Work To Do – Monday night’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final series brought the best out of the Capitals. Facing elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time this spring, the Caps put together an outstanding performance in every facet of the game in a 3-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Caps were patient, detailed, diligent, thorough, physical and intense from the opening puck drop until the final buzzer, and as a result, they’ve forced a deciding Game 7 with the Lightning in Tampa on Wednesday.
Braden Holtby stopped all 24 Tampa Bay shots to record his first postseason shutout in more than two years and his first shutout in 84 starts overall, dating back to April of 2017. T.J. Oshie staked the Caps to a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal late in the second period, and he salted it away with an empty-netter in the final minute In between those two Oshie strikes, Washington’s fourth line combined to generate a beautiful and extremely timely insurance tally from Devante Smith-Pelly in the middle of the third period.
The Caps also brought the physicality, leveling the Lightning with body checks throughout the contest. By night’s end, the Capitals owned a 39-19 advantage in hits, and 13 of its 18 skaters were credited with at least one hit in the contest.
“I think it’s nothing but desperation, really,” says Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik. “You know if you don’t win here tonight, you’re not moving on. So you try to empty the tank as much as you can. I think that’s probably one area where we probably have an edge [over the Lightning], is the size and physical play, and over the course of a seven-game series it’s something that we’ve talked about, just when we get opportunities, don’t run out of position, and try to wear them down when you can.”
It took more than 35 minutes for Washington to finally break through on the scoreboard in Monday’s game, and the number of loud, board-rattling hits the Caps laid helped to keep their fans engaged and loud until Washington could really raise the roof with a lamplighter or two.
“Tonight there was great energy in the building,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “Fans weren’t apprehensive and we gave them something to cheer about. First period, there wasn’t much happening. It was two teams going nose-to-nose and butting heads, and finally we broke through with a power-play goal. It gave us a little bit of a bump up in terms of our play, and we had some zone time and were able to capitalize on one after that.”
As good as Washington was on Monday, there is still much work to be done. The Caps merely extended their season by one game and a couple of days. They’ll be on the brink of elimination once again when the puck drops on Wednesday in Tampa. The only difference is that they’ll have company. The Lightning will be in the same situation.
You’ll Get Nothing And Like It – Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has rebounded from a rocky start in this series to turn in four straight stellar performances. Vasilevskiy stole Game 4 in Washington for the Lightning, enabling Tampa Bay to tie the series at 2-2 after it had dropped the first two games on home ice.
As good as Vasilevskiy was in Game 4, he was even better in Game 6. It took perfect execution on two precision plays to beat him in Monday’s Game 6, and it took a perfect night from Holtby to ensure that Vasilevskiy would not steal another game – and with it, the series – on Monday night in Washington.
Holtby isn’t one for stats, so he probably doesn’t even know that 14 of his 36 career playoff loses have come in games in which he has surrendered two or fewer goals. While shutouts don’t matter to him, he can appreciate the fact that the opposition can’t win if it doesn’t score.
“The only reason it’s good is you know you won,” says Holtby. “Aside from that, it’s just another statistic for you guys. You guys can write about it. For us, it’s just that [win] that matters.”
Monday’s win leaves Holtby with an 11-5 mark as a starter in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, the exact same mark as Vasilevskiy. One of those two will record win No. 12 on Wednesday.
“I’ve been here for four years,” says Trotz. “And Braden has grown, and Braden has been the backbone of our hockey club. You can’t go anywhere without goaltending, and he has been solid. We’re fortunate that we’ve got two really good goaltenders in him and [Philipp Grubauer], and that allows you to have success. Braden is a true pro. He works at hos game, he finds ways to make a difference, and he does.”
DSP Is PTP (Prime-Time Player) – Although he ranks just eighth among all Washington forwards in total ice time in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs, Caps winger Devante Smith-Pelly has made his presence felt keenly on the ice. Smith-Pelly has laid 66 hits in 18 games, and his 3.7 hits per game ranks seventh among all forwards with five or more games played in the in the 2018 playoffs.
Smith-Pelly laid five hits in just over 12 minutes of work on Monday night, but he also contributed a huge insurance goal in the middle of the third period, scoring on a Washington forecheck to give the Caps some much needed breathing room.
With four goals in the playoffs, Smith-Pelly is tied with Brett Connolly for fifth among all Washington forwards. He has been maximizing his ice time, and making the most of the minutes he does get, and he’s chipped in with some big goals at key times during the postseason.
“I think the type of game that he plays and what he brings, Devo has a real good skills set,” says Trotz. “He can be physical, he can play the checking role, he can move up in the lineup, he can be very useful playing on the left or right an you can use him a lot of different ways.
“I just think there are certain guys that their game translates more in the heavier games, the tight spaces. I know he is excited. Everybody on our team is excited every night to drop the puck and let’s get at it, especially in the playoffs. He is just one of those guys who has had success. When you look for guys to fill out your roster – because I think we have nine guys on our team from last year – you’re looking for guys who maybe have had some success. When Devo came in, we talked about building his brand. And he has done a real good job.”
Streaking – Evgeny Kuznesov assisted on Oshie’s power-play goal to extend his scoring streak to nine straight games (six goals, eight assists). That ties Nicklas Backstrom’s franchise record, established in 2009.
Oshie also has a scoring streak; he has collected a point in four straight games (two goals, three assists).
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Caps with 25:17 in ice time … Oshie, Kuznetsov and Orlov each had five shots on net to lead the Capitals … Oshie, Orlov and Alex Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shot attempts each … Orpik and Tom Wilson led Washington with six hits each … Orlov led the Caps with three blocked shots … Fourteen of the Caps’ 18 skaters had at least one blocked shot and the Caps finished the night with 20 … Jay Beagle won 13 of 16 face-offs (81%) and Lars Eller won 12 of 18 (67%) to help make up for a tough night on the dot for Kuznetsov (1-for-12, 8%) ...