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Which Capitals could play in 2016 World Cup of Hockey?

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Which Capitals could play in 2016 World Cup of Hockey?

With the buzz of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey still in the air, let’s take a look at which Capitals might represent their countries in the eight-team tournament that will take place in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre next fall from Sept. 17-Oct. 1.

Team USA

John Carlson, defense

At 25 years old, Carlson is coming off his most productive NHL season – fifth among NHL blue liners with 43 assists -- and is entering the prime of his career. Ironically, Carlson was paired with former Penguins veteran Brooks Orpik in the 2014 Winter Games and was reunited with him when Orpik arrived in Washington before last season.

Brooks Orpik, defense

Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Suter and Carlson are locks to make the U.S. team, but Orpik, who will turn 34 later this month, will need to have a strong 2015-16 season to prove he can handle the role of a shot-blocking, crease-clearing veteran presence on a back end that could include youngsters Justin Faulk and Kevin Shattenkirk.

T.J. Oshie, right wing

With seasoned studs like Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler and Paul Stastny, Oshie will need to have a big season in his first year with the Capitals to play his way onto the World Cup stage. Casual fans may see him as a shootout specialist and that will help his cause, but Oshie’s edgy style should also be attractive to the Team USA management staff.

Team Canada

Braden Holtby, goaltender

Two years ago, Holtby attended Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp with the hopes of playing in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Holtby struggled for most of that 2013-14 season but had a breakout season last year and is looking to build off his success this season. Barring any setbacks Holtby should challenge Carey Price for the chance to be the starter for the Canadians next year.

Team Russia

Alex Ovechkin, left wing

With eight goals in 17 Olympic games for Team Russia, Ovechkin will be looking to silence his critics from 2014 following Russia’s no-medal showing as Olympic host. He’s also likely to benefit from the NHL-sized rinks, allowing him to be a more dominant physical presence than on the wider surfaces in Europe.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, center

There is no question Kuznetsov, 23, represents the next wave of Russian stars and his anticipated success this season likely will put him on the same ice as legendary forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Team Sweden

Nicklas Backstrom, center

After his ordeal in Sochi, where he was suspended from playing in the gold medal game due to testing positive for allergy medication, Backstrom will be eager to lead Sweden into international battle. He led the NHL in assists last season with 60 and in nine Olympic games with Sweden Backstrom has one goal and nine assists, prompting Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to say Backstrom would rather pick up an assist than score a goal.  

Marcus Johansson, center/left/right wing  

Johansson was a late addition to Team Sweden in 2014 and picked up one assist in five games. Entering a contract season for the second year in a row, Johansson will have plenty incentive to put up big numbers this season after netting a career-high 20 goals and 47 points last season.

Outside shot: Andre Burakovsky

Team Europe

Philipp Grubauer, goaltender

Comprised of players from countries such as Slovakia, Germany, Austria, Norway, Belarus, Switzerland, Latvia and Denmark, Team Europe could show interest in Grubauer, a 23-year-old netminder from Rosenheim, Germany.  Grubauer has represented his country in two World Championship games and seven World Junior Championship matches and is expected to back up Holtby this season.

Andre Burakovsky, center/left wing

Born in Austria and raised in Sweden, Burakovsky would have a better shot at making Team Europe than he would Team Sweden, although his preference likely would be to play for Three Crowns. At 20 he still has plenty of room to grow and plenty of time to play for his home country.

Team North America

Tom Wilson, right wing

Made up of American and Canadian players who will be 23 or younger, this could be one of the most dangerous teams in the tournament with talented players like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Brandon Saad, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nathan McKinnon and Aaron Ekblad. Those players will need someone to protect them and Wilson would be more than willing to stand up to anyone interested in pushing them around. Wilson is anticipating a big season this year and he’s already got the attention of Team North America managers Peter Chiarelli and Stan Bowman.

Team Czech Republic

Jakub Vrana, right wing

At 19, Vrana still has a lot to prove between now and next September, but his shot and his hands are undeniably lethal and he could draw some attention from the Czech management team. Vrana would need to light up the AHL and perhaps see time with the Capitals before warranting serious consideration to play on an aging team anchored by Jake Voracek, Tomas Plekanec and Jaromir Jagr.  

RELATED: WILSON WILL CONTINUE TO PLAY HARD

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning to win the Eastern Conference

4 reasons the Caps beat the Lightning to win the Eastern Conference

The Capitals dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-0 in Game 7 on Wednesday to claim the conference crown and a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. Washington took an early lead and never looked back.

Here is how they bucked their Game 7 history to win.

62 seconds

The last time these two teams met in Tampa, the Lightning struck just 19 seconds into the game and it set the tone for the entire contest. This time, it was the Caps who struck early.

A big hit by Tom Wilson in the neutral zone created a turnover that started the rush for the Caps. Evgeny Kuznetsov fed Ovechkin for the one-timer and he fired it past Vasilevskiy just 62 seconds into the game.

Andre Burakovsky’s big night

Injury limited Burakovsky to just 56 games this season. He suffered another injury in Game 2 of the first round and did not return until Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. He was a healthy scratch in Game 5 and was talking about talking to a sports psychologist over the summer. He had not recorded a point this postseason heading into Wednesday game.

And somehow, he rattled off two goals to lead the Capitals.

The start of the second period was all Tampa Bay. The Lightning were dictating the play and buzzing around Braden Holtby. They outshot the Caps 8-1 to start the frame, but Burakovsky got the momentum right back as he stole the puck away from Dan Girardi and fired a beautiful shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy. John Carlson sprung him on a breakaway later in the second period which he put through the five-hole of Vasilevskiy for his second goal of the game.

Braden Holtby is suddenly unbeatable

The last goal Holtby allowed was 33 seconds into the second period…of Game 5. After not recording a single shutout at all this season, he blanked the Lightning in both Game 6 and Game 7 for back-to-back shutouts.

The Lightning had their opportunities. They pushed and pushed hard all game long, especially in the second period as they recorded eight of the first nine shots on goal of the period.

It didn’t matter.

Holtby was up to the task as he dominated the Lightning yet again, even turning aside a breakaway from Alex Killorn to keep the clean sheet. He made 60 straight saves and did not allow a goal for 159:27. This is just the fifth time in NHL history a goalie recorded a shutout in both Game 6 and Game 7 of a playoff series.

Team defense

The Lightning had their chances, but they were frustrated all night long by the all-in defense the Caps played. As good as Holtby was, he let up a lot of juicy rebounds early on. But Tampa Bay could not get a stick to any of them because the Caps defense beat them to the puck all game long.

The Caps recorded 15 blocked shots in the game. Devante Smith-Pelly took a shot block off the back of the neck, T.J. Oshie took one off the boot.

This team was all-in all night long and it frustrated what was the league’s top offense.

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Did Bryce Harper predict the Caps-Knights Stanley Cup Final?

Did Bryce Harper predict the Caps-Knights Stanley Cup Final?

On May 1, the Capitals were in the middle of their second-round series vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Everyone was skeptical about whether or not they'd be able to overcome the looming second-round hump. 

Everyone except Bryce Harper that is.

On May 1, Harper tweeted this: 

Moments after the Caps' Game 7 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning to win the Eastern Conference, earning a date with the Vegas Golden Knights, fans remembered Harper's prescient tweet.

Harper is a Las Vegas native and has been an outspoken Knights supporter since the beginning of the season.

However, as one of D.C.'s most beloved athletes, it's tough to imagine a scenario in which he roots against the Caps in a series that's so monumental for the entire city.

He hasn't announced which team he's pulling for yet, but regardless of who wins the Cup Bryce Harper will end up pretty happy.

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