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5 reasons why the Caps beat the Oilers

5 reasons why the Caps beat the Oilers

Things did not start well on Saturday, but the Capitals escaped Edmonton with a 5-2 win. Here's why.

1. The Ovechkin – Kuznetsov – Smith-Pelly line

Were you confused when you saw Devante Smith-Pelly would be playing alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov? It’s okay to admit it. With injuries throughout the lineup and in the midst of a slump, Barry Trotz had to shake up his lines and Smith-Pelly found himself on the top line. He may well have saved the game with his first goal as a Cap. Down 2-0, Smith-Pelly got Washington on the board with just 17 seconds left in the first period. That goal was the first of five unanswered scored by the Caps. It wasn't just Smith-Pelly, however, as the whole line seemed to have instant chemistry. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored two incredible goals in the third period to put the Caps in control. Ovechkin, meanwhile, recorded three assists for the first time since Nov. 2, 2014.

RELATED: CAPS' TOP LINE DAZZLES IN EDMONTON

2. Eller had his best game of the season

Lars Eller came to play on Saturday. He was flying all over the ice and he was finally rewarded with his first goal of the season, a one-timer with so much power behind it that the shot actually sent Eller airborne.

That goal tied the game at two. Washington would not trail again.

3. Holtby’s third period

Braden Holtby always rebounds after a tough performance and he did again on Saturday. After getting pulled in Thursday’s game against Vancouver, Holtby returned to the crease in Edmonton and turned aside 38 of the 40 shots he faced. Early in the third period with the Caps protecting a one-goal lead, John Carlson was just a bit too casual retrieving a puck behind the goal line and it was stolen away by Connor McDavid and fed to Jussi Jokinen for the one-timer. Holtby stopped the initial shot and two more on the resulting scrum to keep the Caps ahead. Those were three critical saves to bail the team out after a sloppy turnover.

MORE CAPITALS: CAPITALS EXTRA PODCAST: HOW DEVANTE SMITH-PELLY SAVED THE GAME

4. Backstrom shutting down McDavid

McDavid had one assist on the night but he was largely a non-factor in the game thanks to the efforts of Nicklas Backstrom. In his return from an illness, Backstrom spent much of the night battling McDavid and the Oilers’ top line. If Backstrom was going to campaign for the Selke Trophy, this would game would feature prominently in the highlight reel.

5. A shutdown effort by the penalty kill

Washington had allowed six power play goals in its last three games. They faced four power plays on Saturday, but this time walked away unscathed. Both of Eller’s delay of game penalties came at critical times. Had Edmonton scored on either of them, it could have swung the momentum back in their favor and the Caps could easily have been handed the loss.

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The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The last three games have been pretty awesome if you're a Caps fan. For one minute, however, let's consider what it must feel like for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus has seen a 0-2 series lead evaporate, they have lost both of their home games and now they face elimination after three straight losses including two overtime games and in two of those games, the Blue Jackets outplayed the Caps.

Oh, and head coach John Tortorella kinda, sorta guaranteed the Blue Jackets would force a Game 7.

As the series shifts back to Ohio for Game 6 on Monday, do you think the Blue Jackets may be a tad motivated when they take the ice in front of their home fans?

"We’ve got a chance in front of our home crowd to push this thing to seven games and we’re excited about it," Columbus forward Matt Calvert said Sunday. "... Got home last night and I was here a little earlier, got a chance to watch the news and they’re interviewing fans and how they’re pumped up, already saying it’s going to Game 7, so I can’t wait. The atmosphere’s going to be great. I know they’re going to give an all-out effort and so are we.”

In the third period of Game 5, the enormity of their situation began to set in for Columbus. Down 3-2 and facing their third straight loss, the Blue Jackets made a tremendous push to try to win the game. They tied the score at 3 early in the period and ultimately outshot Washington 16-1. If not for the tremendous effort of Braden Holtby in net to force overtime, the roles of this series could easily be reversed with Washington facing elimination in Game 6.

Now imagine that effort, plus the home crowd plus the desperation of a team facing elimination. An early lead for the Jackets could start a snowball effect in which their momentum and the crowd carry them through the rest of the game. But the longer the Caps can survive, the more doubt will begin to creep into Columbus, the antsier the fans will become and the more confident Washington will play.

The Caps better be ready.

The good news for Washington is that its been here before. Just last season, the Caps went to Toronto in Game 6 with an opportunity to close out the Maple Leafs. Toronto outshot Washington 14-10 in the first period, but they could not get the early goal and the game was scoreless through the first 20 minutes. Auston Matthews scored in the third period to break a scoreless tie, but Marcus Johansson scored five minutes later and then again in overtime to close out the series.

After experiencing last year's series in Toronto, the Caps know what they are going to be up against in Columbus.

"It's the toughest game to win because the other team is desperate," head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday on a conference call with the media. "Their backs are against the wall. They're there. They're going to give their absolute max effort tomorrow, and we've got to make sure that we have a max effort. If we do that, then we have a chance to win in Columbus."

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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

There are only two series left in the first round that have yet to be decided. The Caps just so happen to be playing in one of those series.

After falling into a 0-2 hole to start, Washington has rattled off three straight wins and now sits just one away from putting away the Columbus Blue Jackets and advancing to the second round.

Should the Capitals advance, they will play the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive season.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

The Penguins ended their series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in Game 6. Jake Guentzel scored four goals in the effort proving once and for all that yes, goaltending is important in the playoffs. Head coach Mike Sullivan has still yet to lose a playoff series as the head coach of Pittsburgh as he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons.

In the Atlantic, the Tampa Bay Lightning await the winner of the Boston Bruins - Toronto Maple Leafs series after dispatching the New Jersey Devils in five games. After a strong regular season, the Maple Leafs looked poised to take the next step, but Auston Matthews has only two points in five games and Toronto faces elimination at the hands of the Bruins Monday in Game 5.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

All four series in the West, meanwhile, have already been decided. Both the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks managed four-game sweeps in the first round and will face one another in the second  The miraculous season of the Golden Knights continues and it would be hard to argue at this point that they are not legitimate Stanly Cup contenders considering all they have accomplished in both the regular season and the playoffs.

Wins by the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets now sets up a second-round battle between the top two teams in the league from the regular season.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>