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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 4, Jackets 3 (OT)

April 22, 2018
The Nick Of Overtime – Thirty times over the course of their franchise history, the Capitals have experienced the exuberance of winning a Stanley Cup playoff game in overtime. Four of those 30 game-winning goals have been supplied by the stick of Nicklas Backstrom, whose latest work of overtime wizardry lifted the Caps to a 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5 of their first-round series in the District on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday’s final scoresheet showed Backstrom with three shots on net for the game, and he scored a pair of goals, the Caps’ first and fourth of the game. But the “shots” he was credited with for his two goals were more a matter of accounting; his first goal came from the Columbus goal line when his intended pass clanked off the skate of Jackets defender David Savard and the body of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The puck popped up and went in off Bobrovsky’s back. 

Backstrom’s game-winner came at 11:53 of overtime and once again, the silky playmaker didn’t really “shoot” the puck in the traditional sense. Backstrom won it with a nifty deflection of a waist-high Dmitry Orlov point shot. With his overtime goal on Saturday, Backstrom helped move the Caps into a 3-2 lead in a series in which they trailed 0-2 a week ago, after dropping the first two games of the set at home and in overtime. 

“We [were down] 0-2 there,” says Backstrom, “but the whole team thought we had played better than the results. That’s the way it is in the playoffs; it’s going to go up and down. It’s a best out of seven, so you’ve just got to keep grinding. The last three games, we’ve been doing that and we’ve been playing some good hockey. Hopefully we can bring our confidence to Columbus on Monday [for Game 6].” 

With four career overtime game-winners in the postseason, Backstrom is tied for second (with Toronto’s Patrick Marleau and Anaheim’s Corey Perry) among active players, and he trails only Chicago’s Patrick Kane (five) on that list.

Backstrom’s first overtime game-winner in the playoffs came on April 17, 2010 against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of a first-round series in Washington, giving the Caps a 6-5 win, tying the series at 1-1 and completing Backstrom’s first playoff hat trick. 

Almost two years later to the day – on April 14, 2012 – Backstrom ended another Saturday matinee match with a game-winner in double-overtime to give the Caps a 2-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in Game 2 of that first-round series. 

On April 21, 2015 – exactly three years before Saturday’s extra session heroics – Backstrom supplied the game-winner in overtime at venerable Nassau Coliseum, giving the Caps a 2-1 win in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Islanders, and squaring that series at 2-2.

While each of Backstrom’s first three overtime game-winners in the playoffs tied the series, Saturday’s clutch tally puts the Caps ahead 3-2 in a series they had been chasing since Game 1. The first and fourth of Backstrom’s game-winners in overtime were scored on home ice, the middle two on the road. 

Playing in his 101 stcareer playoff game on Saturday, Backstrom sprinkled in an assist to record the sixth three-point game of his Stanley Cup playoff career, tying him with Alex Ovechkin for the Washington franchise record.

Stellar Stopper – While Backstrom’s goal lifted the Caps to victory and a lead in the series, Washington would not have had the opportunity to win the game and push ahead in the series if not for the performance of goaltender Braden Holtby in the third period. 

The Caps entered the final 20 minutes of regulation with a slim 3-2 lead in the game, and the Blue Jackets started the final frame with 46 seconds worth of power play time. Columbus teed up four shot tries in those 46 seconds, getting one of them on net. 

Columbus tied the game at 3-3 early in the third, getting an Oliver Bjorkstrand tip-in tally similar to Backstrom’s game-winner at 2:30. For the next 17 and a half minutes, Columbus poured pucks at the Washington net, vying for the go-ahead goal. But after Bjorkstrand’s goal, Holtby had the answer for everything sent in his direction. 

According to naturalstattrick.com, Columbus recorded 13 high-danger scoring chances in Saturday’s game, and nine of them came in the third period. Holtby made 15 of his 39 saves in the third period, and he made 21 stops in the third period and overtime. Half (11 of 22) of the shots Holtby faced after the start of the third period came from inside 20 feet away.

