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Third line the difference for the Caps in Game 4 win

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Third line the difference for the Caps in Game 4 win

The Capitals have needed different players to step up in each of their wins against the New York Rangers in the conference semifinal series and on Wednesday night it was Andre Burakovsky's turn. The rookie winger scored his first two career playoff goals to lead the Caps to the 2-1 win and push the Rangers to the brink of elimination.

Burakovsky entered Game 4 with only one playoff point, an assist, to his name. He left the game with three after scoring his first two career playoff goals and he very nearly had a third.

"He’s just embracing the moment it seems like," Brouwer said. "He’s playing good hockey, he’s having fun out there and he’s getting rewarded as a result."

Just as in Game 3, it was again the third line to the rescue. An intense forecheck from Brouwer and Jay Beagle forced a Rangers' turnover to where Burakovsky along the boards. The young winger took the puck from there, streaked to the middle and fired the puck home in a play eerily similar to Kuznetsov’s Game 7 goal against the New York Islanders.

"I was right in the middle so it would be kind of crazy if I didn’t take a shot there," Burakovsky said.

Scoring your first career playoff goal to tie the game against fellow Swede, Henrik Lundqvist? That would be a good night for most players, but Burakovsky wasn't finished.

Just 24 seconds into the third period the rookie pounced on a McDonagh turnover forced by Brouwer and found himself alone with Lundqvist. Burakovsky finished the breakaway with a slick backhand to to put the Caps up for good.

RELATED: Burakovsky's two goals lift Capitals to Game 4 win

Not bad for a player who did not make the lineup until Game 4 against the New York Islanders.

"I wanted to prove that I don’t belong in the stands, that I belong on the ice all the time," Burakovsky said.

When asked if this was the biggest moment of his hockey career, he said simply, "It’s up there for sure."

After Alex Ovechkin dazzled the fans in Games 1 and 2, head coach Barry Trotz talked about how the team would need more secondary scoring and he got it in Games 3 and 4. All three of the team's goals came from the third line.

"We want to be the difference every night," Brouwer said. "That’s what our line prides themselves on trying to do and last two games we’ve had some real good hockey games."

But the entire effort was backstopped yet again by another phenomenal performance from Braden Holtby in net. The Caps' netminder had 28 saves on the night, none bigger than the penalty shot save he had on Carl Hagelin in the third period.

WIth the Caps clinging to a one-goal lead, Hagelin got behind the defense for a breakaway chance and was hooked down by Mike Green. Hagelin was immediately awarded a penalty shot.

Holtby, however, was up to the task, staying with every deke and denied Hagelin with the glove save from the splits just to add a bit of flare to another brilliant performance.

"I was just trying to be patient," Holtby said. "He’s a fast guy so he probably wanted to use his speed somehow."

With the Rangers now facing elimination, the task for the Caps will be to finish them off at Madison Square Garden in Game 5 and not allow them to gain any momentum for the possible comeback.

"Now that we have a 3-1 lead, we have a lot of confidence in here, we have a lot of momentum and we know that Game 5 is going to be the most difficult game we’ve played in a couple years," Brouwer said. "We’re expecting that and we’re excited for the challenge."

"That’s why we play is to challenge ourselves against the best and they’ve been the best all year," Holtby said. "We’re just going to focus on our game, try and let this game go quickly and regroup and be prepared for what we’re expecting to be the hardest game of the year."

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Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Ovechkin’s hat trick keeps Capitals rolling in 6-2 win against Red Wings

Capital One Arena — The stars came out for the Capitals on Tuesday night. 

There was Alex Ovechkin continuing his marvelous age-33 season with a hat trick, his first since Nov. 25, 2017. Nicklas Backstrom had four more assists. That’s his second four-point game in six games. T.J. Oshie returned from an 11-game absence (concussion) and scored on the power play. Evgeny Kuznetsov set up two goals. 

Anything else?

It all added up to a 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings and Washington is rolling. With that kind of firepower why wouldn’t it be? The Caps have won 11 of their past 14 games. At 18-9-3 and with 39 points, Washington is in first place in the Metropolitan Division and has a chance to build on that lead with five of its final eight games of 2018 at home. 

It didn’t hurt that the second-place Columbus Blue Jackets coughed up a 2-1 lead to the Vancouver Canucks at home Tuesday, allowing two goals in the final five minutes to lose 3-2 in regulation. The Blue Jackets are stuck on 34 points and suddenly the Capitals have a five-point lead in the division. 

“The season is all progress,” Backstrom said. “You keep building your team getting all the roles intact. Lately the last couple of games we’ve been playing good hockey, we’ve been playing with a lot of speed, we’ve been playing quick. That’s when we’re hard to play against, I think.”

The recent hot streak starts with Ovechkin, in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career. It was his 126th multi-goal game and he passed former Washington forward Dino Ciccarelli (125) for the 11th-most in league history.

“I’ll take it,” Ovechkin said. “Couple lucky goals.”

