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Caps' recent dominance fueled by a sense of urgency over closing championship window

Caps' recent dominance fueled by a sense of urgency over closing championship window

The Capitals have not just been beating teams lately, they’ve been destroying them.

Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings marked Washington’s 15th win in their last 18 games. In that stretch, the Caps have scored five or more goals 11 times and allowed two goals or fewer 11 times. They have chased six goalies since the start of the calendar year.

When you look at what they’ve done at home, it’s even more dominant. In their last eight home games, Washington has scored at least five goals in each game and have outscored opponents 43-11.

Marcus Johansson credited that killer instinct to “the competiveness in the whole group. No one’s satisfied. We want to keep going. We want to show that we’re a great team and what we can do.

“That’s a good mentality we have in here and that’s what’s taken us here.”

RELATED: Caps demolish Kings on Super Bowl Sunday

But that killer instinct does not just carry over from game to game. It reflects the mentality this team has regarding the entire season.

The Caps were the best team in the NHL last season and cruised its way to a Presidents’ Trophy. But once again, they fell woefully short of expectations in the playoffs, losing in the second round to the rival Pittsburgh Penguins.

That’s a lesson this team has not forgotten and, though it may not be explicitly stated, the newcomers to the group can certainly feel that competitiveness driving the team.

“They definitely know when the time of the year is to win games,” Brett Connolly said. “We're obviously winning a lot of games right now, but guys know that we've got to keep playing well and keep winning games at the right time of the year.”

“I've played on other teams where you could win three, four in a row, then you could get maybe a little satisfied and feel too good about yourself,” Lars Eller said. “It doesn't seem like this team is sitting back and feeling too good about themselves because they just keep going.”

Usually when teams go on lengthy win streaks, their first loss leads to a prolonged losing streak. After things had been going so well for so long, teams begin to get careless and struggle to adjust when the pucks aren’t going their way anymore.

The Philadelphia Flyers followed up a 10-game win streak earlier in the season by losing 12 of their next 15 games. The Columbus Blue Jackets have gone 6-8-1 after a 16-game win streak.

How did Washington respond when their nine-game win streak was ended in overtime by the Pittsburgh Penguins? With three straight wins and a 7-2-0 record in their next nine.

Clearly, this team is not taking its foot off the gas for anything right now.

But there’s something else that may be fueling the players, something that the Capitals have never faced in the Alex Ovechkin era: A sense of urgency.

This is year two of the “two-year window” as famously proclaimed by general manager Brian MacLellan. Alex Ovechkin is 31 years old and the team has a number of contracts set to expire at the end of the season including Connolly, T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Daniel Winnik, Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, Nate Schmidt and Philipp Grubauer.

While some of those free agents are restricted and are unlikely to go anywhere, the money it will take to re-sign them will not leave enough to keep others. This team is going to look very different next season and the players know it.

“The guys know that this group here, it's not going to be like this next year,” Connolly said. “It's kind of, this is the year where either we do it or we don't.”

It’s that unspoken understanding that may be fueling the team in its recent dominant stretch. The question is, will it continue to fuel them in the spring when it matters most?

MORE CAPITALS: Oshie destroys Budaj's water bottle

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6 things to know for Caps-Bruins: Clash of the titans

6 things to know for Caps-Bruins: Clash of the titans

The Capitals (22-5-5) return to the ice Wednesday looking to erase Monday's ugly loss. A win against the Boston Bruins (20-5-6) certainly would go a long way towards erasing the memory of that loss. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for pregame coverage starting with Caps FaceOff Live at 6 p.m. followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. bringing you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop on NBCSN. Tune back to NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here's what you need to know for Wednesday's game.

No line changes

Monday was a tough loss, but when you have been playing as well as the Caps are there is no reason to overreact. Based on the morning skate there were no line changes from Monday's game.

Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

Braden Holtby starts

A battle of the top teams

This game will feature the top two teams in the league according to the standings. Washington sits atop the NHL with 49 points while the Bruins sit just behind them with 46. Boston has a game in hand so while a loss for the Caps tonight would not technically drop them to second place, it would give Boston the inside track on passing them in the near future.

You are going to hear the phrase "measuring stick" a lot before and after this game.

Forget about Monday

Washington dropped Monday's game 5-2 at home to Columbus. Yikes. That is not the way you want to go into a big matchup, but hey, the Bruins are in the same boat. Boston lost on Monday 5-2 to the Ottawa Senators so both teams are coming into this game off a bad loss.

When last we met

The Caps and Bruins met once this season already back on Nov. 16 in a game that would result in a crazy shootout victory for Washington.  T.J. Oshie scored a last-minute goal to tie the game in regulation and Jakub Vrana would win it in a shootout with this absolute gem:

You can read more on that game here.

Pastrnak may end Ovechkin's Rocket Richard run

Ovechkin has won the last two Rocket Richard Trophies as the league's top goal scorer and six of the last seven. David Pastrnak may finally end that run this season. Pastrnak currently leads the league with 25 goals. He hit 25 goals in his 27th game which made some wonder if he could hit the fabled 50 in 50 mark, but he currently finds himself in a four-game goalless drought, his longest drought of the season.

Ovechkin sits second with 21 so he remains well within striking distance.

The Caps have owned the Bruins lately

Washington lost to Boston on Feb. 3, 2019. That was the first time the Bruins had beaten the Caps since 2014. Washington has completely owned Boston in this matchup with the Caps winning 15 of the last 16 games they have played one another. While Tuukka Rask may be one of the top netminders in the league, Washington sure seems to have his number. He is a woeful 2-11-5 against the Caps with a .889 save percentage and 3.10 GAA.

That probably is why Washington played Jaroslav Halak the last time they met and why Halak will be getting the start again on Wednesday.

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Lars Eller thought Tuukka Rask's post-scrimmage freakout was over the top, but he gets it

Lars Eller thought Tuukka Rask's post-scrimmage freakout was over the top, but he gets it

Losing sucks. Just ask Tuukka Rask.

During a Bruins' intra-squad scrimmage Tuesday at Capitals' MedStar Iceplex, Rask's team lost and he lost his mind.

Smashing his stick over the crossbar six times and throwing the pieces around the ice as the winning team celebrated just feet away, Rask left it all on the ice, literally.

“I don’t know what to comment on that," Lars Eller said laughing on The Sports Junkies Wednesday.

“I’ve seen goalies occasionally smash their stick, break it, usually once, maybe once across the crossbar but not like that many times. But competitive people are competitive, even in practice.”

Here's to hoping Rask has cooled off before the Caps' Wednesday night game against the Bruins!

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