Alexander Ovechkin scored in succession in the second period to give the Washington Capitals a 3-1 lead and then they took advantage of a Columbus blue line gambling to try to tie the game up with two rush goals, from Devante Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson in the third period, en route to a 6-3 victory at Nationwide Arena in game six. The win, the Caps fourth straight in this series after losing the first two tilts on home ice in overtime, advances them to the second round with another show down against you know who. Braden Holtby was stellar in the cage, once again, stopping 35 of 38 shots, and the Holtbeast is a major reason why this Capitals club is moving on.
There were so many key moments in this hockey game and Coach Barry Trotz’ crew showed some serious intestinal fortitude in the triumph.
The Caps, after taking a 1-0 first period lead on Dmitry Orlov’s sensational individual effort tally, had a 32 second five on three power play in the middle frame, but couldn’t connect. That misfire led to the Columbus crowd getting into the game and gave their home team momentum. Nick Foligno then scored his first goal of the playoffs to tie the game up on an overlap play where a Blue Jackets forward simply skated into Brooks Orpik while #71 shot past a screened Holtby. There was clearly a missed Capitals forward assignment there and suddenly the Blue Jackets had life.
Washington would then answer that tally just over four minutes later and it was none other than the Gr8 who seized the moment and turned the tide back for the Caps. Ovechkin put a massive hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand as #28 was trying to make a pass up the right wing boards and the puck went straight to Christian Djoos inside the blue line. Djoos alertly moved it quickly to his right for Tom Wilson and Willy then found Evgeny Kuznetsov coming with speed down the high slot and that backed the Columbus defense up. Kuzy, with too much traffic in front to get a clear shot off, fed Djoos down in the left wing circle and with the Blue Jackets sagging in front, Christian put it on a tee for Orpik at the left point. #44 smashed a shot that Sergei Bobrovsky (22 saves) stopped with his right pad, but he threw the disc right into the slot. The Captain was parked there between three Blue Jackets and he backhanded the rebound quickly into the cage for a 2-1 lead.
Ovechkin then drew a holding penalty on Seth Jones and Washington went on a late second period power play. 63 seconds into the man advantage, John Carlson made a super pass to Ovi in his office and the Gr8 lasered one off of the near post and past Bob for a 3-1 lead.
At that point, the zebras tried to really help out Columbus. Stephenson was called for a weak roughing call with five seconds left in period two so the Blue Jackets, trailing by two pucks, started period three on the man advantage. The Caps easily killed that one off, but then Matt Calvert blatantly tripped Djoos behind the net, gathered in the puck below the goal line while #29 was still down on the ice, and backhanded a pass to Pierre Luc-Dubois in the low slot. #18 fired quickly past Holtby and suddenly it was 3-2 on a goal that should’ve never been. Clearly Dan O’Rourke and Jean Hebert were out to lunch on that play.
In the past that goal might have derailed the Capitals, and I’m going to steal the words of legendary Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick from the 2000 NFL Playoffs with the following line, “BUT NOT TODAY.”
This Caps team did not sulk. Sure the coaches let the bad zebras have it, and rightly so, but this Washington club just pressed on and kept working. 91 seconds later Smith-Pelly burnt David Savard on the left wing boards in the defensive zone and sped down the ice with Ian Cole giving chase. Cole isn’t exactly the fastest skater and as DSP opened up to shoot, Cole put his stick in the lane. The shot went top shelf over Bob’s glove for a 4-2 Caps advantage.
The zebras then struck again calling Djoos for a very shaky interference penalty, but Jay Beagle made a super clear off of the left wing boards that sprung the speedy Stephenson for a shorthanded breakaway. Chandler opened up Bobrovsky and slid the puck five hole to give the Caps a 5-2 lead with 14:30 to go. It was two quick and huge goals after a terrible missed call by the referees led to a Columbus marker. That is how you respond to adversity, right there!
Coach John Tortorella’s crew would not quit and they used sheer power and some missed Capitals defensive zone coverage to will themselves within two goals at 5-3. An all alone Foligno notched his second goal of the game from the doorstep and with 11:38 still to go, this tilt was not over.
Credit the Caps mental toughness again, they knew that the only way the Blue Jackets could come back was with some physical cycling tallies so Washington did a good job of walling off the front of their own net and kept the Columbus shots coming from the perimeter. When pucks got through the wall of white, the Holtbeast was there to clean them up. The zebras gave the Blue Jackets one more power play, but for the fourth straight contest, Columbus was blanked with the man advantage (0 for 4 in this game).
Lars Eller then hit the empty net with 14 seconds remaining and the Blue Jackets were officially dispatched.
This was one heck of a comeback win for Washington after dropping the first two tilts at Capital One Arena. The switch in the cage to Holtby turned things around as CBus couldn’t rely on their top shelf shots going over #70’s glove hand like occurred in the first two games. The Holtbeast was sensational in this series, especially in the game five robbery on Saturday afternoon.
After the Holtbeast, you can go on and on down the line calling out super performances from the Capitals in this series. Every guy contributed to the four straight triumphs from Beagle’s face off wins and great PK work to Backstrom and Ovechkin coming up large as superstars in games five and six, respectively.
Perhaps the biggest play of the series, and the turning point, was Brett Connolly’s decision to shoot the puck in the second overtime of game three that Eller deposited into the cage off of his boot for the win. If #10 doesn’t fire quickly and generate a rebound, then the Blue Jackets could’ve eventually scored and gone up three games to none. Good things happen when you shoot!
Washington, as the series went on and especially in the three road wins, played the right way. They put pucks on net or behind the Columbus defense and went for rebound and gritty goals. When the Caps were wearing their road whites, there was not a whole lot of the East-West passing that has gotten the Capitals into trouble in the postseason. They need to keep that mentality when they start round two at home. Pittsburgh has elite talent that can go the other way and bury you with rush goals when you make those types of mistakes. The Capitals have seen the results of that style of play the last two springs. Now they get a chance to perform the right way against the two time defending Stanley Cup Champions.
The Caps have a goalie who has found his groove, a defense that is getting some monster performances from guys like Carlson, Niskanen, and Orpik and a power play that is clicking. They are also generating scoring from their bottom six forwards, something we haven’t seen consistently during the last three springs. It’s going to take everything the Caps have to defeat the extremely talented and heavily favored Penguins, for sure.
But that talk can wait another day because on Monday night Washington showed that they are a tight knit club that is mentally tough and can overcome some serious adversity. That’s clearly something they can build on this spring.
Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 26:53. Orlov logged 25:33, and Carlson played 24:50…Oprik and Beagle each had two assists and were +2. This was a good match up for both of them and Washington clearly missed #83 in game one (upper body injury)…Orpik had five of the 23 shots the Caps blocked…Columbus won the face off battle, 30-25, but Beagle went 9-3 for the Caps…Stephenson assisted on Orlov’s goal and notched four points in the series. He filled in nicely on the second line for an injured Andre Burakovsky (upper body, minor surgery)…the Holtbeast stopped 137 of the 147 shots he faced in the series (.932 save percentage).