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What's with Ovechkin and those smelling salts?


What's with Ovechkin and those smelling salts?

News and notes as the Capitals finish up their morning skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and prepare for tonight’s Game 4 at Verizon Center [6:30 p.m. pregame, CSN, 7:30 puck drop, NBCSN]:

Alex and those smelling salts: You may have noticed the NBCSN cameras catching Alex Ovechkin sniffing smelling salts before every game. It’s something he’s done his entire NHL career. Why?

“It’s like when you get knocked down or something they give you that kind of stuff,” Ovechkin said. “Try it, maybe you won’t sleep during the game. It wakes you up a little bit to get ready for the game. It’s nothing special.”

Players’ choice: Ovechkin said being nominated by his peers for the Ted Lindsay Award as the NHL’s Most Outstanding Player means more to him than being nominated by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association for the Hart Trophy.

“In my opinion, yeah, because the players play against you,” said Ovechkin, who was nominated along with Canadiens goalie Carey Price and Stars forward Jamie Benn. “I think it’s a little bit bigger.”

Fehr back, but not in: Caps center Eric Fehr, injured in Game 3 against the Islanders in Round 1, skated with the team but did not participate in line rushes. He is listed as out for tonight but could return as early as Game 5 on Friday night in New York. Center Michael Latta sat out Wednesday’s skate with an illness.

Game 4 history: The Capitals are 19-17 all-time in Game 4 of playoff series and 9-7 at home. When leading a series 2-1, the Caps are 10-7 in Game 4s. Ovechkin has five goals and seven assists  in 10 career Game 4s. Nicklas Backstrom has five goals and four assists in nine Game 4s and Braden Holtby is 3-1 with a 1.92 GAA and a .941 save percentage in his career in Game 4s.

With or without you: According to Elias Sports Bureau, before this season the Capitals were 21-61-15 in the regular season and 3-11 in the post-season when Ovechkin and Backstrom played and did not record a point. This season, they went 11-8-3 when Ovechkin and Backstrom did not record a point and are 2-1 in the playoffs.

Holt-beast: Monday night’s 1-0 win over the Rangers was the Caps’ third 1-0 win in franchise playoff history. Olie Kolzig made 16 saves in the Capitals’ 1-0 win against Pittsburgh on April 12, 2001, and Holtby made 24 saves on May 4, 2013, against the Rangers. Holtby ranks first among active NHL goaltenders [minimum 20 games played] in career playoff goals-against average [1.89] and save percentage [.936]. In addition, Holtby has registered a 1.54 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage this postseason, ranking first in the NHL in both categories [minimum five games].

RELATED: [Jay Beagle giving a major contribution by winning faceoffs]

Here are projected lineups for Game 4:


Forward lines

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Joel Ward

Marcus Johnasson – Evgeny Kuznetsov – Jason Chimera

Andre Burakovsky – Jay Beagle – Troy Brouwer

Curtis Glencross – Brooks Laich – Tom Wilson

Defense pairings

Brooks Orpik – John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Tim Gleason – Mike Green


Braden Holtby – Justin Peters

Scratches: C Michael Latta, D Dmitry Orlov

Injuries: Eric Fehr [upper body, day-to-day]


Forward lines

Rick Nash – Derrick Brassard – Marty St. Louis

Chris Kreider – Derek Stepan – J.T. Miller

Carl Hagelin – Kevin Hayes – Jesper Fast

James Sheppard – Dominic Moore – Tanner Glass

Defense pairings

Ryan McDonagh – Dan Girardi

Marc Staal – Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle – Dan Boyle


Henrik Lundqvist – Cam Talbot

Scratches: D Matt Hunwick, D Chris Summers

Injuries: Mats Zuccarello [head, indefinite]

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”


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3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

When the Capitals take to the ice at home on Monday, they will be playing for their playoff lives. They lost their third straight game on Saturday as the Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead and push the Caps to the brink.

Here is why the Caps fell on the road for the first time in this series.

A rough start

Nineteen seconds was all the time Tampa Bay would need to score in Game 5.

Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov chased after it, but instead of getting the puck he inexplicably played the body of Cedric Paquette. Paquette was able to chip it into the offensive zone to Ryan Callahan. Callahan tried to pass to the slot, but it hit off of Orlov right to Paquette who buried it past Braden Holtby who was very deep in the crease.

If Orlov doesn’t cough the puck up in the neutral zone, if Kuznetsov plays the puck instead of the body or if Holtby challenges that shot, that goal doesn’t happen. An ugly play all around for Washington.

A no-call on Steven Stamkos

Later in the first period, Orlov went to corral a puck in the neutral zone, but was pressured by Stamkos, fell to the ice and turned the puck over to Nikita Kucherov. It was very clearly a trip on Stamkos, but there was no call. Palat would score on the play to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.

You can read more about the play here.

A rough night for Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen

Orlov and Niskanen is normally the Caps' best defensive pair, but they had a very long night. They were on the ice for each of the Lightning’s three goals of the game.

Orlov’s turnover led to the first goal, Stamkos’ trip of Orlov led to the second. On the third, Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman was somehow able to drive and turn the corner on Niskanen leading to a scoring opportunity that eventually deflected off the glove of Ryan Callahan and into the net. Stralman is not the speediest of players. The fact he was able to go one-on-one with Niskanen and get in behind him was surprising to see.