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To make history, Caps must learn from it


To make history, Caps must learn from it

If the Capitals are going to make some history in these Stanley Cup playoffs, they are going to have to overcome some of their own.

Ten times in their playoff history the Caps have trailed a best-of-seven series three games to two. Eight times they were on the wrong end of the handshake line, losing Game 6 five times and Game 7 three times.

But that also means that twice they managed to fight back to win.

They did it in 1988 when a gritty center named Dale Hunter beat Philadelphia goaltender Ron Hextall in overtime of Game 7 to erase a 3-1 series deficit. And they did it in 2009 when Sergei Fedorov beat a guy named Henrik Lundqvist with the Game 7 winner, which also erased a 3-1 series deficit against the Rangers.

Can these Capitals carve their own path immortality after Monday nights crushing 3-2 overtime loss at Madison Square Garden. Can they rebound from a game in which the Rangers snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with 6.6 seconds remaining in regulation and Joel Ward anguishing in the penalty box?

Were about to find out.

We dont change, Brooks Laich said Tuesday when asked about the Capitals mindset heading into Wednesday nights win-or-go-golfing Game 6 at the Verizon Center.

We keep moving forward. Would we have liked to have Game 5? Sure. But I think we played a good game. We were six seconds away from winning. Well rebound and bounce back tomorrow.

The Caps have given no reason to doubt they will. After each of their five playoff losses this spring, they have come back to win the next game. Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby has gone 27 straight NHL games without suffering consecutive losses.

If there is one thing you can say about the Capitals in the post-season its that they have become predictable. Eleven of their 12 playoff games have been decided by one goal, so there is no evidence to suggest Wednesday nights game will be a blowout by either team.

Laich said the reason for the consistency is the newfound demeanor of the team.

I just think we control our emotions a little better, he said. Even when we win were not bouncing off the ceiling; its more of a business atmosphere. And when we lose we know we can bounce back. Were never too high, never too low. Were pretty composed.

How much of that comes from the man behind the bench, who played in 186 career Stanley Cup playoff games?

A lot of that comes from Dale, Laich said. Look at his comments after Mondays game. Hes not panicked. Stuff happens. Good breaks, bad breaks. Its how you react to it. Weve been down before and come back. We approach tomorrow the way we always do, like its one hockey game.

Laich wasnt alone in his resolve. Teammates Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik and Nicklas Backstrom all used the phrase hockey play, a Hunterism used so often by the head coach that it draws chuckles from the media.

The Capitals spent Tuesday breaking down video from Tuesday nights game, but they didnt rewind the Rangers game-tying and game-winning goals in super slow motion to see just how close Holtby was to covering the puck before Brad Richards whacked in the game-tying goal. Or how close Laich and Matt Hendricks were to blocking Marc Staals game-winning shot. Or how close Backstrom was to giving the Caps a 3-1 lead on a backhander that grazed off Henrik Lundqvists arm and off the crossbar.

Thats for us to agonize over.

It is what it is, Green said. Thats playoff hockey. The urgency and mentality and focus are still the same for Game 6.

You just need to refocus and make sure you put it behind you, Hamrlik said. The last time we lost in triple OT we came out harder.

You cant second-guess yourself, Laich said. Its easy for you guys to say what might have changed things, but its an intense hockey game. Its a game of inches and if you like it or not you cant change it.

The only thing the Capitals can change now is the outcome of the series. And that can only happen with a win Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.

Last night was a game we needed, Green said. Now well have to go back to New York for a Game Seven.

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All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to Capitals lineup vs. Red Wings, not official yet


All signs point to T.J. Oshie returning to Capitals lineup vs. Red Wings, not official yet

ARLINGTON, Va. -- As the Washington Capitals took to the ice Monday at MedStar Capitals Iceplex for the first time since returning from a three-game road trip, T.J. Oshie joined them, but he did so wearing a red jersey. The color Oshie was wearing is significant not because of his fashion but because of what it means for his status.

A light blue jersey indicates a player is a non-contact participant in practice. The fact that Oshie was in his regular red means that he was full-go on Monday, and it is a good sign that he could be able to return for Tuesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Oshie has missed 11 games after suffering a concussion after a takedown by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey on Nov. 14. It was the fifth concussion of Oshie’s career.

