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Caps go wild on Minnesota to snap four-game skid

Caps go wild on Minnesota to snap four-game skid

Final score: Washington Capitals 4, Minnesota Wild 2

How it happened: This one had all the makings of a goalie duel in the first period as Braden Holtby and Devan Dubnyk traded great save after great save. Nate Schmidt broke open the scoring with just 12 seconds left in the first period, however, and the Caps never looked back. Alex Ovechkin snapped his 10-game goal drought in the second period and Evgeny Kuznetsov added goal No. 3 just 2:16 later. Matt Dumba gave the Wild life with his goal less than a minute into the third period. Eric Staal scored four minutes later to pull Minnesota within one, but that would be as close as they would come as Jay Beagle put the exclamation point on the win.

What it means: The win snapped a four-game losing streak, the longest for the Caps since Barry Trotz’s first season in Washington. The Caps remain in first place of the Metropolitan Division with a two-point lead over Pittsburgh and three-point lead over Columbus, both of whom were idle Tuesday.

Goals

Caps goal: Nate Schmidt from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom at 19:48 in the first period. Backstrom backhanded a pass from behind the net into the slot looking for Ovechkin. Ovechkin missed and the puck went to a waiting Schmidt who fired a quick shot at the net. The shot deflected off a defender past Dubnyk. Caps 1, Wild 0

Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin from John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom at 14:52 in the second period. Backstrom backhanded a pass to the blue line which Carlson fed over to Ovechkin in the office. Ovechkin fired the shot into the net just after the power play expired. Caps 2, Wild 0

Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov (power play) from John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom at 17:08 in the second period. Backstrom pulled up just as he entered into the zone which drew the nearest defenseman to him. That allowed Kuznetsov to split  the defense. Backstrom fed him the pass and Kuznetsov had an open lane on Dubnyk. Caps 3, Wild 0

Wild goal: Matt Dumba from Mikael Granlund at 0:37 in the third period. Ovechkin tried to corral a puck in the defensive zone, but accidentally sent to behind the net to Granlund. Granlund fed Dumba in front of the net who had room to deke around and over the outstretched pad of Holtby. Caps 3, Wild 1

Wild goal: Eric Staal (power play) from Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter at 4:37 in the third period. The Caps killed off the first penalty of a five-on-three power play for the Wild, but as Brett Connolly rushed into the play, Staal buried the rebound of a Zach Parise shot to pull Minnesota within one. Caps 3, Wild 2

Caps goal: Jay Beagle from Dmitry Orlov at 14:19 in the third period. Orlov retrieved the puck at the Caps' blue line on a soft dump-in by Minnesota who was looking for the line change. He fired the puck up to Beagle quickly to start the rush and Beagle snapped a beauty past Dubnyk. Caps 4, Wild 2

3 stars

1. Nicklas Backstrom: Backstrom had a hand in all three of the Caps' goals and each assist was a good one. This was his third three assist game of the season.

2. Braden Holtby: Dubnyk may well win the Vezina Trophy this year, but Holtby was the better netminder on the night. He was unbeatable for the first 40 minutes of the game. In the two goals he allowed, one came off a defensizve zone turnover and the other was at the tail end of a two-man advantage. Everything Holtby could save, he did.

3. Alex Ovechkin: Mired in the worst goal slump of his career, Ovechkin fired a goal from the office in the second period to snap a ten-game drought. It wasn't the best shot, but it was good enough to beat Dubnyk and put the Cpas in complete control of what had been a tight game.

Look ahead: The Caps host the Nashville Predators on Thursday and then head to Tampa Bay to play the wild card hopeful Lightning. They then return to Washington for a three-game home stand.

Tell us what you think: The losing streak is over and the Caps' beat the top team in the west to break it. Are you still concerned or did Tuesday's win allay your fears?

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Maple Leafs pull ahead of Bruins, Avalanche eliminate Flames

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NHL Playoffs 2019 Roundup: Maple Leafs pull ahead of Bruins, Avalanche eliminate Flames

Thursday's games gave us another tied series with the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, a slugfest between the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets, and the San Jose Sharks avoiding elimination at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Friday's games pushed the Boston Bruins to the brink of elimination, and the Colorado Avalanche eliminated the Calgary Flames in the Saddledome.

Here are all of Friday's results.

