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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 6, Bolts 2

May 14, 2018
Next Man Up – We’ve heard the phrase “next man up” from more than one member of the Capitals (including their coaching staff) recently, mostly referring to the need for players to step up for absent teammates, whether injured or suspended. But that “next man up” philosophy also extends to production and to taking care of the other details – like blocking shots and winning corner battles – that are critical to team success at this time of year. 

It’s Devante Smith-Pelly converting a great scoring chance off the rush on a perfect feed from Alex Chiasson at an important time of the game for Washington. 

It’s Jakub Vrana making a play and setting up what would prove to be Lars Eller’s game-winning goal in the waning seconds of the second period.

It’s Eller stepping up to lead all Washington forwards in ice time for each of the first two games of the Eastern Conference final, and playing every one of those minutes with fervor and intensity to ease the sting of Nicklas Backstrom’s absence from the lineup. 

It’s Jay Beagle sprawling out to block a couple of Lightning shots, and then grinning on the bench afterwards as if he’d just beaten a future Hall of Fame goalie on a breakaway.

It’s Brett Connolly sticking it to the team that drafted him and cut him loose, sparking some frustration in Lightning star Nikita Kucherov, and sitting on the Washington bench with blood on his sweater and satisfaction on his face. 

It’s Washington’s top forward trio (Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson) winning just three of 17 face-offs on the night and getting buried in possession numbers, but still delivering two five-on-five goals and another on the power play.  

It’s Braden Holtby making every save at even strength, giving the Lightning absolutely no avenue to get back into the game and nothing with which to boost their sagging confidence. 

All of those occurrences unfolded on Sunday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final at Tampa’s Amalie Arena, and those occurrences – combined with the Caps’ steely resolve in the face of some adversity early in the game – added up to a thorough 6-2 thumping of the Lightning, sending Washington home from its two-game business trip with a 2-0 lead in the series. 

“They’re going to be focused on the Ovis and the Kuzys and guys like that,” says Smith-Pelly. “So if they’re going to cancel those guys out, then it’s got to be the third and the fourth lines that chip in. We’ve been doing that so far all throughout the playoffs, and we’ve going to have to continue it if we want to get this done.” 

You’ll Get Nothing And Like It – Both of Tampa Bay’s goals in Sunday’s game came in the first period, and both came on the power play. Game 2 marked the eighth straight game in which Washington did not permit more than one goal at five-on-five. 

Washington has outscored the Lightning 7-1 at five-on-five in the two games of this series, a stark contrast from the Bolts stinginess at even strength in the first two rounds. Tampa Bay entered the conference final with just 12 goals against at five-on-five in 10 games over its first two series against New Jersey and Boston, respectively.

In losing the first two games of its first-round series to Columbus, the Caps were outscored 5-2 at five-on-five. They’ve won 10 of 12 games since, and they’ve owned a 29-16 advantage in five-on-five scoring in those dozen games.

Bolt Beater – Over the course of 64 career Stanley Cup playoff games, Eller has totaled 11 goals and 34 points, solid production for a third-line center. But Eller has rolled up a lot of those points at the Lightning’s expense over the years. 

This spring marks Eller’s third career playoff series against the Lightning; the first two came when he was with the Montreal Canadiens. In a dozen career playoff games against the Bolts, Eller has piled up four goals and 10 points.

Rolling Four – Each of Washington’s four lines contributed a five-on-five goal to the cause in Sunday’s Game 2. Wilson started the scoring with a deflection of a Matt Niskanen point shot just 28 seconds into the game, and linemate Ovechkin added an important insurance tally early in the third. 

Eller scored the game-winner late in the second period, Connolly scored Washington’s last goal of the game in the third and Smith-Pelly supplied the crucial tying tally early in the second. Kuznetsov added a power-play marker in the last couple of ticks of the second period.

Where The Stars Come Out To Play – The Caps have gotten contributions from up and down their lineup throughout the playoffs to date, but Washington’s best players have also been forceful and productive, and that was again evident in Sunday’s win.

Ovechkin had a goal and an assist on Sunday. He has been held off the scoresheet just three times in 14 playoff games this spring, and he has recorded multi-point games in seven of 14. With 10 goals and 19 points, he is now one goal and two points shy of matching his single-season best postseason totals. Only Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele (12) has more goals, and only Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (21) and Jake Guentzel (21) and Boston’s David Pastrnak (20) have more points. 

With a goal and two helpers in game 2, Kuznetsov now has five multi-point games this spring, and he has recorded at least a point in 10 of his 14 games in the 2018 playoffs. He is tied with Ovechkin for fourth in the league in playoff scoring with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists). 

Wilson had a goal and an assist. Despite missing three games because of a league suspension, Wilson has nine points (three goals, six assists) in 11 games, all of them at even strength. He ranks third on the team in even-strength scoring behind only Kuznetsov (11 points) and Ovechkin (10), and he ranks 13 thin the league in even-strength playoff scoring. 

For some perspective, recall that Wilson had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 82 games as a 19-year-old NHL rookie in 2013-14. He is now one point away from matching that total on a bigger stage and in a fraction of the games played. 

John Carlson had a pair of helpers and now leads all NHL defensemen with 11 assists and he is second in scoring among the league’s blueliners, trailing Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien (15 points) by a single point.

Holtby was perfect at even strength, winning his fourth straight start and rolling his playoff record to 10-3, and 10-2 as a starter. He leads all goalies in wins and minutes played in the playoffs, and dating back to the spring of 2017, he has now put together 21 straight playoff starts in which he has limited the opposition to three or fewer goals, going 15-6 in those games. 

Beauty Of The Road – Washington is now 7-1 on the road in the postseason. The Caps won each of their last five road games during the regular season, and have now won 12 of their last 13 games away from the District dating back to March 22.

When Washington made the lone Stanley Cup final appearance of its franchise history two decades ago in 1998, it entered that final series against Detroit with a 7-1 road record. 

Seven Up – The Lightning struck twice on the power play in the first period of Sunday’s game, marking the seventh straight game in which Tampa Bay has scored with the extra man.

By The Numbers – Carlson led the Caps with 25:01 in ice time … Carlson and Dmitry Orlov led the Caps with five shots on goal each, and Orlov led the way with eight shot attempts … Wilson and Brooks Orpik led the Caps with half a dozen hits each … Beagle led the Caps with three blocked shots, and he won 11 of 18 draws (61%) … The Caps have scored the game’s first goal in 12 of 14 postseason games … The Caps have scored a power-play goal in 12 of 14 postseason games …  Washington’s total of 391 minutes and 19 seconds of time with the lead is tops among all teams in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs … Ten different Capitals recorded points in Sunday’s game and 16 of Washington’s 18 skaters finished the night with a “plus” next to his name … Sunday’s Game 2 marked the first time in the postseason that the Caps trailed after 20 minutes of play.

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