“You ask for the bull, you get the horns.”
“Let sleeping dogs lie.”
“Don’t poke the bear.”
Choose any of those lines and they apply to Saturday night’s game 5 at Capital One Arena.
The Washington Capitals, playing for their fallen star, T.J. Oshie, who was injured on a cheap shot hit by Warren Foegele in game 4 and will likely miss the entire postseason, destroyed the Carolina Hurricanes, 6-0, to take a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 is Monday at 7 pm from Raleigh.
Welcome to the postseason is how you could describe this one because the Caps, from the players to the coaching staff, were as committed to the process as they were last spring for the first time in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As I blogged before game 5, the key to returning to their winning ways was pretty simple; it’s all about getting physical and winning the one on one battles.
Washington was dominant in all three zones and they outhit the Canes, 48-32, despite having the advantage in time of possession. Coach Todd Reirden talked about the importance of establishing a forecheck on the Hurricanes breakout and boy did his squad do that extremely well on Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin had 11 hits, Tom Wilson had six, and Devante Smith-Pelly chipped in five in 10:43 of ice time.
Smith-Pelly, who was recalled on Friday after the injury to #77, definitely sparked the team and “was a nice distraction” in the locker room, according to Coach Reirden. Devo is very well liked by his teammates and it was clear he took his demotion seriously and properly because he was a totally different player than what we saw in the 2018-19 regular season. Playing all of those minutes in Hershey brought his speed back and from my viewpoint, #25 was a good two steps faster than he was on trade deadline day. He didn’t have any points, but he was on the ice for the Caps second tally and he set up Nic Dowd for a breakaway in period three that turned into a penalty shot, which #26 buried to make it 5-0. DSP was physical on the Canes defense and hustled all game, including wiping out at least one icing call on the Caps.
This win, though, started with Nicklas Backstrom (two goals and two assists). Backy scored on the rebound of his own shot just 7:33 into the game after he was set up on the far post by John Carlson and Wilson on the power play. Nicky then made it 2-0 with 5:39 left in period two when he beat Petr Mrazek (22 saves) top shelf, short side, after a gorgeous feed from the Gr8. The “All Star” was outstanding and now has five goals and three assists in the series.
Ovi was great, as well. He hit just about everything that moved and had a goal and two superb assists. His second helper was the result of pure intimidation, something the Capitals finally had back in their game again. Ovechkin raced and grabbed a loose puck below the Carolina goal line when Dougie Hamilton decided he didn’t want to get hit by the Russian Freight Train anymore. Ovi then spotted Brett Connolly flying into the slot after coming on for Wilson in a smart line change. Conno received the pass from Alex and roofed it by Mrazek to really put a dagger in Carolina in this affair.
The Capitals never let up in this tilt and they showed killer instinct by scoring three more times in the final frame, including a man advantage tally just 1:04 in by Wilson to make it 4-0. For the night the power play went three for four while the penalty killing was a perfect five for five.
Braden Holtby made 30 saves, but a lot of those shots in period two and three were from the perimeter. The Holtbeast did have to make some very good stops on the Canes first power play when it was scoreless in the opening frame. Braden was on his game and never allowed Carolina to think they had a chance to climb back into this contest, once they were behind.
Up and down the lineup the Capitals received positive contributions, but it was especially important that the bottom two lines chipped in and they did just that with two goals (Connolly and Dowd). On defense, the blueline was tweaked with Jonas Seigenthaler paired with Carlson and it worked wonderfully. Carly was back on his strong side and he was a much bigger factor in the offensive rushes, like the Capitals need him to be. Siegenthaler was rock solid on defense making the smart and simple play throughout the contest in 17:28 of ice time.
The Caps bench boss and his staff provided an excellent game plan and their adjustments were spot on. Pucks were put in the proper places so that a sustained forecheck could occur, players were going to the net to create havoc in front of Mrazek, Washington won the large majority of the loose puck battles, and Todd took advantage of home ice to obtain more favorable matchups, something he said was difficult to achieve in Carolina since the Canes had last change.
Overall, the effort in this game was where it needed to be for the Caps. They were very hard on the puck and made Carolina uncomfortable. It was clear the team, as evidenced by their play, was ticked off that Foegele injured Oshie.
As Coach Reirden stated afterwards, “This game was the blueprint for how we have to play in the playoffs.”
He’s right and now they must do it again on Monday night. The Canes will be desperate so it is important for the Capitals to get the first goal or if not, an early lead since there has been no lead changes this series.
Yes, the Caps looked great on Saturday night, but the 6-0 shellacking accounts for only one win. The series is 3-2 Capitals and if they want to close it out, they’ll need to bring the same intensity and effort they showed in game five on Monday.
They should have the confidence that they can do that, but they must commit to sticking with the blueprint in game six if they want to win for Oshie again.
Notes: Foegele, who had 0 shots on goal in 15:58, was hit hard by Ovechkin in period three…Matt Niskanen (six hits) led the Capitals in ice time with 22:20…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 35-30, Backstrom was 12-12 while Dowd led the way going 11-4…no Capitals player logged less than 10 minutes, which is good for overall fatigue heading into game 6….shot attempts were even at 55 each, but the Caps had the vast majority of quality chances…Chandler Stephenson had his best game of the season, by far. He logged 11:49 and re-created some of the chemistry he and Devo had in round one against Columbus in 2018…there were a couple of loud “T.J. Oshie” chants in the third period…the crowd at Capital One Arena was boisterous all night and earned praise from Coach Reirden.