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Kuzy Bird Game 6

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Kuznetsov’s OT Goal Puts the Caps in the Eastern Conference Final

Posted on 08 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Ding Dong, the witch is dead!!

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 5:27 into overtime on a breakaway after a great defensive play and pass from Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in a playoff series in the Ovi era, four games to two. This was only the second time in 11 tries that the Caps have won a post season matchup against the Pens (last time was 1994). For the Penguins, their hopes of being the first team to threepeat since the New York Islanders won four Cups in a row from 1980 to 1983 has ended, but what a run they had. I tip my hat to that club, especially Sidney Crosby, the best player in the NHL.

So how did the Capitals win a game six without Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Andre Burakovsky?

They received super goaltending from Braden Holtby and they played as a team, sticking to the game plan the coaching staff gave them. There was complete buy in from every player on that roster and they outworked Pittsburgh in a contest the Pens had to have in their own building. The leadership from the coaching staff to the captain to the alternate captains to the veterans on down was just amazing.

To come back and win game five without Backstrom, who has a right hand injury, and then game six in PPG Arena is the stuff of legends and that Kuznetsov goal and “Bird Celly” will go down in Caps lore along with Dale Hunter’s OT goal against the Flyers in 1988 and Joey Juneau’s OT goal in 1998 that put the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final.

The postseason is so much about goaltending and all year on WNST I’ve been telling station owner and host, Nestor Aparacio, that the Caps needed 2012 Braden Holtby this spring. The Holtbeast didn’t even get the starting nod against Columbus, but after Philipp Grubauer’s early struggles, #70 took over and he’s locked things down for Washington making the key saves at the right times. The Penguins had more high danger chances than the Caps in this series, but it was Holtby who badly outplayed Pens goalie Matt Murray and that’s why the Capitals are moving on. It was a reversal of last spring when Marc Andre-Fleury stole the series from Washington. The Holtbeast went 8-3 in the first two rounds with a 2.04 GAA and a .926 save percentage.

Goaltending alone, however, was not enough to do it. Washington’s defensive unit of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny, Brooks Oprik, and Christian Djoos was dynamite. The Penguins averaged five goals in their first round victories over the Flyers and they are a team that loves to score on the rush and on the power play. The Caps, for the most part, did not allow the Pens to get into their rush game, especially in game six when the commitment from a lineup with five rookies (Djoos, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker, and Travis Boyd) was just outstanding. The Pens only goal came off of a faceoff win that clicked off of Stephenson and by Holtby. What I really like about this defense is their ability to move the puck. We all knew Carlson, Niskanen, and Orlov were adept at that, but the sneaky low cost deal to obtain Kempny by GM Brian MacLellan has turned out much better than the Kevin Shattenkirk move last spring. Credit goes to Brian, pro scout Chris Patrick, and the rest of the pro scouting staff that identified Kempny as well as Jakub Jerabek for two low cost, but much needed acquisitions. Bringing in Jerabek worked for quite awhile and it allowed Djoos to reset and become a strong and confident player again after some expected mid season rookie struggles. Niskanen and Orlov had the daunting task of facing the Jake Guentzel-Crosby-Patric Hornqvist line all series and they did excellent work. Nisky logged a team high 29:38 in game six. Carlson was a stud, as well, providing timely offense, especially on the power play. He is a big game player and I’ll say it again, “Pay the Man!”

Up front, Backstrom was a beast in games two and three when the Capitals really took over this series before the league derailed things by incorrectly suspending Wilson for three games. Nicky dominated Crosby in those tilts and was playing his best hockey. Unfortunately a Justin Schultz shot injured his right hand in period one of game five and he finally said “No Mas” in period three. At that point, there was one player who had to take over for the Caps, and that was Kuznetsov since he is the club’s other top center. Boy did Kuzy step up! In period three of game five he was as strong on the puck in all zones as I’ve ever seen him and in game six, he made the big finish to end the second round curse in the Ovechkin era. Kuznetsov only had one point in the first three contests, but he finished with a flourish getting five in the last three tilts. He was especially dominant in game five when his early final frame goal tied the game up and allowed Washington to take over that period and contest after being badly outplayed for 40 minutes.

As for the captain himself, his goal in game three in Pittsburgh was a real back breaker for the Pens and then his defensive steal and alert pass to Kuznetsov in OT finally put Alex into round three. The Gr8 had three goals and four assists in the series.

Let’s also not forget the work of T.J. Oshie who notched some big power play goals and also a huge empty net clincher in game five when he stripped Phil Kessel of the puck clean in a move that would make a Chicago pick pocket artist from the 1920’s proud. The Osh Babe is playing his best hockey of the year in this postseason.

Another big reason the Capitals are finally into the third round is they’ve had secondary scoring, unlike the droughts they’ve had from the third and fourth lines in the last three postseason second round losses. Alex Chiasson delivered a huge goal to give the Caps the lead in period two and it was set up by Nathan Walker, who was making his NHL playoff debut. The insertion of Walker, after Shane Gersich struggled in game five, was a move of brilliance and it paid off. #79 only played 8:29, but he was a positive on each of his shifts with energy and hustle that wore out the Penguins.

Lars Eller was a quiet hero in all of the action and he stepped up in Backstrom’s absence as the second line center in game six. In the previous two playoff losses to the Pens, centers Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen were the big difference makers for Pittsburgh. This spring, Eller outplayed big dollar trade deadline acquisition, Derrick Brassard, and Jay Beagle’s unit each game was better than the Pens fourth line.

After the terrible decision by the league to suspend Wilson, and I firmly believe it was media and Pens pressure induced, the Penguins dominated the next five periods of the series. Game four was pretty much all Pittsburgh and the first 40 minutes of game five certainly indicated that a getting healthier Pens team was starting to click. Fortunately for the Caps, the Holtbeast kept them in it and then two Kris Letang mistakes opened the door for the comeback and victory in game five. Washington dominated the third period of game five and they were the better team in just about all four periods in game six. That was what was so special about this win, on paper there was no way the Capitals, with all of the rookies and patched together forward lines, should’ve defeated the two time Stanley Cup Champions to close out the series on the Penguins home ice.

But they did and major credit goes to the players and the coaching staff for coming up with a game plan that worked. They stayed out of the box (only 1 penalty) and they didn’t get into a rush game. Washington had far more odd man rushes in this affair and ultimately it was one of those that decided the series.

For Coach Barry Trotz, this has to be big time satisfying for him and his staff. He’s taken heat all year for not being able to take a team, on paper that looked better than the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, into the Eastern Conference Final. Sometimes though, it’s not about what’s on paper, it’s how a team responds to each other and the heart they display on the ice.

Trotzy told Nestor and I out at Michael’s Café in Timonium in late March, “Last year I’d try to move guys around and I almost always got push back from some players who claimed they didn’t perform well with certain guys. This season, I’ve moved guys around all of the time to try things out and I’ve had no issues from anyone.”

In Carroll County back in March 2017 Trotz talked about that Presidents’ Trophy winning club and said this, “This may not be our best team, we won’t know until the year is over.”

Those two quotes from the coach certainly make a lot of sense now. That 2017 team was very talented, but maybe it was too talented and perhaps a bit selfish?

