Nicklas Backstrom was in beast mode on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.
The All Star center notched two goals to give the Caps an early two puck lead which then became 3-0 on Alex Ovechkin’s power play tally late in period one. After the Canes put on a furious third period rally to pull within a goal, Backy blocked two shots on Carolina’s power play that started with 3:31 left to help preserve the victory.
Once the penalty expired, Lars Eller would hit the empty net and Washington won game one, 4-2, sending the local faithful into the streets in good spirits. Game two is Saturday at 3 pm in DC and will be televised on NBC.
Here’s your game one thoughts and analysis:
Carolina actually came out flying in this one, but Braden Holtby (27 saves) wouldn’t allow any early goals against. The Holtbeast, who was 16-6 in 22 games lifetime against the Canes with a 1.98 goals against average heading into this series, once again was the biggest reason Washington triumphed. When Braden is able to see the shots and know where they are coming from, he is hard to beat.
The Capitals had stretches in this game where they passed up shot opportunities or couldn’t hit the net. They didn’t get their first shot on goal until nine minutes into the game. Once they started shooting, though, they lit the lamp several times. Backstrom got everything going with a top shelf snipe from the high slot on Petr Mrazek (14 saves). Backy was clearly the game’s first star on this night. The Caps, however, missed the net 10 times in period two and some of them were on opportunities where they could’ve put this one away earlier. Overall the Capitals only had 18 shots on goal. That must increase going forward.
Speaking of not slamming the door shut and having it nearly come back to haunt them, Washington had four quality chances early in period three that they didn’t convert. Mrazek was at his best stopping Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin on breakaways and then Brett Connolly and Eller on golden chances in the slot. It was after that last stop that the Canes went the other way to score to get back in the game. Give credit to the Canes goalie there, but if the Capitals watch the replays, they’ll see that the five hole is open on the Czech goaltender, something they should exploit in game two.
Washington won this contest on special teams. The Caps scored on their first two power plays, initially on a layup by Backstrom off of a great feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who spotted an over aggressive Canes penalty kill that was focused on John Carlson and Ovechkin. Ovi then notched the game winning tally late in period one when he buried a loose puck in the slot after Tom Wilson hustled to keep it alive. Carlson assisted on both PPGs and had three helpers total on the evening. As for the shorthanded unit, the Capitals were a perfect three for three, with two huge kills in the last 10 minutes. During those PKs, both Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were dynamite on the back end. Niskanen wasn’t having his best game up until that point, but he was outstanding over the last 10 minutes.
The 38 year old Orpik was a major presence in this win. He had seven hits and was extremely physical in 17:27 of action, including 4:32 on the PK (Niskanen had a whopping 5:15 of PK time). He also had an assist on Backstrom’s even strength tally. Like last spring, #44 raised the level of his play and with Michal Kempny out until the fall, the Capitals will need more of that.
After the Canes made it 3-1, they scored again just over two minutes later. Carolina really pressured Washington on their breakouts on the wall and the Caps wingers weren’t good enough at getting the pucks out of the zone. If the Capitals did that better, they would’ve generated more odd man rush opportunities and likely closed things out sooner. Breakouts will be a major point of emphasis from the Caps coaching staff heading into game two.
The good news is Washington held on to win when they weren’t anywhere near their best, so they will learn from this game. The first round is the hardest to win and there is no such thing as an easy opponent. Carolina is a fast team that relies on rush goals and its power play. The Canes notched two on the rush in the third period, but the Caps PK unit was able to hold them to no man advantage red lights, and that was the difference, as well as the Holtbeast.
Notes: Christian Djoos only played 7:48 and he was on the ice for both goals against, although the first one was not his fault. On the second goal, he needed to look over his shoulder and cut off the pass to the open Carolina player on the back side of the ice…Washington lost the face off battle, 38-29. Backstrom was 12-16…the Caps fourth line of Andre Burakovsky, Dowd, and Chandler Stephenson didn’t play much with Burky getting only 10 shifts while the other two received 12. Time on ice for each was all below seven minutes (#65 only logged 5:27)…Carlson played 25:32, Niskanen 24:36 and Dmitry Orlov was in at 22:18. Nick Jensen (15:53) and Djoos were the low men on the totem pole in time on ice for blueliners…Kuznetsov had zero shots on goal. He passed up a couple of good opportunities, too. Washington needs #92 clicking to be successful.