Getting Even – Having lost the first game of their best-of-seven, first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Caps are now focused purely on pulling even with the Jackets in Sunday’s Game 2. In Washington’s most recent playoff series – a second-round set with the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring – the Caps dropped the first two games at home, putting themselves in the unenviable position of chasing the series and needing to win four of the next five in order to move on.
Although Washington forced a Game 7 on home ice in that series against the Pens last spring, it was not able to complete the turnaround and suffered a 2-0 whitewashing in the deciding Game 7. Ideally, the Caps remember that difficult situation well enough that they’ll avoid it this time around.
“It’s a learning experience,” says Caps center Jay Beagle. “When that happened, we almost did come back and win that series. But when you lose the first two games at home, you’re chasing the series and you’re chasing games. It’s not fun to play like that, and that’s not the way you want to play. We need to play desperate tonight and make sure that we go at them and tie the series up. We need to have a big push tonight.”
Back in 2009, the Caps were able to overcome losing the first two games on home ice. They prevailed over the New York Rangers in a seven-game series, winning Game 7 on home ice on Sergei Fedorov’s goal late in the third period. Jackets coach John Tortorella was the bench boss of that Rangers team.
“I think when you have home ice advantage, it’s really important to obviously take advantage of that and try to get two wins at home before you head to their barn,” says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie. “When they get one and the series is split – and we don’t know what is going to happen tonight – you still feel like you get a little momentum. And even if we win [Sunday] – and if we play like we can, I think we will – you’re still going back 1-1 into their barn, and you’ve got two there. I think the fans feed off that and I think [the Jackets] feed off that, that they stole one when they were on the road.
“It is what it is so far, but it’s important for us to go out tonight and get this one, and get as much momentum as we can going over there. I’ve never played there in a playoff series, but I do know those fans can get pretty loud and that cannon gets pretty loud, so we will want to have as much momentum as we can.”
Five-On-Five Alive – Devante Smith-Pelly scored Washington’s only five-on-five goal early in the third period of Game 1, ending a drought of 112 minutes and 43 seconds without a five-on-five goal during the postseason, dating back to Game 6 of last spring’s second-round series with the Penguins.
The Caps were sixth in the NHL with 171 goals at five-on-five during the regular season, and they won’t be able to count on their power play scoring twice a night, as it did in Thursday’s Game 1 loss.
“It’s playoff hockey,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “Everybody doesn’t want to make mistakes in their zone, especially when [our line] is on the ice. We knew exactly what they were going to do – they just want to play simple, and we have to play simple, too, because if we’re going to try to create beautiful plays or something like that, maybe it’s going to be once but it’s not going to be all game. I talked to [linemate] Tom [Wilson] last night, and I think we have to get more involved into the game and don’t wait to see what’s going to happen over there.”
Last spring, the Caps went into the postseason tied for third with 178 goals at five-on-five during the 2016-17 regular season. But they were 2-4 in postseason games in which they did not score on the power play.
“I feel like we didn’t really put pucks to areas where we could get them back,” says Oshie of the Caps’ five-on-five performance in Game 1. “We were dumping pucks in – and I feel like we didn’t turn too many of them over – but we were putting them into areas where [the Jackets] had enough time to get it, turn, look up, and just break out against us without us being able to use our pressure. We will look to have some smarter dump-ins to get a little more extended offensive-zone time.
“We can play a lot better. I still think we did a good job, but five-on-five is where you can really take over a playoff series. Special teams are going to be special teams – they’re going to be great, typically in the playoffs. You need one or two five-on-five goals to get the edge.”
Ten of the Caps’ last 20 playoff games have gone into overtime, and 15 of those last 20 postseason contests have been decided by a single goal, so a well-timed five-on-five tally here or there might have made a huge difference in a game and/or a series.
“I obviously have to be better,” says Ovechkin. “I think our line has to be better for sure, at five-on-five I mean. I think we played very well at the five-on-four, but at five-on-five I don’t think we created lots of chances. We didn’t play our game, and we understand that. If we want to get success, our line has to be more dominant.”
Beags Is Back – Beagle missed Game 1 with an upper body injury, ending a streak of 46 consecutive playoff games that stretched back to Game 7 of the Caps’ second-round series with the Rangers in 2012. Beagle was injured late in Game 5 of that series, and he missed Games 6 and 7.