It’s safe to say now that this 2018 Washington Capitals group is clearly their best team, at least in the Ovechkin era. This is a club that has seen player after player step up when someone has faltered, injured, or gotten ridiculously suspended. It’s seen a Vezina Trophy goalie get benched, not pout but work harder, and then come back to take over and win two playoff series. It’s seen their best center go out due to injury and their second best pivot step up and become the dominant player we all knew he could be. It’s seen a Captain who was overweight and ultimately injured because of it last spring check his ego at the door and work his butt off to become a faster and better player in 2017-18. You can go on and on down the list at the players who have stepped up after the salary cap and expansion forced some big holes in this roster, especially on defense and on the wings.

This was certainly one huge game and series victory over Pittsburgh. The Capitals will have all Monday night to celebrate it, and they should.

But they are only halfway to their ultimate goal and the test gets much harder in round three. The Tampa Bay Lightning are an extremely good hockey club that is well rested and healthy. Coach Jon Cooper’s squad is heavy favorites to knock off the Caps in round three.

Then again, the Penguins were heavy favorites to win game six on Monday night, and that didn’t happen.

The game is played on the ice, not on paper, the Capitals have proved that.

So keep the faith, get behind the team like Coach Trotz has asked of you, and let’s play round three!

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Ovi Game 3

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Ovechkin’s Late Goal and Backstrom’s Monster Night Propel Caps to a Game 3 Victory

Posted on 01 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin tallied with 1:07 remaining by batting home the rebound of his initial shot that hit the right post following a superb play and feed by the great Nicklas Backstrom to lead the Washington Capitals to a come from behind, 4-3, victory in game three in Pittsburgh. Braden Holtby made 19 saves and the Caps now lead this best of seven series, two games to one.

Wow, what a stud of a performance by Mr. Backstrom!

Nicky had three assists on goals by John Carlson, Chandler Stephenson, and of course the game winner by Ovi. Backstrom logged a game high, for all forwards, of 22:29 and he was on the ice for three of the Capitals four goals and none against. Simply put, he’s been outstanding in the last two games and along with the Holtbeast, he’s the biggest reason Washington has won the last two contests.

The Gr8 now has eight goals in the post season and he’s playing extremely well offensively. He still has some issues defensively, but he’s making an effort in his own zone and he’s producing at a great clip on the offensive end in just nine playoff tilts this spring. Tuesday’s goal was as big as they come in his career right now.

T.J. Oshie, after hurting his hand blocking a shot at the end of game two, had a strong outing on Backstrom’s line and it was his sensational pass to Stephenson in the slot that got the Caps a big goal to tie this one up at two after Pittsburgh had seized momentum with two quick strikes. Those goals came shortly after Carlson’s power play tally gave Washington a 1-0 lead early in period two.

Jake Guentzel continued his tear scoring the first Pens marker on a sweet deflection when Brett Connolly made the mistake of leaving Justin Schultz, which allowed #4 to move to the center of the ice and fire away with lots of traffic in front of Holtby. After a really ticky tacky hooking call on Brooks Orpik, the Penguins went ahead when Patric Hornqvist outmuscled Dmitry Orlov in front for a tap in power play lamp lighter.

Orlov would then get burnt again in a four on four situation by Guentzel and as a result, Matt Niskanen slid over to help leaving Sidney Crosby all alone back door. #59 made a great feed to #87 and Sid buried it.

That gave the Pens a 3-2 lead going into the third period, but Washington dominated that frame, outshooting the Penguins, 10-3. Still, Pittsburgh seemed to have the upper hand given they were at home, but speaking of hands, a Niskanen unscreened point blast after a nice D to D pass from Orlov eluded Matt “Glitchy Glove” Murray and went into the net just 5:06 into the period. That goal seemed to really take the starch out of Pittsburgh and the Capitals continued to amp their play up.

The Caps were storming the castle, but on a few occasions they got caught up in a rush game in the third period with the Pens and Holtby bailed them out once by stopping Brian Dumolin on a breakaway with a sweet toe save. Pittsburgh also somehow didn’t connect on a couple of three on two opportunities before Ovechkin’s magical goal. In the remainder of this series, the Capitals have to really make sure they keep a third forward high in the offensive zone so that the Pens can’t feast on their stellar rush game.

Overall, this was a crazy contest. The zebras, Francois St. Laurent and Kevin Pollock, as expected called a lot of penalties early on. In the first two periods each squad received four man advantage situations and both teams connected once. Through 40 minutes the difference was the Crosby goal at four on four. Things got a bit out of control in period two as the Penguins were going after Tom Wilson after Willy knocked Zach Aston-Reese out of the game and the series with a broken jaw on a clean shoulder to shoulder hit. This was all physics as Wilson is six foot four and Aston-Reese is four inches shorter. #46 was also crouching as he ran into Wilson, who was gliding on his skates upon impact.

In the final frame, there were no penalties called and five on five situations seem to favor the Capitals. Washington outworked the Penguins in the last 20 minutes and Murray’s struggles in net yielded the tying goal. #30 had no chance on the game winning goal as the Pens were gambling to take the lead and Olli Maatta got caught at the offensive blue line. Backstrom found another gear and beat Kris Letang badly to set up the Gr8 for the game winner.

The last two springs, the Penguins have surged to a 3-1 series lead and have won in six and seven games, respectively. This year, Pittsburgh will have to win game four to tie the series up on Thursday night. They’ll have to do it with a goaltender that appears to be having some struggles, as well.

Notes: Dumolin, who was injured throwing his head into Wilson’s shoulder pads in game two, looked fine in game three. Evgeni Malkin returned to the Pittsburgh lineup after missing three games and logged 19:07. He was -2 on the night, but did have an assist…Crosby had a goal and an assist in 20:41. He was not on the ice much of the game against Backstrom since Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan had the last change…Carlson played a game high 29:17 and had four shots on goal. He’s a big game player and performs extremely well against the Pens…Connolly was bumped down to the fourth line and played just 6:42. Jakub Vrana was moved up and played fairly well in 10:41 of ice time…the Penguins creamed the Caps in face-offs, 36-23, but Jay Beagle won two big draws in the final minute to help seal the deal for Washington…shots on goal were even at 22 as were shot attempts (48 each)…Wilson had a game high nine hits. Game four is Thursday at 7 pm from Pittsburgh.

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Ovi Game 6

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Caps Win Fourth Straight Over Columbus to Advance to Round Two

Posted on 23 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

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).

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Backy Game 5

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Braden Holtby Robs Columbus in Game Five

Posted on 22 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

They should call this one “The Great Game Robbery.”

Braden Holtby made 39 saves, including 15 stops in the third period when Columbus was storming the castle, and Nicklas Backstrom deflected home a Dmitry Orlov point shot at 11:53 of overtime to give the Capitals a 4-3 victory in game five to take a three games to two series lead. Game six is on Monday night from Ohio at 7:30 pm.

Backstrom scored twice in this affair plus Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie also tallied for the Caps while the Blue Jackets received two odd man rush goals from Matt Calvert and an Oliver Borkstand tip in that tied this one up at three early in period three.

After playing a near perfect contest on Thursday in game four, which included preventing the Blue Jackets from scoring any rush goals, the Caps reverted on home ice. Both of Columbus’ first two lamp lighters came on fast breaks when the Capitals made mistakes in the offensive zone. The first tally that gave CBus an early 1-0 lead was the result of an Alex Ovechkin misplay on the power play. Ovi was taken off of the puck on the left wing boards setting up a two on one the other way. John Carlson was back and chose to go down to cut the pass off, but Holtby never really got set and Calvert fired it through his pads for a shorthanded tally.

Nicky tied the game up just over three minutes later by banking one in off of Sergei Bobrovsky (25 saves) from below the goal line. In that first frame the Caps took three penalties, but somehow managed to keep the game even on the scoreboard after 20 minutes.

Period two featured a better performance by Washington and they outshot Columbus, 13-9, and forged a 3-2 lead heading into the final stanza of regulation. Kuzy scored on a two on one rush by faking like he was going to pass and then rifling the puck five hole on Bob. This season Kuznetsov has added some “shoot first” mentality to his game and that has opened things up for him with opposing goalies unsure of what he is going to do with the puck, especially given his propensity to look for the perfect set up. Evgeny now has four goals in this series.

The Capitals prosperity lasted all of 84 seconds as Oshie, who was covering the point for Matt Niskanen, fumbled the puck at the offensive blue line allowing #11 to go in all alone on Holtby. The speedy Calvert went to shoot the puck on his forehand and fanned on it, but that move froze Holtby and Matt gathered in the disc and backhanded it past #70’s outstretched left pad before Niskanen and Orlov could get back to help. It was sloppy hockey with the lead and the Capitals paid for it.

Oshie notched his goal, the third of the series, at 16:42 of period two with a sweet tip in of a Carlson power play blast. Despite some shoddy play that led to two rush goals for Columbus, Washington had a chance to seize command of the series with a strong final 20 minutes.

That would not happen as the Caps never really got out of the gate for the third frame. The Blue Jackets played their best period of the series and they tied it up just 2:30 in on a rare offensive zone pressure tally. A Caps turnover by Kuznetsov kept the puck in the Washington end allowing Ian Cole to fire one from the point that Bjorkstand tipped nicely home with traffic in front of Holtby. Then wave after wave of Columbus pressure came the rest of the period with the Blue Jackets laying it all out on the line. Fortunately for Washington, Holtby was superb and he allowed a Caps team that was manhandled in the last 20 minutes of regulation to survive to see extra time.

The Caps were a different team in overtime and they carried the play, but some mistakes led to some great chances for the opponents, including an all alone Boone Jenner shot from just above the crease that the Holtbeast came up large on. At the other end, Bobrovsky made stellar saves on Ovechkin from between the circles and Carlson on the door step before Backstrom ended things with a gorgeous deflection.

The Caps did some good things in this contest, most notably their five for five penalty killing, but they were outplayed in this tilt and for the first time in the series they were outshot in the game, 42-29. Shot attempts were 85-68, but it was 35-11 for Columbus in period three, when Holtby saved the Capitals bacon. Washington, who had lost five of their last six games on home ice in the playoffs, were too loose with the puck and were outworked for stretches of this affair. Goaltending, however, is the key to the post season and #70 is dialed in right now.

The Holtbeast went all Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to steal a game for Washington on home ice and he is now 17-4-2 as a starter against Columbus, lifetime.

Afterwards Coach John Tortorella, whose presser lasted less than two minutes, stated twice that his club would be back for a game seven before walking off. Caps Coach Barry Trotz countered with “It’s our job to not let that happen.”

Game six should be a dandy, but you can pretty much sum up game five with the following line from that great Paul Newman and Robert Redford movie.

“Esto es un robo.”

Notes: Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 33:16. Carlson played 27:23 and Orlov logged 27:00…Ovechkin had 13 shot attempts, including seven on net, but he was -1 in 23:40 of ice time…the Caps went 1 for 4 on the power play, but allowed a shorthanded tally…Backstrom had a helper on Oshie’s goal to go with his two tallies…Orlov had two assists. He’s been up and down this series, so it was good to see him set up the game winner…the Capitals were defeated at the dot, going 27-35 on draws. Jay Beagle was 8-3 and Backstrom was 8-8…Alex Chiasson and Jakub Vrana each played less than eight minutes…Seth Jones led Columbus in ice time with 31:51. Forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Mark Letestu both played less than eight minutes. Artemi Panarin played 27:11 and was -2. He was held pointless.

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Caps Win Game 4

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Caps Lock Down Columbus, 4-1, to Even Up the Series

Posted on 19 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals first line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Tom Wilson collected a total of seven points and Braden Holtby made 23 of 24 saves to give the Caps a 4-1 victory in game four of this best of seven series and send things back to DC knotted up at two games apiece. Game five is Saturday afternoon at 3 pm at Capital One Arena.

After winning in double overtime on a goal mouth scramble bounce in game three, the Caps continued their push to the front of Sergei Bobrovsky’s net and it paid off with some big tallies. Wilson scored first just 6:16 into this affair. John Carlson and Chandler Stephenson broke out on Ian Cole on a two on one rush thanks to a super breakout pass by Alex Chiasson. Bob made the initial save on Carlson and Thomas Vanek managed to clear the rebound before Stephenson could deposit the loose change. The problem for the Blue Jackets was that the puck went right to Kuznetsov, who put one on a tee for a fresh off of the bench Wilson, and Top Line Tommy lasered the biscuit into the twine.

Another rebound marker, this one on the power play, by T.J. Oshie just before the midpoint of the game gave Washington a two goal cushion. Carlson made a super keep in at the blue line of a failed Cam Atkinson clear and that set the whole play in motion against a fatigued Columbus PK unit. Oshie wheeled the puck behind the net and to the right wing half wall to the great Nicklas Backstrom. Nicky fed #74 at the right point and he fired on net. Bobrovsky made the initial save, but the biscuit bounced right to Ovi charging in from the left wing circle. The Gr8 shot, but Bob denied him. Kuznetsov poked at the puck, but Bob padded it up into the slot, where the Osh Babe quickly snapped it, with his amazing hands, into the goal.

In both games one and two, the Capitals had two goal leads, but they frittered each away with bad penalties, untimely offensive zone miscues that led to Blue Jacket rush goals, and some shaky goaltending. In game four, the Caps stayed disciplined, limited their offensive and neutral zone mistakes by getting pucks deep, and of course, the Holtbeast was a confident wall in the cage.

For the last 10 minutes of the second frame, the Caps played smart and made Columbus work for every inch. Washington took that 2-0 lead to the locker room after 40 minutes and they came right out in period three and played the same exact way. The Blue Jackets, who were working doubly hard to try and fight through the Capitals neutral zone trap and strong defensive blue line front, were being forced to go 200 feet to generate opportunities and fatigue started taking over.

The Caps extended their lead to three pucks just 2:49 into the final stanza. Wilson went flying through the neutral and offensive zones on the right wing boards with the puck and attempted to fire on Bob, as he should do in that situation. Willy’s shot was blocked and he and the Columbus player slid into the right wing corner with the puck. Kuzy alertly skated quickly in to retrieve the disc and he fed Ovechkin in the high slot. The Gr8 then quickly went backhand to forehand and sniped one below Sergei’s left pad to really stick a dagger in Columbus.

From there on out, the Blue Jackets tried everything they could to sneak a player behind the Washington defense and they also pinched on the walls trying to keep pucks in the offensive zone. Columbus’ only goal came off of a faceoff win, at 6:22 of period three, on a Boone Jenner deflection with tons of traffic in front. After that, the Caps exploited the Blue Jackets “cheat” for several scoring opportunities, most notably an Ovechkin breakaway that would have made it 4-1, but Bob robbed him glove side.

Over a minute after Columbus dispensed of their keeper with 3:29 remaining, Kuznetsov stole a puck in the neutral zone and hit the empty net with 2:19 left to end the scoring and even up the series.

This was one heck of a team effort by the Caps.

On Wednesday morning, I asked Coach Barry Trotz about how the team would shut down the Blue Jackets potent rush game and he stated that the key was getting numbers back and the forwards exhibiting strong back pressure on their opponents.

Boy did his team follow that game plan perfectly!

Time after time a Columbus player would appear to have some speed and a lane in the neutral zone only to be slowed by a wall of Caps defenders at the Washington blue line. Then a back checking forward would either stick lift the Columbus player to steal the puck or the Blue Jackets would force a pass into the middle of the ice where the Capitals would grab the disc and go the other way. This pattern went on for much of the third period and you could see the Blue Jackets were being forced to use the whole rink to generate opportunities, but it just wasn’t happening because of the defensive posture of Washington.

On the night, Columbus only had 24 shots on goal and failed to hit double digits in any period. When shots did get through, Holtby was dialed in and took away any hope of a victory for the home squad. The Holtbeast is now 16-4-2 as a starter against the Blue Jackets, lifetime.

A successful lineup adjustment that Coach Barry Trotz made from game three to game four was to put Stephenson back up with Backstrom and Oshie on the second unit while bumping Jakub Vrana down to line four. That move paid dividends once the Caps got the lead because #18 is a really strong two way player who can skate. Vrana is a very good skater, too, and in his limited time (6:41) he played well, but with Coach John Tortorella having the match up advantage, Trotzy had to counter with a strong two way line. By doing that, the Kuznetsov trio was able to win their match up and be the difference in the hockey game.

Overall, this was an outstanding performance and the best the Capitals have played in the post season this spring. They played a simple game and have now won six of their last seven road playoffs tilts dating back to last April. That is the good news, but the bad news is they have lost five of their last six playoff contests at home. The key to winning again wearing Red is to pretend it is a road contest and play a simple style. There is no need to be trying to impress the fans with fancy passes and pretty plays. This is the playoffs and dirty, gritty goals are what make the difference between winning and losing. The Washington fans will gladly trade pretty plays for a simple W this time of year.

On Thursday night, the Capitals played a textbook road game and left the state of Ohio with two victories, just as their captain said they would do before game 3.

Promise Delivered.

Notes: Matt Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:29 and was outstanding. Nisky is playing the best hockey of his season. His defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, logged 24:10. #9 has made some mistakes in this series and has another gear he can get to, but his fellow blue liner has really stabilized things on the back end…Michal Kempny (18:14), Brooks Orpik (17:01) and Christian Djoos (12:36) all played well on defense…Washington, who got Jay Beagle back in game two after he was out due to an upper body injury, owned the face off circle going 36-20. Beags was a downright dominant, 14-3. Winning draw after draw forces the opposition, especially when trailing, to expend a lot of energy to try and get the puck back…the leader in ice time for the series, Seth Jones, played 26:22 minutes of action that included being hounded by a Caps player pretty much all night…Artemi Panarin, who was the best skater in the series in the first three games, was held in check in game four. He had only one shot on net, took two penalties, and was -1 in 20:56 of ice time…the Caps were 1 for 3 on the power play while CBus went 0 for 3.

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Holtbeast Game 3

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The Holtbeast is Triumphant in Game 3 for the Caps

Posted on 18 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

For the third straight game, there was overtime between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals, but this time, the contest went to double overtime. With the Caps staring at a potential three to zero hole in the series, Braden Holtby (33 saves) made several big stops, especially in the first extra session to extend the tilt. Washington came out with a lot of jump in the fifth stanza of hockey, outshooting CBus, 8-2, and they won the game on a rebound tally by Lars Eller after exactly 89 minutes of hockey. Brett Connolly, who had an earlier rebound goal that would have given the Caps a 2-0 second period lead wiped out due to offside, made the play by quickly firing a puck on Sergei Bobrovsky (42 saves) before “Bob” could get set. The puck pin balled into the twine behind the Blue Jackets keeper and the guys in white celebrated a clutch victory.

Whew, what a game!

Alex Ovechkin (two assists) on Tuesday afternoon stated that the Caps would come back to Washington for game five with the series knotted up. Thanks to the Holtbeast and a superb team effort, there is still a chance that could happen. Columbus, however, leads the series two games to one and they have home ice on Thursday night at 7:30.

There were a lot of things to like in this game for the Caps, who played without injured forward Andre Burakovsky (upper body injury). As the Secretary of Defense, Rod Langway, used to tell me when I worked for the team back in the 80’s and 90’s, “It all starts from the goaltender and then works out to the defense and forwards.”

Truer words could never be spoken about the post season and Philipp Grubauer struggled in his first two outings giving up several goals to his glove side when the Caps were carrying the majority of the play. The Holtbeast came in for period three and overtime and ended up getting the loss in game two, but that tally was hard to pin on #70.

On Tuesday night, Braden gave up only two goals in 89:00 of action. The first, he’ll say he’d like back because it wasn’t a screened shot, but the goalie from Saskatchewan was forced to move to his left because the Washington defenders, to include the forwards, allowed another open lane for a diagonal pass that the Blue Jackets love to employ in the offensive zone. Artemi Panarin (1 goal, 1 assist) used his speed to create that alley way and Pierre Luc-Dubois rifled a perfect shot just under the bar. Columbus’ second goal came on a two on one after Ovechkin tried an east-west pass that Dmitry Orlov couldn’t handle cleanly in the offensive zone and then fumbled away. Cam Atkinson and Panarin compounded the blunder by executing the odd man rush beautifully. John Carlson failed on multiple occasions to block the pass and ultimately Panarin had an empty net to deposit the biscuit in and tie this affair up at two just 4:12 into the third period.

Goaltending is so important, and Bobrovksy has been stellar for Columbus. Washington had 45 shots on goal after firing 58 in game two, but it took two deflections and a two man advantage blast to dent him for three lamp lighters. The Caps are still working to get more bodies to the net, but in addition to Devante Smith-Pelly and Eller crashing the cage on the game winner, Tom Wilson notched his first playoff marker of 2018 with a sweet deflection of a Matt Niskanen laser from the point. That goal was all set up by some great corner work by the Gr8. If the Caps want to win on Thursday, they need to grind their way to the net to get traffic on “Bob” because he looks like he will stop everything he sees right now.

In the first two games, Columbus killed the Caps on the power play going four for eight. They repeatedly were able to make a cross ice pass from the high left wing circle side to the right side and beat Grubauer to his left up high. Niskanen stated after Sunday’s loss that “we have to fix our PK.” On Tuesday night, the Capitals penalty killing was much better and they kept their four man box tighter to not allow that pass, which when it’s successful forces the goalie to have to move laterally very quickly and make a tough save. In addition to good work by the four guys on the ice, the most important player on the PK is your goalie, and the Holtbeast was stellar. For the night, the Caps went four for four on the penalty kill.

Jakub Vrana was inserted into Burakovsky’s vacated slot on the second line and he played some strong hockey in 22:00 of ice time. #13 was engaged with the body, something he didn’t do well in game one, and he also used his speed to open up space. He, Nicklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie still have to get fully clicking, but Vrana drew both penalties just 67 seconds apart in the middle frame. That resulted in Carlson’s power play snipe that gave the Caps a 2-1 lead heading into period three. Backstrom made another of his awesome passes to set that tally up. Almost everyone thought he was going to Ovi at the top of the right point, but instead he went to the left point for #74, who buried it. Carlson now has seven points (1 goal, 6 assists) in the post season.

Washington’s forwards did a better job, especially Connolly and Vrana, of using their body in one on one board battles than they’d done in the two games played at Capital One Arena. That’s something both need to continue doing so that they can wear down a very deep Blue Jackets defense, led by Seth Jones. The playoffs are a different game so that style doesn’t exactly fit Connolly and Vrana’s skill set, but in game three, they didn’t shy away from the physical requirements of playoff hockey.

Columbus has scored almost all of their goals this series on the power play or on the rush, so in addition to being disciplined, the Caps have to stick to a north-south brand of hockey. The east-west style that features cross ice passes at the offensive blue line or even deep in the zone have led to at least two Blue Jackets tallies. It’s imperative that Coach Barry Trotz’ crew resist the impulse to try those plays and opt more for pucks on net or behind the cage.

As I’ve stated on WNST quite often the last couple of weeks, goaltending is so important in the playoffs. The Capitals finally received a quality performance from their starter on Tuesday night and now they are back in the series. Still, they have their work cut out for them and with John Tortorella getting the match up choices in Ohio, the Caps will need another huge outing from the Holtbeast.

Notes:  The officiating in this game was sketchy, but that’s no surprise since it featured Ranger Dan O’Halloran and Kyle Rehman. I’m not sure how they missed the high stick by David Savard on Oshie in overtime? They also allowed Columbus to cover the puck in the corner without signaling for delay of game or closing the hand on the biscuit…the Blue Jackets received the only power play of the overtimes…Columbus won the faceoff battle, 43-37, but Evgeny Kuznetsov went 12-8 and Jay Beagle was 9-6. Eller lost 14 of 19 draws while Backstrom split his 20 faceoffs…Trotz used all of his players, which may have been why Washington dominated the second OT. Alex Chiasson only logged 10:19, but Columbus had forwards Sonny Milano (5:55) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (8:09) barely see the ice. Christian Djoos made his NHL playoff debut taking a spot alongside Brooks Orpik (24:39) and acquitted himself very well in 17:17 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 37:17 and Orlov was close behind with 36:00…Jones played 35:09 to lead all Blue Jacket players while Atkinson (31:51) and Panarin (31:39) played a ton at forward for Tortorella.

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CBus wins

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Undisciplined Penalties Cost the Caps Game One

Posted on 13 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

“You mess with the bull, you get the horns.”

The Washington Capitals certainly did that on Thursday night taking three ill advised penalties in the third period to gift the Columbus Blue Jackets two power play goals. CBus would need both of those tallies to force overtime and from there Artemi Panarin went around Dmitry Orlov, who was playing on his off side, and roofed one past a crouching Philipp Grubauer (23 saves) to give Columbus a 4-3 victory 6:02 into overtime.

This was a bad opening game loss by the Caps, there are no two ways about it. They came out strong and took a 2-0 lead on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s two power play tallies, which they received due to a dirty and stupid hit from behind by Josh Anderson. The play ended Michal Kempny’s night when his head hit the glass forcefully causing #6 to bleed and then have to deal with concussion-like symptoms. It is a play that the league has been trying to get out of the game for 30 plus years, but there are still players who don’t back off on a hit when they can clearly see their opponents number. I’m also shocked at some of the out of town comments on Twitter from those who allegedly know the game. That hit was awful, just like Drew Doughty’s on William Carrier on Wednesday night in Vegas, there is no defending it. I’m sure the league will look into the play and with Kempny’s status up in the air for game two and beyond, Anderson could face more supplementary discipline.

Washington dominated that first period to generate the two puck lead and things seemed to be going their way with 2:23 of power play time left to start period two. The Caps, however, could not get anything going again with the man advantage and the Blue Jackets grabbed momentum. A weird and fortunate bounce for the visitors in the neutral zone then led to a two on one rush for Alex Wennberg and Boone Jenner. Niskanen was back, but it was Jenner’s pass that just eluded a hard charging Orlov and gave Wennberg a back door tap in 4:48 into period two. Suddenly Columbus had life and the Capitals struggled, but they eventually stabilized things to take a 2-1 lead into period three. Washington had a 25-16 edge in shots on goal after 40 minutes, but Columbus’ goalie held his team in the game.

Tom Wilson, Kuznetsov, and Andre Burakovsky all took terrible penalties in the final frame to help Washington fritter away a game they should’ve won. Willy was correctly boxed for charging, Kuznetsov was whistled for a retaliatory slashing infraction on Panarin, who escaped justice, and then the most egregious penalty of all came with 5:05 remaining in regulation. Burakovsky mistakenly chased Columbus all star defensemen Seth Jones behind his own net and tripped #3 nearly 200 feet from the opposing cage as he came out the other side. It was a stupid penalty to take with a one goal lead late in a playoff game. Columbus had also scored on Wilson’s penalty to tie the game up at two, just 1:31 into period three. In between the power play goals, Jakub Vrana made a great end to end rush to set up Devante Smith-Pelly for a beautiful far post tally that looked to be the game winner until Burakovsky made a low hockey IQ play that ultimately sent the tilt to the extra session.

This was a very weird game and Washington was not helped by having to go with just five defensemen once Kempny was rammed into the boards. Orlov (26:09), John Carlson (26:16), and Niskanen (25:02) played a lot of minutes and the whole defense looked exhausted in the extra session. The Caps had zero shots on net in that six plus minutes of hockey. Overall, there were several Capitals that didn’t play well and looked sluggish. You can put Alex Ovechkin (seven shot attempts in 23:25) and T.J. Oshie (two shot attempts in 19:41) in that category. The Gr8 did not have his legs in this one and his hands were off, as well. If Washington is going to come back and win this series, then they need a lot more from their captain.

In goal, Grubauer made some good saves, but Sergei Bobrovsky (27 saves) was better since he faced more quality chances. It is hard to fault #31 on the first three goals, perhaps he could’ve had his stick down on the second goal to stop the pass from Pierre Luc-Dubios to Thomas Vanek, but Brooks Orpik was badly boxed out in front after Niskanen was caught up way too high on the penalty kill to lead to a two on one down low. Grubauer’s biggest save came right before Vrana set up DSP for the third goal when #13 made a terrible defensive zone giveaway. On the game winner, it looked like Philipp went down too early in a crouch and that was how Panarin sealed the deal for Columbus.

In addition to the penalties, there were too many turnovers by Washington. In period three they tried numerous cross ice passes in the neutral zone when pucks should be going deep. The Caps also didn’t put enough traffic on Bob in this affair. That needs to change in game two. Speaking of changes, Braden Holtby is 14-4-2 with a .914 save percentage in 21 games against the Blue Jackets so I’d like to see him get the game two start on Sunday night at 7:30. Grubauer wasn’t the main reason the Capitals lost on Thursday night, but again, he has to make that save on Panarin.

