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Ovechkin, McDonagh on collision course for Game 7

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Ovechkin, McDonagh on collision course for Game 7

NEW YORK -- By the end of tonight, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin will be tired of seeing each other.

The two have battled each other like pit bulls, Ovechkin’s brute strength vs. McDonagh’s dogged determination.

Heading into tonight’s Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, the script has been eerily similar to the one in 2013.  

Two years ago, in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Ovechkin had a goal and an assist and was a plus-1 in Games 1 and 2 against the Rangers, then was shut out and was a minus-3 in the final five games of the series as the Caps fell in seven.

This year, Ovechkin recorded two goals and one assist in Games 1 and 2, only to be held without a point and saddled with a minus-2 in the past four games.

“You need to be real focused,” McDonagh, 25, said of his nightly battles with Ovechkin. “You need to trust yourself and trust your teammates, too. You can’t get zoned in too much on where he’s at because there can be someone else open, too, and he’s able to make the play and get that other player the puck for a scoring opportunity.

“Ultimately, you can never let your guard down because you can see him create opportunities from what looks like a nothing play. Pucks seem to find him and he gets another whack at it. You’ve got to be strong and focus on being in front of him at all times.”

Since Ovechkin split McDonagh and Dan Girardi for a highlight reel goal in Game 2, McDonagh and Girardi have forced the Caps’ leading goal scorer to play a perimeter game and have held him silent on the power play.

The battle between Ovchkin and McDonagh reached a crescendo near the end of Game 6 when Ovechkin was stopped by Henrik Lundqvist, then slammed McDonagh to the boards. McDonagh, who twice separated his left shoulder, left the game briefly, but came back for the conclusion of the game.

“It’s hard to enjoy it when Ryan gets hit like he did last game,” Rangers forward Tanner Glass said. “They’re two great players and they’re having a great series, both guys.”

“It’s two elite players,” Capitals center Derek Stepan said of Ovechkin and McDonagh. “Obviously, Ovechkin on the offensive side and Mac on the defensive side. It makes for a great battle. They’ve been doing it for five years now. Every time Ovechkin’s on the ice Mac will be out there and it seems to make for a great rivalry.”

Taken 12th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2007 NHL draft and traded to the Rangers for Scott Gomez,, McDonagh  has developed into a quietly effective captain for the Rangers, averaging more than 23 minutes a game in this series.

“He’s had some great opportunities to match up against some great players and he’s always met those head on,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “He’s a good skater that can move the puck well and there’s a physical dimension to his game. That’s a great battle that’s been going on for six games and we’re going to get an opportunity to see the battle continue in Game 7.”

When it’s over, win or lose, McDonagh said the respect he has for Ovechkin will be renewed.

“It’s the beauty of playing this game as competitors, trying to give your team its best chance to win,” he said, “and understanding what your job is to the team. It’s the beauty of playing sports, for sure.”

As for that Ovechkin statement that the Caps would return to New York to win the series, Glass took issue. Sort of.

“Everyone thinks it,” Glass said. “He said it. It’s gone.”

[RELATED: Capitals aren't surprised Rangers fought back]

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Penguins at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Penguins at Capitals: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

The Capitals take their five-game winning streak into Wednesday night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With 43 points, the Caps currently have a four-point lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Metropolitian Division. This season, the Caps are 1-0-1 against the Pens. Winning their last game, 2-1, back on Nov. 8.

Alex Ovechkin enters riding a career-high 14 game point streak. Ovi has also scored a goal in six straight games. He currently leads the NHL with 29 goals on the season.

Pittsburgh, who lost to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, are tied for third in the Metropolitian Division with 36 points.

Here is everything you need to know about Wednesday's game.

