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Bruce Boudreau: 'It's time' for Wild and Caps to get dialed in

Bruce Boudreau: 'It's time' for Wild and Caps to get dialed in

When the Capitals and Wild meet Tuesday night at Verizon Center, the game will pit a pair of top teams still searching to rediscover their pre-bye week mojo.

Mired in a rare four-game losing streak, the Caps are 5-6-1 since the bye and have conceded significant ground Metropolitan Division.

In fact, Washington headed into the six-day hiatus last month with nine-point advantage on the Blue Jackets, Rangers and Penguins. Now, that lead has been whittled to just a single point over Pittsburgh, which can leapfrog the Caps with a win in Calgary on Monday night. 

Minnesota, meanwhile, sits atop the Western Conference standings. But the Wild have also struggled to regain their footing coming out of the bye, going 4-4-0 in the last eight games. Their most recent loss, a 4-2 setback in Chicago on Sunday, allowed the Blackhawks to pull within a point of them in the conference and Central Division standings.

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“I don’t know the answer,” former Caps and current Wild bench boss Bruce Boudreau said, asked why so many teams have slumped after the bye. “But one of the thoughts is we’re playing at the same level that we were playing, but [for] other teams it’s a real state of urgency that they’re in at this time. And they’re playing way above where they would have played previously.”

Speaking after practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Boudreau added: “I think it's time for us and other teams [to] step our game up 10 or 20 percent, like the rest of the teams in the league are doing.”

For Washington, which was off Monday as the team traveled back from the West Coast, the game against Minnesota opens an import stretch. The Caps are tied for the most home wins in the league—27—and they'll now get the chance to steady themselves on F Street, where they play five of the next six games.

Boudreau said he suspects that with less than a month left in the regular season, teams like the Caps and Wild are going to begin ramping up their collective focus and urgency after coasting for a bit.

“It’s the time of the year and our sense of urgency, whether it’s the Caps or whether it’s us…it’s not there yet,” Boudreau said. “But when you have to win the games, I think you’ll see these teams step up and play really good hockey.”

Boudreau expressed a similar sentiment when asked about his former star player Alex Ovechkin, who hasn’t scored a goal in 10 games. The drought is the longest of Ovi's illustrious career.

“He’s going to get out of it one day,” Boudreau said with a chuckle. “I just hope it’s not tomorrow.”       

MORE CAPS: How Washington was swept in California 

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Braden Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

Braden Holtby's history suggests he'll bounce back in Game 2

Caps Coach Barry Trotz says he’s confident Braden Holtby will rebound from a Game 1 performance that the goalie found to be lacking.

“I thought he was fine but he didn’t think he played as good as he could,” Trotz said. “But I do know this—and I’ve told you this—he is a guy that responds.”

On Friday morning, Holtby was among the first players on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex—and he quickly got to work with goalie coach Mitch Korn.

In Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Penguins, Holtby allowed three goals on 21 shots, including a pair on the first seven shots he faced.

RELATED: Caps-Penguins rivalry tests Shattenkirk-Bonino friendship

Why is Trotz so confident that Holtby will rebound? Because history says he will.

Holtby has generally responded with a strong individual performance after losses in the playoffs. In fact, he’s posted a .933 save percentage, 1.92 goals against and two shutouts in postseason games following a loss.  

“He’s going to be better tomorrow, and that’s good for us,” Trotz said.

Holtby’s Game 1 performance comes on the heels of an uneven first round for the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. Against Toronto, he yielded 14 goals in the first four games before locking down the Leafs in Games 5 and 6, stopping 61 of 63 shots to lead the Caps to the second round.

On Thursday night, Holtby got off to a strong start, turning back an early blitz by the Pens, including a point blank pad stop on Patric Hornqvist to keep the game scoreless. Holtby also made a critical breakaway stop on Phil Kessel–and the ensuing rebound attempt by Bryan Rust—as the Caps scrambled just after falling behind 2-0.

Overall, though, Holtby felt he could have been sharper. In particular, he said he did not like Sidney Crosby’s first goal or his execution on Nick Bonino’s third period shot that slipped between his blocker and side.

After the game, Holtby vowed that both he and the Caps would be ready for Game 2 on Saturday night.

“I don’t think we’re frustrated,” Holtby said. “We realize that we played a really strong game. I know I need to be better if we’re going to have success, and that’s basically the bottom line.”

MORE CAPITALS: Caps not pleased with officiating in Game 1

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Caps-Penguins rivalry tests the friendship of Kevin Shattenkirk and Nick Bonino

Caps-Penguins rivalry tests the friendship of Kevin Shattenkirk and Nick Bonino

Kevin Shattenkirk is new to the Capitals-Penguins rivalry. As a trade deadline acquisition, he has only been with the Caps for about two months. He has not built up a lifetime of hatred for Pittsburgh as have most Caps fans, he does not have painful memories of the series in 2009 or 2016, he has not even had a regular season to accept that fact that he now must hate the Penguins instead of the Chicago Blackhawks like he did in St. Louis.

Instead, Shattenkirk brings his own rivalry to this second-round matchup, a personal one between himself and Penguins forward Nick Bonino.

“We've battled for years in many different ways,” Shattenkirk said. “In practices, on the golf course, there's plenty of different ways that we've gone against each other and we always want to beat each other.”

RELATED: Caps not pleased with officiating in Game 1

Shattenkirk and Bonino played college hockey together at Boston University from 2007 to 2010 and won a National championship in 2009. They have been close friends ever since. Shattenkirk was even the best man at Bonino’s wedding.

When friendships form among professional athletes, however, so do rivalries.

There are few people on Earth more competitive than athletes. After the St. Louis Blues were eliminated in the playoffs last season, Shattenkirk was happy to see Bonino go on to win the Cup with Pittsburgh, but he admitted he had awkward feelings about it afterward.

“To see him go through that summer and all the cool things that are associated with winning a Stanley Cup,” Shattenkirk said, “It does make you want it more when it's someone who you know and someone you're close to. We actually were together about a week or 10 days after and it was still very raw for him and it's a little awkward for me to be in that situation, but at the same time it really did fire me up and want me to experience that same sort of elation and joy that he had that was surrounded around winning the Cup.”

That feeling became even more awkward in Game 1 when Bonino scored the game-winning goal against Shattenkirk and defensive partner Brooks Orpik.

“It kind of ticked me off even more that it was him because he's someone I have to see later on in the summer so I have to hear about that,” Shattenkirk said. “You have to give credit that he's a performer in the playoffs and another guy on their team who we have to worry about.”

That was just Game 1, however. With plenty of hockey left to play, Shattenkirk may yet have the bragging rights this summer when he meets his friend.

“We’ll talk afterwards,” Shattenkirk said, “And hopefully both people have a good series and I come out on top.”

MORE CAPITALS: Prediction recap: Sidney Crosby ruins everything