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Caps clinch playoff berth for third straight season

Caps clinch playoff berth for third straight season

The Capitals officially punched their tickets to the playoffs. With a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, Washington became the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth. The Caps have now reached the postseason in three straight season and in nine of their last 10.

While we know the Caps will be headed to the playoffs, that's pretty much all we know.

Saturday's win gives Washington 100 points on the season, but both the Columbus Blue Jackets (98 points) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (97) are hot on their heels. Both teams hold a game in hand over the Caps. The stakes for the Metropolitan Division race are pretty high. The winner gets a first-round matchup with a wild card team. The losers will have to play one another.

RELATED: Oshie strikes Lightning three times in win

If you were annoyed by the Caps and Penguins meeting in the second round last season rather than the Conference Finals, well, imagine if they have to play in the first round instead.

As for who the second wild card team could be, that race remains tight between the Toronto Maple Leafs (79 points), New York Islanders (78) and Tampa Bay (77). The Leafs not only have the edge in points, they also hold a game in hand over both the Islanders and Leafs. That makes Friday's loss for the Lightning a critical one.

The race for both the Metro Division and the second wild card are tight ones and they may come down to the wire. So while the Caps know their season won't be ending on April 9 in the regular season finale, there's still plenty left to be decided and plenty left for this team to play for until then.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps show strong defense in win over Tampa Bay

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Andre Burakovsky

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Andre Burakovsky

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates.

We've detailed why Tom Wilson and Brett Connolly are destined for breakout season.

Today we are looking at Andre Burakovsky.

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF ANDRE BURAKOVSKY IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

2017-18 CAPITALS BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: ANDRE BURAKOVSKY

Position: Left Wing
Age: 22
NHL Seasons: 3 (196 games)
2016-17 Stats: 64 games, 12 goals, 23 assists +13 plus/minus

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview:
Due to some high-profile free agent departures this offseason, the Caps will be counting on a handful of youngsters to turn potential into production in 2017-18.

At the top of that list is 22-year-old winger Andre Burakovsky, who figures to get a full-time role in the top six forward group, possibly on the top line alongside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. He should also see a significant jump in power play minutes. 

The biggest challenge for Burakovsky figures to be the same issue that’s tripped him up the past couple of years: consistency. A year ago, for example, he went 26 games without a goal. But he also enjoyed a torrid 13-game stretch in which he racked up six goals and eight assists. So it’s there; he’s just got to bring it every game now. 

Former Washington forward Marcus Johansson, another first round pick from Sweden, became a 20-goal scorer in his fifth NHL season.

The Caps desperately need Burakovsky reach that plateau—or even surpass it—a full year earlier.

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Confidence: "He really relies on his confidence to find success. So when he went through those lulls last season he didn't have a lot of confidence. But he kept shooting the puck, kept sooting the puck and he knew it would find the back of the net sooner or later. He got scratched, he came back, boom, he found the back of the net. I think going on that top line in the playoffs and looking ahead to next season is going to give him that confidence he needs to really produce."

2.  Comfort Level: He's had great mentorship from Nick Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. He understands now, that at 22 years old, he looks at those guys and sees 'hey those guys have been successful, I see what it means to be a pro. To have that connection with Backstrom, who he plays alongside on the ice and spends time with off of it, wil help him take a big step ahead."

Prediction: Over/Under 25 Goals
Tarik: 27, over.
Jill: 25, push.

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME

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Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

Capitals 2017-18 Breakout Candidate: Brett Connolly

As we skate toward the start of the 2017-18 NHL Regular Season, our CSN Capitals team of Jill Sorenson and Tarik El-Bashir detail and analyze the Capitals roster.

They will take a look at breakout candidates, prospects on the rise, players in need of improvement and a look at the rest of the Metropolitan Division, all leading up to the start of the NHL regular season.

Up first are the Capitals breakout candidates.

First, we previewed Tom Wilson.

Today we are looking at Brett Connolly.

YOU CAN WATCH TARIK AND JILL'S FULL BREAKDOWN OF BRETT CONNOLLY IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE.

2017-18 CAPITALS BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: Brett Connolly

Position: Right Wing
Age: 25
NHL Seasons: 6 (276 games)
2016-17 Stats: 15 goals, 8 assists, +20 plus/minus

Tarik El-Bashir's Breakout Preview: 
After playing the last three seasons on one-year deals, Connolly finally has a little security after inking a two-year, $3 million contract with the Caps earlier this month.

It’s a hefty raise over the $850,000 he earned last season, and it’s emblematic of the higher expectations that he’ll shoulder in 2017-18.

Connolly’s first season in Washington was a strange one. It began with him sitting out as a healthy scratch, and it ended with him sitting out as a healthy scratch. But in between, the former first round pick was remarkably efficient, scoring a career-high 15 goals in 66 games, while skating fewer than 11 minutes per.

Next season, Connolly’s role and playing time are expected to increase … and so, too, are his numbers.

Jill Sorenson's Keys to Breakout:
1.  Maturity: "He's finally settling in and understands what it means to be a pro hockey player. He feels like this is a good fit for him. He's ready to handle the increased pressure and increased responsibillity."

2.  Comfort Level: "He feels like Washington is where he wants to be. He has a nose for the net, and with that comfort level now with this team, that natural scoring abillity I expect will come through."

Prediction: Total Points
Tarik: 21 goal, 16 assists
Jill: 20 goals, 18 assists

RELATED: TEN BEST CAPITALS PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME