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Photo: Patrick Smith

Tom Wilson almost made it through a Caps-Flyers game without getting involved in something foolish. But with six minutes and 51 seconds left in a one goal playoff hockey game, Wilson decided to board defenseman Andrew McDonald. It was an obvious penalty.

Thankfully for Wilson, Wayne Simmonds, who led the Flyers in regular season goals (32), decided a late game comeback push was the perfect time to retaliate. Simmonds took a roughing penalty before he and Wilson decided to punch each other in the face, negating any advantage for Philly when they needed it most.

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Photo: Patrick Smith

With everything locked up and only days to wait until their first round playoff matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals experienced injury scares at the worst time of the season.

First, Jay Beagle went down after blocking a shot with his left ankle during Saturday’s win over St. Louis. Beagle was scratched for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, necessitating an emergency recall of Hershey forward Zach Sill. Beagle, however, is set to play Thursday night. Jason Chimera is expected be in the lineup as well after leaving practice for a few minutes the day before because his “mom called.”

But there is one unknown: the status of TJ Oshie.

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Photo: Patrick Smith

Braden Holtby lay on his back with his eyes glazed over looking at the rafters of Madison Square Garden. Derek Stepan celebrated in the corner as the New York Rangers headed to the Eastern Conference Final. Holtby had posted one of the best postseasons performances in National Hockey League history with a save percentage of .944 and a goals against average of 1.71 over 13 games. He had kept the Capitals afloat all playoffs, but he finally cracked.

A year later, Holtby comes into the postseason on a team with one of the best assemblages of talent we’ve seen in recent memory. Holtby is still the Washington Capitals’ rock, but he no longer has to do everything himself. Last year, Holtby played in 73 games, the most of any goalie in the league. As usual, Holtby handled the pressure well, but there was a lot of it. This season, the Caps were able to play Braden less. With a strong backup in Philipp Grubauer, Washington didn’t need Holtby to win every single night. In return, he delivered a Vezina-caliber performance, matching Martin Brodeur for the most victories in a single season. But come Thursday night, Playoff Braden will return.

“There’s something about Holts,” Nate Schmidt said. “Even just watching the last two days of practice. He’s incredibly dialed in. He kicked it into another gear.”

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Photo: Bruce Bennett

As some of you know, I have a rare autoimmune condition. Earlier this month, I went up to the Mayo Clinic to Rochester, Minnesota to get some of that crazy stuff sorted out. As someone who’s never been west of Chicago, I was uniquely well-positioned positioned to ask vaguely informed, stereotypical questions about the State of Hockey. I directed them at former Minnesota Golden Gopher Nate Schmidt, who hails from St. Cloud. Here’s our conversation from last week.

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Photo: Rob Carr

First impressions make a difference. In December of his rookie season, Tom Wilson made himself known to fans of the Philadelphia Flyers with a savage charge on forward Brayden Schenn. Since then, Wilson has been a marked man.

“We don’t want to be liked by them,” Wilson said of the Flyers Tuesday, two days before the Capitals face Philadelphia in Game One the opening round of the playoffs. “Hopefully, we can keep it that way, that they hate our guts.” Continue Reading

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Photo: Justin K. Aller

Bruce Boudreau began the 2011-12 season with his team as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. In his last two seasons, he followed up a Presidents’ Trophy with an Eastern Conference regular-season title. Now, he had seven straight wins to start the year. A little over a month later, Boudreau, the fastest coach in NHL history to 200 wins, was gone. The man who resurrected hockey in Washington was replaced by two coaches who slowly bled the greatness out of the Capitals.

Just under four years later, Boudreau has found himself in a similar spot. Now the coach of the Anaheim Ducks, he had led his team to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals the year before. But the start of the 2015-16 season was a catastrophe. His team scored 10 goals in the entire month of October. They finished the month with a single victory. Boudreau didn’t have any answers.

“I don’t know,” he said after his team threw away another game on October 27. “I’m sort of at a loss right now.”

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Photo: Patrick Smith

After Braden Holtby tied Martin Brodeur for single-season wins record at 48 last night, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said “we’ll see” when asked multiple times by reporters if Holtby would get the start Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks. Trotz had spent days indicating Holtby almost certainly not play, with the Capitals sticking to their usual Holtby then Philipp Grubauer plan when the team plays back-to-back games. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.

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Photos: Scott Rovak 

Multiple Capitals made history Saturday night in St. Louis. All eyes were on Braden Holtby — including Martin Brodeur’s — as he attempted to tie the Hall of Fame goalie’s record of 48 wins in a single season. With a 5-1 victory, he did just that. Brodeur took 78 games to reach the mark. Holtby did it in just 66 games. Time for class photos!

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Sometime next week, after 82 games and a Presidents’ Trophy, the Washington Capitals will host Game One of the Eastern Conference First Round. This year, Capitals have put together one of the best regular seasons in National Hockey League history. Players have set records and some are still chasing them.

But the only thing that really matters to this team and to this fanbase is winning a Stanley Cup, something the Capitals are trying to accomplish for the first time in their 41-year history. Despite all their regular season success, the Capitals will face a tough first round opponent in either the Boston Bruins or Philadelphia Flyers. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, four losses is all it takes to implode a season that began in September. And as they close out their schedule, the Caps have now lost three games in a row for the first time this season and four of their last five matchups.

“We’ve lost a couple games here. It starts to sink in more,” head coach Barry Trotz told reporters Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I think it’s go time.”

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The Washington Capitals have not played well for weeks and panic is setting in. Thursday night against the Penguins, the Caps looked lethargic and disinterested, falling behind 3-0 before battling back late in the game. In overtime, Sidney Crosby roofed a backhanded shot past Braden Holtby on a breakaway, giving the Penguins a 4-3 win. The goal marked the Caps first three-game losing streak of the season. They’ve also lost five of their last seven games.

During his post-game press conference, an exasperated Barry Trotz had strong words for several unnamed Capitals, threatening roles, ice time, and postseason scratches.

“We have to ramp our game up,” Trotz said.

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