April 15 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Capital One Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington, NBCSN
Radio: 106.7 FM, Capitals Radio 24/7
Game 2, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Jackets lead, 1-0.
Falling down a game after the opener of a playoff series hasn’t necessarily been the worst thing for the Capitals over the years. Washington has won 10 of the 17 playoff series in which it has lost Game 1, and it has won Game 2 in six of its last nine series.
The Caps dropped Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday, falling 4-3 on Artemi Panarin’s overtime goal. The Caps owned a 2-0 lead early in the second period of that contest, and they led 3-2 with five minutes remaining in regulation.
A trio of bad penalties led to the loss of two third-period leads; the Jackets scored on two of their three power play opportunities in the game’s final frame. Although the Caps let Game 1 – and home ice advantage in the series – slip through their fingers on Thursday, they realize there is nothing they can do now to change that. The focus has to be on Sunday’s Game 2.
“It’s in the past now,” says Caps center Lars Eller. “We will use it as fuel, but we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves anymore. Playoff series aren’t going to be easy. Nobody thought it was going to be easy. I have confidence enough in our team to know that we can still win four [games]. But right now, it’s about winning one.
“Winning the next game is all that matters. Don’t start looking too far ahead. It’s not going to do you any good.”
Eller is right. Looking back a bit further than Game 1 might be useful, however.
Less than a year ago, the Caps faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. Having won the Presidents’ Trophy, the Caps owned home ice advantage throughout the playoffs, but they dropped Game 1 – and that home ice advantage – to the Pens in the District. Even worse, the Caps dropped Game 2 on home ice. It took an overtime victory in Pittsburgh in Game 3 to avoid falling into a 3-0 playoff canyon, but the Caps never got away from the feeling that they were chasing that series, and they ultimately fell – on home ice, again – in Game 7.
With Game 2 against the Jackets looming on Sunday in D.C. and the memory of last spring’s second round setback still fresh, the Caps know that Sunday’s game is critical for them, but they’re not feeling any pressure.
“Everyone has been through it,” says Washington winger Devante Smith-Pelly, whose third-period goal looked like it might stand up as the game-winner in Game 1.”We had what, three guys who were playing their first [Stanley Cup playoff] game? But everyone has played in the playoffs in junior or at a lower level, so everyone has been through it.
“No, the pressure is not getting to anyone. We’re still having fun. We knew we weren’t going to sweep the whole playoffs or the series. It’s one game and we move on and look forward to Game 2.
On the good news front, centers Jay Beagle and Travis Boyd both practiced with the team on Saturday. Beagle has been sidelined with an upper body injury for the better part of the last two weeks, and Boyd has been laid low by illness for the last week. When Beagle missed Thursday’s playoff opener, it ended a string of 46 straight postseason games played.
Both right-handed center men are likely to be available for Sunday’s Game 2. Right wing T.J. Oshie did not practice on Saturday, taking a maintenance day. But he is expected to play on Sunday.
“Just to give you an update,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “Osh wasn’t on the ice – maintenance. He will be on the ice [Sunday]. Boyd was obviously on the ice and Beags, so they’re all possible.”
Defenseman Michal Kempny also practiced with his Washington teammates on Saturday, two days after departing Game 1 late in the first period. Kempny absorbed a hard, face-first hit into the glass behind the Caps’ net in Game 1, a hit for which Jackets winger Josh Anderson earned a boarding major and a game misconduct.
“I feel pretty good. I’m ready to go, and I’m looking forward to [Sunday],” says Kempny, who skated just 4:04 in five shifts before retiring for the evening, leaving the Caps with just five defensemen for the rest of the night. “I wanted to go back, but doctors didn’t let me go. So I had to scratch it. I’m ready to go.”
“It’s been really good,” says Beagle, “getting back to skating with the guys, putting on a jersey where you’re allowed to get it and get into battles and stuff, so it was fun.”
Washington missed Beagle, its lone right-handed center and its most frequently deployed penalty-killing forward during the regular season. He averaged 2:31 per night in shorthanded ice time during the regular season, and only four other forwards in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs logged more ice time per game while their respective teams were down a man.
Beagle left the Caps’ April 1 game against the Penguins in Pittsburgh early in the first period and hasn’t played since.
“There was no target,” says Beagle. “We went into this with no real target game, because obviously Thursday would have been the target. It was just a matter of if I could play and help my team in the state that I was in. I felt like – and so did the trainers – that it wasn’t the right call to go out and play on Thursday. It just would have been a matter of having Friday and Saturday to rest – two more days.
“I’m definitely hopeful of playing [Sunday]. I’m preparing like I’m going to play and I will leave it up to the coaching staff and the doctors and medical staff to make the final call.”
The goal of the visiting team in the first two games of a best-of-seven playoff series is to take one of the first two games on the road. But by taking Game 1, the Jackets now have an opportunity to take command of the series with a win on Sunday, before the series shifts back to Ohio’s capital city for Game 3 on Tuesday night.
Columbus also lost a key player to injury in Thursday’s opener, as center Alexander Wennberg – who scored the Jackets’ first goal of the game and the first of his Stanley Cup playoff career in Game 1 – did not return after being on the receiving end of a charging penalty to Washington’s Tom Wilson early in the third period.
Wennberg is not expected to play on Sunday, and Sonny Milano is expected to play instead after sitting out the series opener as a healthy scratch. Columbus captain Nick Foligno will move up a line as will veteran pivot Brandon Dubinsky.