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Caps' penalty kill was still bad on Thursday, but delivered when it mattered most

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USA TODAY Sports

Caps' penalty kill was still bad on Thursday, but delivered when it mattered most

If the Caps had lost to the Islander Thursday night, it would not have been hard to figure out why.

Both teams were given four power play opportunities on the night. Washington went 0-for-4. The Islanders scored twice.

New York tied the game at 1 with a John Tavares power play tally and tied the game again at 2 apiece in the second period thanks to Anders Lee.

“They got back in the game on special teams,” Barry Trotz said to reporters.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the penalty kill is a major concern for the Capitals and Trotz didn’t mince words after the game.

“At home our special teams numbers are not very good at all,” he said. “On both sides.”

He’s not wrong.

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In five home games this season, the Caps have scored only once in 19 power play opportunities for a paltry 5-percent success rate. The lone goal came in the home opener on Oct. 7. The penalty kill has struggled as well as the team has killed off only 15 of 22 power plays for a kill rate of 68-percent and it almost cost Washington the win on Thursday.

But while Trotz was quick to recognize how the team’s struggles on the penalty kill allowed New York to stay in the game, he was also slow to criticize the unit.

“We've got a lot of new people on the back end and also killing penalties so it's a work in progress,” he said. “It's part of the whole process. Coaching staff's working hard on it and the players take a lot of pride in it. We'll go through stretches where it's given up some goals, but it showed resilience. We give up two power play goals and when it really counted, they had two power plays and they didn't score. That's a lot on the resiliency of the guys.”

That certainly is a glass-half-full way of looking at it.

It may be a stretch to say that about the first penalty Washington killed off as it came in the second period with the Caps leading 2-1. It is absolutely fair, however, to point to their second kill as a critical moment in the game.

MORE CAPITALS: CAPS GET RARE FIRST GOAL

With the game tied at 3 in the third period, Taylor Chorney took an interference penalty. Washington had only killed one of three penalties to that point so it was easy to believe the Caps could potentially allow the tying goal and ultimately see another two points slip away, but they were able to get that last critical kill.

Less than one minute after Chorney came out of the box, Eller scored the game-winner.

Killing two out of four power plays is nothing to write home about and the team knows it has to be better on special teams at home, but it was that final penalty kill that ultimately proved to be a critical moment in the win.

Said Trotz, “I'm not going to beat up on the PK because the PK, when it mattered most, they got it done.”

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How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

How Nicklas Backstrom saved the Capitals 3 different times in Game 5

The Capitals found themselves in deep trouble on Saturday.

Game 5 at Capital One Arena provided Washington a golden opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. A loss -- another home loss -- would have been a devastating blow.

After battling back from a 2-0 series deficit, to lose in Washington would mean facing elimination in Columbus. Game 5 was the game the Caps needed and it would have slipped away from them if not for Nicklas Backstrom.

The Caps’ most underrated superstar -- the one who is constantly overshadowed by the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby -- took center stage on Saturday as he tipped a Dmitry Orlov shot past Sergei Bobrovsky at 11:53 of overtime to seal the victory for Washington.

“It was just a good shot from [Orlov],” Backstrom said after the game. “I thought before he had a chance to block it, and I got a tip on it, and it’s usually what happens in the playoffs. Tip goals or rebound goals. That’s the way it is. It was nice.”

Backstrom’s overtime goal capped off a three-point night for the veteran center, who also scored in the first period and assisted on a goal from T.J. Oshie.

The team ended up needing every one of his points.

From the start, Columbus outplayed Washington. With the series tied 2-2, a best-of-three mentality took over and the Blue Jackets pushed hard for the pivotal Game 5 win.

It is in those very moments that team needs its superstar players to step up. In Game 3, it was Holtby who stole the show to help Washington steal a win in Columbus.

On Saturday, it was Backstrom.

Columbus converted a shorthanded goal to seize a 1-0 lead in what was shaping up to be a dominant first period. A fluke goal from Backstrom, however, made sure the score was knotted up, 1-1, after the opening frame.

With the puck behind the goal line, Backstrom tried to slip a pass through the crease. Bobrovsky got a piece of the puck with his stick, but the amount of spin on the pass forced the puck to carom off the stick, off the back of Bobrovsky himself, and into the net.

“I was trying to make a pass,” Backstrom said. “Honestly, got lucky. I don’t know who came back-door there but I was trying for him. I’ll take it.”

After a back and forth game, the Blue Jackets came out swinging to start the third. Down 3-2, Columbus tied the game just 2:30 in and made a real push to win the game in regulation. Washington was outshot 16-1 in the third and looked like they had no push at all.

But the Caps looked like a different team when they took the ice for the extra frame. What happened in between periods?

“As I was leaving the room after the period, I could hear guys, the right guys, all saying the right things,” head coach Barry Trotz said.

When later asked if one of those guys was Backstrom, Trotz said, “Absolutely. He's one of the leaders on our team. They were all talking about let's make sure we're doing the right things. There's a lot of pride, lot of good leadership in that room.”

Whatever Backstrom and the other leaders said did the trick. Washington made a strong push in overtime leading to Backstrom’s game-winning goal.

This isn’t the first time Backstrom has delivered. Saturday’s overtime tally is the fourth of his career. That’s the most in franchise history and tied for fifth in NHL history.

Through his efforts on the ice, the Caps were able to erase a bad first period and steal the win in overtime. But it also took a big effort off the ice to get the job done.

“If you just look at the scoresheet, that doesn't say enough of about Nick Backstrom, his contribution from in the dressing room to on the ice to key moments to key faceoffs,” Trotz said.

“I've been on his soapbox about how complete a player he is and I never really worry about Nick Backstrom. He's got enough games under his belt, he's got enough stats to back it up and he's played huge minutes and he's one of our leaders. He's a tremendous hockey player.”

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John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

John Tortorella guarantees series will return to Washington for Game 7

After losing Game 1 and Game 2 at home, Alex Ovechkin declared "It’s going to be fun when we bounce back and going to tie the series and come back here and play Game 5 at home.”

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella seems to be taking a similar tactic.

The Capitals won Game 5 in overtime on Saturday in a game that could prove to be emotionally draining for the Blue Jackets in a number of ways.

  • It was Washington's third straight win
  • Columbus was the better team for the majority of the game, but still took the loss
  • The Blue Jackets now face elimination despite holding a 2-0 series lead to start and losing only once in regulation

Tortorella has become famous for his fiery postgame press conferences in the past, including abruptly walking out after Game 4's presser when he declared "We sucked" to the media.

Saturday's was another fun one.

In a presser that lasted less than two minutes, Tortorella twice said, "We'll be back here for Game 7."

After such a draining game, Tortorella was asked how he would get them ready for what is sure to be an emotionally charged Game 6.

"I won't have to say a damn word to them," Tortorella said. "No. We'll be back here for Game 7."

The Blue Jackets will have to win Game 6 in Columbus to make that happen.

Barry Trotz was asked for his reaction after Tortorella's comments.

"What else are you going to say? That's good. He wants to get it out there, he believes in his team just as I believe in my team. It's our job for that not to happen."

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