If you want a formula for how to not play in the playoffs, this was it for Washington. Against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, the Caps gave up a goal less than two minutes into the game, they took their foot off the gas after taking a second period lead which allowed Columbus to take control and tie it in the third and Washington took two third period penalties, including one with less than four minutes remaining with the score tied.
And yet, Washington walked away as the 3-2 winners as they put the Jackets away in regulation, denying them even a point. Here's why the Caps won.
Markus Nutivaara’s first period penalty
Columbus took the lead less than two minutes into the game, but Blue Jackets defenseman Nutivaara gave the Caps new life when he took a penalty less than two minutes later. Coming into the game, Columbus was ranked 27th in the NHL with a kill rate of 75.7-percent. Nutivaara was caught holding Nicklas Backstrom in the defensive zone and Washington took advantage as John Carlson scored to tie the game at one. It was a horrible start for the Caps, but the Blue Jackets could not hold onto the momentum because of an unnecessary penalty that put their subpar penalty kill on the ice.
Tom Wilson's first goal in 13 games
Top-line Tom played like he deserved to be on the top line. In the second period, he showed great hands to force Sergei Bobrovsky to stretch out the pads for the save, then neatly tucked the puck through the five-hole of the helpless Columbus netminder. Wilson also fought Josh Anderson in the first period. Anderson is Columbus' leading scorer and he was sitting in the box for five minutes for dropping the gloves with Wilson. That's a trade the Caps will take any day of the week.
When the Caps took a 2-1 lead, they again took their foot off the gas. The only reason they held on to the 2-1 lead for as long as they did was because of the heroics of Braden Holtby. Columbus outplayed Washington for two periods, but Holtby made sure the Caps did not get buried because of saves like this:
A beautiful pass from Oshie to Backstrom
With less than a minute left, Alex Ovechkin fired the puck on net. Sergei Bobrovsky made the save, but the rebound came to T.J. Oshie who was on the doorstep. Rather than try to chip a shot against Bobrovsky who was towering over the puck, Oshie had the presence of mind to swing the pass behind him cross-ice to Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom had an empty net to shoot at and buried the 200th goal of his career to put the Caps up 3-2 with just 42.9 seconds remaining. It would stand as the game-winner.
More Capitals: NHL Power Rankings: An early taste of playoff hockey