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Caps take stranglehold of the division with physical win over Columbus

Caps take stranglehold of the division with physical win over Columbus

Final score: Washington Capitals 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

How it happened: After a scoreless first period, T.J. Oshie and Andre Burakovsky scored 1:44 apart in early in the second to give the Caps a 2-0 lead. Matt Niskanen would add a third goal later in the period to give Washington a commanding lead through 40 minutes. Jack Johnson scored a beauty in the third to put some life into Columbus. Then the fisticuffs happened. After taking a few rabbit punches from Josh Anderson, Alex Ovechkin threw a few punches of his own and line brawl broke out. Kyle Quincey scored to pull Columbus within one with just under five minutes remaining, but Washington held on for the 3-2 win.

What it means: The win gives Washington a five-point lead in the Metropolitan Division over Pittsburgh and a six-point lead over Columbus. All three teams have four games remaining.

Goals

Caps goal: T.J. Oshie from Nicklas Backstrom at 1:12 in the 1st period. A long breakout pass from Backstrom went deep into Columbus’ zone. Oshie retrieved it from the right circle then cut inside and backhanded the shot past Bobrovsky. Caps 1, Blue Jackets 0

Caps goal: Andre Burakovsky from Lars Eller and Kevin Shattenkirk at 2:56 in the 2nd period. Eller entered the zone with the puck, but was forced to the outside. He took the puck around behind the net then pulled off a sweet little spin-around pass to Burakovsky who hit the top corner or the net. Caps 2, Blue Jackets 0

Caps goal: Matt Niskanen from Andre Burakovsky at 10:05 in the 2nd period. Burakovsky intercepted a pass from the point in the defensive zone and it was off to the races. Niskanen jumped into the play and received the great pass from Burakovsky and was able to shoot it home. Caps 3, Blue Jackets 0

Blue Jackets goal: Jack Johnson from Alexander Wennberg and Sam Gagner at 9:22 in the 3rd period. Johnson scored a highlight reel goal to get Columbus on the board. As he carried the puck into the offensive zone he easily deked John Carlson, then pulled off a curl and drag past Tom Wilson before beating Holtby down low with the shot. Caps 3, Blue Jackets 1

Blue Jackets goal: Kyle Quincey from Sam Gagner and Brandon Saad at 15:33 in the 3rd period. Saad kicked the puck up to the point and Quincey fired a slap shot that took a couple of bounces on its way into the back of the net. Caps 3, Blue Jackets 2

3 stars

1. Braden Holtby: In a battle between two of the top netminders in the NHL, Holtby stole the show. He turned aside 34 shots including one with just three seconds remaining to hold on to the one-goal lead.

2. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky scored Washington's second goal to give the Caps control of the game in the second period. He also set up the third goal with a great steal and a great pass to find the open Niskanen.

3. Jack Johnson: Give him credit, that was a beautiful goal and it breathed life into a Blue Jackets team that looked defeated at that point.

Look ahead: The Caps wrap up their five-game road trip on Tuesday in Toronto. They then return home on Wednesday to host the New York Rangers and wrap-up the regular season with another back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday in Boston and then at home against Florida.

Tell us what you think: With the win, the magic number for Washington to clinch the Metropolitan Division is four. Did this win seal the deal for the Caps or will Pittsburgh and Columbus continue to challenge Washington?

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Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s semifinal matchup:

Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

2018-19 stats

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Carl Gunnarsson (32 years old): 25 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, 15:15 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 14:57 TOI, won Stanley Cup

Hockey-Graph contract projections 

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

Carl Gunnarsson: 1 year, $731,159 cap hit

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Maybe Andre Burakovsky’s qualifying offer of $3.25 million means he’s back with the Capitals for another year. But it doesn’t preclude a trade and in Donskoi you’d have a similar option at a cheaper price, which matters if you only have $9.2 million in cap space left for now.

Donskoi made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. He can go up and down the lineup and had a consistency to his game that Burakovsky at times lacks. Donskoi’s stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset. Either way, depth scoring is important and a priority for the Capitals. 

Donskoi has every bit the Stanley Cup playoff experience as Burakovsky does if that matters to you. Donskoi has nine goals and 12 assists in 50 playoff games and Burakovsky has nine goals and nine assists in 56 playoff games. Not much to chose between the team except Donskoi would be cheaper if Washington decided to trade Burakovsky. 

The case for Carl Gunnarsson

The Caps will need a No. 6/7 defenseman after Brooks Orpik retired on Tuesday. Yes, they gave a qualifying offer to RFA defenseman Christian Djoos and they have Jonas Siegenthaler under contract, too. Both are natural left side defensemen. Going with the kids is an option. But both of them? That becomes problematic when someone gets hurt in your top two pairings and players have to bump up. 

Gunnarsson was the hero of the “Boston Pee Party” when he scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final after declaring to head coach Craig Berube at the urinal he just needed one more opportunity. Gunnarsson had just seven points in the regular season so no one should expect a ton of offense, but the point is he delivered when it mattered most.

When he is not playing the overtime hero, he is a third-pairing, stay at home defenseman who can play on the penalty kill which is pretty much exactly what the Caps need in a depth defenseman.

Take a look at Gunnarsson’s contract projection. You can’t beat that price. Sure, those projections came out before he won the Stanley Cup, but even if his price goes up, it will not be significant. You’re tinkering at the margins of the roster here and championship experience matters. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

The Capitals tendered qualifying offers to six of their seven restricted free agents at Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, including forward Andre Burakovsky. 

Burakovsky, 24, had been the subject of trade rumors up until the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25 and also in the days leading up to last week’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. Nothing came of them. Washington general manager Brian MacLellan made it clear that while teams were calling, he wasn’t about to just give away a 2013 first-round draft pick. 

“We like the player. There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player,” MacLellan said last Thursday. “We'd like to keep him around but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him. But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”

But the Capitals are still in a salary cap crunch and that could still land Burakovsky elsewhere in the coming days. His qualifying offer is $3.25 million. Washington is only $9.235 million below the salary cap of $81.5 million. If Burakovsky signs, he would provide scoring depth. He has a career-high 17 goals and has scored 12 each of the past two seasons.

The Capitals do need to see more from Burakovsky. He has struggled with confidence and consistent production over the years. But if he returns, he would be a good option to replace the expected-to-depart Brett Connolly at right wing on the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Connolly is an unrestricted free agent and likely out of Washington’s price range. 

By tendering a qualifying offer, the Capitals ensure that they will keep Burakovsky’s rights. If they had not then he’d be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team. That’s not a smart use of an asset that could still help in 2019-20. They could, of course, still trade him at any time. 

Meanwhile, forward Dmitry Jaskin was not tendered a qualifying offer. He is a free agent now. Jaskin never gained the trust of the coaching staff last season. He appeared in just 37 games despite analytics that showed he had a positive impact on the fourth line. Jaskin picked up on waivers from the St. Louis Blues in October, had two goals and four assists. He did not play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Winger Jakub Vrana also received a qualifying offer, but that’s not expected to matter much as the two sides try to put together a long-term contract extension after his breakthrough 24-goal season in his second NHL year. 

The Capitals did tender a qualifying offer to defenseman Christian Djoos. An ugly thigh injury that turned into compartment syndrome and limited him to 45 games. But with Brooks Orpik retiring on Tuesday, Washington could go with Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler as their No. 6/7 defensemen on their natural left sides. 

Fourth-line winger Chandler Stephenson also received his qualifying offer. AHL Hershey forward Colby Williams and goalie Vitek Vanacek also received qualifying offers from Washington.  

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