August 24, 2016

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 6 Recap: Disappointment again

CAPS RALLY FROM THREE-GOAL DEFICIT BUT BOUNCED IN OVERTIME

 (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Yup. We all feel that way. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals rallied from a three-goal deficit to force overtime, but once there they were overwhelmed and Nick Bonino scored 6:32 into the extra session to promote the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, sending the President’s Trophy winning Caps packing, once again.

It was, perhaps, the most Caps-like way of being eliminated from a playoff series.

Logically, it shouldn’t have gotten to overtime. The Penguins came out focused and flying, dominating the Caps in all facets of the game though the first 38 minutes. Phil Kessel put the Pens up 1-0 in the first, then Brooks Orpik was assessed a double-minor high-sticking penalty, and Kessel and Carl Hagelin made it 3-0, cashing in on both penalties, midway though the second period.

But T.J. Oshie got the Caps on the board with a power play goal with 1:30 left in the second, giving the Caps some hope going into the third. Then Justin Williams added one 7:23 into the third period and suddenly a comeback looked do-able. Then things got weird, as the Penguins were assessed three consecutive delay-of-game penalties, giving the Caps a pair of five-on-three power plays.

They made good on just one, however, with John Carlson’s rocket tying the game at three with 13:01 left in regulation.

Both teams had good opportunities down the stretch, but as they had all series, Braden Holtby and Matt Murray stood tall and kept things deadlocked to force an extra session.

Unfortunately for the road team, the Penguins came out on fire once again in overtime. A sequence early should have ended it there, but Holtby made several “how did he do that” saves, and Jay Beagle dove to deflect a puck off the goal line, only to prolong the agony.

Bonino’s game winner came off another excellent save by Holtby, a low kick save, but Matt Niskanen was unable to tie up the Pens’ forward and Bonino got just enough of the rebound on the backhand to sneak it past the prone Holtby and into the gaping net.

There are no clever words to describe the disappointment for this Caps team being eliminated in the second round, prolonging the District’s bizarre tenure of being the only city with at least three of the four major sports not advancing a team into a conference finals since the last time the Caps did it in 1998.

This team seemed to be “built the right way.” It rolled four lines all season long, and had legitimate NHL forwards in the press box most nights. Could they use another defenseman? Sure, but who can’t? As they’re constructed, the Caps have a nice blend of youth and experience and should challenge the top of the conference again next season.

That doesn’t help now, though. For now, it’s disappointment, yet again.

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 3 Recap: Everything but the win

CAPS CONTROL PLAY BUT NOT SCOREBOARD; LETANG HIT ON JOHANSSON TO BE REVIEWED

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Washington Capitals got two third-period goals but couldn’t find the equalizer and dropped Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2, before a capacity crowd decked out in yellow t-shirts at Consol Energy Center.

Typically, when a team outshoots the other 49-23 — including 21-9 in the third — the outcome is predictable. Unfortunately, these things seem to happen to the Caps more often than not in the playoffs. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 2 Recap: Fehr’s late tip tops Caps

OUTPLAYED MUCH OF GAME, CAPS CAN’T FIND THE GO-AHEAD IN THIRD

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

For much of the second half of the regular season, the Washington Capitals got into a habit of playing 20-25 minutes with enough energy to pull out a favorable result. On Saturday night at a raucous Verizon Center, it wasn’t nearly enough.

Old friend Eric Fehr tipped an entry pass from Evgeni Malkin past Braden Holtby late in the third period and the Pittsburgh Penguins evened their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup with the Caps at a game apiece with a 2-1 regulation win. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 1: Oshie’s hat trick, overtime winner propel Caps in Game 1 win

With dozens of hats sailing to the Verizon Center playing surface and Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” playing over the public address system, the ultimate outcome of the opening game in the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins lay still in doubt.

Fans begged for T.J. Oshie’s hat-trick goal, the game-winning wraparound 9:33 into the overtime session, to stand as called on the ice. The building’s pressure-cooker status reached its peak as referee Dan O’Rourke took off his headset after a review that seemingly lasted as long as this all-time playoff contest itself.

His affirmation of the goal resulted in a raucous scene of euphoria. What more often than not felt like the first round of a heavyweight title bout brought a 4-3 decision in favor of the hosts, the latest step in the to-be-determined journey of this team that, at least for now, wears the hopes of its city on its back.

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 80 Recap: Comeback falls short in overtime loss to Pens

HOLTBY’S CHANCE AT BRODEUR’S ALL-TIME WINS RECORD TAKES HEAVY BLOW

(Photo by Greg Fiume/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Greg Fiume/NHLI via Getty Images)

Marcus Johansson — yes, Marcus Johansson — led a three-goal comeback for the Washington Capitals, only to see Sidney Crosby take a long head-man pass in overtime to beat Braden Holtby and lift the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Caps 4-3 on Thursday at a noticeably divided Verizon Center.

Pittsburgh won its eighth in a row and locked up second place in the division win the win.

The Caps (55-17-8) needed the late comeback because once again they came out complacent, suffered defensive breakdowns and received sometimes nonchalant goaltending.

