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Oshie strikes Lightning three times to lead Caps over Tampa

Oshie strikes Lightning three times to lead Caps over Tampa

Final score: Washington Capitals 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

How it happened: Things got off to a good start for Washington as T.J. Oshie scored twice in the first 12 minutes of the game. That lead did not even last the period, however, as Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn both scored to tie the game at 2 before the end of the first. After a scoreless second period, Washington reasserted control as both Justin Williams and John Carlson struck in the third period. Kucherov pulled Tampa within one with 1:30 remaining, but Oshie salted away the win by completing the hat trick with an empty netter.

What it means: With the win, Washington is now the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff berth. The Caps maintained first place in the Metropolitan Division with a three-point lead over Pittsburgh and a two-point lead over Columbus, though both teams have a game in hand over Washington.

Goals

Caps goal: T.J. Oshie (power play) from Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson at 3:44 in the first period. The Caps pulled off one of their normal scoring plays on the power play, but with a twist. Backstrom passed to Johansson who was in front of the net instead of in his normal spot behind the red line. He then made the quick pass to Oshie in the slot for the goal. Caps 1, Lightning 0

Caps goal: T.J. Oshie from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom at 11:52 in the first period. Ovechkin broke out of the defensive zone on a 2-on-1 with Oshie. Ovechkin held the puck as long as he could drawing Victor Hedman over and then hit Oshie with the beautiful pass getting him his second goal of the game. Caps 2, Lightning 0

Lightning goal: Nikita Kucherov (power play) from Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point at 15:52 in the first. A pad save by Braden Holtby led to a battle for the puck in front. Kucherov snuck in towards the net away from the crowd. Eventually, Palat was able to tip the puck out to an open Kucherov who bried the shot. jCaps 2, Lightning 2

Lightning goal: Alex Killorn from Jonathan Drouin at 16:08 in the first. Drouin cut off a breakout attempt by Washington and passed to Killorn in the circle. Matt Niskanen went down a bit too early trying to block the shot allowing Killorn to curl around him and fire on net as he was falling to the ice. Caps 2, Lightning 2

Caps goal: Justin Williams from Matt Niskanen and Andre Burakovsky at 3:14 in the third period. The Caps' power play expired, but the team maintained possession of the puck to keep up the pressure. Burakovsky fed Niskanen at the blue line who one-timed a monster shot that Williams deflected into the back of the net. Caps 3, Lightning 2

Caps goal: John Carlson from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie at 5:30 in the third period. With a delayed penalty coming against Tampa, Oshie chipped a puck into the slot. A charging Carlson whacked it out of the air and past Vasilevskiy. Caps 4, Lightning 2

Lightning goal: Nikita Kucherov from Brayden Point at 18:30 in the third period. A rare faceoff loss for Jay Beagle turned into a quick shot for Kucherov that beat Holtby. Caps 4, Lighting 3

Caps goal: T.J. Oshie (empty netter) from Nicklas Backstrom at 19:16 in the third period. Caps 5, Lightning 3

3 stars

1. T.J. Oshie: With three goals on the night, Oshie now leads the Caps in goals with 29 and that's despite missing 13 games on the season.

2. Nicklas Backstrom: Washington's top line was on fire and Backstrom was a major factor with four assists. It is his fourth game with three or more assists this season.

3. Nikita Kucherov: With so many offensive players out for the Lightning, someone had to step up. Kucherov did his part with two goals to keep Tampa in the game.

Look ahead: Washington returns to Verizon Center for the last home stand of the season as they host Calgary on Tuesday, Columbus on Thursday and Arizona on Saturday.

Tell us what you think: Andre Burakovsky returned to the lineup Saturday after a 15-game absence for a broken hand. After a few hiccups at the start of the game, he came on strong with some fantastic scoring opportunities. For the game, Burakovsky finished with seven shots on goal. How do you think he played in his first game back? How do you think the third line looked?

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Who still needs a goalie? Possible trade destinations for Philipp Grubauer

Who still needs a goalie? Possible trade destinations for Philipp Grubauer

Heading into the expansion draft, the Caps knew they would most likely lose either defenseman Nate Schmidt or goalie Philipp Grubauer. They lost Schmidt and, in order to find a replacement,trading Grubauer may be the most viable option. But if that is the option the team decides to take, the clock is ticking.

The list of teams in need of a goalie continues to get shorter and shorter while free agency is just around the corner. This year is a buyer's market for goalies. With pending free agents like Ryan Miller, Jonathan Bernier, Steve Mason and Brian Elliott among others available, those few teams looking to upgrade their starting goalie will have plenty of options.

If Washington is hoping to address their hole on defense by trading away Grubauer or at least building a trade package with him as the centerpiece, it would benefit the Caps to make a deal before July 1 when free agency opens or they may be forced to hold onto him longer until a favorable deal presents itself.

RELATED: Connolly reportedly re-signs with the Capitals

But who would be interested?

