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6 keys to a Caps' win in Game 7

6 keys to a Caps' win in Game 7

And so we’ve come to this. Game 7. The Capitals have forced the Pittsburgh Penguins into a winner take all showdown on Wednesday in Verizon. Here are six keys to Wednesday’s Game 7 for the Caps:

1. Score first

The team to score first has won five of six games this series and it’s not hard to figure out why. Both teams have looked completely different when playing from behind. Pittsburgh’s offense is a quick strike, counteroffensive team that likes turning mistakes into odd man rushes and their speed makes those counters lethal. The problem is, at least in this series, the Penguins’ offense has seemingly become dependent on those counters. That’s okay if you’re ahead, but it is difficult to come back from when trailing especially given Washington’s overwhelming shot advantage. That’s when those possession stats really start to matter. As for the Caps, they are a much stronger team when they are patient with the puck. As soon as they start to trail, their shot selection deteriorates as they start firing the puck on net from everywhere as opposed to setting up better opportunities. If you need even more convincing, here's an important stat: The team that scores first in Game 7 is 124-42 all-time including a 5-0 mark in 2016.

RELATED: Making sense of the Crosby concussion saga

2. Avoid 4-on-4

Saying “take fewer penalties” is about as profound as saying “score more than the Penguins,” but for the Caps they need to need to be as disciplined as possible not just to avoid giving up power plays, but also so they can avoid going 4-on-4. Despite all their skill, Washington is horrible when it comes to 4-on-4 play. Through the regular season and the playoffs combined, the Caps have scored only once at 4-on-4. How many goals have they given up? Six, including two on the same penalty in Game 6 on Monday. Washington needs to go into Game 7 with the mentality that matching minors are as dangerous as giving up a power play and avoid it at all costs.

3. Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov must produce

Everyone knows how good Alex Ovechkin is and the Penguins will do everything they can to stifle him offensively, but in Washington’s three wins this series, two other players have proven to be critical. In the Caps’ three wins, Backstrom has three goals and two assists. In the Caps’ three losses, he has only one goal and one assist and was held scoreless in two of those games. Similarly, Kuznetsov has tallied two goals and three assists in three wins this series and only two goals in three losses.

4. Braden Holtby must outplay Marc-Andre Fleury

In all three of Washington’s wins, Holtby has outplayed his Pittsburgh counterpart. Far too much blame was being put on Holtby’s shoulders early in the series for the Caps’ struggles. There’s not much a goalie can do against 2-on-1s and breakaways. The problem wasn’t that Holtby was playing poorly, but he wasn’t stealing any games for the Caps either. Sometimes you need those big saves to spark the team. That was definitely the case in Game 5. Just as the noose began to tighten in the third period, Holtby came up with a few key saves and suddenly Washington went from facing elimination to a 4-2 win.

 5. Get better quality shots

The shot disparity between the two teams has been a topic of conversation throughout. When the Caps fell to 3-1 after four games, many were left scratching their heads wondering how could Washington be outshooting Pittsburgh so badly and yet still be losing the series? The answer is poor shot selection. Not all shots are created equal. While Barry Trotz has stressed getting net-front presence, that doesn’t mean just firing shots from the blue line through traffic. Let’s face it, those shots are more likely to get blocked before they ever reach Fleury than they are to get on net. One of the major factors in Washington’s turnaround to this point has been better shot selection. In the three games Pittsburgh has won, the Penguins blocked over 28 shots per game. In the three games the Caps have won, the Penguins blocked only 17 shots per game. That is a clear indication of better shot selection from Washington. They are being more selective, more patient and getting better quality shots.

6. Stay loose

When the Caps went down 3-1, Trotz stressed to the media that he wanted to see more joy in his team’s game. The players all talked about the need to stay loose. You can see the results. Facing elimination and with everyone already chalking this series up as yet another playoff failure for the Caps, Washington had nothing to lose in Games 5 and 6. They played loose and started enjoying themselves and you could see it in their play. After winning two games and reaching Game 7 at Verizon Center, however, now there is something to lose. The Capitals cannot let the pressure change the way they have played the last two games. They need to stay loose, stay aggressive and not play tentatively. That’s when the Penguins take control.

