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Zach Sanford's first NHL goal seals a win for the Capitals over the Ducks

Zach Sanford's first NHL goal seals a win for the Capitals over the Ducks

Final score: Washington Capitals 6, Anaheim Ducks 4

How it happened: Washington looked like they were going to cruise as they took a 3-0 lead in the third period. Anaheim battled back, however, with two goals in the second and third period to tie the game at 4, but then Zach Sanford stepped in with his first career NHL goal and first game-winning goal to boot.

What it means: The Caps enter the bye week undefeated at home in 2017 with 12 straight home wins. It is also the teams’ sixth straight win overall.

Goals

Capitals goal: T.J. Oshie (power play) from Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom at 6:45 in the first. Johansson had the puck to John Gibson’s left, but the defense left him a lane. He took it and drove on net until the defense finally bit, then he sent the puck over to Oshie waiting in the slot. Caps 1, Ducks 0

Capitals goal: Nicklas Backstrom from T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin at 14:35 in the first. Backstrom carried the puck behind the red line and flicked it out to Ovechkin. Gibson stopped the initial shot, but Backstrom was there to backhand in the rebound. Caps 2, Ducks 0

Capitals goal: Tom Wilson from Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle at 17:48 in the first. Some pressure from Beagle behind the net forced a Ducks turnover. Winnik took the puck, but rather than shoot it, he fed Wilson on the backside for the goal. Caps 3, Ducks 0

Ducks goal: Jakob Silfverberg from Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Getzlaf at 7:16 in the first. Silfverberg skated the puck into the offensive zone and fired a shot to the far-side top corner that beat the blocker of Braden Holtby. Caps 3, Ducks 1

Caps goal: Daniel Winnik (shorthanded) at 10:31 in the second. Winnik pounced on the loose puck in the defensive zone. Anaheim looked like they had him well covered, but he forced the issue and found a seam as the Ducks got their signals crossed. With the open shot, he sent a wrister past Gibson. Caps 4, Ducks 1

Ducks goal: Hampus Lindholm from Ryan Getzlaf and Jakub Silfverberg at 17:36 in the second. Getzlaf looked like he would take the puck behind the net, but just before he did, he switched to the forehand for the sneaky pass to Lindholm in the slot that completely fooled the Caps' defense. Holtby appeared to be the only Cap who knew where the puck was as he stopped Lindholm's first shot, but Lindholm put the puck away on the second opportunity. Caps 4, Ducks 2

Ducks goal: Ryan Kesler from Cam Fowler at 9:38 in the third. Dmitry Orlov tried to wheel the puck around his own net, but he was chased down from behind by Kesler who forced a turnover. Fowler then found Kesler in the high slot for the goal. Caps 4, Ducks 3

Ducks goal: Ryan Getzlaf from Cam Fowler and Kevin Bieksa at 11:48 in the third. Fowler took the puck from behind his own net after the defensive zone draw and fired the long-range pass to launch a streaking Getzlaf on the breakaway. Caps 4, Ducks 4

Caps goal:  Zach Sanford from Matt Niskanen and Brett Connolly at 17:21 in the third. Sanford scored his first career NHL goal to break the tie. Caps 5, Ducks 4

Caps goal: Marcus Johansson (empty netter) at 19:47 in the third. Caps 6, Ducks 4

3 Stars

1. Ryan Getzlaf: Getzlaf's assist on Lindholm's goal was a thing of beauty. It completely froze Washington's defense as they could not locate where the puck was allowing Lindholm plenty of time to score. He also had the presence of mind to launch himself down the ice on what looked like an innocent faceoff win for the Ducks that launched him for the breakaway goal.

2. Daniel Winnik: Winnik was fired up after what looked like a slewfoot from Corey Perry early in the game. He tallied an assist in the first period with a heads-up play to pass to a wide open Wilson on the backdoor rather than trying to take the puck on net himself. Winnik was at his best, however' on the penalty kill where he not only frustrated the Ducks' power play, but he also pounced on a loose puck and turned it into a shorthanded goal in the second period.

3. Zach Sanford: His first NHL goal was an important one. The Ducks battled back from 3-0 and 4-1 to tie the game at 4, but Sanford stepped in wiht his first career NHL goal to give the Caps the win.

Look ahead: Saturday’s game was the Caps’ last before the bye week. They will not return to the ice until Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for a 10:30 a.m. practice. They then head to Detroit for an afternoon game against the Red Wings on Saturday.

Tell us what you think: The Caps remain red-hot with their 12th straight win at home and 11th straught home game with five or more goals. But they won't have a chance to keep the momentum going until Saturday after their bye week. Given how well the team is playing, do you think the bye week is coming at a bad time for Washington?

