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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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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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