“Obviously Game 1 isn’t do or die,” says Beagle. “You have to treat it like that because it is the playoffs. But missing Game 6 and 7, that was one of the hardest things I’ve gone through as a hockey player, especially with the year we had that year. I really felt like I tried. I tried to go out for warm-ups in Game 6 – I still remember it. And I still remember just knowing that I wouldn’t be able to play that game, so that was tough. This was a little bit easier, obviously, going into the first game and knowing that I wasn’t ready made it a little easier, too.”
Beagle missed the final three games of the regular season before sitting out the Caps’ opener against the Jackets on Thursday.
“It’s always frustrating to watch,” he says. “You never like to watch hockey. That’s your team out there, so it’s tough to be sidelined. But on the other hand, you have to make sure that when you do go out and play, that you’re at a hundred percent and you can make sure that you can come in and make an impact and help your team.”
The extra day between Games 1 and 2 of this series may have given Beagle the time needed to heal completely, and to get him to the level where he feels he can have a positive impact on the game.
“I feel good,” he says. “I think the extra two days here – Friday and Saturday – was big for recovery. I feel really good and I’m excited to get my first playoff game in in 2018.”
The Caps missed Beagle’s face-off prowess and his penalty killing acumen in Game 1. Washington won only four of 21 draws (19%) in its own end of the ice on Thursday, and Beagle would have taken many of those draws if he were healthy enough to play.
Beagle took 998 regular season draws, 52
ndin the NHL. Considering that he ranked 249
thin aggregate ice time among all NHL forwards in 2017-18, it's easy to see how often the Caps deploy him as a face-off specialist. Beagle’s 58.5% face-off success rate during the regular season ranked fourth in the league among all centers with 820 or more draws.
“When you take a lot of draws on the right-hand side like I do all year,” says Beagle, it’s kind of a role and something that obviously I’ve been given and I take pride in. So to ask guys to go out and take draws that they haven’t taken all year is tough, especially against [Columbus]. They’ve got three really good lefties that are strong in the offensive zone, and great draw men. That makes it even tougher, obviously, when they have that good of center men and a lot of wingers also who can take the draw that are lefties.
“They’ve got a lot of guys that they con utilize. It’s definitely a part of my game and I want to make sure that I can take those draws and that was one of the things that we wanted to make sure.”
“Jay is one of those guys that you probably don’t value as much until you don’t have him,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “As a coach, I have a lot of value for him. But to just the regular fan or the regular people, Jay Beagle doesn’t put up high numbers but he gives you everything he’s got. The one place he can make a difference is in that face-off circle, and it’s all about starting with the puck. He gives us an advantage in that, more than most guys in the league.”
In The Nets – Philipp Grubauer stopped 23 of the 27 shots he faced in a Game 1 loss, and he will get the net again on Sunday in Game 2 against Columbus. In 37 career regular season appearances on home ice, Grubauer sports a 19-10-4 record to go along with three shutouts, an excellent 1.94 GAA and a .932 save pct.
Lifetime in the regular season, Grubauer is 6-5-4 in games in which he has had two days rest, as will be the case tonight. He has a 2.53 GAA and a .925 save pct. on two days rest during the regular season.
Sergei Bobrovsky gets the net once again for Columbus. Bobrovsky made 27 saves in Thursday’s Game 1 victory, helping to stake his team to its first ever playoff series lead in franchise history.
While playing on two days’ rest in the regular season, Bobrovsky is a daunting 57-20-7 with six shutouts, a 2.12 GAA and a .929 save pct. Including the regular season and Thursday’s start in Game 1, Bobrovsky has permitted three or more goals in eight of his 12 career starts in Washington.
All Lined Up – Here is how we expect the Caps and the Blue Jackets to look when they take to the ice on Sunday night for Game 2 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series game at Capital One Arena.
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
65-Burakovsky, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
10-Connolly, 20-Eller, 25-Smith-Pelly
18-Stephenson, 83-Beagle, 39-Chiasson
13-Atkinson, 18-Dubois, 9-Panarin
38-Jenner, 71-Foligno, 26-Vanek
22-Milano, 17-Dubinsky, 77-Anderson
11-Calvert, 55-Letestu, 28-Bjorkstrand
10-Wennberg (upper body)