April 23 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7 and 99.1 FM
Game 6, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Caps lead, 3-2.
When a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series is tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 of that series has historically won 79 percent of those series. Washington prevailed 4-3 in overtime in Game 5 of its first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday afternoon, and that victory gives the Caps a chance to close out the series on Monday night when the scene shifts back to Columbus for Game 6.
The Caps know they can’t rely on a stat like the one in the above paragraph to guide them to a fourth and clinching victory in this series. Five games into this series, Washington and Columbus have played the equivalent of almost six games, because four of the five contests have gone to overtime. The margin of difference between these two teams has been razor-thin throughout most of this series, and there is no reason to expect that to change now that Columbus must win to extend its season.
Nicklas Backstrom’s overtime goal in Game 5 is the difference in this series right now, that and Braden Holtby’s goaltending performance in the final 32 minutes of action on Saturday. With the Caps under siege in their own end in the third period – they were outshot 16-1 and out-attempted 35-11 in the final frame – Holtby stopped 15 of 16, getting beat only on Oliver Bjorkstrand’s tying tip-in tally at 2:30 of the third.
Holtby’s late netminding heroics set the stage for Backstrom, who scored the fourth overtime game-winner of his Stanley Cup playoff career on Saturday, adding to his Washington franchise record. Among all active players in the NHL, only Chicago’s Patrick Kane (five) has authored more overtime game-winners in the playoffs.
“We didn’t play good in the third,” says Caps winger Brett Connolly. “We sat back and they came at us. I thought we were way better in the overtime. We’ve just got to get our rest and we’ve got to try to close it out here in Columbus. [The Jackets] are going to make a big push here, we know that. We’ll try and end it in Game 6, and we’ll go from there.”
Five-on-five scoring has been difficult to come by for the Capitals in this series. Through the first two games – both losses – they managed but two even-strength goals, both from bottom six players. But in winning three straight games, the Caps have scored seven goals at five-on-five, and they’re now getting offensive contributions from their top six at even strength.
Tom Wilson has scored two five-on-five goals for the Caps in the last three games, and linemates Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kunzetsov have each scored one. Both of Backstrom’s goals on Saturday were scored at five-on-five, and the Caps also continued their power play mastery in this series, scoring with the extra man for the fifth time in as many games.
Washington’s top six forwards have combined for 14 goals and 30 points through five games of this series, with much of that production coming on the power play. Columbus’ top six forwards were altered slightly because second-line center Alexander Wennberg missed three games with an upper body injury, but if you expand the Jackets’ top six to a top seven that includes Nick Foligno – Wennberg’s fill-in while he was out of the lineup – that group of seven players has combined for eight goals and 20 points in the series to date.
While the Caps’ top guns have out-produced the Jackets’ best, the goaltending has been virtually equal since Braden Holtby returned to the net at the start of the third period of Game 2. Holtby absorbed an overtime setback in that game, but he has won three straight starts since, and his .937 even-strength save pct. in this series matches that of Columbus counterpart Sergei Bobrovsky. The Jackets have yet to beat Holtby on the power play – all four Columbus goals with the extra man in the series came against Philipp Grubauer – in the series, and Bobrovsky’s .826 power-play save pct. ranks 12
thamong the 18 goaltenders who have started at least two games in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs.
“The great hockey continued,” said Holtby after Game 5. “This series been a really well-played series, and it showed again tonight. It’s fun hockey to play in, and it’s the reason the playoffs are so exciting.”
Less than a week ago, the Blue Jackets were in overtime of Game 3 on home ice, and they were one shot away from taking a 3-0 chokehold on the Caps in their bid to win their first playoff series in franchise history. Now they return to Columbus seeking their first home ice victory of the playoffs, and needing it to keep their season alive by forcing a deciding Game 7 in Washington on Wednesday night.
“Can’t wait,” says Columbus winger Matt Calvert, who scored twice on Saturday and leads the Jackets with three goals. “We’ll dissect this game, look at what we can do better and we can’t wait to get back in front of our fans. I think we really owe them one and it’s a great barn, so it’s going to be tough for [the Capitals] to come in. We’re excited about it.”
Four of the first five games of this series have gone to overtime, and four of the five have featured multiple lead changes. At this point, anything seems possible as far as how the last game or two of this series will play out.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a series in my life where [momentum] goes back and forth within a few minutes,” says Calvert. “And you’ve got to handle those, you’ve got to handle the momentum shifts well, and I thought we have. It’s been four of five games that have gone to overtime here, and we got the first two bounces and they got the other two.
“Obviously we weren’t happy about our effort [in Game 4], but we’ve just got to keep on going [and have a] short memory. Things can change in five minutes out there. We want to have a dominant effort and home and get it back to Washington.”