Most teams in the league would love to get a 25-year-old budding starter. To maximize what general manager Brian MacLellan could get for the young netminder, he should focus more on teams in need of a starter now. Teams like these.

Here are the teams who definitely need a starting goalie, the teams who might be in the market and the teams who need a new starter but who are unlikely to deal with Washington.

Teams who definitely need a starting goalie

Vancouver Canucks: Ryan Miller is set to become a free agent on July 1. There has been talk for months about potentially re-signing him to a short-term deal, but less than a week away from July 1, there is still no deal in place. Vancouver seems to think Jacob Markstrom will one day be able to be the team’s top starter, but I do not know what they have seen from him to make them believe that. At 27 years old, Markstrom has a career 2.91 GAA and .906 save percentage. What am I missing? Grubauer would be an instant upgrade for a team that continually refuses to rebuild.

Winnipeg Jets: Mercifully, Ondrej Pavelec will finally be leaving as a free agent. Connor Hellebuyck was given every chance to cement himself as the starter, but managed only a 2.89 GAA and .907 save percentage in 56 games last season. At only 24, it is too early to give up on him completely, but Grubauer is only 25 and has shown just as much if not more potential. While a tandem of two potential starters is never ideal (see the Philadelphia Flyers), Grubauer-Hellebuyck would certainly be an upgrade over what they had last year. Think they wouldn’t turn the reins over to two young goalies? Well, the only other goalie under contract in Winnipeg is currently the 27-year-old Michael Hutchinson who has appeared in only 99 games in his NHL career. Vancouver has to do something to address that.

Teams who might be in the market for a starting goalie

Buffalo Sabres: Just as the Canucks seem to be the only team that sees Markstrom as a starter, the Sabres may be the only team that views Robin Lehner as a No. 1. He has shown potential with a .924 and .920 save percentage in each of the last two seasons suggesting the Sabres' problems have more to do with their defense than their goaltending, but Buffalo has cleaned house this offseason with a new general manager and coach. Perhaps they could also be in the market for a new goalie as well.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avalanche raised some eyebrows by protecting Semyon Varlamov over Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft and paid the price for it as Pickard is now a Golden Knight. Colorado needs another goalie and Grubauer presents a younger, more durable option than the inconsistent Varlamov.

Detroit Red Wings: Speaking of raising eyebrows, Petr Mrazek was one of the most surprising players left exposed to Vegas. Golden Knights general manager George Mcphee, however, didn’t bite and now the Red Wings have a problem. Clearly, there’s an issue with Mrazek and Jimmy Howard is 33 years old making the team's future in net uncertain.

Teams who need a goalie but are unlikely partners

New York Islanders: The Islanders’ goalie situation was a disaster last season which resulted in Jaroslav Halak playing in the AHL. J.F. Berube is now with Vegas which means New York is down to two goalies again, but that may not solve the issue. The real problem last year wasn’t that the Islanders had too many goalies, it’s that they didn’t have enough. If one goalie had emerged as the clear No. 1, it would have made life a heck of a lot easier. Having only two goalies may help, but it is hard to imagine the Islanders having much faith in either netminder.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Steve Mason-Michal Neuvirth tandem has not brought much success to the Philadelphia and it is time to move on. Everyone knows it and general manager Ron Hextall has reportedly been in the market for a new goalie.

The problem with both the Islanders and Flyers is that they are both Metropolitan Division teams along with the Caps. Trades within the division are not unheard of, but they can make things more complicated. Would Washington really want to trade the Islanders their franchise goalie? Is either team willing to trade what it would take to get him? The answer may well be "no" which will make life difficult for the Caps considering just how small the list of teams who need a goalie is otherwise.

MORE CAPITALS: Development Camp: 5 players to watch

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Brett Connolly reportedly agrees to terms on a new deal with Caps

Brett Connolly reportedly agrees to terms on a new deal with Caps

Capitals winger Brett Connolly has agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported Monday night.

Connolly earned $850,000 in 2016-17 on a one-year deal.

RELATED: Caps issue qualifying offers, Connolly not tendered

The 25-year-old finished the season as a healthy scratch for the final six games of the Pittsburgh series. During the regular season, however, the former first rounder enjoyed a breakout, scoring a career-high 15 goals in 66 games, despite averaging just 10:41 per game—the lowest ice time total among Washington’s full-time forwards.

On Monday afternoon, the Caps announced that they had tendered qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents—Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Andre Burakovsky, Philipp Grubauer, Chandler Stephenson, Liam O’Brien and Travis Boyd. Connolly did not receive an offer, but it was believed at the time that the sides were closing in on a deal.

Although the season ended under less than ideal circumstances for Connolly, both the player and the team had remained hopeful of reaching an agreement.

“I'd like to have him back; he's a young guy who still has some upside,” GM Brian MacLellan said last month. “I thought he had a very good year this year.”

MORE CAPITALS: Development Camp: 5 players to watch