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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 6, Jackets 3

April 24, 2018
Goodbye, Columbus – Artemi Panarin tied Game 3 of the first-round series between the Caps and Columbus Blue Jackets, scoring his second goal and seventh point of the series to that point at 4:12 of the third period, tying the game at 2-2. This was a game the Capitals had to have; they were in an 0-2 hole in the series after dropping the first two games of the set on home ice and in overtime. If the Caps lost Game 3, it would be difficult to envision a comeback in the series.

Columbus, which went 4-for-8 on the power play in winning the first two games, had an extra man opportunity midway through the third when Brooks Orpik was boxed for interference. The Jackets weren’t able to forge ahead then or when John Carlson was penalized for tripping with 4:18 remaining in the first overtime that night. 

With just over a minute left in regulation, Panarin rang a shot off the goalpost. While Carlson was seated in the box in overtime, Columbus winger and noted Caps killer Cam Atkinson clanked a shot off the iron. 

The Jackets were up against Caps goalie Braden Holtby who was making his first start of the series. Washington’s longtime No. 1 netminder went through a rare but prolonged slump in midseason, and he had been pulled from his most recent start in Columbus on Feb. 26 after yielding four goals on 16 shots in just 20 minutes of work in a 5-1 Washington loss to the Jackets. 

Looking back on it now, overtime in Game 3 was the high water mark for the Jackets in the series. Lars Eller won Game 3 for Washington, scoring at 9:00 of double overtime to give the Caps their first win of the series. 

Less than a week later, it was all over. Neither Panarin nor Atkinson was able to record a point for the rest of the series; the former was minus-3 and the latter minus-4 in Washington’s 6-3 series-clinching win over the Jackets on Monday in Columbus. The Caps won Game 3 in double-overtime, and proceeded to run the table, winning four in a row – including three in Columbus – to eliminate the Jackets in six games. In doing so, the Caps became the first team in NHL history to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home and in overtime, and still come back to win the series. 

Columbus had an early 2-0 lead in the series, but it owned a lead on the scoreboard for 20 minutes and 46 seconds of the total of 419 minutes and 16 seconds of hockey played between the two teams in the six-game series. 

“We chased it through the whole series,” says Jackets coach John Tortorella. “It’s hard to play that way. We get into the playoffs by being able to handle those situations, but you can’t go as many games as we did here chasing it. It affects how you go about some of your business with your lines in certain minutes of the game.

“The better team won. They made bigger plays at key times. Our power play started well – faded a little bit. Their power play got better, which was a huge part going into tonight’s game; that was kind of the edge of where the series was. So we have some things to keep on working at with this team, but the better team won in this series.” 

Washington has now come back from an 0-2 deficit to win two playoff series in its history, and Tortorella was on the wrong side of both. He was the New York Rangers’ bench boss when the Caps rebounded from losing the first two games and won their first-round series with the Blueshirts in seven gams in 2009.

Road Warriors – Washington has been in the league since the 1974-75 season, and the all-time franchise record for consecutive road wins is six, established in 1983-84 and matched in 2010-11.

During the 2017-18 regular season, the Caps won just over half (21 of 41) of their road games, finishing with a 21-15-5 road record. But Washington won each of its last five road games (and seven of its last eight) in ’17-18, and it won all three games of this series in the Columbus barn, so Washington has now won eight straight games on the road overall. The Caps’ last loss on the road was more than a month ago, on March 18 in Philadelphia.

“I think it has to play a little bit of a role in our confidence on the road,” says Caps right wing T.J. Oshie of the team’s late season success on the road. “I can’t necessarily point to one specific thing, but I do know on the road it seems like we’re – for whatever reason – focused, we’re driven. It seems like we almost like when the opposing team’s crowd gets into it. It almost gets us going, too, and makes you want to quiet them down. 

“Good success – you’ve got to win on the road in the playoffs. Those five before that on the road I think built our confidence and helped us a little bit.” 

Special Delivery – Washington scored at least one power-play goal in each of the six games of the series, doing so for the first time in 29 years. The Caps had at least one power-play goal in all six games of their first-round series with Philadelphia in 1989, but they also lost that series in six games.

The Caps scored nine power-play goals in the series, matching a franchise mark achieved twice previously. They scored nine times with the extra man in the aforementioned series against the Flyers in 1989 and again in a first-round set against the New York Islanders in 1993. 

Washington also snuffed out each of the last 17 Columbus power plays in the series, as the Jackets went 0-for-16 with the extra man in the final four games of the set. The Caps finished the series with a 33.3% success rate on the power play and 83.3% on the kill. Their 116.6 special teams index is easily the best of the 16 playoff teams this spring.

Shutdown Town – The Blue Jackets’ top trio of Panarin and Atkinson with center Pierre-Luc Dubois was potent for Columbus in the first half of the series, but Washington effectively neutralized them thereafter.

“It takes five guys to play defense,” says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. But [Panarin] chewed us up early. The first two games he chewed us up pretty bad, especially on the power play. He was able to produce on us. 

“It took a team effort, I think – forwards back pressuring, and the [defensemen] had to have a little bit better gaps.  And you have to have good awareness away from him, because he is a lot better passer than I ever realized. That guy can play. Boy, that top line, there are some players there. It was a good team effort to kind of clamp down on them as the series went on. And the PK was really, really good after making just a couple of tweaks after the first two games.”