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Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

Free Agency Bracket: Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s semifinal matchup:

Joonas Donskoi vs. Carl Gunnarsson

2018-19 stats

Joonas Donskoi (27 years old): 80 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points, 13:25 TOI

Playoffs: 12 games played for the San Jose Sharks, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 12:26 TOI

Carl Gunnarsson (32 years old): 25 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, 15:15 TOI

Playoffs: 19 games played with the St. Louis Blues, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 14:57 TOI, won Stanley Cup

Hockey-Graph contract projections 

Joonas Donskoi: 3 years, $2,847,521 cap hit

Carl Gunnarsson: 1 year, $731,159 cap hit

The case for Joonas Donskoi

Maybe Andre Burakovsky’s qualifying offer of $3.25 million means he’s back with the Capitals for another year. But it doesn’t preclude a trade and in Donskoi you’d have a similar option at a cheaper price, which matters if you only have $9.2 million in cap space left for now.

Donskoi made the offense better in San Jose in whatever role he was asked to play. He can go up and down the lineup and had a consistency to his game that Burakovsky at times lacks. Donskoi’s stats may not always reflect that, but making his teammates around him better is a valuable asset. Either way, depth scoring is important and a priority for the Capitals. 

Donskoi has every bit the Stanley Cup playoff experience as Burakovsky does if that matters to you. Donskoi has nine goals and 12 assists in 50 playoff games and Burakovsky has nine goals and nine assists in 56 playoff games. Not much to chose between the team except Donskoi would be cheaper if Washington decided to trade Burakovsky. 

The case for Carl Gunnarsson

The Caps will need a No. 6/7 defenseman after Brooks Orpik retired on Tuesday. Yes, they gave a qualifying offer to RFA defenseman Christian Djoos and they have Jonas Siegenthaler under contract, too. Both are natural left side defensemen. Going with the kids is an option. But both of them? That becomes problematic when someone gets hurt in your top two pairings and players have to bump up. 

Gunnarsson was the hero of the “Boston Pee Party” when he scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final after declaring to head coach Craig Berube at the urinal he just needed one more opportunity. Gunnarsson had just seven points in the regular season so no one should expect a ton of offense, but the point is he delivered when it mattered most.

When he is not playing the overtime hero, he is a third-pairing, stay at home defenseman who can play on the penalty kill which is pretty much exactly what the Caps need in a depth defenseman.

Take a look at Gunnarsson’s contract projection. You can’t beat that price. Sure, those projections came out before he won the Stanley Cup, but even if his price goes up, it will not be significant. You’re tinkering at the margins of the roster here and championship experience matters. 

Who’s your pick? Vote here:

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

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Burakovsky receives qualifying offer from Capitals

The Capitals tendered qualifying offers to six of their seven restricted free agents at Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline, including forward Andre Burakovsky. 

Burakovsky, 24, had been the subject of trade rumors up until the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 25 and also in the days leading up to last week’s NHL Draft in Vancouver. Nothing came of them. Washington general manager Brian MacLellan made it clear that while teams were calling, he wasn’t about to just give away a 2013 first-round draft pick. 

“We like the player. There's been some inconsistencies there, but when he's on his game, he's a good player,” MacLellan said last Thursday. “We'd like to keep him around but obviously his name is out there a little bit, so we do talk to some teams about him. But we're not going to move him unless we get something we're comfortable with back.”

But the Capitals are still in a salary cap crunch and that could still land Burakovsky elsewhere in the coming days. His qualifying offer is $3.25 million. Washington is only $9.235 million below the salary cap of $81.5 million. If Burakovsky signs, he would provide scoring depth. He has a career-high 17 goals and has scored 12 each of the past two seasons.

The Capitals do need to see more from Burakovsky. He has struggled with confidence and consistent production over the years. But if he returns, he would be a good option to replace the expected-to-depart Brett Connolly at right wing on the third line with Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin. Connolly is an unrestricted free agent and likely out of Washington’s price range. 

By tendering a qualifying offer, the Capitals ensure that they will keep Burakovsky’s rights. If they had not then he’d be an unrestricted free agent able to sign with any team. That’s not a smart use of an asset that could still help in 2019-20. They could, of course, still trade him at any time. 

Meanwhile, forward Dmitry Jaskin was not tendered a qualifying offer. He is a free agent now. Jaskin never gained the trust of the coaching staff last season. He appeared in just 37 games despite analytics that showed he had a positive impact on the fourth line. Jaskin picked up on waivers from the St. Louis Blues in October, had two goals and four assists. He did not play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Winger Jakub Vrana also received a qualifying offer, but that’s not expected to matter much as the two sides try to put together a long-term contract extension after his breakthrough 24-goal season in his second NHL year. 

The Capitals did tender a qualifying offer to defenseman Christian Djoos. An ugly thigh injury that turned into compartment syndrome and limited him to 45 games. But with Brooks Orpik retiring on Tuesday, Washington could go with Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler as their No. 6/7 defensemen on their natural left sides. 

Fourth-line winger Chandler Stephenson also received his qualifying offer. AHL Hershey forward Colby Williams and goalie Vitek Vanacek also received qualifying offers from Washington.  

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