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Ovechkin, Backstrom reunited

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Ovechkin, Backstrom reunited

Dale Hunter would never let a little media pressure have an influence on his coaching decisions, now would he?

Looking for a little more offensive balance against the Rangers, the Capitals coach reunited Alex Ovechkin with center Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson on Wednesday morning, about 38 hours after limiting Ovechkin to a playoff career low of 13 minutes, 36 seconds of ice time.

Ovechkin netted the game-winner Monday night to even the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinals at two wins apiece. Game 3 is tonight at the Verizon Center.

In two playoff games against the Rangers Ovechkin has one goal on eight shots, along with five hits and zero giveaways.

The Caps forward lines and defense pairings looked like this today at Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

LW Alex Ovechkin C Nicklas Backstrom RW Marcus Johansson
LW Jason Chimera C Brooks Laich RW Alexander Semin
LW Matt Hendricks C Jay Beagle RW Troy Brouwer
LW Mike Knuble C Keith Aucoin RW Joel Ward

LD Karl Alzner RD John Carlson
LD Roman Hamrlik RD Mike Green
LD Jeff Schultz RD Dennis Wideman

Clean, but frustrating: Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner says the Rangers play such a suffocating defense that even when the Caps play a patient game they dont feel like theyre making much progress.

Playing against these guys it almost never feels like youre having a really great game, Alzner said, just because you have to chip the puck off the glass and chase it down. It feels like youre chasing the puck the entire game.

That said, Alzner said the first two games of this series has been cleaner than the series with Brad Marchand, Rich Peverley and the Boston Bruins. Through two games the Rangers have outhit the Caps 80-63.

There are more clean, big hits, Alzner said. Boston was a little more chippy.

The Rangers biggest hitters have been captain Ryan Callahan (16), Derek Stepan (8), Brian Boyle (6) and Brandon Prust (6). Matt Hendricks leads the Caps with 8, followed by Jay Beagle (7), Roman Hamrlik (7) and Brooks Laich (6).

Chimmer: Jason Chimera scored the Caps lone goal in Game 1 and tallied again in Game 2 for his second goal of the series. Chimera now has six career playoff goals, three coming during these playoffs. Four of those six goals have come against the Rangers and Chimera has scored in each of his last three playoff contests at Madison Square Garden (dating back to last season). Three of his six career playoff goals have been game-winning tallies.

25 and counting: Caps rookie goalie Braden Holtby stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced in Game 2 for his fifth career playoff win. Holtby has now gone 25 straight starts in the NHL including nine in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs without suffering back-to-back setbacks.

Holtby said his parents were in the crowd at MSG for Game 2. Holtby said it was his father's first live Stanley Cup playoff game since watching Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in the late 1980s.

Closing it out: Alex Ovechkin now has five career playoff game-winning goals. He ranks tied for second place in Capitals franchise history in playoff game-winners (Joe Juneau and John Druce) and trails only Peter Bondra (6) in that category.

Defensive affair: The Capitals allowed just 14 shots in Game 1 against New York. That marks the lowest playoff road total for shots allowed in franchise history, surpassing the 15 shots allowed by the Capitals against the New York Islanders on April 13, 1985 in Game 3 of the Patrick Division semifinals.

Bruise brothers: Washington ranks second in the NHL in blocked shots (178) and leads the league in takeaways (73) during the playoffs while its 297 hits rank fourth in the league.

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Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

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USA TODAY Sports

Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.

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Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Brooks Orpik's time in Washington may not be over after all

Friday's trade with the Colorado Avalanche seemed to mark the end of Brooks Orpik's time with the Washington Capitals. But that may not actually be the case.

Trading away Orpik also meant trading away his $5.5 million cap hit. That is not an insignificant amount of money especially for a team trying to re-sign defenseman John Carlson to a big-money contract.

But Orpik will not be playing out the final year of his contract in Colorado. The Avalanche placed Orpik on unconditional waivers Saturday for the purpose of a buyout, according to Sportsnet's Chris Johnston.

CapFriendly has the details of the buyout. The Avalanche will pay Orpik $3 million and take a cap hit of $2.5 million in the 2018-19 season and $1.5 million in the 2019-20 season.

So why would Colorado agree to take Orpik just to buy him out and take on dead cap space? Because by acquiring him, it lowered the cost of the Grubauer trade.

What this means for Brooks Orpik is that he will become a free agent, free to sign with anyone for the upcoming season. Including Washington.

For a 37-year-old defenseman who does not boast great mobility or speed, a $5.5 million cap hit was a bit too steep for the Caps who were very close to the cap ceiling last season and who need that extra money to re-sign their free agents. But the team did value Orpik's leadership and that could be especially important as young defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos continue developing plus prospects Jonas Siegenthaler, Lucas Johansen and Connor Hobbs all try to work themselves into contention for a spot on the NHL roster.

If Orpik does return, it will be a masterstroke for general manager Brian MacLellan. MacLellan freed up a lot of cap space to re-sign Carlson without having to buy out Orpik's contract, but could still possibly keep him on the roster at a much-reduced cost.

After a strong playoff performance, there may be other teams vying for Orpik's services next season. Getting traded to get bought out likely isn't a good feeling, but considering he just won a Stanley Cup in Washington, the defensive guru Todd Reirden is expected to be promoted to head coach and that re-signing with the Caps would mean not moving his family for what could very possibly and will very likely be the last contract of his NHL career, there are a lot of reasons why it would make sense for both the team and the player if Orpik stayed with the Caps.

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