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Caps clinch Metropolitan Division, conference and Presidents' Trophy in shutout victory

Caps clinch Metropolitan Division, conference and Presidents' Trophy in shutout victory

Final score: Washington Capitals 2, New York Rangers 0

How it happened: Neither team was able to generate much offense in the first half of the game, but the Caps opened up a shooting gallery late in the second period on their fourth power play opportunity of the night. Alex Ovechkin took advantage, sending a shot between the legs of Kevin Klein and into the net. Evgeny Kuznetsov made it 2-0 in the third with a two-on-one goal and the Rangers didn't have any fight left.

What it means: The win clinches the Metropolitan Division and Presidents’ Trophy for Washington. That guarantees the Caps home-ice throughout the playoffs and a first-round matchup with the Eastern Conference’s second wild card team. They have now won the Presidents’ Trophy three times in the past eight seasons and are just the sixth team to win the award in consecutive seasons. The win also extends Washington’s new franchise record for home wins in a season to 32.

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Goals

Caps goal: Justin Williams (power play) from Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin at 14:39 in the 2nd period. The Caps moved the puck along the right side of the zone on the power play drawing the penalty killers over. Kuznetsov made a cross-ice pass to Ovechkin in the office. He didn’t catch it cleanly, but with no defensemen anywhere close, he had plenty of time to aim and shoot. The eventual wrister traveled through the legs of Kevin Klein and off of Williams into the net. Caps 1, Rangers 0

Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson at 5:42 in the 3rd period. Johansson took the puck up on a two-on-one with Kuznetsov. Brendan Smith decided to go for Johansson which left Kuznetsov wide open for the mini-breakaway goal. Caps 2, Rangers 0

3 stars

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov: Kuznetsov assisted on the first goal and scored the exclamation mark to really put this one out of reach. Considering his struggles last postseaosn, it is encouraging to see him get points on the board this close to the end of the season.

2. Alex Ovechkin:  Ovechkin loves playing against Henrik Lundqvist. He may be one of the best netminders in the NHL, but Ovechkin always seems to have his number. It was true again on Wednesday. It looked like Ovechkin scored again on Lundqvist, but after the game, the goal was credited to Williams and Ovechkin was given the assist. Still, I doubt the Great 8 will complain.

3. Braden Holtby: The Caps netminder earned his league-leading ninth shutout of the season as he turned aside all 24 shots he faced from the Rangers. That is another big step towards earning the William M. Jennings Trophy which is awarded to the goalie of the team that allows the fewest goals against in a season. The Caps already led Columbus by five (179 to 184) coming into Wednesday's game.

Look ahead: The Caps wrap-up the regular season with a back-to-back over the weekend. They play in Boston on Saturday and return home Sunday to host the Florida Panthers.

Tell us what you think: Winning two consecutive Presidents' Trophies puts the Caps in pretty rare company. Is that a noteworthy accomplishment to you are does nothing matter but the Stanley Cup?

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Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s semifinal matchup:

Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

2018-19 stats

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Carl Gunnarsson (32 years old): 25 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, 15:15 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 14:57 TOI, won Stanley Cup

Hockey-Graph contract projections 

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

Carl Gunnarsson: 1 year, $731,159 cap hit

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Maybe Andre Burakovsky’s qualifying offer of $3.25 million means he’s back with the Capitals for another year. But it doesn’t preclude a trade and in Donskoi you’d have a similar option at a cheaper price, which matters if you only have $9.2 million in cap space left for now.

Donskoi made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. He can go up and down the lineup and had a consistency to his game that Burakovsky at times lacks. Donskoi’s stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset. Either way, depth scoring is important and a priority for the Capitals. 

Donskoi has every bit the Stanley Cup playoff experience as Burakovsky does if that matters to you. Donskoi has nine goals and 12 assists in 50 playoff games and Burakovsky has nine goals and nine assists in 56 playoff games. Not much to chose between the team except Donskoi would be cheaper if Washington decided to trade Burakovsky. 

The case for Carl Gunnarsson

The Caps will need a No. 6/7 defenseman after Brooks Orpik retired on Tuesday. Yes, they gave a qualifying offer to RFA defenseman Christian Djoos and they have Jonas Siegenthaler under contract, too. Both are natural left side defensemen. Going with the kids is an option. But both of them? That becomes problematic when someone gets hurt in your top two pairings and players have to bump up. 

Gunnarsson was the hero of the “Boston Pee Party” when he scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final after declaring to head coach Craig Berube at the urinal he just needed one more opportunity. Gunnarsson had just seven points in the regular season so no one should expect a ton of offense, but the point is he delivered when it mattered most.

When he is not playing the overtime hero, he is a third-pairing, stay at home defenseman who can play on the penalty kill which is pretty much exactly what the Caps need in a depth defenseman.

Take a look at Gunnarsson’s contract projection. You can’t beat that price. Sure, those projections came out before he won the Stanley Cup, but even if his price goes up, it will not be significant. You’re tinkering at the margins of the roster here and championship experience matters. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

The Capitals tendered qualifying offers to six of their seven restricted free agents at Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, including forward Andre Burakovsky. 

Burakovsky, 24, had been the subject of trade rumors up until the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25 and also in the days leading up to last week’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. Nothing came of them. Washington general manager Brian MacLellan made it clear that while teams were calling, he wasn’t about to just give away a 2013 first-round draft pick. 

“We like the player. There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player,” MacLellan said last Thursday. “We'd like to keep him around but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him. But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”

But the Capitals are still in a salary cap crunch and that could still land Burakovsky elsewhere in the coming days. His qualifying offer is $3.25 million. Washington is only $9.235 million below the salary cap of $81.5 million. If Burakovsky signs, he would provide scoring depth. He has a career-high 17 goals and has scored 12 each of the past two seasons.

The Capitals do need to see more from Burakovsky. He has struggled with confidence and consistent production over the years. But if he returns, he would be a good option to replace the expected-to-depart Brett Connolly at right wing on the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Connolly is an unrestricted free agent and likely out of Washington’s price range. 

By tendering a qualifying offer, the Capitals ensure that they will keep Burakovsky’s rights. If they had not then he’d be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team. That’s not a smart use of an asset that could still help in 2019-20. They could, of course, still trade him at any time. 

Meanwhile, forward Dmitry Jaskin was not tendered a qualifying offer. He is a free agent now. Jaskin never gained the trust of the coaching staff last season. He appeared in just 37 games despite analytics that showed he had a positive impact on the fourth line. Jaskin picked up on waivers from the St. Louis Blues in October, had two goals and four assists. He did not play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Winger Jakub Vrana also received a qualifying offer, but that’s not expected to matter much as the two sides try to put together a long-term contract extension after his breakthrough 24-goal season in his second NHL year. 

The Capitals did tender a qualifying offer to defenseman Christian Djoos. An ugly thigh injury that turned into compartment syndrome and limited him to 45 games. But with Brooks Orpik retiring on Tuesday, Washington could go with Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler as their No. 6/7 defensemen on their natural left sides. 

Fourth-line winger Chandler Stephenson also received his qualifying offer. AHL Hershey forward Colby Williams and goalie Vitek Vanacek also received qualifying offers from Washington.  

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