A mere 44 seconds into the game, on a three-on-two rush, Tom Kuhnackl turned Nate Schmidt inside-out and passed to wide open Matt Cullen, who cleanly beat Holtby for a 1-0 lead. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 62 Recap: Comeback Caps do it again, beat Pens on late power play goal

LATE THIRD-PERIOD POWER PLAY GOAL LIFTS CAPS OVER PENS

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

The Washington Capitals came out slow, got their stuff together, came roaring back, and beat a quality opponent with a late to goal to keep their season record above record-setting pace.

Tuesday, Matt Niskanen (or was it T.J. Oshie?) was the player that scored the late goal, and it was the dreaded Pittsburgh Penguins that suffered the come-from-ahead loss to these never-say-die Caps, as Washington escaped with a 3-2 win before an enthralled Verizon Center crowd.

Oshie seemed to have gotten a piece of Niskanen’s slap shot from center point, which came with 6:22 to go, but as of late Tuesday the goal was awarded to the defenseman, his fourth of the year.

Regardless, Braden Holtby (28 saves) and the Caps D was able to make it stand up over those final few playoff-like intense moments. Holtby won his 40th of the season, becoming the first Caps goalie to win 40 in back-to-back seasons. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 29 Recap: Caps spoil Mike Sullivan’s Penguins coaching debut with 4-1 win

HOLTBY STELLAR ONCE AGAIN, OSHIE SCORES TWICE TO DUMP PENS

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Generally, the rivalry between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins has more than enough emotion and storylines to go around. On Monday in Pittsburgh the drama was eve up a notch as the Penguins hoped to welcome new head coach Mike Sullivan to the Steel City with a win over one of their biggest rivals.

Instead, the Capitals scored the first two goals in the first period, and added another in the third for good measure and Braden Holtby made 44 saves in a 4-1 triumph to finish their three-game road trip in style. [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 8 Recap: Fleury stifles Caps as Penguins win

 (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

After a western Canadian trip that saw a powerhouse of offense, the Washington Capitals failed to topple Marc Andre Fleury and fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1.

Although the first period did not start with a barrage of shots and goals as the previous few games have, the Caps proved they are no one-trick pony with their defense and Braden Holtby showing up tough.

The Penguins were given a golden opportunity with 13:36 in the first when Brooks Orpik received a boarding call. Chandler Stephenson (on a  questionable elbowing) was already in the box. The 5-on-3 chance was for 1:45 and the penalty kill was a hero. The Caps had the puck out of the zone and disrupted the Penguins at every turn. [Read more…]

Looking at Caps’ possible playoff matchups

As the Washington Capitals inch closer to a playoff berth, it’s time to start looking ahead at possible playoff matchups.

Though the Caps have only five games left on their schedule, there are still a handful of teams they can meet in the first round. Here’s a look at all the teams the Caps could face and how they match up against them.

New York Rangers

Caps record against them this season: 1-2-0 with one game remaining

How they could meet in the playoffs: The Rangers win the Metropolitan division and the Caps finish in a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner would play which wild card team.

Why they can beat the Caps: The Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and are even better this year ranking in the top three in the NHL in both goals scored and goals allowed per game. They are incredibly fast and incredibly deep. When Keith Yandle is on your third defensive pair, you do not have many holes on your roster. While the Caps boast the league’s leading goal-scorer in Alex Ovechkin, the Rangers boast the second leading scorer in Rick Nash.

Why the Caps can beat them: Henrik Lundqvist has only played once since Feb. 2 and has only a few games to get back into form. Even though Cam Talbot has played well in relief, there is no question who the team’s top netminder is. If he’s not back to form by the start of the playoffs, that’s a major blow.

Chances the Caps win the series: Slim. Not only are the Rangers the best team in the Eastern Conference, but they are also the worst matchup for the Caps. The Caps have no answer for the Rangers’ speed and the defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi have been a nightmare for Ovechkin in the past. With secondary scoring a major weakness for the Caps, it’s hard to figure out just how the Caps will score against Lundqvist and a defensive pair capable of shutting down Ovechkin. If you think Sunday’s win over the Rangers was a hopeful sign, keep in mind that the Caps were dominated by the Rangers in their first two meetings this season and for the first two periods on Sunday. The Rangers could have easily blown that game wide open, but missed several open opportunities in which they had Holtby beat. In a best of seven series, the Caps’ effort on Sunday would not be good enough to win four of those seven games.

New York Islanders

Caps record against them this season: 2-0-2

How they could meet in the playoffs: The Caps finish second or third in the division and the Penguins fall to a wild card spot.

Why they can beat the Caps: John Tavares is quickly becoming one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league helping the Islanders score the fourth most 5-on-5 goals this season. For all their current struggles, at one time the Islanders were far and away the best team in the Metropolitan Division. Jaroslav Halak in net is a wild card. He has been good not great this season, but every Caps fan knows how good he is capable of being in the playoffs. He carried a worse Montreal team all the way to the conference finals in 2010, he could certainly help this Islanders team go just as far.

Why the Caps can beat them: The Islanders have been reeling with seven losses in their last nine games. They are also relatively inexperienced and rank 21st in the NHL in goals against per game.

