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Caps get the rematch they were hoping for

Caps get the rematch they were hoping for

Last season left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth in Washington. The Caps dominated the regular season, wrapping up the Presidents’ Trophy for the top record in the NHL by late March with seven games still remaining.

And yet, once again, Washington’s regular season success did not translate to the playoffs. The Caps met the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and were eliminated in six games.

RELATED: Why Eller may be the key to beating the Penguins

Now, however, Washington will get a chance to erase the sting of last year’s loss in a second-round rematch with the Penguins.

“We were disappointed last year,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “First thing that you thought was about coming back and playing them again and here we are. Maybe not a surprise, but it's going to be a good match up. They're a good team, they're the Stanley Cup champs so it will be a really good match and we're excited about it.”

“Pittsburgh's a rivalry team, knocked us out last year,” T.J. Oshie said. “You don't need much more motivation to get started here.”

In the team’s 41 seasons, Washington has advanced past the second round of the postseason only twice and have failed to do so in the Alex Ovechkin era. Much of their playoff troubles have come at the hands of the same team they now prepare to face.

In the franchise’s 27 playoff appearances, this will be the 10th time Washington and Pittsburgh have met. Washington has gone only 1-8 in their previous nine meetings.

For a team looking to overcome its previous playoff history, it seems almost necessary to have to go through Pittsburgh.

“There's a history with the Penguins,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “I think it's fitting that we have to go through the Penguins at some point. Got to change the narrative hopefully this year and that's what we intend to do.”

MORE CAPITALS: Trotz calls Hornqvist a guy who 'conveniently will fall on your goalie'

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As Ovechkin's legacy grows, even some of his fiercest rivals can't stop praising him

As Ovechkin's legacy grows, even some of his fiercest rivals can't stop praising him

Four players from the Metropolitan Division joined a video conference with reporters on Thursday to discuss a wide range of topics including the coronavirus, the season format when the league returns from its pause and, of course, Alex Ovechkin. To the utter chagrin of the Great 8 himself who was among the four players on the conference, there was plenty of praise heaped upon him by the other three.

Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno said in reference to a recent video of Sergei Ovechkin shooting the puck that he would send his kids over for tips.

"I'm sending my kids over as soon as this quarantine up to work out with Ovi and get that shot going," he said. "They're all right-handers so I don't know how to teach them."

New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban said multiple times over the course of the call that he was glad the Devils were not among the teams the Capitals have to play in their remaining 13 games of the regular season.

"I’m confident if we played another 13 games this season and Ovi plays, Ovi can get another 20 goals in that time," he said.

Such is life for an all-time great.

Sometimes it can be hard to grasp history in the present or to know exactly how a player will be viewed years from now when they have hung up the skates. And then there are players like Ovechkin who we already know will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

At 34 years old, Ovechkin's Hall of Fame legacy is not in question. What is in question is just how many milestones he may ultimately achieve. When a player reaches that status, his opponents can't help but praise him.

“Ovi, I just can’t stand how you just stand in that one damn spot and score all those goals," Foligno said. "That drives me crazy.”

"It’s been fun to watch and fun to see you continue year after year," New York Islanders forward Anders Lee said.

Some players will give canned quotes when the cameras or the recorders turn on -- quotes that sound stale and rehearsed and which leaves you feeling like they don't actually mean anything. The format of the video conference, done out of necessity due to the coronavirus, provided a unique look as the players were essentially speaking to one another. Each player was on the conference with a moderator asking them questions. Many of the questions turned into a back-and-forth between the players which gave a unique look into how the players actually feel and interact with one another.

It was striking the level of respect they all had for Ovechkin.

“You’ve done a great job for that team, obviously, and just the way you play the game," Foligno said. "I love the passion that you play with. I think that’s something everybody appreciates about you."

And that's from the captain of the team the Caps eliminated in the first round in 2018, having to rally back from a 2-0 series deficit.

All the talk surrounding Ovechkin this season stems from two important things. First, he became just the eighth player in NHL history to score 700 goals. Second, with 13 games remaining in the regular season, he was going to score 50 goals again for the ninth time of his career which would have tied him with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons ever. In a larger sense, another 50-goal season (or 48 -goal season as it stands now) has made the idea of catching Gretzky's record of 894 goals seem at least possible.

Gretzky's record has long thought to be untouchable, but as Ovechkin appears poised to make a run at one of hockey's most important records held by one of Canada's favorite sons, Ovechkin is getting nothing but support from his peers.

"I think if he did catch Wayne, it would be great for the game," Subban said. "I think we see it in other sports. We see what [LeBron James is] doing in basketball. We’ve seen what Tom Brady’s done. I think that in hockey, we’ve seen it as the years go by and by, a lot of these legends and Hall of Famers that are there getting older and we need to have people that currently you can touch and you can watch and you can talk to and see and watch on TV that are setting milestones as well. So, I think it’s great for the game."

That's a subject Ovechkin hates talking about and he even stepped in after a few answers to say, "Let's finish this one."

But it is a subject that will be inescapable the closer he gets to reaching it. With every goal, Ovechkin's legacy grows larger and even his fiercest rivals can't help but their tip their caps to him as he makes a run at history.

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Russians lead the way in Caps' simulated win over Maple Leafs

Russians lead the way in Caps' simulated win over Maple Leafs

Alex Ovechkin scored twice, Ilya Kovalchuk provided another and Ilya Samsonov did the rest in net on Tuesday to lead the Capitals to a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL 20 simulated game.

Result: Caps 3, Maple Leafs 2

1st period

1-0 Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin from Evgeny Kuznetsov

1-1 Maple Leafs goal (power play): Zach Hyman from Denis Malgin

2nd period

2-1 Caps goal: Ilya Kovalchuk from Richard Panik and Nic Dowd

3rd period

3-1 Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin from Tom Wilson and John Carlson

3-2 Maple Leafs goal: Auston Matthews from Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman


How the Caps won

1. Ovechkin is back

Alex Ovechkin did not score in any of the first three games since NBC Sports Washington began broadcasting the NHL 20 simulations beginning on March 24. He finally broke through with a goal Monday against the Buffalo Sabres and the flood gates were open. He scored twice on Tuesday giving him three goals in two games.

Evgeny Kuznetsov cut off a breakout pass from Jake Muzzin and set up Ovechkin on the backdoor for Washington's first goal. In the third period, Kuznetsov won a puck battle and the Caps pulled off a nice passing play from Carlson to Wilson to Ovechkin for the one-timer. That goal proved to be the game-winner.

2. Kovalchuk breaks the tie

The Caps and Maple Leafs battled to a 1-1 tie through the first period.  Kovalchuk made sure the game would not be tied again in the second with a heads-up play to the net.

Locked in a board battle in the corner of the offensive zone, the puck was kicked back to Panik near the blue line. For some reason, Kovalchuk was the only player in the corner who wasn't caught watching the puck. He made a quick cut to the middle out of the scrum and Panik returned the puck back to him. Kovalchuk had a step on defenseman Martin Marincin and beat goalie Frederik Andersen glove-side.

3. Ilya Samsonov

Washington was the better team in this game, but Toronto is a skilled enough team that they can strike quickly if there is no cushion on the scoreboard. The last several simulated games have been blowout wins for Washington, but this one was not. The Caps needed every last save from Samsonov and he delivered with an outstanding performance.

Next game

The Caps were scheduled to play the Minnesota Wild at home on Thursday. The game will be simulated with NHL 20 on NBC Sports Washington at 7 p.m.

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