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Caps Primer: Be the best? Beat the best


Caps Primer: Be the best? Beat the best

NEW YORK -- News, notes and quotes as the Caps and Rangers get ready to tee it up in one of the most anticipated Game 7s in Capitals history tonight at 7:30 at Madison Square Garden [6-:30 p.m. pregame, CSN]:

Best night in hockey: Is there anything better in sports than a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs?

Caps left wing Jason Chimera doesn’t think so.

“If you don’t [cherish this] you don’t have a heartbeat,” he said. “This is what you want to play for. You play street hockey and play Game 7s in your mind. If you can’t have fun with this you’ve got something wrong with you.”

Forget history: The Caps have heard nothing but negative numbers leading up to tonight’s games. About how they are 3-5 in Game 7s in the Alex Ovechkin era. About how Henrik Lundqvist has won five consecutive Game 7s. About how they are 0-4 when blowing a 3-1 series lead to force a Game 7. Quite frankly, they’re tired of it.

“History is history,” Chimera said. “That’s why they call it history. We’ve got to make new history.”


Been here, done this: Since the Caps and Rangers met in the first round of the 2009 playoffs, five players have played in all 32 playoff games between the to teams: Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and defenseman Dan Girardi and Capitals forwards Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and caps defenseman Mike Green. Rangers defenseman Mark Staal and Caps forward Brooks Laich have been with their teams since then but missed payoff games games because of injury.

Lineup change? The Caps are expected to start tonight’s game with the same forward lines and defense pairings that ended Game 6. That means Marcus Johansson should begin Game 7 on a top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but don’t be surprised if Tom Wilson isn’t given a shot on that top line.

Game 7 hero? Who will be the hero of Game 7?

“That’s just a great question,” Brooks Laich said with a smile. “I have an opinion, but I’m going to keep that to myself.”

“It’s not going to be one person that wins this,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s going to be everyone doing the exact same thing right.”

Joel Ward, who scored the game-winning goal in Boston in overtime three years ago, said several factors can play into how a hero become a hero.

“I don’t know what to say, just have fun,” Ward said. “You don’t put any pressure on yourself. You’ve just got to go out there and have fun. Just embrace the moment and shoot pucks, chip it in, get in front of the goalie. A lot of guys step up in different ways. It’s not always making the last shot. Sometimes it’s the guy who sets the pick or the guy that creates the turnover. That’s why I think hockey is the ultimate team game.”

Beating the best: To get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, the Capitals will need to beat a goalie [Henrik Lundqvist] who has won nine straight elimination games and is the only goaltender in NHL history to win five straight Game 7s. Lundqvist has an 0.80 goals-against average in his last five Game 7s, allowing four goals in five games.

“As a player you want to play in these moments when the game is on the line and your season is on the line and show what you’re made of,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneaul said. “There’s no doubt Hank loves these situations and I think the rest of our group also does.

“We were less than a couple of minutes away from our season being over [the Caps led 1-0 with 1:41 remaining in Game 5] and we found a way to survive. We found a way to win in Washington [in Game 6] and we want it to continue. We’ll give it our best shot tonight.”

Power outage: The Caps are 1-for-12 on the power play against the Rangers and are 0-for-10 in the past five games. The Rangers have essentially taken away Ovechkin in the left circle by playing him man-to-man.
“I can’t really tell you because that wouldn’t be really smart on my part,” Caps coach Barry Trotz said of adjustments he’ll need to make. “You don’t have to make sweeping adjustments but you have to make some.”
Could the Caps try Mike Green on the top unit? Could he replace Troy Brouwer in the diamond with Joel Ward or Jason Chimera?

Ovi time: After making a bold prediction the Caps would come back to win the series following Sunday night’s loss in Game 6, Alex Ovechkin sat out Wednesday’s morning skate and will be the focus of attention tonight.

