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Andre Burakovsky is officially back for the Caps

Andre Burakovsky is officially back for the Caps

Andre Burakovsky is indeed back.

The Capitals winger participated in his first full-contact practice Friday and afterward confirmed that he’ll suit up against the Lightning at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Saturday night.

“I’m playing tomorrow,” said Burakovsky, who has been sidelined since Feb. 9 with a broken right hand. “I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. I talked to the doctor and obviously it’s not 100-percent. But it feels good and my shot is getting better. The doctor said it can’t get worse, even if it hurts sometimes when I shoot.”

He added: “I can’t really feel [pain] when I’m shooting. It’s more coming a little bit after because I’m not really thinking about it when I’m shooting [since] I’m so focused on my shot and what I’m supposed to do. Right after [the shot] I feel a little, bit but it’s not bad. It’s something I can live with.”

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Earlier in the day, prospect Jakub Vrana was demoted to Hershey to make room for Burakovsky, who had been on long-term injured reserve.

“I’m happy to see him back,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Nothing against Jake, but you want to see Andre back.”

Burakovsky’s return couldn’t come at a better time for the Capitals, who are in need of a boost. They’ve lost five of their past six games while averaging less than 2.2 goals per game during that span.

During Friday’s practice, Burakovsky returned to his usual spot on the Caps’ third line with Brett Connolly and Lars Eller. Connolly and Eller have combined for just three goals and four assists without Burakovsky the past 15 games, a precipitous drop in production from the trio’s pre-injury level.

Eller said it’s too early to know if they’ll pick up where they left off but he said he’s optimistic.

“He makes the team better so we’re glad to have him back,” Eller said. “Andre looked good [and] he’s glad to be back.”

Connolly conceded it might take a couple of games to gel.

“If we can get anywhere close to what we were doing before the break, I think that would be good going into the playoffs,” Connolly said. “He’s obviously a big part of the team and we’re happy to have him back and hopefully we can pick up where we left off.”

Although Burakovsky’s shot may not be 100-percent yet, the 22-year-old winger said he’s in top physical condition after spending the past five weeks working almost exclusively on his skating and stamina.  

“I’m hungry,” said Burakovsky, who will wear a wrap on his wrist and hand for stabilization purposes. “I’ve been out for a while now and I can’t wait to get back in. I’m excited.”

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Daniel Winnik comes up huge on a night when the Caps needed a hero

Daniel Winnik comes up huge on a night when the Caps needed a hero

Daniel Winnik scored twice Saturday night, including the game-winner late in the third period, to propel the Caps to a 4-1 win over Coyotes.

As important as the goals were for his team’s Presidents' Trophy hopes, they were just as important for him personally. The two tallies helped him tie his career-high for goals (11).

And he's now got eight games left to establish a new career high.

“It means a lot,” Winnik said. “I hope to surpass that. I hope I do get past that. It’s something I’ve tried to do for years. I don’t think that I can stress enough that I pray it happens.”

Winnik scored 11 goals in 2007-08 as a member of the Coyotes and did it again in 2010-11 for Colorado.

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This season, he’s scored against three of six former clubs—Arizona, Anaheim and San Jose. And on the upcoming road trip, the Caps will make stops in Denver and Arizona.  

“If I scored against all my other former teams, I’d have more goals,” Winnik cracked. “I play a couple of them here down the stretch so hopefully that’s the case.”

Winnik’s performance Saturday was absolutely clutch on a night when the Caps desperately needed someone to step up.

After Arizona tied the game 1-1 with 7:31 left to play, the Coyotes were almost immediately awarded a power play just as the game’s momentum swung sharply toward the visitors.

Winnik, however, helped snuff out that man advantage.

Then he made the biggest play of the game. On the rush, defenseman Dmitry Orlov flicked a pass to the 32-year-old winger, who raced to the net and fired a shot over Mike Smith’s glove.

And like that, the Caps were back on top, 2-1.

But Winnik wasn’t done. After Justin Williams made it 3-1 moments later, Winnik took advantage of an empty net situation, fighting off Coyotes winger Jamie McGinn before sweeping the puck into the goal with one hand on his stick.

“I thought it was fitting that Winnik, a penalty killer, scored that goal right at the end because they did a really good job,” Coach Barry Trotz said of the unit, which killed off all four shorthanded situations the Caps faced.

Trotz added that he’s not surprised to see Winnik equal his career-high six years after he last achieved the mark.  

“I said here [in Washington] I’m looking for offense,” Trotz said of a conversation he had with Winnik right after he was traded to Washington last season. “I don’t just want you to get the puck and, because you’re a penalty killer, just throw it down the ice. If you have time and space, you can do some stuff. I think he’s grown into that.”

Winnik’s contributions in an important game were not lost on his teammates, either.

“He does so many other things that don’t get noticed,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “He makes a lot of poised plays. He gets the puck out of our zone almost every time. He’s great on the penalty kill. You love to see guys like that get rewarded with big time goals. We need everyone at this point of the year.”

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Barry Trotz takes a moment to recognize ‘greatness’ of Alex Ovechkin's accomplishments

Barry Trotz takes a moment to recognize ‘greatness’ of Alex Ovechkin's accomplishments

Saturday’s game was an historical night. Not only did the Capitals set a franchise record for him wins with their 32nd victory at Verizon Center, Alex Ovechkin also hit the 30-goal mark. Ovechkin is now one of just three players in NHL history to reach 30 goals in his first 12 seasons.

Following the game, head coach Barry Trotz wanted to make sure everyone, including Ovechkin knew magnitude of that achievement.

“Some history was made tonight,” Trotz said. “Start your career, you get 30 goals a year for first 12 years, you're one of three, you're in that elite company with Mike Gartner, a guy named, what's his name, Wayne Gretzky. You guys might have heard of him. And then Alex Ovechkin.”

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Anytime you are in the same company with Wayne Gretzky, you’re doing something right. Ovechkin has a ways to go to catch both players as Gartner went on to tally 30+ in 15 seasons while Gretzky did it in 14.

But Ovechkin does not have to continue putting up 30 goal seasons for the rest of his career to prove his greatness. He has already established himself as the greatest goal scorer of his generation and Trotz wanted to make sure he knew just what he had accomplished.

Trotz spoke with Ovechkin after the game about his latest career milestone.

How did Ovechkin take it? Just as you would expect someone who has scored 30 or more in 12 straight seasons. He acted like he’s been there before.

“I think he's getting pretty casual with some of the greatness of the stuff he's done,” Trotz said. “He gives me a little wink or a little thumbs up or whatever. There's no hugging are anything like that or big speech.”

There will be a time in which Ovechkin will be able to reflect on all of his accomplishments and marvel at the incredible career he’s put together.

That time, however, with the team preparing for a run at the Stanley Cup, is not now. Ovechkin reminded the media of that after Saturday’s game saying, “More history to come.”

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