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Do Capitals need to win Penguins series to silence playoff criticism?

Do Capitals need to win Penguins series to silence playoff criticism?

PITTSBURGH – It’s a simple question with a very complicated answer: After winning the Presidents’ Trophy, do the Capitals need to win their second-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins to change the opinions of critics who believe anything short of an appearance in the Eastern Conference finals is considered a failure?

 “I don’t know how to answer that,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday as his team again sat on the brink of elimination, trailing the Penguins three games to two entering tonight’s crucial Game 6 at Consol Energy Center. “I think (defenseman) Karl Alzner said it best. Every group is a different group.

“Organizationally, we would want to so you wouldn’t ask me that question every time I come up here. Realistically, we just gotta win this game and worry about that.”

The Capitals believe they answered their critics with Saturday night’s 3-1 win over the Penguins at Verizon Center. But they also believe that was just another brick in a foundation that Trotz began laying at the start of last season.

“Our team played well when we had some pressure,” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Last game we showed it. We showed we have some trust in each other. The last game is over and tonight is going to be the biggest game of the year. We’re ready. We have (Brooks) Orpik back and it’s a good opportunity for us.”

Other than a potential Game 7 Thursday night at Verizon Center, there is nothing that can define the growth of the Capitals in the past two seasons under Trotz more than tonight’s game.

“We don’t know how the series is going to end, but we want to leave our best game out there,” Trotz said. “When our backs are against the wall a little bit we’ve been able to do that.

We don’t feel sorry for the position we’re in. We gotta get determined, come in here tonight and win a hockey game and see where that takes us.”

Tonight’s game is particularly important for Ovechkin, who desperately wants to shake the label  of never having played in a conference final.

“Right now I don’t think about that kind of stuff,” Ovechkin said.

To be fair, Ovechkin has left his mark on these playoffs, not to mention a few Flyers and Penguins along the way. Through 11 games he has five goals and five assists and ranks first among NHL players in shots (56) and third in hits (55). 

Evgeny Kuznetsov is still waiting to make his mark. After leading the Capitals and finishing seventh in the NHL with 77 points, the 23-year-old Russian has just one goal and one assist, along with a minus-4 rating in 11 playoff games.
“It’s not easy,” Kuznetsov said. “All I want is to win the game today. It doesn’t matter who scores. Maybe I score five goals. Maybe somebody else scores five. It doesn’t matter. We just need to win the game. Of course you want to score goals and make assists, but when you get older you understand if you do something good for the team goals and assists come.”

That has been the message Trotz has been trying to drive home for Kuznetsov since he took over as coach last season, their first full season in Washington. 

“I’ve talked to Kuzy all series and all year,” Trotz said. “He trusts his instincts and his ability. As a coach, you try to stay positive with all the good things he does with the puck, without the puck. You try to reinforce those habits and if you keep doing the right things over and over you break through. I liked his game last game, I thought he had a pretty good impact.”

Kuznetsov said he feels like he’s been improving each game, but unless he and his teammates can extend this series to a seventh game on Thursday, it might prove to be too little too late.

“You can see we are staying positive,” Kuznetsov said. “Before last game, we were down 3-1 and 75 percent of people said we are going to lose that game right? But no. There are lots of (fortitude) in this locker room, you know? Today we have to focus on one game.

“We’re not in the best position right now, but we’re still positive and you can see how guys smile. Not every team is smiling when they talk to media. We’re still positive because we trust in each other and we’re confident.” 

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Capitals vs. Rangers: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Capitals vs. Rangers: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Capitals (2-2-1) were dealt a herky-jerky schedule for the first month of the NHL season, already having logged two back-to-backs and two extended breaks.  But Washington finally gets a semblance of normalcy when they host the New York Rangers (2-4) on Wednesday night in the first of two home games before heading out west to end the month.

The Caps enter the Wednesday Night Hockey tilt with their longtime regional foes having dropped a thrilling weekend showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs and their high-powered attack. The Rangers have long been a thorn in the side of the Capitals and fans alike. But the team that will hit the ice at Capital One Arena on Oct. 17 will be one that Capitals need to dispatch of with ease.

