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Caps winning with pack mentality

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Caps winning with pack mentality

On the same page.

Its one of the most overused clichs in sports and one that has made its way around the Capitals locker room the past three weeks.

What does it mean to a team that has made it to the second round of the playoffs for the third time in four years but has yet to go any further?

Maybe in the past we were on our own programs and this year were all on the same page, Capitals defenseman Mike Green said before catching a team flight to New York for Saturdays series opener against the Rangers (NBC, 3 p.m.). We all play the same and we utilize the system in place.

Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom says thats the difference between these Capitals and the team that knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs in five games last spring, only to be swept from the second round of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Capitals are still alive because they managed to beat the Boston Bruins four times without Alex Ovechkin scoring a goal in those wins. Twelve different Capitals scored in that series, including Game 7 contributions from Matt Hendricks and Joel Ward.

Everybodys important every game, Backstrom said. It doesnt matter who scores the goals. We know its going to be tough to score goals against the Rangers. We need to step up and we want to step up. It doesnt matter if youre on the first or the fourth line.

The reason, Green says, is coach Dale Hunter.

He hasnt strayed away from his game plan since Game 1, Hunter said, and you have to respect that.

In the Rangers, the Capitals are facing a team very much like themselves. The Rangers survived their first-round, seven-game series with Ottawa by outscoring the Senators 14-13. The Caps outlasted the Bruins in seven games by a 16-15 count

The Rangers led all NHL playoff teams with 159 blocked shots; the Caps were second with 139. The Caps were fifth in hits with 234; the Rangers were sixth with 228.

I think its going to be two teams out there just blocking shots, Backstrom said. And he wasnt smiling.

Hunter said the Rangers do such a good job of blocking shots he might advise his players to intentionally shoot the puck 10 feet wide of the net and look for caroms off the boards. And he was serious, too.

Its going to be a hard series for both teams, Ovechkin said. I hope theres going to be more space than against Boston.

Ovechkin said hes happy to get away from Bruins hard-hitting defensemen Zdeno Chara (6-foot-9, 255 pounds) and Dennis Seidenberg (6-foot-1, 210 pounds). Against the Rangers hes likely to go up against the top defensive pair of Dan Girardi (6-foot-1, 206 pounds) and Ryan McDonagh (6-foot-1, 216 pounds).

The Caps will also have to deal with Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, who missed last years playoffs with a broken ankle after blocking a shot by Chara. And theyll need to try to slow Brad Richards, who signed with the Rangers over the summer and led them in scoring in the first round with two goals and three assists.

But when asked about what comes to his mind when the words New York Rangers are mentioned, Ovechkin said very little about the teams personnel.

Next opportunity to move forward, he said. We know how they play and they know how we play.

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Summer of Ovi: Ovechkin teaches son Sergei how to walk during beach vacation

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Nastya Ovechkina Instagram

Summer of Ovi: Ovechkin teaches son Sergei how to walk during beach vacation

Despite how big and tough NHL players like Alex Ovechkin seem on the ice, this video is evidence that there is something softer underneath the jersey -- no matter how deep it is.

This video from Nastya Ovechkina's Instagram story shows her husband teaching their young son Sergei how to walk while they were hanging out on the beach.

This is a precious image, and it shows fans a side of the Capitals captain that they do not often get to see.

It will leave many wondering when Ovechkin will put Sergei in a pair of skates and send him out onto the ice.

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Caps GM Brian MacLellan addresses latest Andre Burakovsky trade rumors

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USATSI

Caps GM Brian MacLellan addresses latest Andre Burakovsky trade rumors

Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky dodges trade rumors like Indiana Jones escaped giant rolling stones.

When Burakovsky made it through the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline still with Washington it appeared he was here to stay a while longer. He even played better down the stretch. But that might not have been enough to save him. 

Multiple NHL sources said Wednesday that Burakovsky would likely be dealt at this weekend’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. There is no question he is drawing interest from teams around the league.  

“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,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said in a conference call on Thursday. “But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”

MacLellan, as blunt a general manager as there is in the NHL, might be employing semantics there. The Capitals are trying to get what they can and won’t undercut their own leverage by saying Burakovsky is out the door.

Burakovsky has frustrated coaches and executives alike in Washington. He flashes great potential and has the pedigree to be a solid middle-six forward. But he’s been stuck on 12 goals three years in a row and can’t seem to find a consistent role. Last year he was a healthy scratch six times. 

Injuries played some role in that in previous years. But Burakovsky hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunities, either. Yet he has also come up with some incredible goals. Three times he’s scored in a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. No one can forget his goals against Tampa Bay in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final that secured Washington’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final. He’s also entering his age-25 season and had 17 goals in his second season in the NHL. 

But with a $3.25 million qualifying offer due Monday and the salary cap possibly tighter than expected, Washington might not have a choice even if it has a last-second change of heart on trading Burakovsky. 

It’s not know exactly what kind of deal the Capitals are pursuing: A one-for-one deal with a player who has his own issues? A mix of draft picks and prospects who won’t contribute to a team in “win-now” mode? Washington could always pull back – as they did at the deadline. But without knowing what MacLellan feels he needs from a Burakovsky trade it’s hard to know what would give him another chance to stay.

MacLellan wouldn’t even commit to tendering Burakovsky that $3.25 million qualifying offer by Monday’s deadline. He said Washington will take a look at the salary cap once the NHL gets around to announcing it hopefully by Saturday at the draft. Then they’ll check back with the agents of all their RFAs – Jakub Vrana is safe - and decide how to proceed. 

But if they don’t qualify Burakovsky, the one other RFA they have the rights to who would draw interest around the league, he becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign anywhere. Hard to see how that benefits the Capitals to lose an asset they claim to value for nothing. Time is running short.

“Andre had a frustrating year this year, but I think he finished it up well,” MacLellan said. “I think from the trade deadline on, I thought he had a good playoffs. We like the player. There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player.”

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