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Leonhardt returns to Kettler

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Leonhardt returns to Kettler

It appears the Caps have dipped into their alumni pool once again. Mike Vogel, the team's senior writer, announced in his blog today that Brett Leonhardt, former web producervideo gurucohost of Pre Capman 2 in Two Man AdvantageDJback up goalie, will rejoin the team for the 2012-13 season as a video coach.

Leonhardt (AKA Stretch) will work with assistant coach Blaine Forsythe, who started his career with the Capitals as video coach in the 2006-07 season. Leonhardt worked in the Caps' front office from 2007-2011 before leaving the team and the world of online video entertainment to work in the NHL's hockey operations department in Toronto.

During his time in Washington, Leonhardt became a folk hero among Caps fans when the former NCAA goalie and occasional practice netminder inked a one-day contract in 2008. On December 13, Leonhardt played (sat) backup to then Caps goaltender Brent Johnson while the goalie formerly known as Simeon Varlamov rushed down from Hershey. The 6-foot-7, 26-year-old "Web guy" became a legend that fateful night and soon after Leonhardt jerseys began popping up throughout the Verizon center (sales that can partially be attributed to Leonhardt himself).

Less than a month after Stretch's day of infamy, I had the great pleasure of finding myself sitting in a cubicle next to number 80 as I began a graduate fellowship in the Caps' Web department. Stretch excelled at everything and was incredibly meticulous in his work, no matter how small or large the task. I feel privileged to have learned from someone as passionate and knowledgeable about the game as Leonhardt.

So on this day of welcoming him back to Kettler, I'll share my favorite Stretch moment with you all.

It was about a month or so into his retirement and Stretch continued to bask in the glory of his ten-minute backup career. While following Brett with video equipment through the concourse of the Verizon Center we would frequently be stopped so he could shake hands, kiss babies, sign Leonhardt jerseys and take photos with his adoring fans. Every local outlet wanted to interview him. He'd bought numerous replicas of his own jersey to give to friends and family for the holidays, and kept his original hanging and readily visible in front of his cubicle (he would later find a mannequin to use for display). The PR staff decided he needed to be taken down a peg.

One afternoon Leonhardt received a mysterious call from a lady claiming to be a producer at ESPN. She said that the big guys in Bristol were interested in casting him in a reality show. She left a random ESPN number and told him to call and ask for "Michelle". Leonhardt bit, hard.

He excitedly approached his bosses in the PR department asking for advise. They encouraged him to call back and find out more, immediately. As Stretch called and pleaded with the very confused and slightly weirded-out man who picked up on the other end at ESPN's headquarters, numerous staffers in the front office gathered around to listen. After several minutes of flustered questioning, Leonhardt looked up to see his coworkers' bemused faces and knew that he'd been duped.

Later, to get the pro-Sparty mastermind of the prank back, I was recruited to help Stretch plaster a certain office in Michigan colors and posters.

So welcome back, Stretch. Here's to your new career in hockey opps. Hopefully time has made you less gullible, and a more creative payback artist.

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3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

3 stars of the game: Caps save their season in physical win over Lightning

This one is going to go the distance.

The Washington Capitals staved off elimination on Monday with a 3-0 Game 6 win to force a Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Andrei Vasilevskiy looked unbeatable for much of the game, but T.J. Oshie finally got one past the Lightning netminder on the Caps' first power play since the second period of Game 4. Devante Smith-Pelly finished them off with a third-period tally.

Game 7 will be on Wednesday with a spot in the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

Here are the three stars of Game 6.

1.  T.J. Oshie: Oshie scored the goal that saved Washington's season.

The Caps were doing everything right, but they just could not get one past Vasilevskiy. Finally, Oshie struck with a one-timer from the high-slot that just managed to beat Vasilevskiy.

Oshie also added an empty-netter to ice the game away.

We will never know how close frustration came to really wearing down Washington, but it probably came closer than you think. Just seconds before Oshie's goal, John Carlson rang a blistering slap shot off the inside of the post. It was so close, the horn went off briefly, but play continued. Had Washington not been able to finish off the power play, would they have recovered or would Vasilevskiy officially have Halaked them?

2. Andrei Vasilevskiy: Don't let the score fool you, Vasilevskiy was absolutely brilliant. He really stood out in the first period when he denied great chances again and again to keep the score locked at 0-0. You knew he was on his game when he denied a great chance from Alex Ovechkin from the slot with the blocker. His best save, however, was saved for Evgeny Kuznetsov when he was on the ice and desperately extended the arm just in time to deny Kuznetsov.

Vasilevskity made a total of 32 saves in the losing effort.

3. Braden Holtby: Though he was not tested as much as his counterpart, Holtby was equally as brilliant in his 24 save performance for his fifth career playoff shutout.

The Lightning made a real push in the second and third period and some key saves by Holtby ensured the Caps did not give up the first goal or the game-tying one. The most critical save came on Anthony Cirelli in the second period with the game still tied at 0-0. A Lightning 2-on-1 resulted with Cirelli coming in all alone on Holtby, but the Caps' netminder just managed to extend the toe for the save.

Smith-Pelly had seven goals in the regular season. he has four in the playoffs. Smith-Pelly put the exclamation point on the game with his third period goal to extend the Caps' lead to 2-0.  He was set up by a phenomenal pass by Chandler Stephenson.

It was clear from the outset that the Caps wanted to be very physical in this game and Smith-Pelly really took that message to heart with 

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Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Burakovsky is back in for Game 6

Coach Barry Trotz indicated that Andre Burakovsky’s benching wouldn’t last long.

And it didn’t.

The 23-year-old winger will return to the lineup on Monday night as the Caps look to stave off elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final.

During the morning skate, Burakovsky skated on the third line with Lars Eller and Brett Connolly—a trio that’s enjoyed some success in the past.

It’s been a difficult postseason for Burakovsky, who has not recorded a point in six games. He missed 10 contests after suffering a hand injury in Game 2 of the first round that required minor surgery.

What he found out upon returning was this: coming back from injury in the regular season is hard...and it’s exponentially tougher in the playoffs.

“It’s definitely tough to jump in in the semifinal,” he said. “When you’re out, you just want to get in and help the team and do what you’re good at—score goals and produce.”

“What I realized is that it’s not that easy,” he added. “I really thought I could jump in and just play like I did before I got injured. 

But obviously it didn’t work out as well I thought it would.”  

Burakovsky also said that he’s planning to work with a sports psychologist this summer in an effort to maintain an even keel when things aren’t going as well as he would like. It’s a problem that he said he’s struggled with since his childhood.

Asked what he hopes to see from Burakovsky in Game 6, Coach Barry Trotz kept it simple: offense.

The Caps have scored just two goals in each of the last three games, with Evgeny Kuznetsov contributing 50-percent of that total.

“He’s a guy that’s given us some good offense all through his time here,” Trotz said of Burakovsky. “We think that he can add some of that.”

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