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Caps counting on healthy Johansson, Orpik


Caps counting on healthy Johansson, Orpik

By sending forward Paul Carey and defenseman Connor Carrick back to the AHL Hershey Bears on Monday, the Caps took a calculated risk heading into their three-game road trip, which begins Tuesday night in Nashville against the Predators.

With forward Marcus Johansson (upper body) and defenseman Brooks Orpik (lower body) unlikely to play on Tuesday night, the Caps will have just 12 healthy forwards and six healthy defensemen when they take on the Preds.

That means Stan Galiev is likely to return to the lineup, replacing Carey on the fourth line. Carey scored one very big goal in his two-game stint with the Caps, netting the game-tying goal in Newark to set the stage for Alex Ovechkin’s shootout game-winner.

Carey’s goal is one more than Galiev has scored in 14 games with the Caps this season.

The question moving forward for the Caps is when Johansson and Orpik are ready to return to the lineup. Coach Barry Trotz said he’d like to see both players get through at least one practice before returning. Since Johansson was injured less than two weeks ago, in the game before the All-Star break, he might need just one full-contact practice on Wednesday before returning to the lineup on Thursday night in Minnesota.

Orpik has been sidelined since Nov. 10, so it’s possible Trotz would like to see him skate with the team all this week before getting him back in the lineup when the Caps return from their three-game trip, which concludes Saturday night in Dallas.  

MORE CAPITALS: NHL Power Rankings: Trouble brewing?

Ovi on fire: Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season on Sunday, becoming the third player in NHL history to score 30 or more goals in each of his first 11 seasons in the league, joining Mike Gartner (first 15 seasons) and Wayne Gretzky (first 13). Ovechkin is the only player in the NHL to score 30 or more goals in every season since 2005-06. He has four goals in his last six games.

Nisky business: Matt Niskanen’s game-winning goal on Sunday was his first game-winner of the season and the 11th of his career. Niskanen was named the game’s first star and led all skaters in ice time (24:51) and shots (7).

Beastly: Braden Holtby is 25-1-3 in his last 30 appearances with two shutouts, a 2.08 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.

Bura-cuda: Andre Burakovsky’s assist extended his career-long point streak to seven games (6 goals, 3 assists). He has earned 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in his last 10 games.

Kuz-tastic: Evgeny Kuznetsov has earned 16 points (2 goals, 14 assists) in his last 10 games.

200: Tom Wilson played in his 200th NHL game on Sunday, becoming the fifth player in franchise history to play 200 games before his 22nd birthday, joining Bob Carpenter, Scott Stevens, Gaetan Duchesne and Kevin Hatcher.

Dominant at home: The Capitals have posted a 14-1-1 record in their last 16 games at Verizon Center and have outscored their opponents 61-34 during that span. In addition, Washington is 20-4-2 at home this season and has earned a point in 19 of its last 21 home games (17-2-2).

Back-to-back: The Capitals completed their 10th back-to-back set of the season over the weekend. The Caps are 16-3-1 in back-to-back games this season, outscoring opponents 71-45.

Beasts of the East: The Caps are 30-7-2 against the Eastern Conference this season, ranking first in the NHL in wins against conference opponents. 

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George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final


George McPhee's Vegas Golden Knights advance to Stanley Cup Final

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western Conference final.

Alex Tuch also scored for the Knights. They lost Game 1 in Winnipeg before winning four straight to become the first expansion team since the 1968 St. Louis Blues -- when the six initial expansion teams were put alone in the West -- to get to the final.

Vegas will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Washington Capitals in the final. Tampa Bay leads the Eastern Conference final 3-2, with Game 6 set for Monday night in Washington.

Josh Morrissey scored for the Jets, and Connor Hellebuyck made 30 saves.

Reaves, the bruising Winnipeg native acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins before to the trade deadline in February, snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:39 left in the second period when he tipped Luca Sbisa's point shot past Hellebuyck for his first goal of the playoffs.

Winnipeg got a power play early in the third, but couldn't muster much of anything. The Knights smothered much of the Jets' attack for the next 10 minutes, with Hellebuyck having to come up with big stops on William Karlsson and Eric Haula to keep his team within one.

The Jets pressed with under 4 minutes to go, with Fleury stopping captain Blake Wheeler on the doorstep, but it wasn't nearly enough as the Knights closed out their third straight series on the road.

The Jets beat the Knights 4-2 in Game 1, but Vegas snatched home ice with a 3-1 victory in Game 2 before picking up 4-2 and 3-2 wins at T-Mobile Arena.