Ovechkin has points in 12 straight games (13 goals, six assists) and 18 of his 19 points during that stretch have come at even strength – with admittedly a few empty-net tallies tossed in for good measure. He extended his NHL lead to 25 goals – four ahead of Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine and Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point (21).  

If Ovechkin records a point against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday he will tie his career best of 13 games set between Dec. 30, 2006 and Feb. 1, 2007. That was the year before this incredible run of sustained success began with Washington’s first playoff berth in the Ovechkin era. They didn’t even wear red uniforms back then. Ovechkin ranks eighth in points (38) in the NHL through 30 games. 

“I don’t watch much hockey so I can only go off the years I’ve been here but he’s playing outstanding,” Oshie said.

“At that level that he got himself to last year right at the start of the year … he’s really just kept building off that. It’s fun being on this side of that when Big O is going like that. It’s a privilege to play with him out there and you think maybe there are not other ways he can kind of amaze you and wow you but there was another example tonight.”

Last year, he didn’t get to 39 points until Dec. 30, which was game No. 40. He had three assists that night against the New Jersey Devils and ended that game at 41 points. He didn’t get to 25 goals until a Jan. 2 game against Carolina, which was Game No. 41. Ovechkin finished with 87 points (49 goals, 38 assists) and is well ahead of that pace and halfway to his magic number of 50.   

“The age he's at to still continue to not only want to get better, but to be able to,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said.

“After just the way he's played the game with such a physical presence and the energy he has and the size he is, it's not easy. He's been great in our room, the leadership is really stepped up for me, the best I've seen him lead in our room during the regular season. And then his overall play is following right along with it. I know some other years statistically have been better, but for me it's his best two-way hockey that he's played.” 

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Four reasons the Capitals beat the Red Wings

Four reasons the Capitals beat the Red Wings

The Capitals dominated Tuesday in T.J. Oshie's return as Alex Ovechkin scored a hat trick to lead Washington to the 6-2 blowout win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Here are four reasons the Caps won.

Fast start

Bad starts were starting to become a problem for the Caps even during the team’s seven-game win streak. That certainly was not the case on Tuesday as Washington jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period of the game.

Brett Connolly scored a power play goal less than four minutes in, Travis Boyd scored his second career NHL goal and Alex Ovechkin got a crazy deflection to give the Caps a 3-0 lead. It was just that kind of night for the home team.

Starts have gone from a weakness to a strength recently as Washington has now scored three goals in the first period of each of their last two games and three times in the last five games.

Connolly and Ovechkin still hot

When you’re hot, you’re hot. Everything just seems to be working for both Connolly and Ovechkin.

Connolly extended his point streak to five games as he deflected in a shot from John Carlson. All eyes were on the Caps’ top power play unit with T.J. Oshie’s return, but it was Connolly – playing in Oshie’s spot on the second unit – who got Washington on the board first.

Ovechkin, meanwhile, extended his point streak to 12 games, the second longest streak of his career. Ovechkin put the exclamation point on the first period as he fired a one-timer from ten feet above the faceoff circle that was going nowhere near the net. The shot, however, deflected off of Niklas Kronwall and past a helpless Jonathan Bernier.

If you’re more into the pretty goals, don’t worry, Ovechkin had one of those too, as he beat Bernier clean on a two-on-one in the second period to extend the Caps’ lead to 5-0.

If Ovechkin scores his second goal of the game in the second period, there’s a pretty good chance three is not going to be far behind. Ovechkin finished off the hat trick in the third period as he fired a one-timer from the boards that just managed to squeak through Jimmy Howard.

The goals were Ovechkin’s league-leading 23rd, 24th and 25th tallies of the season. In addition to his 12-game point streak, Ovechkin has scored in four straight games (six total goals) and has 13 goals and 19 points over that 12-game streak.

Fourth line production

The fourth line’s main responsibility typically isn't to put points on the board. When a team does get production from that line, it’s a pretty big bonus for the offense. The Caps got another bonus point on Tuesday with a goal from Boyd.

The goal was set up completely by the work of Dmitrij Jaskin, who won a foot race in the offensive zone to cancel out an icing call, shielded the puck away from Detroit defenseman Mike Green and passed back to Nic Dowd who made the quick pass to Boyd.

Boyd now has a two-game goal streak, which is significant considering those are the only two goals of his NHL career.

Washington seems to have found real chemistry with Jaskin, Dowd and Boyd, which is important considering the Caps lost Jay Beagle in the offseason and the fourth line was one of the few question marks for the team heading into the season.

The power play

The Caps’ power play has been cold lately, going 0 for its last 8 opportunities and with zero goals in the last three games. In the past 14 games, in fact, Washington has gone only 15.4-percent on the power play since Nov. 11 – a stretch of 14 games – with six goals on 38 power plays.

Todd Reirden expressed his excitement on Monday about how Oshie’s return to the lineup could spark the power play, and boy was he right. The team had a clear spark with him back, and the power play responded with a goal in each of its two opportunities on the night.

Oshie himself scored the second power play goal from his normal spot in the slot.

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