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Game 7: Caps ready for puck to drop


Game 7: Caps ready for puck to drop

Every kid who has ever held a hockey stick in his hand has imagined nights like tonight.

Game 7. A playoff season on the line. On quite possibly the biggest stage in the world.

At 7:30 p.m. tonight the lights will dim at Madison Square Garden, John Amirante will step onto the carpet for the national anthem and it will be difficult to keep your heart from jumping out of your chest.

You cant beat it, said Capitals left wing Jason Chimera when asked to describe the emotions that will fill every player before tonights seventh and deciding game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Capitals and New York Rangers.

The nervousness, the anxiety. You want to get out there and do some stuff. You want to prove yourself, get out there and help the team out as much as you can.

You know its on NBC, CBC and everyones going to be watching. Its in New York. You cant beat it. Its a big stage. Its fun. It sounds corny, but when youre a little kid you always dream of these moments and you dream that the pucks on your stick and youre scoring that goal. Its one of those games you could re-live a lot of dreams.

Game 7 has been a mixed bag for many of these Capitals. Since first making the playoffs in 2008, the core group of Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom has played in five Game Sevens and has won two.

In 2008, the Caps lost 3-2 in overtime at home against the Flyers. In 2009 they beat the Rangers at home 2-1 in Round 1, then lost Game 7 at home to the Penguins 6-2 in Round 2. The Caps also lost Game 7 at home to the Canadiens 2-1 in 2010. And on March 25 they beat the Bruins in Boston in Game 7 by a 2-1 score.

Theyve been on both sides of it, Chimera said. Youre not so nervous going into it. Thats a good thing. You can start a little better. Youre not just waiting to see what happens. Youre going to go get it instead of just wait around. So I think thats a big thing. Weve got to go get it. You cant just wait around for something to happen.

So how is a Game 7 different than any other playoff game?

Its much different because two teams know one is going to lose, the season is going to be over for them, said Ovechkin, who has two goals and two assists in five career Game Sevens. I hope luck is going to be on our side.

Ovechkin believes the Capitals experience with Game Sevens should allow them to embrace the pressure that comes with tonights game. The Capitals have not reached the third round of the playoffs since Ovechkins arrival.

Im going to enjoy it a lot, actually, he said. Its best time of the year right now. Were in the second round and we play against the New York Rangers in their home and its going to be fun and its going to be very important game for us. Were 100 percent in.

In their Game 7 against Boston, the Caps and Bruins played a very patient, methodical game before Joel Ward won it in overtime. Many expect a similar tight-checking game tonight against the Rangers.

Weve played 13 games absolutely the same way so a 14th game like the other ones would be pretty typical for us, Mike Knuble said. I think thats comforting us going into a Game 7, that you know how your team is going to play. There are no what ifs, theres no wondering or having to keep your fingers crossed. Its just go out and play and play the way we have been playing, get the final break and win the game.

Ward, who has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows during these playoffs, said that after two full days of talking hes ready to decide things on the ice.

Just drop the puck, he said. I think were just kind of a little bit antsy. We just want to get er going. We know what were up against. Its a building that weve been in before and were just excited for the opportunity that we have in front of us.

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Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

NBC Sports Washington

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.