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Series comeback falls short as Caps fall victim to Penguins once again

Series comeback falls short as Caps fall victim to Penguins once again

Final score: Washington Capitals 0, Pittsburgh Penguins 2

How it happened: After a dominant opening flurry from Washington, both teams settled into an even period as both were held off the scoreboard in the first. The even plan continued in the second until an attempt to clear the puck along the boards by Matt Niskanen backfired as Ian Cole collected it in front of the blue line and started the quick attack ending with a goal for Bryan Rust. Another turnover along the boards by Kevin Shattenkirk turned into a third period goal by Patric Hornqvist. Despite trailing, Washington was able to muster almost no offense in the final frame, finishing with just five shots on goal in the third period.

What it means:  For the second year in a row, the Capitals have been eliminated from the playoffs in the second round by the rival Penguins. Washington has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 1998 and now face a lot of tough offseason questions as they have reached the end of general manager Brian MacLellan’s two-year window.

Penguins goal: Bryan Rust from Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby at 8:49 in the 2nd. Matt Niskanen tried to play the puck along the boards in the defensive zone, but it was intercepted by Ian Cole who quickly passed it back up to Crosby. Crosby fed Guentzel who showed good patience and waited to hit the trailing Rust. Rust then beat Holtby just over the shoulder for the goal. Caps 0, Penguins 1

Penguins goal: Patrick Hornqvist from Justin Schultz at 4:14 in the 3rd. Braden Holtby tapped a puck along to Kevin Shattenkirk who had more room than he apparently thought because he carelessly flicked the puck along the boards. Schultz won the race for the puck and chopped it up to Hornqvist. Hornqvist tried the hopeful backhand and managed to tuck it off the crossbar and in. Caps 0, Penguins 2

3 Caps stars

1. Braden Holtby: The early series struggles now seem like a distant memory for Holtby as he put together another strong performance on Wednesday. He did absolutely everything he could to keep Washington in this one, but it was not enough.

2. Lars Eller: We know how Barry Trotz's line change benefitted Andre Burkovsky, but Lars Eller has played well too and that continued on Wednesday. He looked confident and his play reflected that.

3. Brooks Orpik: When the Caps had nothing going for them in the third period, Orpik tried to spark the team by dropping the gloves with Scott Wilson. Someone needed to do something to wake up the Caps.

Look ahead: The quest for the Stanley Cup begins again in October.

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Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

The Capitals may be without forward Lars Eller in Wednesday's Game 1 against the New York Islanders even if he is cleared by the NHL in time to play. That was the thought of head coach Todd Reirden on Monday who expressed he would have to make a decision to avoid any possible injury that could keep him out longer.

Eller left the bubble in Toronto for the birth of his second child. He is now back in Toronto under quarantine in his room and cannot leave until he tests negative four times over a four-day period, per NHL protocols. It is unclear when Eller took his first test. If it was Monday, he will not be ready in time for Wednesday's game. If it was on Sunday, there's a chance he could be cleared to play by Wednesday.

"The NHL will be the ones that decide that, have the overall final call on it," Reirden said.

But even if Eller just manages to clear before the 3 p.m. game time on Wednesday, there's a chance he still may not play.

While under quarantine, Eller is not allowed to leave his hotel room at all.

"He’s not allowed to leave his hotel room, so he hasn’t been doing any exercise outside of his room and until we’re told differently that will be how it is," Reirden said.

That could be a problem.

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Eller first left the bubble on Aug. 5. By Wednesday, he will have gone a week without being on the ice or being able to exercise, beyond whatever he can do in his room. Typically in these situations, players get a practice in before getting back into the game lineup and Reirden made it clear on Monday that he may have to consider sitting Eller for Game 1 to prevent any sort of injury after missing a week.

“I think it’s something you have to consider is the player hasn’t been on the ice," Reirden said. "He obviously plays a huge role on our team and if you remember a few years ago the success and kind of the X factor that he was for our team when we won against Vegas. So I think it’s important that we handle this situation and make the proper the decision to give this player the best chance to be able to, if it’s not Game 1, then he’s ready to go for Game 2 and he’s as close to healthy in terms of conditioning-wise, he’s ready to go on the ice and be able to add the things he can add and do it safely so that we can have him for an extended time here in this playoffs because he is definitely a big factor in our team success.”

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If Eller is out, Travis Boyd will likely play in his place. Boyd centered the third line in Eller's absence in the last two round robin games.

Luckily, that is the only real question mark down the middle for Washington. Nicklas Backstrom, who missed a practice last week but played against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, said Monday that he had "no concerns" in terms of his status heading into the playoffs.

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New initiatives allow Capitals fans to stay connected to the team virtually

New initiatives allow Capitals fans to stay connected to the team virtually

Even though Caps fans cannot be in person to support their team on the road to the Stanley Cup this season, the Capitals organization and NHL found creative ways to keep the fan base involved in the team’s playoff run.

Through a number of virtual initiatives, Caps fans are now able to stay connected to their team and show their support from a distance while Washington competes at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. 

The team first encouraged fans to share personalized good luck messages and cheers for the players, which can be submitted at WashCaps.com/RallyCaps. A Capitals theme will be applied to the video, and fans will receive the video for personal use. They will also be featured on Caps’ social media channels.  

Next, it’s not Capitals hockey without Unleashing the Fury. Capitals fans can record themselves doing their best reenactment of the Unleash the Fury montage showed during games, and the videos will be used during playoff games and on social media. Videos can be submitted at WashingtonCaps.com/FanFury

The NHL also hopes to keep the tradition alive of fans showing their support with signs during warmups, so if Capitals fans make a handmade sign and tweet a photo with the hashtag #NHLWarmups with @Capitals tagged, the photo may be shown in the arena during warmups. 

In addition to these initiatives, there will also be a virtual gameday pregame show, behind the scenes footage and special digital content on the team’s social media channels, a virtual pep rally with radio play-by-play broadcaster John Walton, hockey ambassador Haley Skarupa and anthem singer Sgt. Major Bob McDonald, a Stanely Cup Playoff Bracket Challenge, special offers at the team stores at Capital One Arena and Medstar Capitals Iceplex, the chance for Club 365 members to submit photos of how they represent #ALLCAPS and matchup graphics and broadcast info featured on the video screens outside Capital One Arena.

The Capitals will begin their first-round playoff series with the New York Islanders on Wednesday at 3:00 p.m., so it’s time for fans to start showing their support virtually!

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