Photo credit: Chris Gordon

When Dale Hunter was first hired as Caps head coach, old-time fans of the team assumed #32 would bring his fiery nature behind the bench. Instead, Hunter has been cool, calm, and collected, rarely losing his composure or seeming visibly upset.

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Video: Joel Ward Scores Game Seven Overtime Goal

Photo credit: Brian Babineau

Joel Ward was a playoff hero for Nashville last year, leading the league in postseason goals at one point in the first round and ending with better than a point per game.

That grit and clutch goal-scoring was why General Manager George McPhee outbid a number of other teams to sign Ward in the summer to an expensive 4-year, $12 million contract.

In the regular season, however, things didn’t go as planned. Ward was benched one game for missing a meeting, scratched several games for poor play, and managed to tally just six goals. It was the worst offensive season of his career– though he spent most of it assigned as a fourth liner.

But Joel Ward’s play in the regular season isn’t what got him glory in Nashville. And it’s not what just put him in Capitals’ record books forever.

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Kanoobs celebrates his Game 5 goal. (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)

After being scratched for the first three games of the Caps’ first round series against Boston, 39-year-old Mike Knuble was inserted into the lineup for Game Four and hasn’t been taken out since. The fan-favorite right wing even scored in the third period of Game Five to help the Capitals take a 3-2 lead in the series. Knuble has always been reliable for the Caps in the postseason — he’s scored 5 goals in 16 career playoff games for the Capitals and has 28 points in 57 career playoff games. The 16-year NHL veteran has also won a Stanley Cup and played in three Game Sevens, which is something not many players on the Caps roster can say.

So what should we expect to see in the deciding game on Wednesday? In an interview with DC101’s Elliot in the Morning, Knuble talks about Braden Holtby, tuning out the Bruins’ trash-talk, and Ovechkin’s limited ice time in Game Three.

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Orlov and other Caps scratches look on from the press box. (Photo credit: Clydeorama)

It’s been a season of unexpected trials and disappointments for the Washington Capitals, but if there’s been one pleasant surprise, it’s been Dmitry Orlov. The young defenseman was not expected to make a permanent impact with the club this season, but after being called up on an emergency basis early in the year, Orlov simply earned his keep, becoming a mainstay even on a roster that frequently had defensemen to spare. Orlov has yet to play in the postseason, with the coaching staff so far relying on more experienced players to man the blueline, but if the Caps manage to make it past the first round, he may just get his chance.

Before the playoffs began, Orlov talked with Hockey World’s Andrey Osadchenko about about Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and his unexpected breakthrough year. I provide a translation below.

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10:23 p.m. was not a good time for the Washington Capitals on Monday. That’s when the clock hit zero, putting the Caps down 2-1 in their best of seven quarterfinal matchup with the Bruins. But it was also what happened after the whistle that could haunt the team’s postseason chances.

As the final seconds ticked off and the Caps dropped the game 4-3, Boston’s Rich Peverley and Alex Ovechkin got into a scuffle. Coming to the aid of his buddy, Nicklas Backstrom delivered a cross-check up high on the Bruins forward. That’s when the inconsistent officiating of this series — and these playoffs as a whole — once again reared its head. For his infraction — the third called against him in the game — Backstrom was assessed a match penalty.

The video is after the jump.

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Photo credit: Rob Carr

If there was one moment that epitomized Tuesday’s game, it came in the waning moments of the second period. With the Capitals on the power play with chance to narrow the Sabres lead to one heading into the final intermission, Keith Aucoin chipped the puck along the boards to Alex Ovechkin, who was playing the point at the blueline. Ovi fumbled the slow moving puck, got out muscled by Jason Pominville and then stumbled to the ice. Pominville finished the sequence by deflating any hope there was on the Capitals bench when his shot hit the back of the net. Ovechkin smashed his stick against the goal post in frustration.

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Buffalo Sabres Pregame: Manifest Destiny

Craig of the PuckBuddys delivers this pregame and travelogue. Please follow @PuckBuddys on Twitter.

So it all comes down to this. A season full of mediocre and substandard Caps performances could very well hinge upon Tuesday night’s tilt against the Sabres. Or, as we like to call them, the godless and heathen Sabres. Tuesday night at Verizon is when we glance up into the rear-view mirror and see all those squandered games and lost opportunities receding into the distance. Had the Caps gotten their heads and asses wired together at any point between November and say, last Friday’s night’s OT loss to the Jets, we wouldn’t be on pins and needles headed into Tuesday evening, or in my particular case, on lithium and Maker’s Mark.

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Braden Holtby: King of March

Photo credit: Mitchell Layton

In March of 2011, a 22-year-old Saskatchewan native got called up to the Capitals after one of their netminders suffered an injury. Unproven and raw, he seemed at ease as he created a three-way goalie controversy on one of the league’s top teams. In March of 2012, a 23-year-old Saskatchewan native may be doing the same thing.

In his three games up with Washington after Tomas Vokoun went out with a groin injury, Braden Holtby has been stellar and ever improving as he turned a .889 save percentage in the first two months of the year in the AHL into a sparkling shutout performance in front of 18,506 fans (but who’s counting?) in one of his team’s biggest games of the year. With the Capitals fighting for every point as they try to squeak into the playoffs, head coach Dale Hunter may have no choice but to play the hot hand — even if the question was supposed to be settled when the Capitals traded away Michal Neuvirth’s competition before making the surprise signing of Vokoun in the summer.

“From my short stint in pro hockey you realize things change really quickly,” Holtby told reporters after the game. “I was ready, that’s what I’ve been working towards in Hershey all year. I’m trying to make good call-ups count.”

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Dirty Goals: Caps beat Wings 5-3

Photo: Dave Reginek

What a game. If the Washington Capitals could play the Detroit Red Wings 82 times a year, we’d be happy campers. After that tremendous 7-1 thrashing back in October, the Caps’ fortunes shifted dramatically. But here we are again– late in the campaign– and the Caps have that spark. If only they could keep it glowing for a full hour of hockey.

Marcus Johansson delivered a perfect pass to Alex Ovechkin, who fired a perfect one-timer from the perfect spot. Mike Knuble made it 2-0 by finishing off a smart passing sequence with Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault. Ovechkin got another by skating around the trainwreck in front of Jimmy Howard and wristing it. Kyle Quincey got one back in the second period with a long bomb that rang iron, but Keith Aucoin nullified with a spin-o-rama made possible by Alex Semin.

Just half a minute into the third, Todd Bertuzzi beat Holtby’s slow glove hand to give Detroit some life. Danny Cleary crashed Holtby’s net to make it 4-3, and things got tense. Jason Chimera defused it with an empty netter. Caps beat Wings 5-3.

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Ian and I have made a new bet. We’re gonna share the details with you because a) it’s timely considering Knuble is a scratch again, and b) last time I didn’t pay up so this is like leverage.

The Bet: Peter bets Ian that Mike Knuble will last longer with the Caps than Dale Hunter.

The Stakes: $22 (USD) and one (1) lunch at Chick-fil-A.

The actual text of the bet is after the jump. I really think Ian is going down this time.

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