In summary, this game started great for Washington and then went downhill. The Caps made too many mistakes and once again found a way to lose a playoff game on home ice. That’s four of the last five home playoff games that they’ve dropped. If this team doesn’t play smarter, harder, and faster on Sunday night, this series could be over fast. The Blue Jackets work hard and Bobrovsky surely gained quite a bit of confidence in the victory.

Notes: The Caps are 10-7 all time when they lose game one…the Caps have lost home ice advantage. They failed to capitalize on the matchup advantage, but surely Kempny’s injury impacted that. Coach Barry Trotz stated afterwards that Christian Djoos would be the next man up on D if Michal can’t play…there is no practice on Friday…the Blue Jackets won the face-off battle, 33-27, but Nicklas Backstrom was 14-10…the Capitals were two for six on the power play in 11:00 of man advantage time while the Blue Jackets went two for four in 4:52 of power play time…Columbus had never led a playoff series until Thursday night’s victory…Jones led the Blue Jackets in ice time with 30:59. Cam Atkinson led all Columbus forwards with 25:10.

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Ovi 49

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Ovechkin Scores Twice But Can’t Get To 50 in a Caps Win

Posted on 08 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin put on a show on Saturday night at Capital One Arena, but despite 18 shot attempts, the Gr8 notched only two goals in a 5-3 win over the New Jersey Devils to finish the season with 49 tallies. Braden Holtby stopped 23 of 26 shots, although there was some very loose defense by his club, at times, to earn the victory.

The Caps finish the season at 49-26-7 (105 points) and will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which could start as early as Wednesday. Coach John Tortorella’s team rested several key players, such as Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, and Sergei Bobrovsky in their season finale against the Predators in Nashville. It is pretty apparent that CBus much preferred facing the Caps than the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins and now they have their wish.

As for the Devils, they fall to the second wild card spot and will face the winner of the Atlantic Division (either Boston or Tampa). New Jersey rested some key players on Saturday, as well; including star forward Taylor Hall and former Cap Marcus Johansson. The other Metropolitan Division matchup will be the battle of Pennsylvania.

Nicklas Backstrom, Michal Kempny, and Andre Burakovsky scored Washington’s other three goals, while rookie forward Shane Gersich notched his first ever NHL point, assisting on Kempny’s point blast that made it 3-1.

The following are my thoughts and analysis of the triumph on Fan Appreciation Night.

So Close – Ovi had a breakaway in period three that would have given him 50 for the season, but he shot high on Cory Schneider. The last 10 minutes or so were basically all about trying to get Alexander the Great his 50th tally, but with New Jersey covering him closely and not pulling their goalie, it was a tough task. Still, Alex got off some good shots and came oh so close to getting the big 5-0, once again, but Ovechkin still locked up his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy. Simply put, the Russian Machine is an amazing player that had the fans on the edge of their seats or standing. This was a meaningless hockey game for the Caps, but Ovi delivered for those in attendance. For the night, he logged 21:00, had eight shots on goal and was +1. For the campaign, Ovechkin had 355 shots on net and his shooting percentage was 13.8%, but that stat should really count all shot attempts, not just those on net. His 32 even strength goals at age 32 is remarkable. Ovechkin became just the second player since the 1967-68 expansion era to lead the NHL in goals at the age of 32 or older (Phil Esposito).

Pond Hockey – Since Washington clinched the Metro division in Pittsburgh on Sunday night, Washington has played three meaningless affairs. The Caps have done some good things in those tilts, they’ve won 2 of 3, but the games have been nothing like we’ll see next week in the post season. These contests these past six days have been wide open with very little hitting (hits were 15 to 10 for Washington against New Jersey). It’s clear that the Capitals players were saving their bodies, and rightly so, for the grind that starts on Wednesday. The first period against New Jersey was really loose, but again, the game just didn’t matter.

Holtbeast – As mentioned in the opening paragraph, defense appeared optional, at times, on Saturday night. All three Devils goals were converted due to poor Washington coverage. Holtby had to make some tough stops in this affair and he looks ready for the post season. Whether Coach Barry Trotz and Goaltending Coach Scott Murray go with #70 or Philipp Grubauer in game one remains to be seen, but given Holtby’s record against Columbus, I’m thinking he’ll get the nod in the cage. Holtby went 34-16-4 behind a blue line that featured two rookies for the first 50 or so games.

Backy Got Back – Backstrom went 21 games without a goal during one stretch this season so it’s incredible that he finished with 21 tallies along with his 50 assists. #19 is such a good two way player and you know he’s going to bring it every night. Over the last eight games, he’s had two goals and 14 assists. Nicky logged 19:14 centering Burakovsky and Brett Connolly since the Osh Babe was given the night off to get closer to 100% health.

New Kid in Town – Kempny has been mostly paired with John Carlson since he came over at the trade deadline from Chicago for a draft choice. Against the Devils, #6 had his best game yet with a goal and a helper while going +4. Kempny brings speed and puck moving ability that was needed on the blue line. Michal has only 3 points in 22 games with the Caps and two of them came on Saturday night.

Pay The Man 2 – Carlson earned his 68th point with his assist on Backstrom’s goal and he leads all NHL defensemen in points. He was also +4 and brought his plus/minus back to even steven. #74 is an unrestricted free agent this summer and he’s going to get paid well. There are reports the salary cap could go as high as $82 Million and if that’s the case, Washington has a better chance of keeping him. But that is a story for the summer and right now the Caps need John, who is a big game player, to perform well at both ends of the rink. Carly is an ice time eater and he plays in all situations. There aren’t many blue liners around the league that can do the things he does.

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Evgeny Kuznetsov finished with a career high 83 points in 79 games and he has really become a dominant player. Kuzy scored 27 goals this season and when he is unpredictable from a pass vs. shoot perspective, he is very difficult to stop. #92 went 11-7 in draws on Saturday in 19:19 of ice time. If he continues to take shots when he is in the high danger areas, especially between the circles, the Capitals will be a hard team to defeat. The dynamic Russian forward is really the key guy who must be on each night for the Caps to be successful in the post season.

Facing the Cannon – I’ll have more on the Blue Jackets as we move into the week, but this is going to be a very physical and tough matchup. Coach Tortorella’s team is a system squad that blocks shots and likes to throw pucks and bodies at the opposing team’s goalie. Washington’s blue line and forwards are really going to have to amp their game up to deal with all of the traffic they will try to apply on the Caps goalie. Every matchup is tough in the post season and as Coach Barry Trotz often states, the difference between two teams in the standings is often the result of one team having a bad week or short stretch. Columbus totaled just eight points less than the Caps. This is going to be a hard series and Assistant Coach Todd Reirden’s d-men will have to play well against some big guys such as Brandon Dubinsky and Foligno.

Closing Time – The triumph over the Devils slams the regular season book shut for a Caps team that many predicted would not win the division or even make the playoffs. That was not the case from this Capitals historian, blogger, and radio man. Despite the personnel losses, I still predicted a 100 to 105 point season. General Manager Brian MacLellan built this team up the middle of the ice with strong goaltending and Coach Trotz and his staff did a GREAT job of getting several players to really improve. Eight players had career years offensively and this team took first place despite having four rookies regularly in the lineup for the first 50 games. Tom Wilson had his best season as a pro and he’s now a first line beast. He will be a real key in the post season because he opens up space for the Caps up front.

