So much at stake for the Caps, who need to ‘change the narrative,’ and fast

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Three games into the postseason and the Washington Capitals are already fighting for their playoff lives.

And who among us expected that?

Not many, but that’s the deal for the Presidents’ Trophy-winners, against the team that finished dead last only a year ago.

Lose tonight at Air Canada Centre and the Caps will trail the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-1.

Lose tonight and the Caps will be one loss away from one of the most stunning letdowns in NHL playoff history.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs: Game 4 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports app)

And the way things have gone so far, nobody should be surprised if they do lose. Because this is not another Jaroslav Halak situation. The young, dynamic Leafs have gone blow-for-blow with the mighty Caps. They’ve used their speed and their skill. They’ve proven they belong.

“It’s a lot closer match than people let on,” Washington head coach Barry Trotz told reporters. “It’s not David versus Goliath. They’re a good team. They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t.”

Trotz himself is under considerable pressure after failing to get Alex Ovechkin enough ice time in Game 3. The reigning Jack Adams Award winner is 2-2 in playoff series with the Caps. And in spite of all the success he’s enjoyed in the regular season, if he goes 2-3, it would be fair to debate his future behind the bench.

The Leafs, meanwhile, can’t get too comfortable. They saw what happened to the Edmonton Oilers last night in San Jose. It was a good warning.

“There’s two parts to that equation,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “One team relaxes and feels pretty good about themselves, talks to everybody and they all tell you how great they’re doing and the other team gets prepared. We talked about that after Game 1, after Game 2 and we’ll continue to talk about it. It’s so important that you get off to a good start here tonight and prepare to compete. They’re going to compete. We have to compete.”

The real pressure, though, is on the Capitals. In the second year of what their general manager has called a “two-year window,” 2017 was shaping up to be their time. A first-round matchup with the inexperienced Leafs. No Kris Letang for the Pittsburgh Penguins. A beatable opponent whoever comes out of the Atlantic bracket. Ditto for whoever comes out of the West.

The Caps, of course, already have a reputation for flopping in the playoffs. But losing to the Leafs would take it to a whole new level.

Are they really going to flop again?

“Until we change the narrative, that’s going to be the question,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “It’s up to us to change it. You can’t talk about it. You just have to go and do it.”

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.