 and 4.  So while this is certainly a step towards the return of hockey and a sign that things are improving, all the difficult deciions regarding health and safety protocols as well as a timeline for the eventual 2020 postseason are still yet to be decided.

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