Two games into their first-round series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Capitals were looking at some daunting and dubious playoff history. Four games later, they’re looking ahead to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Caps rolled to a 6-3 win over the Jackets in Game 6 in Columbus on Monday night, finishing the series with four straight victories, three of them on the road and two of them in overtime. In doing so, the Caps made history – they’re the first team ever to lose the first two games of a playoff series in overtime and at home, and to rebound from that early adversity to win the series.
“It’s huge,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom “Obviously a lot of people thought we were done after we were down 2-0, and we came back and won four straight, which shows some character in this room.
“We just kept playing. We knew we had a good plan going into the series and it paid off. It feels nice to keep going here in the second round.”
Alex Ovechkin scored a pair of goals and drew a penalty in a span of less than six minutes late in the second period, opening up what had been a tight 1-1 game, and giving the Caps some much-needed breathing room. Even then, the plucky Jackets did not go away. They scored twice in the third and had three power play chances – including 1:54 of carryover time at the start of the final frame – with which to score more, but the Caps’ penalty-killing outfit blanked them for the fourth straight game.
Each time the Jackets scored, the Caps answered back with one of their own rather quickly, and Columbus ultimately and finally ran out of time in the game, the series and the season.
“I think we’ve had lots of different adversity this year, and even in the past,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “We’ve grown up a little bit in some ways, that we understand that our core group is really, really strong, they believe in each other. We’ve got a lot of young guys in our room, and we’ve had to rely on our core to push us forward and they have. They’ve been excellent this year in every aspect.”
For the fifth time in six games in the series, the Capitals broke the seal on the scoresheet. Seconds after Caps goalie Braden Holtby made a clutch stop on Cam Atkinson, Dmirty Orlov cranked a slapshot past Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky at 12:12 of the first frame.
The Jackets got even just ahead of the midpoint of the second on a Nick Foligno shot from the right circle, making it a 1-1 game at 8:40 of the second.
Just over four minutes later, the Caps culminated a dominant offensive-zone shift with the goal that put them in front for good, Ovechkin’s first of the night. Tip and rebound goals became an important part of Washington’s offensive repertoire as this series wore on, and the Caps’ captain went to the net and deposited the rebound of Brooks Orpik’s drive from the left point, putting Washington on top 2-1 at 12:50 of the middle period.
Ovechkin drew a holding call on Columbus blueliner Seth Jones with 2:50 left in the second, and just over a minute later he made it a 3-1 game with a one-timer from his left dot office on the power play, the Caps’ ninth power-play goal of the series. The Caps had at least one extra-man tally in all six games of the series.
The Caps killed off the carryover portion of the Columbus power play to start the third, but the Jackets pulled to within a goal early in the third. Just after officials elected to look the other way on a blatant trip of Caps defenseman Christian Djoos behind the Washington net, Pierre-Luc Dubois scored from the slot, making it a 3-2 game at 2:25 of the third.
Devante Smith-Pelly had the answer the Caps needed just 91 seconds later. He collected a loose puck in Washington ice, skated up the left wing wall and into Columbus territory, and sent a laser of a shot over Bobrovsky’s glove hand to restore the Caps’ two-goal lead, 4-2 at 3:56.
With Djoos boxed for interference less than a minute later, the Jackets had a virtually instant opportunity to get that one back on the power play. Instead, the Caps increased their lead.
Orpik stripped Alexander Wennberg of the puck just after he entered Washington ice, and Jay Beagle whacked it out of the zone. The opportunistic and speedy Chandler Stephenson tore off after it, went in and beat Bobrovksy thorugh the five-hole on a shorthanded breakaway at 5:30 of the third, making it a 5-2 game.
Even then, there was no quit in Columbus. The Jackets made it 5-3 less than three minutes later when Foligno netted his second goal of the game on a back door tap-in. Down two with 11:38 to play at that point, Columbus got another power play in the back half of the frame, but the Caps killed off a 17
thstraight Columbus power play to close out the series.
Lars Eller accounted for the 6-3 final score with a long-distance empty-netter in the waning seconds of the contest, sealing Washington’s fourth straight win and a third straight second-round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The heroes were many and varied for the Caps in this series, as virtually every player in the lineup stood up and was heard from at an important juncture of the series.
“You look at years past in the playoffs, and that’s how it has to be,” says Smith-Pelly, whose second goal of the set stands up as the game-winner of the clinching game. “They’re obviously keying in on our top guys. Even if they do break through, it’s got to be the secondary guys that are coming through and supporting and contributing. To be successful, that’s what we’re going to need. We did a good job just for six games.”
The Caps kept their foot on the gas in the third, scoring on three of their six shots on goal in the final frame, and frustrating the Jackets with the Smith-Pelly and Stephenson goals in particular.
“It’s tough to recover,” says Jackets coach John Tortorella. “They were pretty stingy. I give Washington credit for through the series, how well they defended. We thought we might be able to get something going against them. They defended hard.”
Washington won all three of its road games in this series, and it has now won eight straight road games overall, including the final five road games of the regular season.
“It was a tremendous test for us,” says Trotz of the first-round series with Columbus. “We didn’t get off to a good start and we had to dig ourselves out of a [hole]. We could have made some excuses, we didn’t. We just said we’ve got to come here and win some hockey games and we’ve been staying with it.”