Antti Niemi, Nicklas Backstrom

Playoff bubble watch — Capitals edition

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When the “bubble watch” last checked in on the Washington Capitals, more than two weeks ago, Sports Club Stats had their playoff chances at just 14.3 percent.

Today, after four wins in their last five — including a 2-0-1 record on a tough three-game trip to California, and combined with slides by Toronto and Columbus — those chances are up to 31.8 percent.

“We knew these were going to be some of the toughest games of the season coming out there with the way these guys were playing,” forward Eric Fehr said, per the Washington Post. “We did our job here (in California), but we can’t let ourselves down at home now. Got to play well at home and continue to play a playoff-style game. I think we’ve had a lot less turnovers and played a greasier style of hockey that has worked for us.”

The Caps’ remaining schedule isn’t an easy one. Upon returning home, they’ll be greeted with games against the Kings Tuesday and Bruins Saturday. Drop those and they’ll be right back to serious long shots to make the playoffs.

There’s also this, from the Post:

The Capitals’ top two lines are still struggling to score at even strength. Ovechkin has gone 12 games without a five-on-five goal. Of the team’s 22 even-strength tallies since the Olympic break, only five were scored by players on the first or second line, and that includes two by Brooks Laich, who is out four to six weeks after undergoing groin surgery March 17.

The team still goes through extended lulls with little to no offensive traction. They have relied heavily on Holtby and Jaroslav Halak to hold steady in goal, such as when they were outshot 16-6 by San Jose in the second period Saturday night.

In fact, the Caps were outshot in all three California games, by a combined total of 109-77. That very much mirrors Toronto’s trip a couple of weeks ago; since then, the Leafs have dropped five straight.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Washington will fall into a similar funk. Solid goaltending and special teams have a way of masking five-on-five deficiencies, and those two factors may well keep the Caps playing past the regular season.

PHT Morning Skate: Shane Doan takes a (friendly) shot at the Miracle on Ice

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Shane Doan took a friendly jab at the the movie “Miracle” and the Miracle on Ice. (BarDown)

–The best of the worst Upper Deck hockey cards from 2015-16. (Puck Junk)

–Here’s a list of the top 50 players in WHL history. (WHL)

–Watch the highlights of last night’s game between the Penguins and Capitals. (Top)

–A sad story about how Chris Phillips feels helpless as his hometown of Fort McMurray burns. (CBC)

–“You want to get back into things right away (but) I think these last four or five months have been good for me.” Former Penguins coach Mike Johnston is ready to coach again. (Local XPress)

–Blues forward Jori Lehtera is in a pretty random commercial:

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.