Penguins at Capitals How to Watch

What: Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals, Game 33 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season
Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C. 
When: 8:00 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC Sports Network
Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals host the Sabres on the new MyTeams by NBC Sports App.
Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM 

Penguins at Capitals TV Schedule

7:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live (NBC Sports Washington Plus)
7:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live (NBC Sports Washington Plus)
8:00 PM: Penguins at Caps (NBC Sports Network)
10:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live (NBC Sports Washington Plus)
11:00 PM: Caps Overtime Live (NBC Sports Washington Plus)

Penguins at Capitals Injury Report

Capitals: Defenseman Christian Djoos (thigh) OUT

Penguins: RW Patric Hornqvist (upper body) OUT

Penguins at Capitals Players to Watch

Alex Ovechkin, LW, Capitals (29G, 14A): Named the NHL's first star of the week, Ovi continues to roll. He has scored seven goals over the last three games. His career-best scoring streak is at 14 games.

Nicklas Backstrom, C, Capitals (10G, 30A): Like Ovechkin, Backstrom has been on a roll over the last three games. He has six assists over that stretch included four assists against the Detroit.

Evgeni Malkin, C, Penguins (11G, 25A): Malkin snapped a six-game goalless streak with a first period tally against the Ducks on Monday. 

Penguins at Capitals Series History

Number of all-time Meetings: 291 (68 postseason)
All-Time Series Record: Penguins lead 149-126-16
Regular Season Record: Penguins lead 109-98-16
Playoff Record: Penguins lead 40-28
Last Meeting: Caps win 2-1 (Nov. 7, 2018)
Last 10: Caps lead 6-4

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Even after last year’s Stanley Cup run, there’s still ‘something extra’ in the Capitals-Penguins rivalry

Even after last year’s Stanley Cup run, there’s still ‘something extra’ in the Capitals-Penguins rivalry

The Capitals finally changed their playoff narrative last season with the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship and they went through their biggest rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, to win it. Washington’s run last season changed the nature of the Caps-Penguins rivalry, but if you think it made it any less meaningful, you are very much mistaken.

“No, I don't think they process it as a normal game,” Caps head coach Todd Reirden said of his player’s preparation for Wednesday’s game against the Penguins. “I think there's always a little something extra there.”

For many years, Pittsburgh was the major obstacle that stood in the way of Washington’s Stanley Cup dreams. Prior to last season, Alex Ovechkin had never defeated the Penguins in the playoffs despite facing them three times.

It is also not out of the realm of possibility to suggest the Caps could have hoisted another Cup before last season if not for Sidney Crosby and company, as Pittsburgh beat Washington in the playoffs in all five of the team’s Cup runs.

Things changed in 2018, however, as the Caps finally did the unthinkable. For just the second time in 11 postseason meetings, Washington defeated Pittsburgh.

“Being able to finally get through them last year was a huge part of us being able to win the Cup in the end,” Reirden said. “That's one of those watermarks in terms of your team growing and finally getting past something that's been in your way and that's a little bit of the same relief we talk about with winning a Stanley Cup, the relief you feel. It's also a little bit of a relief when we beat them.”

With that obstacle no longer hanging over their heads, it changes the narrative surrounding the rivalry this season. But it doesn't make it any less intense.

This time, the shoe is on the other foot. This time, Washington is the defending champ, and Pittsburgh is the team that’s chasing. The Caps are in first place in the Metropolitan Division, and Ovechkin is showing no signs of slowing down as the league’s most dominant scorer.

This year, the Caps have set the standard for the Penguins to try to match.

“It's taken on a different look to it now because we're the defending champs now so we know how that feels to be in their shoes and how much you're trying to gauge where your team's at,” Reirden said.

Wednesday’s game no doubt will feel very much like a rivalry in the stands. Amidst the sea of red, there will be pockets of black and gold clad fans with their terrible towels. There will be dueling “Let’s go Penguins” and “Let’s go Caps” chants, and plenty of boos for Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

But that intensity won’t just be limited to the people off the ice. The players will feel it too.

“It’s 32 games into the year so I wouldn't expect it to be a playoff game,” Reirden said, “But I always think there's a little something extra in those games.”

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