Chances the Caps win the series: High. It is always good for a team to get hot at the right time, but the Islanders have been fading down the stretch. They have gone from being the division leader to a tie with Pittsburgh for second place and trailing the Rangers by a wide margin. This will not be a confident group going into the postseason.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Caps record against them this season: 3-1-0

How they could meet in the playoffs: The Caps finish second or third in the division and the Islanders fall to a wild card spot.

Why they can beat the Caps: The Caps may have won the first three meetings this season, but the Penguins finally seemed to figure things out in their final matchup with a 4-3 win that was not as close as the score indicates. After failing to get any traffic at all in front of Braden Holtby, the Penguins were all over the Caps netminder and the crease. It certainly looked as if they had found the formula for beating the Caps in that fourth game.

Why the Caps can beat them: The Caps have dominated the season series, winning three of their four games in commanding fashion. In their first three games, the Caps beat the Penguins by a score of 10-1. The Penguins just cannot stay healthy this season. They got back Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist on Saturday just to lose Kris Letang to a concussion.

Chances the Caps win the series: 50/50. Two of the Caps best games this season were their first two wins against Pittsburgh in which they completely dominated. It’s hard to have much faith in Marc-Andre Fleury who is rapidly becoming Jose Theodore — great in the regular season, lousy in the playoffs. Secondary scoring won’t be an issue if Ovechkin scores at the rate he has against Pittsburgh so far this year with four goals and one assist in four games. The Penguins don’t have the defense to shut him down. Having said all of that, it’s the Penguins and they always seem to find a way to beat the Caps in the playoffs. Pittsburgh played poorly in their first three games against the Caps and they know it. When they finally get pressure on the net, they came out on top. Their gameplan would be to drive the crease hard and play physically against Holtby. That should scare Caps fans considering backup goaltending is a weakness. That’s not to say that the Penguins would intentionally try to hurt Holtby, but they certainly would not let him leave this series without a few bumps and bruises.

Montreal Canadiens

Caps record against them this season: 0-0-2

How they could meet in the playoffs: Montreal wins the Atlantic Division, Caps earn a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner plays which wild card team.

Why they can beat the Caps: Two words, Carey Price. The likely league MVP has been unreal this year and leads the NHL in GAA (1.88) and save percentage (.937) among goalies with at least 20 starts this season. Those are some crazy numbers.

Why the Caps can beat them: Take away Price and Montreal is actually a pretty mediocre team. Led by Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens are 23rd in the NHL in goals per game. With all due respect to Pacioretty, Montreal lacks an offensive superstar on their roster who is capable of taking over a series.

Chances the Caps win the series: Slim. Can Price actually carry Montreal past the Caps in a best of seven series? Absolutely give how he has been playing. A mediocre Montreal team with a hot goalie? The Capitals know how lethal that combination can be and this time the Canadiens will have home ice advantage. With P.K. Subban on defense, Montreal will sell out on stopping Ovechkin and the Caps do not have enough other weapons to beat Price.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Caps record against them this season: 2-1-0

How they could meet in the playoffs: Tampa Bay wins the Atlantic Division, Caps earn a wild card spot. The standings would then dictate which division winner plays which wild card team

Why they can beat the Caps: Good luck stopping the Lightning’s offense, the best in the NHL this season. Not only do they have Steven Stamkos, but they have three other players who also have passed the 20-goal mark (the Caps only have one as Troy Brouwer has exactly 20 goals) and have five players with over 50 points (the Caps have two). Most importantly, it’s not an offense that is dependent on the power play as they have scored the most 5-on-5 goals in the NHL this season.

Why the Caps can beat them: Ben Bishop may be a towering presence in net, but with a paltry .914 save percentage this season he has failed to establish himself as the dominating goalie a team needs for a deep playoff run. After getting swept in the playoffs last season by Montreal, you have to wonder how high confidence will be in Tampa this year.

Chances the Caps win the series: Slight edge to Tampa Bay. There will be plenty of scoring to go around in this one. The Caps defense won’t be able to bottle up Stamkos and Co. while Ovechkin will get his points against the unproven Bishop. The problem for the Caps is that they are absolutely awful when they do not score first. The only team with fewer wins than the Caps this season after conceding the first goal is Buffalo. They are a completely different team when they are down early, a position they could easily find themselves in often against an offense as lethal as Tampa’s. How confident are you that the Caps can score first in four out of seven games against the best offense in the NHL?

Three Stars: Washington Capitals 3, Pittsburgh Penguins 4

FIRST STAR: Alex Ovechkin. Fully engaged Ovi in this one. A goal, which gave the Caps late life, five shots on goal, three blocked, five more missed and eight hits.

SECOND STAR: Jason Chimera. Two assists, though took a bad penalty during a string of bad penalties in the second period.

THIRD STAR: Troy Brouwer. Goal and an assist. 7 of 11 in the dot.

Goat of the game: Tom Wilson. Hate to kick a guy when he’s down, but there’s no place in the game for instigating contact during warmups. Total bush league move by a guy whose luster is starting to come off.

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