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Caps' Sanford snipes another, makes strong case to stay in the lineup

Caps' Sanford snipes another, makes strong case to stay in the lineup

Zach Sanford is playing like a guy who doesn’t want to come out of the lineup.

Or head back to Hershey, for that matter.

One game after scoring his first NHL goal, the Capitals rookie got another in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss in Detroit. At times, in fact, Sanford was Washington’s most effective forward as he racked up a career-high three shots on goal.

And like his milestone tally a week ago—the game-winner in a wild 6-4 victory over the Ducks—Sanford’s goal against the Red Wings was also a big one.

The Caps, fresh off their five-day bye, had been scuffling for much of the game when Sanford struck late in the second period to trim Washington’s deficit to 2-1.

The play began with Lars Eller gathering a loose puck in neutral ice and then flicking a backhanded saucer pass right onto Sanford’s stick blade. Sanford took it from there, ripping a shot through Thomas Vanek and past Petr Mrazek’s blocker.

“It was a turnover by them that Lars was able to pick it up,” Sanford said of the goal. “It actually happened the same way as my first goal last weekend. Nice pass by Lars. I was just trying to get off quick and it found its way through.”

Sanford’s first pro season has, on occasion, been a trying one for the Boston College product. He started the season in Washington, but managed just a single assist in his first 19 games before being sent to the minors to get more playing time and, just as important, regain his confidence. He was recalled for one game in mid-December, but again he went without a point and skated fewer than 10 minutes.

The 22-year-old’s latest stint in Washington, however, has gone much differently.

Against Anaheim, Sanford wasn’t having his best game through the first two periods. But then it happened: Brett Connolly fed him the puck in the waning moments of a tied game…and he snapped it into the net for his first NHL goal.

For Sanford, it was both a relief as well as confirmation that he can produce at this level.

After that game—the Caps’ last before the bye—Sanford was sent back to Hershey. He took the demotion in stride, traveled to Bridgeport, Conn., and less than 24 hours later was the Bears’ best player, registering two goals and four shots on net.

When the Caps returned to action on Friday, he and fellow prospect Jakub Vrana were both recalled for the trip to Detroit and New York. Coach Barry Trotz decided that Sanford had earned the right to suit up against the Red Wings, but the coach also indicated that he would chose between Sanford and Vrana on a day-to-day basis.

Trotz said he doesn’t consider the two to be in competition as the team seeks a long term replacement for Andre Burakovsky, who is out until mid to late March with a broken hand. But judging by Sanford’s hustle in Detroit, he certainly sees it that way.

Assuming Sanford is back in the lineup Sunday at Madison Square Garden, he said he expects the Caps to put forth a crisper, more consistent effort against the Rangers after slogging through a slow start Saturday at The Joe.

“Four or five days off is definitely tough to come back from in the middle of the season with just one practice,” he said. “But getting a game under our belt today was good for us. I think we’ll be back to our normal legs tomorrow.”

Related: Caps rusty coming off bye week, fall to last-place Red Wings

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line


Capitals Faceoff Podcast: A trip to the Stanley Cup Final is on the line

The Eastern Conference Final is going the distance!

After losing three straight to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Capitals won Game 6 to force a Game 7 in Tampa Bay. Can the Caps beat the Lightning one more time and advance to the Stanley Cup Final?

JJ Regan, Tarik El-Bashir and special guest cameraman Mike D break it all down.


PLEASE NOTE: Due to schedule and time constraints, this podcast was recorded by phone and the audio quality is not up to our usual standards.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

Caps push Lightning around in Game 6 with physical game plan

As the NHL continues to focus more on speed and skill, the Capitals took a very old-school approach to Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. From the moment the puck dropped until the clock hit zero, it was clear Washington came into Monday with a very physical game plan.

"It made a big difference," T.J. Oshie said. "I think in these games, everyone’s bringing energy and you kind of want to control that and direct it towards some positive play, some momentum building for your team, and tonight I think we handled that and did that pretty well."

"We just wanted to throw everything we had at them," Stephenson said. "It was a do or die game and we don't want our season to end."

It worked.

The scoresheet officially credited the Caps with 39 hits for the game. The Lightning had only 19. The physical play seemed to wear down Tampa Bay as the game went on.

After an even first period, Washington took a 1-0 lead in the second. Then, very fittingly, a physical fourth line extended that lead to 2-0 in the third to finish the Lightning off.

"All of a sudden now we turn a puck over, you’re back in your end, they’re feeling it, they’re being physical, crowd’s behind them and we’re spending way too much time in our D zone," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. "That’s what hurt us."

What made it so effective was the fact that the entire team bought into it. Alex Ovechkin was certainly the most noticeable player as he threw himself around like a wrecking ball against everyone wearing a white jersey. But it was not just his line. Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik each led the team with six hits, Devante Smith-Pelly recorded five of his own while Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both had four.

The Lightning faced a constant barrage from the Caps from every line and defensive pair. There was no respite.

The hits also gave the fans plenty to cheer for.

The Caps were playing an elimination game at home and Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was standing on his head. Even with the score locked at 0-0 through the first period, the crowd was still very much into the game. There was no apprehension, there was no quiet tension. There was just a loud crowd cheering on its team.

"[The fans] were loud right from the start, which I think we fed off of and wanted to give them something back," Brooks Orpik said. "We didn't get a goal early. I think some of the physical play kind of helped carry that. They were great for us."

Now in the third round of the playoffs after six intense games between the Caps and Lightning, the hope is that Game 6's physical play will continue to take its toll on Tampa Bay heading into Game 7.

"We need to do that every game," Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's our forecheck. Hopefully, we can keep it going here in Game 7."