July 2, 2015

OPINION: Caps face date with sad destiny in Game 7

Even before those in this area had heard of the men that go by the names Ovechkin, Backstrom and Trotz, the stigma was firmly in place.

A lost 2-0 series lead to Pittsburgh in 1996 led Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser to label the Washington Capitals as “choking dogs,” a notion that has become all-too-familiar for one of hockey’s most loyal fanbases. It seemed for a bit as if those fans would be rewarded with a monumental win this past Mother’s Day, only to leave Verizon Center shaking their heads and collectively asking themselves  — and each other — one thing.

How can this be happening again? [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 1 Recap: Wardo wins Game 1 with 1.3 seconds left

JOEL WARD SCORES GAME-WINNER WITH LESS THAN TWO SECONDS LEFT

Tied at one goal apiece after losing the lead late in Game 1 of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Washington Capitals were faced with overtime in Madison Square Garden. But flipping a script that has seemed to so often go against them, as time was expiring Nick Backstrom made a dicey, but ultimately clean, hit against Dan Boyle on a forecheck, Alex Ovechkin dug the puck away and found Joel Ward in front, who slipped it underneath a sprawled Henrik Lundqvist with less than two seconds remaining on the clock to win Game 1 over the second round series 2-1.

For years, it’s seemed that type of thing happened TO the Caps, not FOR them.

The Washington Capitals have met the New York Rangers eight previous times and four times in the past seven years in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including three previous meetings in the quarterfinals, in 2009, 2011 and 2013, splitting the eight series. With that history as a backdrop, the Caps once again find themselves in a best-of-seven in the second round with the Broadway Blueshirts.

In Game 1 Thursday night, the Caps took the early advantage, courtesy of their best players.

Ovechkin, Backstrom and Ward owned play much of the time they were on the ice, despite the Rangers tactics of lining up their best defensive duo against them whenever possible. And Braden Holtby was stellar once again with 31 saves, including 11 in the third period, to preserve the win.

The Caps withstood the Rangers hearty attack early in the first period, with the shots on goal at 7-3 at one point. But with 3:34 left in the frame, Dominic Moore held Jay Beagle along the wall and the Caps were awarded their first power play of the series.

Ovechkin took a cross-ice pass through the neutral zone from John Carlson on the rush and, as he’s done so many times in his career, used Dan Boyle as a screen and whipped a wrist shot past Henrik Lundqvist high short-side for his third goal of this playoffs and 11th goal in 27 career playoff games against the Rangers to put the Caps up 1-0.

With 21 seconds before intermission, Dan Kreider clipped Curtis Glencross up high in the Caps’ defensive zone and the Caps went back on the power play.

The Caps resumed the power play at the start of the second, but it was short-lived when Carlson clocked Rick Nash high along the boards and was whistled for interference. The resulting four-on-four and Rangers brief power play were both uneventful.

Both teams had decent chances throughout the second period, with the Caps having the better of play, reducing their deficit in shots on goal throughout the frame. The Caps did a very solid job keeping the Rangers from entering their zone with speed and when the Rangers did finally establish the zone, the Caps did well to keep shots to the outside against Holtby, who nonetheless made several difficult saves in the frame.

Perhaps the best save of the night, however, came from Lundqvist with about five minutes left in the period. The Caps came in on a three-on-two and when the defense collapsed, Nick Backstrom let loose with a wrister from the slot, which Lundqvist snapped up with his catching glove.

The period ended with the Caps still on top, 1-0.

It stayed that way with the Caps playing more of a defensive stance until 4:39 left, as the Caps got caught pinned in their own end and at the end of a very long shift. Kevin Hayes threw one through a mess of bodies from center point that was tipped along the way by Jesper Fast past Holtby to tie the game.

The Rangers’ goal only served to set up the heroics by Ward, assisted by Backstrom and Ovechkin.

After the final horn, Rangers coach Alain Vingneault verbally assaulted the referees about the Backstrom hit which led to the game-winner, but upon video review the hit was hard, but shoulder-to-shoulder, which only looked worse because Rangers defenseman Dan Boyle had his head down trying to dig out the puck.

Game 2 is Saturday at 12:30 pm Eastern Time.

Washington Capitals Game 4 Recap: Backstrom scores in overtime, Caps tie series with Islanders

In a hair-raising, heart-attack-inducing third period and overtime, the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders stayed nip-and-tuck, with a roaring Nassau Coliseum crowd not even using the seats they paid good money for, and with good reason.

