Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom

No repeat of last year: Capitals take out Rangers 3-1, win series 4-1

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The Capitals headed into today’s Game 5 working with the mindset that last year’s playoff failure after being up 3-1 in the series didn’t mean anything and that they’d take a more relaxed approach to how they came out in today’s Game 5. Whatever their game plan was, it worked perfectly as the Capitals ousted the Rangers from the playoffs with a 3-1 win this afternoon to take their series four games to one.

Much like it has been all series long, it’s been the big names helping to lead the way for Washington. Mike Green got it all started in the first period with his power play goal. Even though Green didn’t end up sticking around for the whole game thanks to being struck in the head by a puck later in the first period, his goal helped set the tone for Washington.

In the second period it was Alex Ovechkin dazzling the fans at Verizon Center with a highlight-reel goal that brought the house down and gave the Caps a 2-0 lead.

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While the Rangers power play sputtered again today, they were never a real threat to the Capitals all game as the Caps were more physical, won most of the puck battles along the boards and got tremendous goaltending from Michal Neuvirth.

Neuvirth stopped 26 out of 27 shots allowing just a very late goal to Wojtek Wolski in the final 40 seconds of the game to spoil the shutout. Neuvirth’s effort today was outstanding and he looked cool all game long and most especially at moments when the Rangers gained some momentum circling the Caps net. Alexander Semin’s late goal with just over three minutes to play to the short side past Henrik Lundqvist (24 saves) sealed the game up and sent the Caps faithful home happy and set to prepare for whoever the Caps may face in the second round.

For the Rangers it’s a disappointing finish but not all too surprising. New York had to expend so much effort and energy at the end of the season to get into the playoffs that you can’t exactly fault them for being out of gas and unable to keep up with an intense team like Washington. Not getting better performances from Marian Gaborik and being without Ryan Callahan were brutal blows to their offense. Henrik Lundqvist can really only do so much in New York without getting better help from his offense. Expect that to be addressed in some way in the offseason by GM Glen Sather.

The Capitals now look ahead to the second round of the playoffs and their next opponent could be any one of Buffalo, Montreal or Tampa Bay. If the Sabres knock off Philadelphia, the Caps will get to face Buffalo. That fate could be decided as soon as tomorrow afternoon as the Sabres lead Philadelphia 3-2 in their series and they’ll play Game 6 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

Kuznetsov, bad breaks baffle Flyers in loss to Capitals

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 22: Evgeny Kuznetsov #92 of the Washington Capitals celebrates his first period goal against Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on February 22, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Here’s what went right for the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday: the Florida Panthers lost. Yep, that’s about it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty lousy time, as the Washington Capitals beat them at home 4-1 tonight.

Washington’s big names came to play here, highlighted by Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring two goals. T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed one-goal, one-assist nights while Justin Williams and Alex Ovechkin both grabbed two assists.

The Capitals won their first game after a bye week (following two losses), improving their Metropolitan Division lead to five points and Presidents’ Trophy edge over Minnesota to three.

The Flyers fail to make up some ground in the Eastern Conference wild card race, staying at 63 standings points in 60 games played. The Panthers are tied with the Islanders and Bruins at 66 points, though Boston can change the picture ever so slightly against Anaheim (still in action) tonight.

The bottom line, again, is that the Flyers failed in a chance to get a little closer to that logjam for the last East spot.

Of course, plenty of Flyers fans will grumble about missed opportunities and iffy calls. Mike Milbury broke down the early setbacks that made life that much tougher for Philly:

Philly couldn’t overcome the Capitals and that bad luck, making their playoff hopes a little dimmer as the trade deadline approaches.

Oilers win on rare Russell goal, Panthers fall out of second wild card spot

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The Edmonton Oilers’ 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers might end up being costly if Andrej Sekera misses significant time.

But, hey, at least it was a win.

The two rising squads engaged in a back-and-forth game, with the Oilers winning in regulation. Maybe fittingly with Edmonton leaking defensemen lately: Kris Russell was the guy to score the game-winner, set up by Connor McDavid‘s blazing speed and a nice pass by Leon Draisaitl.

It was Russell’s first goal in more than a year.

The Oilers will remain in the second spot in the Pacific at the end of the night whether the Anaheim Ducks beat the Boston Bruins or not. Interestingly, this puts them in a reasonable position to catch the Sharks for first place in the division, too.

1. Sharks – 77 points in 60 games
2. Oilers – 74 points in 61 games
3. Ducks – 72 points in 61 games (in progress vs. Boston)

The Oilers likely had some fans out East tonight, as this loss pushes Florida down the wild card rankings. They’re actually out of the second spot thanks to tiebreakers.

Second wild card spot: Bruins – 66 points in 59 games, 30 wins and 28 ROW (in progress)

Islanders – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 27 ROW
Panthers – 66 points in 59 games, 28 wins and 25 ROW

The Isles would move into the second spot if Boston loses in regulation, underscoring just how congested this situation is. But either way, the Panthers won’t be in the East’s top eight at the end of the night.

With Gibson out, Ducks recall interesting goalie: Enroth

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 11: Jhonas Enroth #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on November 11, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Flyers 6-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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One player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.

Considering how much the Anaheim Ducks lean on John Gibson, it’s troubling that he’s day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Even so, it’s interesting to note that such a situation prompted the team to recall Jhonas Enroth, who will back up Jonathan Bernier during Wednesday’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With the way Bernier’s been playing at times, it’s not impossible that Enroth could play as soon as tonight. But if he doesn’t you have to wonder if the Ducks might feel compelled to throw a start his way in the next week.

The trade deadline is coming, and while the goalie market is really cold, some of that slow movement likely comes from how cap-unfriendly netminders like Ben Bishop might be.

But what about Enroth? His cap hit is $750K this season, and while he thoroughly unimpressed Mike Babcock with rapid speed in Toronto, he was fantastic as a backup in Los Angeles last season and has been outstanding lately for the AHL’s San Diego Gulls.

All things considered, it’s almost a little surprising the Ducks aren’t throwing him right into the deep end tonight. If you’re a team with poor backup goaltending like the Edmonton Oilers or any number of other teams,* why wouldn’t you give the Ducks a call?

Maybe they need to see him in action in the NHL before doing so, making this an intriguing scenario to follow.

And, hey, maybe the Ducks themselves might decide that he’s a better option behind Gibson than Bernier. Stranger things have happened.

* – The Leafs might qualify, honestly … but again, Babs doesn’t seem to be an Enroth fan.

Another defenseman down: Niskanen won’t return for Caps tonight (Video)

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Uh oh.

There are only three games on the docket for Wednesday, but injuries are a factor in all of them. The Washington Capitals must now worry about underrated defenseman Matt Niskanen after he left tonight’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers with a lower-body injury.

Niskanen took a shift to end the second period, only not to return, much like Andrej Sekera did in tonight’s Edmonton Oilers game.

The Capitals blueliner got hurt after falling awkwardly following a collision with Radko Gudas, as you can see from the video above.