MORE CAPITALS: Did Malkin guarantee a Game 7 win for Pittsburgh?

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Caps release key offseason dates

Caps release key offseason dates

The Stanley Cup has not yet been awarded, but the offseason has already begun for the Caps. The team released a list of key offseason dates for the summer on Monday. Here are some of the more important ones to mark on your calendar.

June 17: Deadline to submit protected list for the Vegas expansion draft

Every team is going to lose one player to Vegas in the expansion draft, but there are rules in place to help teams protect their top players. Each team will have the option of protecting either seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or eight skaters and a goalie. That list must be submitted by June 17. Here's the fun part. For the unrestricted free agents not on the protected list, Vegas will be able to negotiate with those players prior to the actual draft. That means Vegas could potentially come to an agreement with a free agent, select someone else in the draft, then wait to sign that player when free agency starts.

RELATED: How do the Caps overcome their mental block?

June 21: NHL Awards Show and Vegas expansion draft revealed

Braden Holtby will be there as a Vezina Trophy finalist. Also, during the awards the 30 players the Vegas Golden Knights have selected in the expansion draft will be revealed so we will officially know who from the Caps is Vegas bound.

June 23-24: NHL Draft

The Caps do not pick until the fourth round as of now, but there's a long way between now and then. Perhaps general manager Brian MacLellan pulls off a trade or two to try to get some earlier picks back.

June 26: Deadline for submitting qualifying offers to restricted free agents

Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov, Philipp Grubauer all will be restricted free agents this offseason. To retain their rights, teams must submit a qualifying offer by this date. Otherwise, those players automatically become unrestricted free agents.

June 26 - July 1: Caps' development camp

Fans will get a chance to see the Caps of tomorrow in action as they descend upon Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the team's annual development camp. The camp wraps up with a scrimmage that fans can watch on July 1.

July 1: Start of NHL free agency

Given the team's salary cap constraints don't expect to see general manager Brian MacLellan handing out too many contracts.

July 5: Deadline for player-elected arbitration

July 6: Deadline for team-elected arbitration

Of the team's RFAs, Connolly, Kuznetsov, Schmidt, Orlov, and Grubauer are all eligible for arbitration.

July 15: Deadline for players to accept qualifying offers

If RFAs do not accept qualifying offers by this time, those offers expire. The players remain RFAs and the team retains their rights, however. New contracts can still be negotiated.

Sept. 9-12: Rookie tournament

Just prior to training camp, Caps' rookies will take part in a four-team tournament against the Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning. The tournament will take place in Estero, Fla.

Mid-September: Training camp and preseason

The official date has not yet been announced, but the Caps will return to Washington in mid-September to begin training for another quest for the Stanley Cup.

Oct. 4: Opening night of the NHL season

The Caps' schedule has not yet been released, but the new NHL season officially begins on Oct. 4.

MORE CAPITALS: Backstrom scores decisive shootout goal to win Worlds

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Ovechkin's dog debuts camo onesie at Dulles Aiport

Ovechkin's dog debuts camo onesie at Dulles Aiport

Are dog onesies the new male romper?

Alex Ovechkin's dog, Blake, is bound to become a doggo-fashion icon after dawning a camoflauge onesie before catching a flight at Dulles Airport.

Featured on Ovechkin's wife, Nastasiya's Instagram story, (h/t: RMNB) Ovi can be seen wearing navy sweatpants playing dress up with dog, Blake. 

Blake waits patiently, tail wagging as Ovi places Blake's legs in the onesie one-by-one. Nastasiya and Ovi can be heard laughing as Blake struts around, modeling the onesie for nearby passengers, including a child who sits with Blake on the floor.

Although it is unclear where the onesie was purchased, Ovi shows off some of its features including a pocket, possibly to hold treats and a hole for Blake's tail, which is wagging nonstop.

If there were an America's next top doggo, Blake and his onesie would take the prize. What a good boy.