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Maple Leafs stun Capitals with overtime shocker to pull even in series

Maple Leafs stun Capitals with overtime shocker to pull even in series

Final score: Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Washington Capitals 3

How it happened: Washington got out to a much better start than in Game 1, but the result was similar as James van Riemsdyk scored the only goal of a penalty-filled first period to put the Caps down by 1. Washington responded with power play goals from Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson in the second to take a 2-1 lead, but the plucky Leafs battled right back as Kasperi Kapanen and Morgan Rielly gave Toronto the 3-2 lead heading into the third. After a furious rally by Washington, Nicklas Backstrom finally netted the game-tying goal to force overtime, but Kasperi Kapanen scored the game-winner in double-overtime to tie the series at one.

What it means: The Maple Leafs earned the series split with Saturday’s win, taking away home ice advantage from the Caps as the series heads to Toronto. That sets up an all-important Game 3 on Monday as, per Elias Sports Bureau, 67.6-percent of teams that win Game 3 after splitting Games 1 and 2 go on to win the series.

Goals

Maple Leafs goal: James van Riemsdyk from Tyler Bozak and Jake Gardiner at 17:34 in the 1st period. Gardiner held the puck at the blue line, pulled off the gorgeous spin move to get away from Tom Wilson, tried to turn into the slot where he was met by Matt Niskanen who forced the puck loose. Jay Beagle could not corral it and van Riemsdyk swooped in and fired the quick shot for the goal. Caps 0, Maple Leafs 1

Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin (power play) from Marcus Johansson and T.J. Oshie at 3:47 in the 2nd period. Based on the first period, it looked as if the Leafs’ penalty kill strategy was going to be to park a man right on Ovechkin. With the puck in the right corner, however, Zach Hyman left the Great 8 alone in the office. Big mistake. When Oshie finally found some room to work with, he found Ovechkin with the pass and Ovechkin did what he does from the office. Caps 1, Maple Leafs 1

Caps goal: John Carlson (power play) from Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky at 11:06 in the 2nd period. On the power play, Williams fed the puck back to the blue line and the penalty killers gave Carlson too much space. He brought it to the top of the face off circle and fired a slap shot into the net. Caps 2, Maple Leafs 1

Maple Leafs goal: Kasperi Kapanen from Matt Martin and Brian Boyle at 14:25 in the 2nd period. With the puck behind the Caps' net, Martin took the puck and tried to feed it to the front. It bounced off the skate of Daniel Winnik and no one could seem to corral it until Kapanen took it and backhanded a shot through the five-hole of Braden Holtby. Caps 2, Maple Leafs 2

Maple Leafs goal: Morgan Rielly (power play) from Mitch Marner at 19:46 in the 2nd period. Toronto went on the power play with just over 30 seconds remaining, but were allowed to set up in Washington's zone thanks to a lost faceoff by Beagle. The play itself was nothing special as Rielly skated along the blue line and fired a wrister that somehow avoided all traffic and hit the top corner past a screened Holtby. Caps 2, Maple Leafs 3

Caps goal: Nicklas Backstrom from Dmitry Orlov at 12:39 in the 3rd period. In a monster shift in which the Caps would simply not give up possession of the puck, they finally struck as an Orlov shot deflected right to Backstron who had an empty net yawning. Caps 3, Maple Leafs 3

Maple Leafs goal: Kasperi Kapanen from Matt Martin and Brian Boyle at 11:53 in the 2nd overtime. Caps 3, Maple Leafs 4

3 Caps stars  

1. Braden Holtby: Washington's steady Eddie. He almost always has a great game and boy did he come up with some big saves on Saturday including a clutch save on Hyman with three minutes left to go in the third period in a tie game off a bad turnover from Niskanen and multiple incredible overtime saves.

2. Nicklas Backstrom: When the Caps needed a goal, Backstrom was there. He was at the right place at the right time, but that's what Backstrom does. He also was an impressive 57.9-percent on the faceoff.

3. Alex Ovechkin: The Caps' captain did not have much of an impact on Thursday, but he definitely did in Game 2. It's important to make the opposition pay for their mistakes and Ovechkin did in the second when Zach Hyman left Ovechkin alone in the office on the power play. For the game, he registered a game-high nine shots on goal.

Look ahead: The series now heads north of the border to Toronto for Game 3 on Monday and Game 4 on Wednesday. They then return to Washington on Friday for Game 5.

Watch the game? Tell us what you thought!

MORE CAPITALS: Penalties the early story of Caps-Leafs Game 2

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Looking ahead to a busy offseason

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want to be answered the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

I have written about this before, but Jakub Vrana’s contract has to be priority No. 1. Vrana is absolutely going to be back, but he is going to take a sizable chunk of what little cap room Washington has remaining. General manager Brian MacLellan needs to know how much cap space he is working with this offseason before he can make any decisions about the other free agents like Brett Connolly and Carl Hagelin.

