RUSSELL: Five Caps stars from Game 1

Chris Russell
April 12, 2019 - 12:17 am
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The Capitals opened defense of their Stanley Cup Thursday night with a 4-2 win over the hard-charging, Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena.

It wasn’t pretty, but in the end, it was effective. Especially, because of the Caps special teams early and late.

Washington killed off two huge third-period power plays with a one-goal lead. Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie were guilty of the infractions, but Nick Backstrom, Lars Eller, Nic Dowd, Braden Holtby and others slammed the door shut before Eller’s empty-net goal iced the game.

Game 2 is here Saturday at 3 p.m.

Nick Backstrom had the first two Caps goals of the night, the second coming on a power play. Alex Ovechkin would add another power-play goal to make it 3-0 before Carolina settled down.

FIVE STARS:

1 – Nick Backstrom not only helped the Caps on the offensive end with the two markers, but he also drew a penalty and most importantly, on a late penalty kill, he blocked two shots in one sequence in the middle of the Caps defensive zone. That was in a 0:55 sequence.

2 – John Carlson had three assists on the night and despite getting beat by Andrei Svechnikov on a rush that ended in a goal, Carlson played his part well. He was playing the left side, paired with Nick Jensen for the most part but occasionally was mixed in with Brooks Orpik and Christian Djoos because of line changes.  

3 – Braden Holtby allowed two goals but made several other big saves throughout the night, including an early one on the talented Sebastian Aho of Carolina. In the Caps locker room after the game, Holtby expressed disappointment with his performance on Svechnikov’s two scores. “I don’t know. I feel like I should have had both of those goals.”

4 – Lars Eller scored the empty net goal to finish off the Canes but had several huge clears on the penalty kill throughout the night, as Washington blanked Carolina on all three opportunities. In one sequence in the second period, Eller played on the second power-play unit, had two scoring chances and then quickly after that played the first 1:30 of the penalty kill. Eller also controlled the puck down the ice on that short-handed situation and hemmed the puck in behind the Carolina goaltender and limit the Canes attack.

5 – Nic Dowd had a huge breakaway chance on a feed from Backstrom early in the third that could have opened up the flood gates. Carl Hagelin had another right after as Carolina was pinching to try and create opportunities. Dowd, who signed a contract extension on Thursday with the Caps, won a key defensive zone draw in the third and lunged forward to beat his man to a loose puck, to clear it out of the zone. It was the hustle and will that general manager Brian MacLellan mentioned on 106.7 The Fan earlier this week with Grant & Danny.

A tip of the cap goes to Ovechkin for his first goal of the playoffs, as the Caps needed everything they got out of the power play, but they need more. In the first period, you could see Carolina over-playing the puck at times and leaving Ovechkin wide open, while also forgetting about Backstrom on a perfect feed from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ovechkin’s presence makes things easier for everyone.

Speaking of Kuznetsov – don’t forget about the job that he, Carl Hagelin and T.J. Oshie did for most of the night matched up with Aho’s line. Carolina made some adjustments and changes in the third, but the uber-talented Aho only had two shots on goal all night in 26:10 of ice time. Kuznetsov even blocked a shot.

On Saturday, the Caps will need to be much stronger for 60 minutes than they were on Thursday. They also need to get more shots at Petr Mrazek (18) and not miss the net, which they did 16 times in Game 1. That’s been a problem all year for Washington.

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