Great Eight – Caps captain Alex Ovechkin broke open Monday’s clinching contest late in the second period, scoring the go-ahead goal on a rebound of an Orpik point shot, and then drawing a holding call on Jackets defenseman Seth Jones. On the ensuing power play, he netted his second goal of the night on a one-timer from his left dot office, enabling the Caps to take a 3-1 lead into what would prove to be the final 20 minutes of the series. 

Ovechkin now has 51 career playoff goals, becoming the 60 thplayer in Stanley Cup playoff history to reach that milestone. He ranks fifth among all active players in playoff goals.

Ovechkin is the third player in Washington franchise history to score two goals in a series clinching win, joining Dale Hunter (first round vs. Philadelphia in 1988) and Marcus Johansson (first round vs. Toronto in 2017) on that short list. Both Hunter and Johansson scored their second goal of those games in overtime. 

Net Gain – Holtby stepped into the crease at the start of the third period of Game 2, after Grubauer was pulled with the Caps trailing 4-3 at that point. Holtby faced only eight shots in the third period and overtime, and was nicked for Matt Calvert’s game-winner in the extra session. That 5-4 loss in Game 2 was Washington’s first playoff loss when scoring four or more goals in nearly 20 years, since a 5-4 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings in Game 2 of the 1998 Stanley Cup final series. 

Holtby started Game 3 and turned the series around, winning four straight games for the first time in his playoff career. He made at least 33 saves in three of those four games, and as Caps coach Barry Trotz noted, the timeliness of those saves was often critical. 

Holtby posted a 1.92 GAA and a .932 save pct. in the series, easily besting Columbus goalie – and defending Vezina Trophy winner – Sergei Bobrovsky, who finished the series with a 3.18 GAA and a .900 save pct. Holtby stopped all 19 shots he faced on the power play in the series, and he fashioned a .927 even-strength save pct.

“Yeah, it’s fantastic,” says Ovechkin of Holtby’s first-round performance. “He is stepping up big time and he is a top goalie in the league. He showed it today, and he showed it this series as well.” 

Short Stuff – Caps rookie Chandler Stephenson notched his second straight two-point game in the playoffs, assisting on Dmitry Orlov’s goal in the first period and scoring an important shorthanded goal in the third as the Jackets were again threatening to shorten Washington’s lead. 

“It feels awesome,” says Stephenson. “To see [Jay Beagle] on the wall there, I knew he was getting it out [of the zone], so I just took off. I got a puck and just tried to get it moving, but I give all of the credit to Beags.” 

Stephenson used his speed to separate, getting a breakaway opportunity and beating Bobrovsky through the five-hole early in the third period for the first Stanley Cup playoff goal of his career.

In doing so, Stephenson becomes the first rookie in Caps franchise history to score a shorthanded goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Helping Hands – Orpik skated in the 131 stplayoff game of his NHL career on Monday, and he picked up a pair of assists for just the second two-point game of those 131 contests. Orpik also had two assists against the Tampa Bay Lightning in an April 13, 2011 postseason contest. 

Orpik had 10 assists in 81 regular season games with Washington in 2017-18, and he has three assists in six playoff games.

Waiting For Columbus – With both Winnipeg and Vegas winning their first-round playoff series this spring, the Jackets are now the only one of the NHL’s 31 franchises that has never won a playoff series. That’s a shame, because Columbus is a great city and Nationwide Arena was packed to the rafters for all three home games. 

The Jackets’ time will come, though. Columbus is a young, up-and-coming team that should be competitive in the Metro Division for years to come. This series has to sting for the Jackets, letting loose of the only series lead in their franchise’s history, but they’ll learn from it and move forward.

“When you’re up 2-0, you’ve got to figure out a way to get the third game,” laments Jones. “Coming back in our home building, that’s probably the biggest takeaway for our team this year. We’re feeling really good about ourselves after 2-0, and I don’t think we let our foot off the gas or anything like that, but we’ve got to find a way to get [Game] 3 or 4; that’s a big moment in this series. I’d say that is probably the biggest takeaway. But I’m proud of the guys, and we didn’t quit until the end.”

It Was 20 Years Ago Today – On April 24, 1998 the Caps hosted the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series between the two teams. The Caps went into the game with a 1-0 lead in the series, but fell by a 4-3 count in double overtime as the Bruins evened the series up before the scene shifted to Boston. 

Bruins blueliner Darren Van Impe won it for the B’s, a mere 54 seconds into the second overtime. Ex-Caps Jason Allison and Dmitri Khristich drew assists on the game-winner. Adding injury to insult, the Caps lost Peter Bondra – their most potent offensive weapon – to an injury five shifts and 2:53 of individual ice time into the game. He would not return to the lineup until Game 6.

Seeking to head to Boston with a 2-0 lead in the series, the Caps carried a 2-0 lead into the third period on goals from Esa Tikanen in the first and Calle Johansson in the second. But the Bruins scored three unanswered goals in the third, taking a 3-2 lead on Van Impe’s first goal of the game at 17:03 of the third.  

Washington got a game-tying goal from Sergei Gonchar – his second goal in as many games in the series – with 37 seconds left in the third period to force overtime.  

Joe Reekie led the Caps with 36:15 in ice time and 5:50 in shorthanded ice time. Among all skaters on both sides, only Boston workhorse Raymond Bourque (42:20) was on the clock longer than Reekie in Game 2. 

By The Numbers – Niskanen led the Caps with 26:53 in ice time … Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson paced Washington with four shots each … Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shot attempts … Tom Wilson led the way with seven hits … Orpik led the Caps with five blocked shots … Beagle won nine of 12 draws (75%). Beagle had two assists for the second two-point game of his playoff career; he had a pair of helpers in an April 23, 2015 game against the New York Islanders.