The second most important move would be a trade to free up cap space. Everyone assumes that Matt Niskanen would be the player on the trade block, as you noted. With the free agents the Caps could potentially lose and a prospect pipeline devoid of any high-end offensive skill, I just do not see how the Caps can add enough quality forward depth this offseason without clearing cap space.

Fans should circle June 20-22 as target dates for a possible trade. June 20 is the NHL general managers meeting and June 21-22 is the draft. When you get all the general managers together in the same place, that can spark trade deals. Don’t forget, the draft was when Brooks Orpik and Philipp Grubauer were traded to the Colorado Avalanche last year.

As for Backstrom and Holtby, while I am sure MacLellan would like to get those deals done if possible, these do not rank as high on the priority list as both players are still under contract for another season.

Maclellan was asked on breakdown day if he wanted those deals done this summer and he said, “I don’t think it matters. We’ll have conversations and if it feels like it’s going in the right direction, then we can get more assertive on it.”

The Caps have plenty of issues to deal with for this season to worry too much about Backstrom and Holtby right now.

Jacob C. writes: How does Washington adjust their offseason knowing that they have a $1.15 million dollar cap penalty? 

Washington was hit with a cap penalty because of some late performance bonuses that pulled the team over the cap ceiling.

The money situation was going to be tight for the team regardless of the cap penalty so it is hard to know if anything the team does will be directly related to that, but if I had to guess I believe the player the most affected by this will be Andre Burakovsky.

As a restricted free agent, the Caps will have to give him a qualifying offer of $3.25 million in order to retain his rights and prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. That is high for a player who has scored 12 goals in each of the past three seasons.

Maybe you could justify the risk of overpaying him because the team could potentially see both Connolly and Hagelin walk, but with $1.15 million less to spend that may force MacLellan to not qualify Burakovsky and attempt to convince him to sign for less.

Jack Hughes.

OK, so obviously that is not going to happen. I assume your question is more aimed at who I think the Caps would want of the players who may actually fall to them at 25. The team’s philosophy when it comes to the draft is to take the best available player, which it should be, but the Caps have not taken a forward in the first round since 2014 and that lack of offensive talent is really starting to catch up with them. If forwards start dropping off the board, they cannot afford to wait and see who falls to them. My prediction is that that team is going to come into this draft with the goal of drafting a forward. They will have grades on every first round prospect and, if it looks like a number of forwards could fall their way, great. If a bunch of forwards get taken early, however, I would not at all be surprised if MacLellan tries to trade up to make sure he gets a high-end forward prospect.

Next, let’s look at where the Caps like to get their players from. In the last five drafts, Washington has taken nine players from the WHL and 11 players from European leagues. Knowing that, here are the players I would predict to be high on the Caps’ list:

Kirby Dach C, Saskatoon, WHL
Dylan Cozens C, Lethbridge, WHL
Peyton Krebs C, Kootenay, WHL
Ilya Nikolaev C, Russia
Nils Hoglander W, Sweden

The three WHL players I have seen go pretty high in most mock drafts so if you get down to say, pick 15 and one of those guys is still on the board, that’s when it is time to really pay attention and see if MacLellan tries to jump up to snag him.

It depends on what you consider to be “major.” As I mentioned above, if the Caps want to compete for the Cup next season, I do not see how they can avoid making a trade. If trading Niskanen for what would likely be draft picks would be considered “major,” then yes.

Do I see them making a big multi-player trade for significant pieces? No. Do I see them pursuing a big-name free agent like Erik Karlsson or Artemi Panarin? No. Even if MacLellan does trade Niskanen that only frees up another $5.75 million in cap room and the Caps will need just about every penny to fill in their bottom six.

We could see a Niskanen trade, we could see a them trade up in the draft and the team will almost certainly be active on July 1 to find forward depth, but they are not in the running for any of the big name free agents.

Todd Reirden said on breakdown day, “We're going to go through a full review of all that stuff, but I do not anticipate any changes to my coaching staff."

Obviously, he left himself a little bit of wiggle room there, but it does not appear the team is going to make any changes to the staff.

In terms of how they operate, I anticipate Reirden taking a more hands-on approach to the defense. He really made a name for himself in the league for his defensive acumen and the improvement he brought with him as an assistant coach was not as evident last season with him as head coach.

