August 8, 2020

Washington Capitals Game 29 Recap: Backstrom’s hat trick helps lift surging Caps over Lightning

By his own admission, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom woke up from his pregame nap in a “grumpy” mood. The 27-year-old Swede was not-so-blissfully unaware of what was to come.

Backstrom’s natural hat trick gave Washington a 3-0 lead in the third period, and Eric Fehr’s empty-netter provided the icing on the Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in front of a very enthusiastic Verizon Center crowd on Saturday night.It was the first regular season hat trick of Backstrom’s seven-season NHL career, and his first since his legendary outing against Montreal in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2010. “It’s just one of those days,” an ever-modest Backstrom said afterward.

The game was a back-and-forth affair for roughly the first period and a half, but the tide turned over 12-minute stretch in the second period. Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin were sent to the box for slashing and hooking penalties, respectively, at 6:49 of the second period, giving the Lightning a 5-on-3 man advantage.

Goaltender Braden Holtby had a number of spectacular saves throughout the penalty kill, but none bigger than with 1:10 left in the penalties. Ryan Callahan took a feed from Valtteri Filppula on the doorstep and looked to have scored a certain goal — the Tampa Bay players reacted accordingly — but Holtby reached behind him to make a miraculous stick save at the goal line and then covered the puck with his glove.

Verizon Center erupted in a wave of “Holt-by! Holt-by!” chants that, if only for a brief moment, brought a playoff atmosphere back to the nation’s capital.

“I said on the bench, I don’t know if I said it to one of the other coaches, I just said ‘he’s seeing everything tonight.’ Meaning that those pucks are looking really big to him. That’s a good sign when that happens,” coach Barry Trotz said.

“The thing about goaltending is making the key saves, and he did tonight,” he continued.

Backstrom opened the scoring moments later, corralling the puck in the offensive zone and going “upper 90″ on the backhand past Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop. After a grueling stretch for the Washington backcheck later in the frame, Trotz called his timeout with 2:19 left in the period, and Backstrom took advantage of the rest to double the team’s lead 59 seconds later, collecting his own rebound and maneuvering the loose puck from just outside the post and in.

The natural hat trick was complete 2:17 into the third period. Backstrom was centering a line with Ovechkin on the right and Tom Wilson on the left; the 3-on-2 rush gave Backstrom an opportunity in the center slot, and a picturesque one-timer beat Bishop, who was inadvertently screened by one of his own men.

“Very good game, some nights are just like this I guess,” he said. “We’re playing better. We’ve got better control overall out there. Everyone’s stepping up, everyone’s playing good [and] playing hard.”

Holtby, DSP’s third star of the night, tallied 26 saves on 28 shots, losing the shutout with 4:24 left, and the once-raucous home crowd was restless when Matt Carle made it 3-2 with 2:31 to play. Fehr converted on the empty-net chance with 39 seconds on the clock to seal the deal.

“I’ve said it before that that is the goaltender’s job,” Holtby said of the 5-on-3 effort. “Along with the PKers [penalty killers] who are asked to do a job there, that’s where we can make our mark on a game, similar to the skill guys on a power play.”

News and Notes

  • Washington was 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, but 0-for-4 on the power play. Make of that what you will.
  • Backstrom tallied his sixth, seventh and eighth goals of the season. His 30 points are a team-high through 29 games. Ovechkin is second with 25.
  • According to the decibel meter at Verizon Center, Backstrom’s first goal garnered a reaction worth 115 dB. That’s akin to a loud rock concert, or a playoff game — and just shy of the pain threshold.
  • The Caps are now 13-1-2 when scoring first.
  • Wilson was involved in another early fight, using just a couple quick punches to take down Brenden Morrow. It’s already his sixth fighting major of the season.
About Eric Hobeck

Eric Hobeck is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Redskins and Capitals. Eric contributes to high school sports coverage at InsideNova.com. He served as sports editor of The Rotunda at Longwood University for two years, where he was also the men’s basketball beat writer. He hosted a campus radio show for three years and called basketball and baseball games for the station’s award-winning sports team. You can follow Eric on Twitter @eric_hobeck.

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