Photo: Drew Hallowell

Ahead of Game Six in Pittsburgh, Evgeny Kuznetsov had something profound to say, which I’m now going to share with you.

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The Washington Capitals have played eleven games in this year’s postseason and, so far, forward Michael Latta has been a healthy scratch in all of them.

Normally the fourth-line center, since late February Latta has basically been replaced by Mike Richards. Sitting out can be difficult, but for Latta, it’s been more of an honor. Richards was Latta’s favorite hockey player as a child.

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Heading into Game Five, we had heard plenty of “Murray! Murray!” chants from the home crowd in Pittsburgh. Penguins rookie netminder Matt Murray, 21, has stolen the show, stopping 81 of 85 shots in his last two games. He has relegated franchise netminder Marc-Andre Flurey, currently signed to a four-year, $23 million contract, to backup duty. Murray’s numbers are brilliant, with a 6-2 record, 2.00 goals-against average, and a .930 save percentage in the postseason.

But on Saturday night, it was Braden Holtby’s time to reclaim the spotlight. Holtby, a near lock to win the Vezina Trophy for goalie of the year, stopped 30 of 31 Pittsburgh shots in the elimination game. His heroics kept Washington’s season alive. Now the series shifts to Pittsburgh with the Capitals down 3-2. Without Holtby, Washington may have been packing up their sticks at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Monday.

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Photo: @CapsYapp

Ahead of Game Two, one bold Caps fan brought a fluorescent pink sign to Verizon Center. Written haphazardly in marker and in all-caps, the message read “SHUT UP PIERRE.” The fan held this sign near NBC commentator Pierre McGuire during warm-ups. It was a hit online.

And apparently it has started a revolution.

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Mike Weber chipped the puck away from the crease. It ended up on the stick of a Pittsburgh Penguin.

It’s not the first defensive turnover to lose a game this playoffs. We saw the same from Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov. But in sudden death overtime against a hated foe to whom the Caps have lost 7 out of 8 playoff series, it burns.

Barry Trotz chose to give a sweater to Mike Weber over Nate Schmidt, a demonstrably better player. Whatever you think of Mike Weber’s play, the fact that he was playing in overtime was the true mistake.

The Caps, who won the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season team, are now one loss away from having just another disappointing season.

Let’s review the decisive play.

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Photos by Chris Gordon.

Ryan Ellis rarely misses a Capitals game. A former college hockey player, the Ashburn native is a diehard fan. But as the Caps closed out the Flyers in Game Six of the first round, Ellis wasn’t watching, or even tracking, the game. Instead, he was making his second career start in the top-tier NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at his home track at Richmond International Raceway.

“That’s the track I grew up watching Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt race at as a little kid and say ‘Oh, it would be cool to sit a little closer next year, not knowing that 15 years later I would driving at it.” Ellis said. “I always wanted to. That’s the only thing you ever think of, but you never really expect to get the chance because you can never expect anything in this sport.”

You would think NASCAR and hockey don’t mix, but they do. NASCAR is a southern sport built on cheap beer, rivalries, and relatively unsophisticated V8s speeding past you at ear-splitting levels. Hockey is a graceful northern game featuring cheap beer, rivalries, and relatively unsophisticated people punching each other in the face. In the stands at Richmond, as Ellis raced in the Toyota Owners 400, there were dozens of people in Capitals gear to be found, including some in full jerseys.

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In the first period of Game Three, Marcus Johansson got elbowed in the head by Kris Letang. The hit, which was not unlike Brook Orpik’s in Game Two, forced a dazed Johansson to retreat to the locker room. Johansson returned for the start of the second period and ended up skating nearly 20 minutes in the game. With suspensions and fines often based on whether or not the player is injured, the league’s Department of Player Safety will undoubtedly soften the blow to Letang because Johansson came back. The Capitals forward said he passed concussion testing but had “a little whiplash.”

“I didn’t see him coming, he came from the blind side,” Johansson said. “I just looked at it, he obviously leaves his feet, and hits me in the head. It’s the kind of play you want out of the league. Doesn’t look good.”

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Photo: Doug Pensinger

The Washington Capitals played their best game of the postseason in Game Three of the Second Round, firing 49 shots at Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray. After allowing three unlucky goals, two off deflections and one off a tip-in in the crease, the Capitals pummeled Pittsburgh with 21 shots on goal in the third period, scoring twice and nearly converting on a myriad of scoring chances in the final minutes. After the Capitals mustered just 10 shots through the first 40 minutes of Game Two, Nicklas Backstrom was angry with how his team played. But speaking after Monday’s loss, which put the Capitals down 2-1 in the series, he was far more confident in his team.

“We had more shots tonight than we had last game, so that’s a good thing,” Backstrom said after Game Three. “It’s a seven game series and I think it’s so important that you take something positive even if you lose. I thought we played right.”

The message was the same throughout the Capitals locker room.

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Photo: @WashCaps

For 30 minutes a crowd of reporters and cameramen stood in front of the white board in the Capitals locker room at CONSOL Energy Center. Numerous players entered the room and went to their stalls after Washington’s morning skate on Monday, but the assembled media stayed right where they were, waiting for Brooks Orpik to address the three game suspension levied by the NHL for his late hit to the head on Olli Maatta. Finally, after everyone else was already off the ice, Orpik walked into room, took off his equipment, and walked in front of the lights. While the rest of Capitals defended Orpik or refused to comment earlier, the offender made no excuses.

“I think it was fair,” Orpik said of the punishment given to him by the league’s Department of Player Safety. “It was a bad hit. It was intended to be a hard hit, definitely not at his head, but I don’t think there is anything that you can argue that it was definitely late. I think that was pretty black and white. I said that during my hearing yesterday.”

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Sunday afternoon, the NHL suspended Brooks Orpik three games for his head shot of Olli Maatta. Monday after the Capitals morning skate, Tom Wilson defended his teammate and also criticized NBC’s Mike Milbury.

During the first intermission of Game Two, Milbury, who has always been a lightning rod for controversy, called Orpik a “predator,” implying that the Caps defenseman was looking to injure Maatta. Orpik and Maatta are friends off the ice.

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