The Knights, whose jaw-dropping inaugural 109-point campaign included a Pacific Division crown, swept the Los Angeles Kings in the first round, and knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games.

The Jets had the NHL's second-best record with 114 points in the regular season. They advanced to the first conference final in city's history with a five-game victory over the Minnesota Wild in the opening round before topping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in Game 7 on the road.

The usual raucous, white-clad crowd at Bell MTS Place -- not to mention the thousands of fans outside the arena attending a street party on a sun-drenched spring afternoon -- were silenced just 5:11 into Game 5 when Tuch jumped on Morrissey's turnover and fired his sixth past Hellebuyck.

The Jets were tentative to start and it got worse after the opener as Vegas dominated the next couple of shifts, forcing some good saves from Hellebuyck before Winnipeg got its feet moving.

After being outshot 7-1 in the first 7 minutes, the Jets finally pushed back and turned the tide with the next nine attempts on goal, culminating with Morrissey making amends for his early gaffe with 2:46 left in the period.

Bryan Little won a faceoff in the offensive zone straight back to second-year defenseman, who blasted his first career playoff goal past Fleury's glove.

One of Winnipeg's downfalls in the series through four games was an inability to maintain momentum. The Knights scored within 1:28 of a Jets' goal in each of the first four games -- a crushing 12 seconds after Winnipeg tied Game 3, and an equally gut-wrenching 43 seconds after the Jets knotted Game 4 -- but they managed to take the game to the locker rooms tied 1-1.

Both teams had chances in the second period before Reaves made it 2-1, with Jets center Mathieu Perrault just missing on a pass from Little that had too much speed.

Right after Reaves scored the second playoff goal of his career -- and first since 2015 with St. Louis -- Winnipeg's Nikolaj Ehlers rang a shot off the post on Fleury.


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The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

The Lightning are matching their 4th line against Ovechkin...and it’s working

When the starting lines were announced on Saturday, you may have been surprised to hear Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson were starting against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan.

Because the game was in Tampa Bay, the Capitals had to give their starters first. That means Lightning coach Jon Cooper saw the Caps’ were starting their top line and decided to put out his fourth.

And it worked.

On Saturday, Paquette scored just 19 seconds into the game and Callahan scored 33 seconds into the second period. Ovechkin’s line did not manage a shot on goal for the first two periods of the game. Ovechkin did finally score, but it came late on a six-on-five with Braden Holtby pulled and it was not against the fourth line.

The fourth vs. Ovechkin matchup is something the Lightning began in Game 2. No three forwards have played more against Ovechkin at five on five in any game since Game 2 than Kunitz, Paquette and Callahan. Prior to Game 5, they matched up against Ovechkin around six to seven minutes per game. On Saturday, however, Cooper went all in.

At five on five play, Kunitz was on the ice against Ovechkin for 13:04, Paquette for 13:42 and Callahan for 13:46. The results speak for themselves as that line outscored Ovechkin's 2-0. In fact, for the series Ovechkin has produced six points and only two of them have come at five-on-five play.

A fourth line vs. a top line matchup is a risky move because it takes time away from your top offensive playmakers. You typically see top lines face each other or a first line against a second line because, when you line match you are letting the opposing coach dictate how much your own players play. With a fourth line matchup getting essentially top line minutes, that takes time away from players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

If you look at the five-on-five time on ice for Game 5, Kucherov skated 14:06 and Stamkos 13:37 while Kunitz was on for 14:00, Callahan for 14:45 and Paquette for 14:57.

It is a risky move, but it makes sense for the Lightning. Through four games, the Capitals were the better team five-on-five, but Tampa Bay’s power play was unstoppable. Using the fourth line is a good strategy for Cooper in situations like in Game 3 and Game 4. The Lightning slowed Washington’s five-on-five production and Stamkos and Kucherov still produced enough on the power play even with reduced minutes. It also works for games like the one we saw Saturday.

In a game like Game 5 when your team jumps out to a 3-0 lead, you can afford to roll your lines even if it means giving the fourth line more minutes than the first.

You would think a fourth vs. first matchup would give the Capitals a distinct advantage, but it has not worked out that way. The fourth line has been able to stifle Ovechkin and Co. enough and the Lightning's power play has made up the production lost by the first line's reduced minutes. When the fourth line can score two goals of its own, well, that's just an added bonus.

Ovechkin has to lead his line to a better performance in Game 6. If the Caps’ top line can’t get the better of the Lightning’s fourth, then this series will be over on Monday night.