“I feel like each time it gets more and more frustrating,” Oshie said to reporters after practice. “But I stuck with it. Some good workouts and skates with [strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish] and [Brooks Orpik] was here all week, so I had some company. I had a lot of support from the guys behind me asking me, texting me seeing how I'm doing, so those kind of things kind of get you through it. Plus, the holidays, family in town, I spent time with the girls at home and [my] wife. It was a good little break.”

When an injury keeps a player from skating, their typical progression starts goes from off-ice workouts, to on-ice workouts, to being a limited participant in practice, to a full participant and then to returning to the game lineup. Oshie had been skating with Nemish during the team’s road trip and has evidently progressed to the point that he was able to step right into practice on Monday without the need for the non-contact jersey.

Not only was Oshie a full-participant, but head coach Todd Reirden was seemingly not concerned about easing him back in. Oshie skated on the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. He also took part in drills on the team’s first power-play unit.

“He's a special player in all aspects of the game, but certainly in the power play for us in that diamond spot,” Reirden said. “He does a really good job on the entries in terms of controlled entries. When we do have to dump pucks in, he's great on recoveries. His work ethic and instincts to be able to win puck battles, I just think it increases our whole intensity of the way our power play recovers pucks.”

Everything that happened on the ice Monday was a positive sign for Oshie’s recovery, but both he and Reirden said only that he was a “possibility” to play in Tuesday’s game.

“I've been hoping to play for a week,” Oshie said. “I'm hoping to play [Tuesday]. We'll see, see what the training staff says, see what the doctors say, see what the coaches say.”

Reirden added: “The plan was for him to go through practice today, and we'll see how he does later this afternoon and re-evaluate [Tuesday] morning as he continues to get closer to getting cleared to play."

Based on how Oshie progressed directly to full practice and by how much he was utilized during practice, every indication is that Oshie will be back in the lineup Tuesday at Capital One Arena.


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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

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NHL Power Rankings: Capitals remain the class of the division

Saturday’s game between the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets was built up as a battle for first place. It didn’t take long for Washington show that they remain the class of the division as the Caps walked away with an emphatic 4-0 win.

The  Metropolitan Division is just plain bad this year. New Jersey and Philadelphia are surprisingly atrocious, Carolina is still a player or two (and a goalie) away from being a playoff team, the Rangers will go only as far as Henrik Lundqvist can carry them, the Islanders have made great strides under Barry Trotz but are nowhere close to contending and this looks like Pittsburgh’s weakest team since the Mike Johnston era.

At this point, the only two teams that look like clear playoff teams are Washington and Columbus and even that may be a stretch depending on how the Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky situation pans out for the Blue Jackets.

There’s still a lot of hockey left to play this season, but the Caps made an early statement on Saturday that they remain the team to beat in the Metro and no one looks anywhere close to challenging them at this point.


Here are a few observations from the past week:
•    Tom Wilson provided one heck of a spark when he returned from suspension. The way the Caps responded to his injury with two wins on the road is impressive and says a lot about this team’s mental makeup and resiliency, even more so than how they rallied after Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie both came out of the lineup.
•    Is Kuznetsov all the way back? He just does not seem like the same player who dazzled us in the first month of the season. Yes, he has a five-game point streak, but he is not dominating the game the same way. Earlier in the season, his talent was evident every time he stepped onto the ice. Whenever Connor McDavid is on the ice, you notice him. Whenever Nathan MacKinnon is on the ice, you notice him. That was true of Kuznetsov early on, but has not been true since he returned to the lineup.
•    Oshie is skating which means he is making progress, but the team should take a slow approach to his return. After he suffered a concussion last year from a hit by Joe Thornton, he did not play well when he returned for quite a while. The Caps are winning and are in first place, there’s no reason to really rush him back.
•    The power play is starting to become a major concern. The loss of Oshie certainly hurts, but that unit was starting to struggle even before the game in Winnipeg in which he was injured. When watching the Columbus game on Friday, someone asked Alan May what he thought the problem was and he said zone entries. There’s definitely something to that. The power play still looks as deadly as ever when the team sets it up, but it seems like they are having a real tough time just getting to that point. They just cannot get the puck into the offensive zone and keep possession.

Even with Wilson, Oshie and Orpik out, the Caps keep finding ways to win and that his them climbing up the rankings.