Heading into Saturday night’s contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals Coach Barry Trotz had seen enough of the Caps mediocre recent play and called the game a “Must Win.”
His players delivered with a tremendous effort, and once again, the Capitals top players were their top players.
Alex Ovechkin (two assists) came out firing the biscuit on net and that opened things up for linemates Nicklas Backstrom (four assists) and T.J. Oshie (3 goals and 1 assist). Washington’s top trio was sensational and they had 23 of the Capitals 65 shot attempts in this affair. The Osh Babe notched his 27th, 28th, and 29th goals of the season to set a career high. He was fantastic and he is so good at both ends of the ice winning board battle after board battle.
Pay The Man!
Washington really came out flying in this one and scored a beauty of a power play goal just 3:44 in. Marcus Johansson, who only played 2:53 due to an illness, made a sweet feed to Oshie in the slot and he went top shelf to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy (30 saves). That last pass was just one of many excellent ones on that man advantage that went for 71 seconds. Kevin Shattenkirk made some super passes as did Backstrom. The Bolts, as most teams do, were looking for Ovi to get the puck for his patented one-timer and that opened up #77 right in front.
Oshie then made it 2-0 at the 11:44 mark after Backstrom sprung the Gr8 and Osh Babe on a two on one. With the Bolts defender thinking Ovechkin was going to shoot, Alex made a sweet feed right on Oshie’s tape and he fired it into an open net. It was a tremendous dish by an underrated passer. Much has been made of Oshie’s high shooting percentage this season, but when you keep getting looks like he’s receiving from two ELITE, future Hall of Fame linemates, your numbers are going to be sky high. So to all of those spreadsheet geeks, like that Sporting News guy who blathered on about Oshie (and Brett Connolly) being all luck yesterday, I say get your head out of your computer and watch the stinking game!
To quote a very funny movie from the 1980’s…
[Note: This blogger has a Masters Degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Johns Hopkins University, so I know all about statistics. This is a sporting event. Yes, you can post quantify things with numbers, but at the end of the day this is a game that requires high skill, effort, and intensity to be successful.]
Now let’s get back to your regularly scheduled programming.
The Bolts are fighting for their playoff lives so you know they weren’t going to shrivel up and go away. After an Oshie high sticking infraction, Nikita “All World” Kucherov buried one top shelf on Braden Holtby just 28 seconds into that power play. The puck hit Karl Alzner’s skate in the slot and ricocheted right to #86, who was well positioned, and he made no mistake about finishing the fortuitous bounce.
16 seconds later this game was all tied up. Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in his own zone, but to his defense, the Caps forward line had vacated the zone too quickly and gave him no help. Orlov and Matt Niskanen were then stuck facing a three on two and Alex Killorn made a great shot to beat the Holtbeast (26 saves).
There were some end to end rushes after that for both teams, and Oshie nearly got his hat trick in the first frame, but he just missed the net.
The second period was more of a playoff type of style with both teams exhibiting tight checking and trying to limit odd man rushes. The Capitals were the better team at that and they carried the play. Tampa didn’t have a whole lot of good looks in that middle frame. Andre Burakovsky (seven shots on goal) was the big story in that stanza and he, Lars Eller, and Connolly were really flying like they were before #65 fractured his hand on February 9th. Burkie was really skating and firing the biscuit. He’s not 100% with that appendage yet, but once he gets there, look out! That triumvirate was a great compliment to the Washington top line and really kept the Bolts on their heels.
In the third period, the Caps really kept coming in waves at Tampa and just after a Bolts penalty expired, Burakovsky found Niskanen coming off of the bench and fed one that #2 blasted from just inside the blue line. Justin Williams was smartly parked in front and he tipped the shot home for his 20th goal of the season. That was a big tally to seize the lead at 3:14 and then just over two minutes later, on a delayed penalty (Backstrom was hauled down in the neutral zone), John Carlson “Ripken’d” one past #88 from the slot after a great feed from Ovechkin in the corner, who had just received a good pass from Backstrom, to generate a quality chance while the zebras had their right arms in the “hair,” as the great Denis Lemieux would say.
Those were two big goals that heavily involved the Caps defense, which played extremely well across the board in this game.
From there, the Capitals didn’t sit back and they kept the pressure on Tampa. The Lightning really didn’t have any quality scoring chances until finally getting one after pulling their goalie late. Kucherov, of course, scored off of a faceoff to make it 4-3 and put a little bit of a scare into this one.
But after a neutral zone draw, the Caps fought hard for the puck and Backstrom, naturally, made a great play to get the disc to Oshie between the red line and blue line and the Osh Babe lifted it over the Tampa defenders and into the empty cage for the 5-3 final score.
Hat Trick and Mission Accomplished for their bench boss!
The victory allowed the Caps to stay two points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who won again on Saturday and still have a game in hand. Washington is now 46-17-8 for 100 points and to quote the late, great Reg Dunlop, “Peterborough lost tonight, so as of right now, we’re in the playoffs!”
Actually, it was the Islanders who lost Saturday to CBus, so the Capitals victory officially clinched a Washington playoff berth.
Playoffs?!! Playoffs?!! Are you talking Playoffs??!!
Yes, I am. The Caps are in, but what they really want now is home ice advantage for the post season. There are 11 games left to try and lock that up, but most important is to stay healthy and get their game peaking at the right time.
Saturday night was a big step in putting their overall play in the proper direction. They dominated this affair and the top line was a big reason for that.
Pay The Man!
Notes: The Caps won the shot attempt battle, 65-52…Burakovksy had 11 shot attempts, he was fabulous, and he tied Ovechkin with a team leading 7 shots on goal. Burkie played 15:12 and had the assist on the game winning goal…with Jojo leaving early, Coach Trotz had to re-distribute his forward ice time, but the top trio stepped up and grabbed the extra minutes, despite just two power plays. Oshie played 21:26, Ovi logged 21:07, and Backstrom was at 21:05…Connolly had a first period breakaway, but the puck rolled on him badly and he couldn’t get a shot off…Karl Alzner led the Caps in ice time at a very low 22:02 because Washington has three extremely good defensive pairs that Assistant Coach Todd Rierden can simply rotate one after another…the Caps were 1 for 2 on the power play, but also scored on a delayed penalty. Tampa was 1 for 1 with the man advantage. Did I mention that that Kucherov guy is good?…the Caps won the face off battle, 36-33. Backstrom was 15-10…The Caps next game is Tuesday at the Verizon Center against the red hot Calgary Flames.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Coach Barry Trotz will be joining WNST at Greenmount Station in Hampstead, Maryland on Monday night at 7 pm for a charity event. Nestor Aparacio will be your host (I’ll be there, too) and he’ll be leading the charge to get people to sign up for the Bone Marrow Registry. So please come out to have some food and drinks, help a great cause to fight blood cancer, and listen to some great hockey talk from Washington’s bench boss, who happens to be a great person, as well.