Notes: The full playoff schedule will be announced on Sunday…T.J. Oshie, Jay Beagle, and Travis Boyd didn’t play on Saturday due to injury or illness…the Caps were 32-22 on draws. In addition to #92’s success, Backstrom was 9-7 and Lars Eller was 6-3…Dmitry Orlov led the Capitals in ice time with 23:48.

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Burra Blues

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Holtby Shuts the Door On The Blues in a Caps 4-2 Triumph

Posted on 03 April 2018 by Ed Frankovic

The St. Louis Blues had everything to play for on Monday night at the Scottrade Center and the Washington Capitals had pretty much nothing to play for except trying to stay healthy and honing their game for the Stanley Cup Playoffs that start next week. The Caps also played in Pittsburgh on Sunday night while Coach Mike Yeo’s crew was idle. That sure sets up for a big victory for the home team, right?

Not exactly!

Braden Holtby turned in a gem of a performance in net stopping 34 of 36 shots to earn his 33rd victory of the season and Washington won, 4-2, on the banks of the Mighty Mississipp. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Chiasson, Andre Burakovsky, and Alex Ovechkin scored for Washington while Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Berglund tallied for the Blues.

The Caps, who already clinched the Metropolitan Division on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, now sit at 48-25-7 (103 points) and they have two relatively meaningless games left at Capital One Arena against Nashville and New Jersey on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

Let’s get right into the analysis of this one.

Medic! – The number one priority in Monday’s tilt was for Washington to come out of the game healthy. T.J. Oshie, who left Friday’s contest against the Hurricanes with 10 minutes to go in period three, but played a full 60 against the Pens on Sunday, was wisely scratched along with the injured Jay Beagle (upper body). That put Shane Gersich and Chiasson back in the lineup at forward. Things got very scary on the banged up list in period one. Devante Smith-Pelly went into the boards hard, but seemed to be okay. The entire Capitals Nation then nearly had a heart attack as the Gr8 lost an edge and appeared to jam his skate into the rear boards behind the Blues net. Alex stayed down for several seconds, but then skated to the bench. Ovi would not miss a shift; however, he had to keep trying out his leg during timeouts the rest of the opening frame. Tom Wilson was shaken up later in period one, too. Fortunately all of those guys would return on their next shift and finish the game. Willy even took a shot off of his leg as the horn sounded on this huge win. Thankfully, it appears that the Caps survived this contest without any major injuries, but they do take back some bumps and bruises that need to heal up in DC.

Quick Strike– The Blues took the lead on a Washington defensive breakdown in period one and carried that edge to the locker room after 20 minutes. The Caps, however, stormed the castle in the first eight minutes of period two putting up a three spot on Jake Allen (30 saves). Backstrom scored in front of the net after a nice feed from Brett Connolly, then just under two minutes later Jakub Jerabek sprung Chiasson on a breakaway at the offensive blue line with a beautiful long feed that split the St. Louis D. Alex skated in and roofed one on Allen. At 7:54, the lead was 3-1, Caps. Andre Burakovsky scored a gorgeous goal on the rush that was similar to Dmitry Orlov’s puck through his skates tally that he notched in Dallas back in December. Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) had the primary assist and Brooks Orpik picked up the second helper on the third tally. The trio of red lights stunned the Blues, who were suddenly in deep trouble.

He Own Da Blues – Holtby, after a rough February, has been working his game back into form and he was the vintage Holtbeast in this one. There were several strong saves with traffic in front of him and he flashed his sassy glove to snag pucks at the Blues on a few other occasions. #70 was dialed in and looked very confident in the cage. The win runs Braden’s record against St. Louis to a perfect seven and zero, lifetime! The Caps now have both of their goalies playing well and it could not come at a better time. When it comes to the Blues, the Holtbeast OWWWWNNNNSSS them!

Spinning Wheel Must Come Down – Last month I praised the work of Trevor Hanson when he officiated back to back Cap games in California. Paired with the horribly inconsistent Gord Dwyer, Hanson sunk to his partner’s level in this affair. All night the players had no idea what was or wasn’t a penalty. Evgeny Kuznetsov was held on the opening shift on a potential breakaway with no call and from there things just deteriorated. On the night the Blues had four power plays to just two for Washington, although the Capitals received a man advantage with 2:07 left that put St. Louis way behind the eight ball. Ovi finished the deal with 1:31 left with an empty net power play marker, which is his 46th goal of the season with two games remaining. I’ll give Hanson a pass on this one, but once the playoffs start next week the teams need to have some consistency from the zebras!

Getting to the Cage – Shots on goal for the game were 36-34 for St. Louis, but by Comcast’s tracking the quality chances were pretty close (they had it 14-13, Capitals, late in period three). What I liked about Washington’s opportunities was they were coming from in front of the net on Allen. If the Caps continue to put bodies and pucks to the blue paint area their probability of winning post season hockey games goes up dramatically. There were still some occasions where they over passed, a play by Kuzy between the circles late in period three when it was 3-2 sticks out, but the team is starting to play the right way with more shots and more pucks being put behind the opposing D. That’s a recipe the Penguins used to win back to back Stanley Cups.

Crucial Giveaways –Jerabek had the great outlet pass to Chiasson for his goal, but he made another terrible defensive zone pass that nearly led to a goal for the second straight night. In Pittsburgh, he turned the puck over up the middle in period three instead of feeding the biscuit up the boards to two wide open Caps. Sidney Crosby should’ve buried that one, but he didn’t get full power on it and Philipp Grubauer robbed him. #28, in period two with a one goal lead, somehow thought that a cross ice pass from Holtby’s right across the front of the net to the left wing boards was a good idea for a breakout attempt. It wasn’t and even my two mites know you don’t do that, never, never! Berglund picked the puck off, but fortunately Holtby made another big save. I like Jakub, but he’s got to manage the disc better in the defensive zone. Throw it up the boards or eat it below the goal line if you don’t have a sure fire breakout pass from deep in your own end.

Special PK – Orpik had another super night on the penalty kill logging 4:16 of the 7:57 that Washington was shorthanded. John Carlson was right behind him in that department with 3:39 of time. The Caps, after holding Pittsburgh to a zero for five night on Sunday on the power play, blanked the Blues in four tries and St. Louis only had four shots on goal in those instances. It was nice to see defensemen Michal Kempny contribute on those units, too, logging 3:06 of PK time. If #6 can effectively kill penalties, then that frees up the very offensively dangerous Orlov to play more at even strength.

Roadies – As Caps excellent beat writer, Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) pointed out, the Capitals, with Sunday’s victory in Pittsburgh, won their 20th game away from home for the fourth straight season. On Monday night, they improved to 21-15-5 to close out their road slate for the campaign. The only other Metropolitan Division team to win over half of their road games in 2017-18 is the New Jersey Devils.

Notes: the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 37-29. Chandler Stephenson went 4-2…Ovi had nine shot attempts (5 on net) and was -2 in only 16:56 of ice time. He had some quality chances that he didn’t finish, but he did close this one out with the empty netter…Backstrom was the best skater on the ice for either team. He had three shots on goal and two points in 18:10 of action. His tally got Washington going in period two…Orlov led the Caps in ice time with 22:58. Coach Barry Trotz did a good job of spreading the minutes around in a meaningless game. Nobody on the team played less than 10 minutes and not a single player went over 23 minutes.