Those rows of fans, however, were quick to exit stage right when Nicklas Backstrom spoke up and delivered what will likely go down as one of the more memorable overtime goals in recent Washington Capitals history, leading the Caps to a 2-1 win to even the series at two games apiece, with Game 5 coming up in Washington on Thursday.

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 3 Recap: Isles shock with quick OT winner

Outplayed most of the game, the Washington Capitals forced overtime in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup with the New York Islanders on a goal by Nick Backstrom in the latter stages of the third period. But Islanders captain John Tavares banged home a rebound just 15 seconds into overtime, lifting New York to a 2-1 win and 2-1 series lead before a raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum.

The Isles won the draw in overtime and dumped the puck in on Braden Holtby. Holtby decided not to hold the puck, instead pushing it out to his right for John Carlson. Carlson flung the puck up along the wall, where Nick Leddy corralled it and sent it back into the slot. Nikolai Kulemin’s initial shot was stopped by Holtby, who flicked it toward the corner with his paddle.

But he didn’t get enough of it, and the puck went straight to Tavares. The Islanders’ captain calmly flipped it past Holtby’s short side on a sharp angle to give the Isles a one-game advantage in the series.

It ended a game that the home team dominated for the most part. As has been the case in every game of the series thus far, the Islanders got on the board first, the Capitals responded with some good play, but as with Game 1 ended up on the short end of the scoreboard.

New York broke through at 12:37 of the second period, when Kyle Okposo tipped in a shot from the point by Lubomir Visnosky. It stayed that way until about six minutes had run off the clock in the third.

Mike Green carried the puck along the left wing boards and behind the Islanders’ net. He eventually came back out the other side and left the puck for Backstrom at the half wall. Backstrom drifted to the high slot and whipped a shot through a maze of bodies, including Alex Ovechkin standing right in front of Jaroslav Halak (25 saves) to even the game and seemingly grab the momentum.

But the Caps responded by falling into a defensive lull, apparently happy to take the game to the extra session, where a decidedly unhappy result awaited.

Holtby, coming off an illness that kept him out of Game 2, was stellar in goal and had to be, as the Caps were widely outshot once again, with the Islanders generating 66 shot attempts (42 on goal) to the Caps’ 57 (just 25 on goal), including 11 shots on goal in the third period when the Caps played their best hockey.

So far in this series, the Capitals have shown their game only when facing a deficit. It’s a pattern that has achieved mixed results so far. Knowing the building would be rocking against them on Sunday, they came out flat once again and had the action taken to them, not responding until the third period when the odds seemed against them.

It’s a pattern that coach Barry Trotz should do whatever is possible in his coaching repertoire to avoid in Game 4, Tuesday at 7:30 again at the Nassau Coliseum. If the Caps come out of the gates playing like they did in the third period of Game 3 or the second and third of Game 2, the Islanders will have a hard time keeping up with them.

Thus far in this series, we’ve seen not nearly enough of it and the Caps find themselves behind the 8-ball.

CAPS NOTES:

  • Eric Fehr left the game in the second period after taking a hard, legal check from Cal Clutterbuck. With Fehr’s history of shoulder problems and his recent undisclosed upper body injury, it’s hard not to watch the replay and diagnose another shoulder injury. If the cant’ go in Game 4, it’ll be interested to see if Trotz goes with Michael Latta or tried to infuse some offense with Andre Burakovsky.
  • The Caps got just three shots on goal in the first period, indicative of their struggles to get going early in games in this series.
  • Washington was awarded three power plays and generated just three shots on goal.
  • Speaking to the closeness of the final score, both teams blocked 24 shots, the faceoffs were 30-29 in favor of the Caps, and the hits were 44-43 Isles.
  • Ovechkin, shadowed by Johnny Boychuk relentlessly in this series, had three shots on goal, another nine blocked and two misses. He was awarded three hits.

Washington Capitals Game 2 Recap: Caps score twice in third, shock Islanders

Down 3-1, and having given up a critical goal shortly after tallying their much-needed first, the Washington Capitals were in very dire straits and at risk of falling behind the New York Islanders two games to none in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Spurred on by their fans as well as improved puck control, they ensured that talk of a potential sweep would be just that – talk.

A spirited final 30 minutes of hockey, in which Washington scored three unanswered goals in a space of 11 minutes and 28 seconds (spanning two periods), lifted Washington to a 4-3 win in Game 2 of their best-of-seven series against the Islanders in front of a raucous crowd Friday night at Verizon Center.

[Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 81 Recap: Holtby stellar in Caps’ win over Bruins

Three times this season, the Boston Bruins went up against Braden Holtby. Three times they exited the ice without a single goal.

Holtby made 27 saves and Washington scored two goals early in the first period en route to a 3-0 win over the Bruins on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.

The win certifies that the Caps will play in the 2-3 matchup in the Metro Division. If the Islanders lost Thursday night, the Capitals will finish as the No. 2 seed. [Read more…]

Secondary scoring remains Caps’ biggest weakness

Marcus Johansson - Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Marcus Johansson – Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

What is the biggest weakness of the Washington Capitals?

It’s a simple question, but an important one. The playoffs have a way of exposing every weakness of every team very quickly. Knowing what those weaknesses are can help determine who the true Stanley Cup contenders are.

With nine games left in their regular season schedule, the Washington Capitals sit in a playoff position with a four-point cushion. To put it simply, they are the seventh best team in the Eastern Conference. But why? [Read more…]

Washington Capitals Game 70 Recap: Washington stellar in win over Boston

Before Sunday night’s game against the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz discussed the mindset needed of a team vying to secure a spot in the postseason, saying that his team’s work ethic had “slipped a little bit.”

For all 60 minutes, Washington’s worth ethic was on display as they took control of momentum from the opening shift en route to a 2-0 win over the Bruins at Verizon Center.

Energy from both the Caps, who only added to their playoff cushion with the victory, and their fans played a role from the beginning and helped deliver Washington to just their second win in the last five games, a set that made up a season-long homestand.

At 12:34 of the first, John Carlson struck from the point on the power play, and the Caps finally had something to show for their physical domination and unwillingness to back down the Bruins’ own physicality.

Nate Schmidt scored a rare goal with 6:23 left in the second, his first of the season. “I actually was trying to look to see if there was off the back side of the post because the [Boston] forwards were coming up trying to block it,” Schmidt said. “I was just trying to get it to the net, let’s be honest,” he said with a laugh. Not only was the defenseman exuberant in the huddle immediately after the goal, he clearly wore the emotions of a player with a sizable weight lifted off his shoulders in the locker room afterward. “It’s like ‘finally.’ It’s like, you’re just glad it finally happened but I guess there was no better time, better late than never.”

Backstrom’s assist on the Carlson goal moved him into first place by himself on the franchise’s all-time assists list, breaking a three-way tie with Alex Ovechkin and Michal Pivonka, who had 418 each. He extended his lead with a secondary helper on the Schmidt tally.

Backstrom called the feat a “nice bonus,” adding, “it’s always [nice] when you get credit for something; maybe you’ve done something good. But, you have to remember, that I played with a lot of good players over the years and without the teammates, coaches and the fans, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Braden Holtby had 32 saves on the night, extending his career high for shutouts in a season to eight.

CAPS NOTES

  • Backstrom’s two assists extended his league-high total for the season to 56.
  • Trotz said that Dmitry Orlov (wrist) would have increased intensity with his rehabilitation this week, and that he had a higher probability of going to Hershey for a rehab assignment after the Caps return from a three-game road trip early next week.
  • In addition, Trotz said that he had yet to make a decision on whether Philipp Grubauer or Holtby would start the back end of the team’s back-to-back set on Monday night in Buffalo.
  • Interestingly, Holtby leads the NHL in shutouts since the 2012-13 season with 16.
  • Tom Wilson had a game-high six hits, while drawing a penalty and committing none.

Three stars: Washington Capitals 6, Buffalo Sabres 1

FIRST STAR: Curtis Glencross. Glencross has proved to be a wonderful addition to Washington so far, providing a much needed spark to the second power play unit. He had three points against Buffalo.

SECOND STAR: Nicklas Backstrom. He’s got an NHL leading 50 assists. Beastly.

THIRD STAR: Jay Beagle. Barry Trotz favorite Beagle is in the midst of the best season of his career. He’s always worked hard to improve, and this year, it shows.

Washington Capitals Game 67 Recap: Capitals hand 6-1 loss to struggling Sabres

­The Buffalo Sabres started the scoring against the Washington Capitals, but the game quickly slipped away from them as the Caps scored six unanswered goals to win 6-1. It was the Sabres’ fourth consecutive loss.

Alex Ovechkin scored an NHL-leading 44th goal on Washington’s second power play attempt of the night. Ovechkin was also awarded a penalty shot later in the game after Andre Benoit was called for holding on a breakaway, but did not convert on the attempt. [Read more…]

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