Nicklas Backstrom has been Mr. Clutch for the Capitals in the playoffs over the years, and he came up large again for Washington in Saturday’s Game 5 of its first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Backstrom scored a pair of bookend goals – netting the Caps’ first goal of the game and scoring the game-winner in overtime – to help Washington to a 4-3 win over Columbus.
Saturday’s win lifts the Caps into their first lead of the series, 3-2. They can close out the Jackets with a win on Monday night in Game 6 in Columbus.
After struggling mightily throughout the third period and relying heavily on the goaltending of Braden Holtby to keep the game going and get it into overtime, the Caps came back and generated a number of strong scoring chances during the extra frame.
“I didn’t think we played well in the third period,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “We didn’t have lots of urgency. In overtime, I think we played solid. We put the puck deep, we managed the puck well, and we got the result.”
Both netminders were stellar in overtime, and it took a deflection to win it for Washington. Chandler Stephenson dug the puck out of the right wing corner and put it to the left point for Dmitry Orlov. Orlov fired from there, and Backstrom re-directed it past Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 to give the Caps their third straight win.
“It was just a great shot from Orly, I thought, before [a Jackets defender] had a chance to block it,” says Backstrom. “And I got a tip on it. That’s usually what happens in the playoffs – tip goals or rebound goals – that’s the way it is.”
Backstrom's overtime game-winner is the fourth of his Stanley Cup playoff career; he already held the Caps' franchise mark in that department.
It took until Game 5 for Columbus to get on the scoreboard first in this series, and they did it with the Caps on the power play, to boot. Alex Ovechkin turned the puck over high in the Jackets’ zone, and Matt Calvert tore off on a two-on-one shorthanded rush with Josh Anderson. Calvert called his own number, and beat Holtby on a shot the Caps goalie should have had – it glanced off him and in – to stake the Jackets to a 1-0 lead at 10:08 of the first period.
Just over three minutes later, the Caps tied it up on a favorable bounce. Stephenson made a good play along the right wing wall high in the Columbus zone, banking the puck down to Backstrom in the corner. Backstrom had enough time and space to carry toward the net, so he did, trying to issue a backhand feed to the front en route. The puck instead bounded off Jackets defenseman David Savard and Bobrovsky and popped in, tying the game at 13:22.
Early in the second, the Capitals took their first lead of the afternoon. Orlov fired a tape-to-tape pass from inside the Washington line to Evgeny Kuznetsov at the Columbus line. Kuznetsov carried into the zone and slipped a shot through the five-hole of Bobrovsky at 3:21 of the middle period, putting the home team up 2-1.
Columbus needed 84 seconds to tie it up. T.J. Oshie lost the handle at the Columbus line, and Calvert skated into Caps’ ice with speed on a clear breakaway. Calvert fanned on his shot from the slot, but was able to spin and urge the puck forward with his backhand, scoring his second of the game to make it a 2-2 contest at 4:45.
There were five minor penalties whistled in the first, and the penalty parade continued in the second as both teams were busted for a pair of minors, and the Caps regained the lead on their second extra-man opportunity of the middle frame. Washington moved the puck around the zone expertly, and John Carlson dropped the hammer on a one-timer from center point. Oshie got a piece of it, tipping it past Bobrovsky for a 3-2 Caps lead with 3:18 left in the second.
Twenty minutes away from having their collective backs to the wall, the Blue Jackets came out with plenty of verve in the third. Columbus got the tying tally early in the third when Oliver Bjorkstrand deflected an Ian Cole point shot past Holtby at 2:39 to make it a 3-3 game.
The Caps were on their heels for the remainder of regulation, and it was Holtby who kept them from falling behind. He thwarted Calvert’s hat trick bid just ahead of the midpoint of the third. He denied Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois in swift succession just past the midpoint of the period, both shots coming from point blank range. He got the shaft of his stick on another Cole point shot, and Holtby stopped Boone Jenner and Artemi Panarin from in tight, too, making eight of his 15 third-period saves on shots from inside of 20 feet away from the net.
Shots on net were even at 20-20 after two periods of play, but the Jackets owned a lopsided 16-1 advantage in third-period shots on net, and they also out-attempted the Caps by 35-11 in the third. Columbus had one more shot attempt in the final 20 minutes of regulation than it managed in the first 40 minutes of regulation (34).
The Caps were on their heels in the third, but they were on their toes for the dozen minutes of overtime. Bobrovsky made brilliant stops on Ovechkin and Carlson early in overtime, and he denied Orlov just ahead of the midpoint.
Holtby made saves on Jenner and Bjorkstrand just ahead of Backstrom’s overtime winner, which came seconds after the mid-period scrape of the ice in the extra session.
“That’s just the way it goes, right?” says Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “It’s an overtime goal; anything can happen. Disappointing, because I thought we completely outplayed them in the third and had all of the momentum. We had some great chances to bury it in overtime, and missed the net or just wide or [Holtby] makes a great save. It’s the difference in the game.”
And for now, the difference in the series, which resumes on Monday in Columbus. According to Jackets coach John Tortorella, there will be a Game 7 in Washington on Wednesday.
“I won’t have to say a damn word to them,” says Tortorella, when asked what he needs to do get his team ready for Monday’s elimination game. “We’ll be back here for Game 7.”
“What else are you going to say?” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “That’s good; he wants to get it out there that he believes in his team, just as I believe in my team. It’s our job for that not to happen, and we're going to try to do that.”