The team's first foray into defending a championship has been a wild ride with ceremonies, openers, rematches and a lot of time off. After dropping the first three games of the season, New York has won two of its last three,  with both games needing extra time.

Here is everything you need to know about Capitals vs. Rangers which takes place at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.


What: Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers, Game 6 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: Wednesday, October 17 at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals vs. Rangers will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network. (NBC Sports Washington Channel Finder)

Live Stream: Watch Capitals vs. Rangers on  the NBC Sports Washington live stream page and  the NBC Sports MyTeams App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM


6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
7:00 PM: Capitals vs. Rangers on NBC Sports Network
9:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live
10:00 PM: Caps Overtime Live


Braden Holtby, G. Capitals: Holtby has started four of the Capitals' first five games. He's allowed just two goals in the Capitals' two wins, but has given up 11 in the two losses. That being said, the Rangers do not have the caliber of fire-power possessed by the Penguins and Maple Leafs. Expect a big game from "The HoltBeast."

Mats Zuccarello, Rangers: The Rangers savvy veteran leads the team in assists (5) and points (50 through the first six games. While he's not the most dangerous threat on offense, he's the table setter and crafty elder statesman. 


Number of all-time Meetings: 273

All-Time Series Record: Capitals lead series 131–117–18–7

Regular Season Record: Capitals lead series 103–90–18–7

Playoff Record: Capitals lead series 28-27

Last Meeting: Capitals beat Rangers 3-2 OT (3/28/2018)


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4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

4 things to watch as the Caps host the Rangers

The Caps return to action Wednesday as they host the New York Rangers (7 p.m., NBCSN) in a Metropolitan Division clash.

Here are four things you should be watching for in this game.

The schedule finally gives the Caps a break

The early season schedule for Washington has been bizarre to say the least. Finally, they will be catching a break on Wednesday as the Rangers will be playing in the second leg of a back-to-back.

That certainly does not guarantee a victory, but it is something the Caps are very aware of and they hope to take advantage.

“I think speed is a big part of the game and for them to be fatigued off the back-to-back is definitely going to help us whether we move the puck a little quicker than we would in other games just kind of knowing they are coming off that back-to-back,” Nathan Walker said.

“We've got to make them skate, we've got to make their D go back for pucks,” T.J. Oshie said. “I don't feel like they're going to look tired at the start of the game, usually that comes towards the end of the game, second half, and so you've got to work to drain them down a little bit and we've got to take advantage of that opportunity tonight.”

Top-line Stephenson

Stephenson was added to the top line on Saturday with no practice other than the morning skate that day. A few days between games has given him a chance to practice with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov and it should pay dividends on Wednesday.

This game also should be a good opportunity for Stephenson who was added to the top for his speed. Playing a tired Rangers team is something he will need to take advantage of.

“It's always tough to play back-to-back and with the travel and stuff like that,” Stephenson said. “For the most part, I think that that's going to be important and just to play a full 60, that's something that we want to get consistent with and we haven't been so far … But for the most part, I think the start will really help us tonight.”

Nathan Walker returns

The Caps made a change to the lineup for Wednesday’s game as Nathan Walker will be in for Dmitrij Jaskin on the fourth line.

When asked why he made the change, Reirden said, “Just a different look. A team that's on a back-to-back, we wanted to really come at them with some speed, tenacity and intensity that we know we always get from Nathan so thought it was a good add into tonight's lineup.

The Caps have got to get more offense from their bottom six and adding the speedy Walker to the bottom six could provide a boost. He has had trouble playing within the system in the past and his play has been more frenzied than controlled at times, but with Tom Wilson still suspended, there’s definitely an opportunity for Walker to earn more playing time depending on how he plays Wednesday.

King Henry remains on his throne

In addition to a tired Rangers team, the Caps are also expected to face a tired goalie.

Henrik Lundqvist started New York’s game on Tuesday and is expected to start again on Wednesday against Washington. That is not confirmed as the Rangers did not have a morning skate because of the back-to-back, but it is believed Lundqvist will play again.

There was a time when Lundqvist was considered the best netminder in the NHL and he is off to a phenomenal start this season with a 1.99 GAA and .939 save percentage in five games thus far.

But how will the 36-year-old goalie handle a back-to-back?