“I just think [the Blue Jackets] came at us and they played really well and we didn’t,” says Caps winger Brett Connolly of Saturday’s third period. “I just think we kind of came in here [between the third period and overtime] and reset, and gave it our all. 

“Both teams obviously knew how important that [overtime] was. [We got] a big goal by Nicky and big saves by our goalie, and it’s been a crazy series. It’s been – I’m sure – pretty nerve-wracking for everybody watching. But we found a way again.”

Holtby’s win on Saturday is his third straight, and it lifts his career playoff record to 32-31. He is now 4-18 when allowing more than two goals in a playoff game, and he is 3-9 when permitting exactly three goals in a postseason game.  

“Obviously, they were going well,” says Holtby of the Jackets’ third-period performance on Saturday. “They were skating. Sometimes, teams just click. That’s where they were at in the third.

“It wasn’t an ideal period for us, but I thought we played well under the pressure. When we had breakdowns, we still supported, trusted each other to do their job, and didn’t give up multiple options at once. I think hat’s something we’ve learned throughout the year how to do better, and it paid off.”

Special Delivery – For the fifth straight game in this series, the Caps scored on the power play in Sunday’s Game 5, and for the third straight game their penalty-killing outfit turned in a spotless performance. 

Washington did allow a shorthanded goal; Matt Calvert scored the Jackets’ first goal of the game on a two-on-one rush following an Alex Ovechkin turnover while the Caps were on the power play. But Washington got that goal back late in the second on T.J. Oshie’s tip-in tally of a John Carlson shot from center point. 

The Caps have scored a power-play goal in five straight playoff games for the first time in a decade, since they scored in each of the last five games (Games 3-7) of their first-round series with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008. 

Only once in their history have the Caps scored a power-play goal in each of the first five games of a playoff series, and that was in 1989 when Washington scored with the extra man in all six of its first-round games against the Flyers, only to lose the series in six. 

Senses Working Overtime – For the second straight spring, the Caps find themselves embroiled in a series where overtime is more of a rule than an exception. The Caps and the Toronto Maple Leafs went to overtime in five of six first-round games last spring, and the Caps and Jackets have needed the extra session in four of five games this time around.

The Jackets won in overtime in Games 1 and 2 while the Caps have skated off happy with sudden victory wins in Games 3 and 5. Washington is the first team in NHL history to play in as many as nine overtime games in the first round of consecutive playoff seasons. 

On The Board – Caps forward Chandler Stephenson and defenseman Michal Kempny each recorded their first career playoff points with assists on Backstrom’s first goal of the game in the first period.  

Stephenson notched his second career postseason point with a secondary helper on Backstrom’s game-winner in overtime. In doing so, Stephenson becomes just the second Caps rookie ever to notch two assists in a playoff game. The only other Washington rookie to achieve that feat did so 32 years earlier to the day, on April 21, 1986. That’s when Yvon Corriveau recorded a pair of helpers in a 6-3 Caps win over the New York Rangers.  

It Was 20 Years Ago Today – Twenty years ago today (April 22, 1998), the Capitals started their only trip to the Stanley Cup final in franchise history with a 3-1 victory over the Boston Bruins in the first playoff game they ever played at Capital One Arena. 

Because 1998 was an Olympic year, the playoffs started a bit later than usual to accommodate the NHL’s first-ever participation in the Olympics, held in Nagano, Japan that year.

Olie Kolzig nailed down the first of his dozen playoff wins that spring with a 27-save performance and Sergei Gonchar supplied the game-winning goal to spring to Caps to a 1-0 lead in that series against the Bruins. Brian Bellows scored Washington's first goal of the game and the series, and Esa Tikkanen iced it with an empty-netter in the final minute of regulation.

By The Numbers – Matt Niskanen led all skaters on both sides with 33:16 in ice time and he led the Caps with five blocked shots … Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on net and 13 shot attempts … Oshie, Carlson and Tom Wilson each had five hits to lead Washington … Jay Beagle won eight of 11 face-offs (73%).

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