Photo credit: Dave Sanford

Sunday night after the Capitals’ 3-0 win against the Wild, Coach Dale Hunter said that tonight’s matchup with the Buffalo Sabres was going to be “like the seventh game of the playoffs.”

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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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Hunter Hockey, Jets beat Caps 4-3 (OT)

Photo credit: Rob Carr

Last time the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets met, Ovechkin got taunted and the Caps lost a slot in the standings. The Caps remembered and came out swinging this game. But then Dale Hunter enacted his formula for something, and everything went to hell.

Thanks to Jeff Halpern, Jason Chimera went cruising along in the O-zone, tucking the puck behind Pavelec with his backhand. Alex Ovechkin recorded two consecutive goals in the second– a subtle wristshot and a loud 6-on-5 one-timer. The Jets rallied back with goals from Maxwell and Little before the second intermission. The Caps had literally no offense (seriously, none) in third until Spencer Machacek tied it up.

Into overtime, where Stapleton won it. Jets beat Caps 4-3 (OT).

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Mike Knuble’s Spring Fling

The legend of Mike Knuble goes something like this: as the season grows older, he grows more powerful. To Mike, the regular season is like Samson’s hair or Max Damage’s waking life: more makes him more better. His production has traditionally increased in the back half of the season, making him springtime’s sleeper threat.

At the tail end of what may become his worst season in a decade, Knuble is showing that pattern again. With three goals in his last five games, Knuble is no longer among the ranks of potential gameday scratches, and his ice time is finally increasing as well.

But I wonder: is Knuble’s spring awakening revival just a myth? And if there is fact behind the legend, what is driving it? Does Mike shoot more in the thaw? Or is he just getting lucky, exploiting Eostre’s blessing? (Spoiler: The answer is kind of a cop-out).

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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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Video: Mike Knuble and the Symphony of Pings

There’s unlucky, and then there’s Mike Knuble.

Mike Knuble, who’s scored at least 20 goals in both his previous seasons with the Capitals, and in every year since the lockout, has been facing down a pretty tough season. He’s scored only four goals, and perhaps more shockingly, played only 61 games, benched by two different coaches for long stretches.

Before Tuesday night’s game against the Islanders, Knuble was on a 32-game scoreless drought, before finally scoring in exactly the fashion that Caps fans have come to expect — working hard, standing in the paint. In the second period, Knuble deflected a puck behind Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov while screening him to score the Caps’ first goal of the night, which eventually ended as a 5-4 shootout victory.

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Rollercoaster! Caps beat Isles 5-4 (SO)

Photo credit: Bruce Bennett

The Washington Capitals began their epic road trip with a stop on the Long Island and its New York Islanders. The game saw the worst and best of the Caps, but it ended the right way.

Matt Moulson scored the game’s first goal, a fluke so dumbfounding I feel drunk trying to explain it. Matt Moulson scored a power play goal off of John Carlson. John Tavares notched another power play goal at the halfway point, but Dennis Wideman returned fire a few seconds later. Before a comeback could gain momentum, Tavares found the back of the net again.  Before the end of the second, Alex Ovechkin caught a rebound and turned it into goal.

Scoarlov.

Alex Ovechkin took three stabs at a puck from descending distances before beating Nabokov and tying the game. Overtime was not OV time, so we needed a shootout to make a decision. Matt Hendricks is your shootout hero! Caps beat Isles 5-4 (SO).

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Caps beat Leafs 2-0, Time to Hit the Road

Photo credit: Carolyn Kaster

Sitting just one point behind the division-leading Florida Panthers, Sunday afternoon’s duel between the Washington Capitals and Toronto was a tremendous opportunity to climb the east.

Brooks Laich scored a shorthanded goal (just the team’s third and first by any player not named Chimera) to get on the board first. Mathieu Perreault caught a rebound off Alex Semin’s drive to make it 2-0. Caps beat Leafs.

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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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Photo credit: Nick Wass

With fewer than 20 games left, the Washington Capitals badly needed a win from the Philadelphia Flyers to stay competitive. This Sunday night rendezvous held pretty high stakes for the Caps, and the team responded with a distinguished effort. But effort ain’t goals.

After a scoreless first period, Eric Wellwood redirected an outside shot from Pavel Kubina to make it 1-0. That’s the whole story. Flyers beat Caps 1-0.

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