Maple Leafs take 3-2 series lead with 2-1 win over Bruins

Frederik Andersen and Tuukka Rask were sharp for the first two periods, but Auston Matthews broke the scoreless tie with a controversial goal 10 minutes into the third period. Boston challenged for goaltender interference, but the goal stood. Matthews now has four goals in the last three games of the series.

Kasperi Kapanen gave the Leafs the game winner on a 3-on-2 just two minutes later.

The Bruins battled back to make it 2-1 with a backdoor feed for David Krejci, but they couldn't force a tie to send the game to overtime. Should the Leafs hold on to win, not only would they reverse their two-year trend of losing in the first round of the playoffs, they would win a series for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

Avalanche extinguish Flames, win series with 5-1 victory

The upstart Avalanche had four players hit three points in their Friday night upset over the Flames. Mikko Rantanen continued his punishing pace with two goals in the game, including the opening and closing goals.

Colin Wilson also notched a two-goal night, and Philipp Grubauer held steady with 28 saves.

This is Colorado's first series win since the 2007-08 season, and the Flames became the second first seed to be knocked out of these playoffs, as the Tampa Bay Lightning were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier this week.

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How the Caps are staying confident despite a serious shift in series momentum

How the Caps are staying confident despite a serious shift in series momentum

ARLINGTON – Things have not gone well for the Capitals the last few days. After taking a 2-0 series lead over the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington saw that lead evaporate with two losses in Raleigh as they were outscored 7-1 and lost T.J. Oshie to injury. But even as the series momentum has taken a serious shift in Carolina’s favor, the mood in Washington remains calm.

“You know it’s playoffs,” Jakub Vrana said. “You can’t ever get too low or too high. We’re going to try to manage as best we can in the situation that we are right now.”

The underlying calm and confidence the Caps feel comes from past experience. Having always been the team that came up short in the playoffs, now Washington is the defending Stanley Cup champion, and it is not as if their path to the Cup was without its challenges.

“We understand what we went through last year,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “This is part of the experience. We went through some difficult times last year whether it was injuries or suspensions or being down in series, whether it was 0-2 or 3-2 in different series and battling through some tough times. We managed as a group to come through it.”

The Caps went down 0-2 in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets before rattling off four straight wins to advance. They lost three straight games to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final and faced elimination in both Game 6 and Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. They responded with two perfect games, shutting out the Lightning in both. Washington lost Game 1 in three out of four playoff series in 2018 and trailed at some point in all four.

And yet, they still came out on top in the end.

Amid those struggles were a number of key losses on the roster. In the decisive Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps were without Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovksy and Tom Wilson. Backstrom and Burakovsky were out injured while Wilson was suspended. The team will need to lean on that experience now with Oshie out indefinitely.

“Obviously, that’s something that you never want to have is one of your top players going down,” Chandler Stephenson said, “But it shows that last year we had guys coming in and pulling their weight and doing a little more and it helped us a lot. It gave us a little extra spark and it’s just more opportunity for everyone and I think we’re ready for it. It’s obviously motivation in itself to do it for Osh now, too.”

This time, the team will be looking for a spark from Devante Smith-Pelly, a playoff hero from 2018 who was recalled from the Hershey Bears on Friday in response to Oshie’s injury.

“Yeah, it’s tough to not have Osh right now,” Vrana said. “He’s been a big part of this team but it is what it is and we’re going to try to fill the spot as best we can.”

Even Nic Dowd, in his first season with Washington, can feel the confidence in the room.

“That is why they make it best-of-seven,” Dowd said. “This is my first time doing this, but I've played in a lot of playoff hockey before this, American League, college, stuff like that. I think the confidence hasn't changed. I think we still are a calm team. Our guys are going to be ready. Like I said, it is the Stanley Cup playoffs. Every team that is left is a good team and every team wants to win."

While there are no such things as moral victories in professional sports, that does not mean good things cannot come from losses. The Caps have not played their best hockey in any of the four games in the series. Perhaps two losses in Carolina will provide the wake-up call Washington needs.

“Maybe that spurs us on to a different level of play because we need a different level of play from everybody,” Reirden said. “They pushed back and now it's our turn to return the favor when they come into our building. We worked hard and played hard all year to have this opportunity to have home ice in this round. Now it's our chance to see it through. It's something that we're going to need everybody and everybody's top game. Credit to them that they've played well, but I also know that there's another level our team can get to.”

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