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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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This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

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Twitter/@PeachOmania

This Caps Stanley Cup tattoo has everyone's beat

Since the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time over one month ago, Caps fans, (and players), have rushed to their local tattoo parlor to get some ink commemorating the win.

We've seen the classic Capitals logo with the Stanley Cup, but nothing that comes close to the masterpiece that is Shane Peacher's tattoo.

Peacher tweeted to Joe B and Courtney Laughlin the finished tat: a work of art featuring Alex Ovechkin kissing the Stanley Cup for the first time as it's hoisted over his head.

Joe B replied making sure Shane had enough room on his other tricep for next year.

Shane replied that he's thinking of Evgeny Kuznetsov's iconic celebration that has since been dubbed the "birdman."

Shane got his Caps tattoo at the Helix Tattoo Lodge in Rising Sun, Maryland, by tattoo artist, Justin Holcombe.

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Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

Key Caps questions: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing long-term?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?

Tarik: When a player has a career year and it coincides with the final year of his contract, the reaction from some fans and media is often a sarcastic, ‘Well, of course he did.’

And I’m sure there are some folks who wonder about Carlson’s breakout season and whether there was a connection between the uptick in his production and the potential of an enormous payday.

Indeed, the 28-year-old established highs in goals (15), assists (53), points (68) and ice time (24:47). He was outstanding in the postseason, too, amassing five goals and 15 assists while playing solidly in his own end to help lead the Caps to their first championship.

The financial reward came a couple of weeks later when he signed an eight-year, $64 million contract to remain in Washington.

Which brings us to today’s question.

It’s obviously impossible to say for sure what’s going to happen, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had another big season. Why? A few reasons:

  • As good as he was, last year wasn’t a total outlier, either. Carlson racked up 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 2014-15, which was tied for fifth best among blue liners that year.
  • He was at his best last season skating with trade deadline addition Michal Kempny. Kempny, of course, also re-upped, agreeing to a four-year extension. So, in theory, Carlson should be able to pick up where he left off.
  • Carlson has credited Todd Reirden with helping him take his game to new heights. Well, Reirden is now the guy in charge of the whole operation. How could that not help?
  • A major reason Carlson puts up so many points is his role on the power play. And that unit, which really hit its stride in the postseason (29.3-percent), returns all five skaters.
  • Carlson has also been pretty durable, which is critical to being productive. In fact, last season he skated in all of the Caps’ games for the sixth time in eight full-time seasons.

So, yeah, it’s all setting up nicely for Carlson to have a strong 2018-19.

To me, the only unknown is whether he’ll have the same hunger and determination now that he’s got long-term security and that previously elusive championship ring.

Again, that’s impossible to predict. But I can tell you this: Over the course of two decades in this business, I’ve covered lots of players who inked life-changing contracts. With a few of them, I had immediate concerns.

I have no such reservations about Carlson's ability to play up to his new deal, particularly in the first several seasons of it.

JJ: There's nothing wrong with a player being motivated by a new deal, but I am always wary when players have career years on the last year of their contract.

The issue is whether or not a player can continue to play at the level they showed when a new contract is no longer a motivating factor. After signing a new deal for eight years and $64 million, Carlson won't have to think about money or contracts for a long time.

When it comes to motivation, a lot of the questions surrounding the Capitals this year will depend on how they react to winning the Cup. Of course everyone wants to repeat, but psychologically will they come into camp more motivated than ever to defend their title or will they be satisfied with finally winning it all?

For Carlson, there are several reasons to be hopeful. Tarik went over a number of those reasons above, but the two biggest for me are Michal Kempny and Todd Reirden.

This season, Carlson will have Kempny as his partner to start, rather than a cycle of practically every left-handed defenseman on the ice depending on the situation. Second, what Mitch Korn is to goalies, Reirden is to defensemen. With him as the head coach, I believe the ceiling for Carlson will only continue to climb.

Let's also go beyond the numbers. Matt Niskanen suffered an injury early last season that forced Carlson into a primary role on both ends of the ice. He was playing nearly 30 minutes a night and, with two rookies on the blue line who Barry Trotz did everything he could to shelter, those were very hard minutes. Yet, Carlson excelled. The offensive upside was always there, but the way he played defensively was a revelation.

While Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen will remain a solid pair for the Caps, I believe Carlson will be the guy heading into the season which will mean more minutes and more responsibility.

Plus, despite what he meant to the team's defense and despite leading all defensemen in points with 68, Carlson was not selected to participate in the All-Star Game, he was not one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy and he was not among the four defensemen named to the end of season All-Star team. His incredible season earned him no recognition at all other than his new contract. A $64 million contract is a heck of a consolation prize, but his season deserved more recognition than that.

You don't often see a player of his caliber enter a season with a chip on his shoulder, but Carlson should have a fairly sizable one.

Other key questions

How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?