“Big game, big-time player,” Trotz said of his 29-year-old captain. “I expect him to have a big game. I said earlier this year, it seems like the bigger the stage and the bigger the moment Ovi seems to rise. He’s done that all year and I expect that tonight.”

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Newest Caps defenseman Radko Gudas happy for a fresh start in D.C.

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Newest Caps defenseman Radko Gudas happy for a fresh start in D.C.

Radko Gudas was surprised, but also relieved. A different year in Philadelphia, where everything seemed to go wrong for the Flyers, is behind him now. He plays for the Capitals now. 


“I was a little bit shocked to be honest,” Gudas said in a conference call on Tuesday. “But when I heard where I'm going, I was pretty happy that I got traded to a team that's well known for their winning and their will to win every game they play.”


It capped a whirlwind few days for the 29-year-old, a polarizing figure in the sport along the lines of Washington forward Tom Wilson. Gudas has been suspended four times by the NHL Department of Player Safety. To say he plays the game on the edge is an understatement.


“Staying on right line of suspensions: It's always tough lately in the hockey these last few years,” Gudas said. “I worked on it in the summer and I thought I adjusted the game enough to still be able to play physical, just not be a liability out there for my team. It's always something hard to adjust, but we still have to do it. It's our job.”


In the midst of a rough year for Philadelphia that saw a coach firing and a late playoff surge fall short, Gudas took advantage of increased ice time – and cut his penalty minutes to 63 from a high of 116 when he joined the Flyers four years earlier. He will never be a big offensive threat, but he’s figured out how to suppress shots and play a reliable defensive game.


At a friend’s wedding in the Czech Republic on Friday when he got the news, Gudas received messages from his new teammates and wasn’t even sure who, exactly, of the Capitals coaches he spoke with. There was a lot going on. But he’s excited to play “for a well oiled machine” like Washington, which has its 2018 Stanley Cup and has won the Metropolitan Division four years in a row. 


Gudas knows fellow Washington defenseman Michal Kempny, 29, well. The two men were born just three months apart in 1990 and were teammates on the World Juniors under-18 Czech Republic team in 2008. They reconnected in 2017 for the Czech Republics’ entry in the IIHF World Championships. Jakub Vrana, 23, is a third Czech on one of the NHL’s most diverse rosters and played with Gudas at the 2019 World Championships. Kempny was still recovering from a torn hamstring sustained during the regular season. 


That familiarity is nice, but Gudas has been traded before when Tampa Bay sent him to Philadelphia in 2015. You just adjust to the role given with your new team. He’s ready for a fresh start with the Capitals. 


“They’re the winners from last year, they were the contenders this year,” Gudas said. “They always have a good team. They in the playoffs every year all these years. Play my simple game, the guys to know what to expect for me and know I’ll be there for them.”

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Capitals Talk hosts "Capitals On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

Capitals Talk hosts "Capitals On the Clock" special: How to watch, live stream, listen

With the NHL Draft just a few days away in Vancouver and after countless mock drafts, NBC Sports Washington will have you covered as the Capitals decide who to take with the 25th overall pick.

As part of NBC Sports Washington's coverage of the NHL Draft, the Capitals Talk Podcast will host 'Capitals On the Clock: Draft Night' on linear television and as a live stream on the NBC Sports MyTeams app.

Capitals Talk will sit down with Rob Carlin, Grant Paulsen, Al Koken, Michael Jenkins, J.J. Regan and Brian McNally to discuss the Capitals the 2019 Draft. They'll be joined by Zack Fisch, Manager of Media Relations & Broadcasting with the Hershey Bears, who will shed light on who's ready to make the jump from the AHL to the NHL.

The live stream will also include an NHL and Capitals Draft trivia segment which fans will be able to play along with.

And if you haven't already downloaded the MyTeams App, you can do so right now, RIGHT HERE.

Capitals Talk Podcast "Capitals on the Clock" Special

When: 8 p.m. Friday June 21

Where: NBC Sports Washington and NBC Sports MyTeams App