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Kuzy Rags

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Kuznetsov’s Magic Gives the Caps a 3-2 OT Win Over the Rangers

Posted on 29 March 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game winning goal 38 seconds into overtime after Lars Eller had tied this tilt up with 1:05 remaining in regulation to give the Caps a hard fought, 3-2, triumph over Henrik Lundqvist and the young and fast New York Rangers. Braden Holtby returned to the cage after missing several games due to a minor injury and stopped 35 of 37 shots to earn his 32nd victory of the season.

The rally, after the Rangers took the lead on Ryan Spooner’s goal with 9:25 left, pushes the Capitals record to 46-24-7 (99 points) and they just need four more points to clinch their third straight Metropolitan Division title.

The following are my thoughts and analysis on the Capitals ninth win in their last 10 games.

Doing the Bird – From the opening shift, Kuzy was flying in this tilt. The Rangers are a very good skating team, but all night #92 was moving around the ice with speed and precision. It took some big stops by Lundqvist (30 saves) to keep this game tied, especially in the second period when the Caps dominated the majority of the frame. Evgeny worked hard on the boards, too, and his wall work helped set up Eller’s game tying goal. That’s now 77 points in 74 games for the Russian center. The winning goal was a thing of brilliance. The Capitals caught a break with the puck hitting the linesmen in the neutral zone and Kuzy grabbed it and went the other way with Alex Ovechkin to his right. With all three guys in white expecting a pass to Ovechkin, Evgeny skated back out towards the blue line, circled, turned on the jets as he headed towards the net, and then fired a laser just inside the far post to end this affair. What a game by Kuznetsov and when he plays like that, Washington is hard to defeat. Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa. Whawk! Hallelujah! Whoa.

Givin’ the Dog a Bone – Over the last several weeks, T.J. Oshie has looked a lot more like himself. He’s started scoring goals and putting up points, but his hustle and ability to win the loose puck and board battles is likely his best attribute. On Wednesday night against the Rags, #77 was everywhere with his will and determination. After the Rangers took a first period lead on a power play goal, a neutral zone steal by the Osh Babe, following a great step up by defensemen Brooks Orpik, led to a rush goal by Andre Burakovsky with 33 seconds left in the opening frame. Oshie corralled the puck in the neutral zone and skated down the left wing boards. He immediately noticed that he had a three on two so he alertly zipped the puck to Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) in the middle of the ice. Nicky probably should’ve shot, but he quickly passed to Burkie to his right and #65 got enough of the shot to beat King Henrik. Oshie’s tenacity and ability to dog puck after puck and come up with them is a major reason why this team had to bring him back if they wanted to contend for a Stanley Cup this season and beyond.

Boxed Too Often – The Rangers had 37 shots on net because the Capitals took five penalties. You can argue about one or two of them, and Steve Kozari and Ghislain Hebert aren’t exactly your top zebras, but the Michal Kempny four minute high stick and Jay Beagle hold were absolutely the correct calls. On those five power plays New York generated a whopping 14 shots on goal and one tally. Believe it or not, the Capitals actually did some good penalty killing work, especially Tom Wilson, who on numerous occasions, dropped down to gather in a rebound and skate the biscuit out of harm’s way. Willy logged 16:39 of ice time and 3:18 of it was on the PK. Orpik (6:28) and Matt Niskanen (6:42) were the top blue liners Coach Barry Trotz deployed to hold a very good New York power play, at bay, for the most part. Washington must stay out of the box in the postseason, especially against the Penguins and Flyers, who have deadly man advantage units.

Meet the Rookie – Nathan Gersich made his Capitals debut on Wednesday night and he handled himself quite well in 8:52 of action with three shots on goal and five total shot attempts. #63 was a puck magnet out there and he gives the Caps another forward they can throw into the mix for the bottom six. Gersich isn’t big, but he’s a good skater. In the post season things get clamped down fairly well so as impressive as he was in his first game, let’s not get carried away. He played on adrenaline in his first NHL game and that’s hard to maintain. Still, there is a lot of promise shown by this kid and that bodes well for him going forward into next season.

Return of the Holtbeast – Holtby was very good in this contest, as was his counterpart at the other end. #70 looked solid in net, despite having to cover for several defensive zone breakdowns by his teammates. Washington was too nonchalant with the puck in period one when New York fired 18 shots on goal. If not for Braden, the Caps could’ve been in a big hole after 20 minutes. He stopped 13 of 14 power play shots and the one that beat him took a fortuitous bounce. Holts was hung out to dry on the second Rangers goal. John Carlson passed up a great shot opportunity in the slot due to Lundqvistitis and New York pounced on the puck and went the other way. Kempny turned the wrong way while trying to cut off the pass on a two on one and that allowed Spooner to skate in all alone. The forward acquired in the Rick Nash trade with Boston, sniped one by Braden that he’ll likely say he should’ve had, even though it was a very high quality chance. With Philipp Grubauer now nursing a “tweak,” the Caps needed the Holtbeast to rise again and play well. He did just that on Rivalry Night.

Ovi Denied – Ovechkin had a slow start to this affair, much like the Caps. He had trouble handling the puck and getting off his lethal shot in period one, but in the middle frame he got it cranked up. With the score 1-1 in period two, the Gr8 hit the far post on the power play denying him of his 46th goal and preventing Washington from getting a lead on the young Rangers. For the game, Alex had 13 shot attempts in 20:22 of ice time. Only five of them were on goal, however. Ovi had zero points, but he did manage to be +2 since he was on the ice for the game tying and winning tallies. Alexander the Great will need five goals in his last five games to hit the Big 5-0.

A New York Minute – This was a pretty even game and it looked like the hungry Rangers were going to steal it and upset the Capitals apple cart. To quote the great Don Henley, however, “In a New York minute, everything changed.” Washington caught a break when Eller came on just before the Holtbeast left the ice as the Caps were dispensing of their keeper. The zebras chose not to penalize the Caps there and then after winning a neutral zone draw they got the puck in deep and Kuznetsov’s hard work allowed Backy to find Eller on the doorstep and tie things up late. Then less than a minute into overtime, Kuzy worked his magic to give the Capitals two more standings points. New York played hard and they are fast, but they also received stellar goaltending from Lundqvist, who always seems to give Washington fits. Wednesday was no exception and there were multiple occasions where the Caps allowed #30 to get into their heads and as a result, they passed up some good looks. There is nothing wrong with a shot, had Carlson done that midway through the 3rd period, the game stays tied. That’s a good lesson to learn for the post season.

Notes: The Caps will face Carolina on Friday at Capital One Arena before traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins on Sunday night. A Washington win against the Canes along with the Pens only getting two points total against the Devils and Canadiens, on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, would render Sunday’s affair meaningless from a seeding standpoint for the Capitals…the Caps have now won seven games in a row at home…Washington won the face off battle, 33-29. Kuzy was 11-5…Burakovsky scored his 10th goal of the season and led the Caps with three hits…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 25:03. Oshie and Backstrom were the forward leaders in that department with 21:02…Eller’s goal was his 18th of this year and it’s a career high for him…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Come on out to Michael’s Café in Timonium on Thursday night as WNST will be hosting Caps Coach Barry Trotz for several hours of hockey talk starting at 7:30 pm. Nestor Aparacio and yours truly will be talking hockey and other stories with the bench boss who is close to winning his third straight Metropolitan Division title. You can meet the coach, get his autograph and also get swabbed for the Bone Marrow Registry to help in the fight against cancer.

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