I do not anticipate any major changes to the system the team plays, but I am curious what they do on special teams. I have not seen a team that consistently utilizes the slingshot well on the power play so I am hopeful the breakouts get an update to get rid of the slingshot. I do not know how you could evaluate the team’s play from last season and say, yeah, let’s keep doing that. But, the sling shot was all the rage across the NHL so clearly someone thinks it actually works.

Second, the penalty kill has to adjust for the personnel it has. The Caps tried a more aggressive penalty kill and it did not work for much of the season. Really, it did not seem to click until Hagelin came on board at the trade deadline. If he stays or Washington gets someone on the roster who can run it as effectively as he could, great. Otherwise, you hope the team can accept the fact that a guy like Chandler Stephenson just is not the same player as Hagelin and adjust accordingly. 

First, the defense as that seems like the easier prediction. I see a second pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Nick Jensen. I expected that to be the plan the moment the team re-signed Jensen. The bottom pair will be Jonas Siegenthaler and Christian Djoos. The Caps need to add too much on offense to commit the money to another defenseman. Siegenthaler looked good in the playoffs and Djoos will be entering his third year in the NHL so it is time for both players to step up. I think we could see someone like Tyler Lewington come in as a cheap No. 7 and as someone the team feels no pressure to get into the lineup.

The offense is trickier as this is where the team may add some free agents. Lars Eller and Nic Dowd will be the centers. That much we know. Travis Boyd remains under contract. I predict MacLellan will be able to work something out with Burakovsky and he stays. A return for Stephenson also seems likely. At that point, the Caps should have about $7.5 million of cap space for two more forwards. I think they could make a run at either Connolly or Hagelin, but not both. It just depends on where their priorities lie heading into free agency. If they cannot get any, they have to turn to free agency and hope they can find a top-nine player they can plug into the third line.

Now here’s where things get interesting. You have the money for one high-end bottom six guy (Connolly, Hagelin or their replacement), but a Stephenson, Dowd, Boyd line does not inspire much confidence. Looking at the prospects, the only prospect who seems close to the NHL is Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, but it is hard to tell given he only played 16 games in Hershey last season.

If the Caps think he is ready, they could look to Jonsson-Fjallby as a Hagelin replacement. If not, could they actually consider bringing back Dmitrij Jaskin? After all, Jaskin will be an RFA and the team could probably get him for pretty cheap. If they do that, Reirden would have to actually use him, but the cap situation makes this not outside the realm of possibility.

So here is what I would say for the third and fourth lines:

Free agent – Lars Eller – Andre Burakovsky
Chandler Stephenson – Nic Dowd – Dmitrij Jaskin
Travis Boyd

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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The Stanley Cup Final is set and the Capitals will hand the Stanley Cup off to Boston or St. Louis

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The Stanley Cup Final is set and the Capitals will hand the Stanley Cup off to Boston or St. Louis

With the St. Louis Blues’ victory on Tuesday, the Stanley Cup Final has officially been set. The Blues will face the Boston Bruins as both teams will battle to supplant the Capitals as the Stanley Cup champions.

St. Louis finished off the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday with a 5-1 Game 6 win and will now look to win its first ever Stanley Cup. One has to wonder whether that game was the last time we will see the 39-year-old Sharks forward Joe Thornton on the ice. For the Blues, this is the first time they have reached the final since 1970, snapping a 49-year drought. They made the final in each of their first three seasons as the NHL grouped all of its expansion franchises into a single division.

St. Louis is now the first team in league history to go from last place in the league in January to the Stanley Cup Final.

This season will be a rematch of the 1970 final in which the Blues were swept by the Bruins. That series gave us the iconic moment of Boston great Bobby Orr soaring through the air after scoring the Cup-clinching goal in overtime of Game 4.

The Bruins have been waiting since Thursday to learn who their opponent would be after sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes to win the East. Boston will be going for its seventh Cup and first since 2011. Goalie Tuukka Rask was brilliant in that series with a .956 save percentage and a 1.25 GAA. The long layoff, however, could potentially cool off Rask and the red-hot Bruins.

The New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets both swept their first-round opponents and both lost in the second round. The Hurricanes swept the Islanders in the second round and were then swept by Boston. The Bruins will have to shake off the rust as quickly as possible as the final begins.

Boston will have home ice in the final and will host Games 1 and 2 before the series shifts back to St. Louis.

Here is the final schedule:

  • Game 1 in Boston, Mon. May 27
  • Game 2 in Boston, Wed. May 29
  • Game 3 in St. Louis, Sat. June 1
  • Game 4 in St. Louis, Mon. June 3
  • Game 5 (if necessary) in Boston, Thurs. June 6
  • Game 6 (if necessary) in St. Louis, Sun. June 9
  • Game 7 (if necessary) in Boston, Wed. June 12

 

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