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Insider analysis: Capitals suffer first loss of the season despite Grubauer's heroics

Insider analysis: Capitals suffer first loss of the season despite Grubauer's heroics

T.J. Oshie scored a pair of power play goals and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer was outstanding Monday night in Tampa.

But the Caps blew a 3-1 second period lead, and the Lightning handed Alex Ovechkin and Co. their first loss of the season, 4-3, thanks to an overtime goal by Brayden Point.

How it happened:

Nicklas Backstrom opened the scoring at 16:42 of the first period, snapping a slick cross-zone pass from Andre Burakovsky past Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (23 saves).

Oshie’s first tally came on a redirection of a John Carlson point shot less than two minutes later, and the Caps took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

Early in the second period, the Bolts got on the board thanks to Alex Killorn, who rifled a shot over Grubauer’s glove from the top of the circles.

A turnover by Dmitry Orlov in the neutral zone led to the opportunity.


Oshie’s second goal—a blast from the middle of the power play diamond—restored Washington’s two-goal lead. But the 3-1 cushion didn’t last, either. With 51 seconds remaining in the middle frame, Chris Kunitz redirected a shot from Anton Stralman to send the game into the third period 3-2.

In the third, the Lightning turned up the pressure. Grubauer held the Bolts back as long as he could but he couldn’t turn away Nikita Kucherov, who blasted past Taylor Chorney and roofed a backhander to knot the score 3-3. The goal was Kucherov’s third in three games.

A couple of Caps said they were their own worst enemy in the final 30 minutes of regulation.

“They are a good, skilled team and…you have to play as good as you can against these guys,” Backstrom told reporters at Amalie Arena. “You can’t let them have any space or they are going to score. We should have had this game.”

Oshie added: “It’s a mental part of the game that I feel like it’s just natural once you get up, you feel like you’re doing a good job by sitting back and trying not to give them anything. But when a team is as fast as the Lightning are, and as dynamic as a couple of their players are, it just gives them too much time and space. So, early in the season here, that’s a learning moment for us.”

In the extra session, Point's goal, a redirection of a Kucherov rocket on a 4-on-3 power play, clinched the Bolts' win. Tampa Bay was awarded the power due to a too many men violation on the Caps—their second of the game.

“I don’t know about the first too many men—I didn’t agree with that one,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “But the one in overtime, that was definitely a penalty. It was on us a little bit.”

Boom, Backstrom:

Backstrom’s first goal of the season was the 189th of his career, pushing him past Bob Carpenter for eighth all-time in franchise history.

Next up in No. 19’s sights: Dave Christian (193), Bengt-Ake Gustafsson (196) and Alexander Semin (197).

Great Grubi:

Grubauer, in his first start of the season, finished with 36 saves, including saves on 16 of the 17 shots he faced in the third period to force the game to overtime. Two of Grubi’s late stops came without his stick.

“It was a tough game,” Grubauer said. “They came out in the last period and we gave them a little bit too much. [Some] simple mistakes cost us. But overall we did a lot of good things tonight. The PK was pretty sharp.”

Special Teams Doing Special Things:

The Caps’ power play went 2 for 4, while the penalty kill went 4 for 4 in regulation.

Point's game-winner marked the first power play goal the unit has surrendered this season. Orlov, Matt Niskanen, Lars Eller and Devante Smith Pelly saw the most PK time on Monday. Grubauer, however, was the star, making 12 shorthanded saves.

“It all comes down to pretty good goaltending,” Trotz said. “We had some pretty good stops there during the penalty kill.”

Other Observations:

O’s All the Way Across: Ovechkin has been the NHL’s most prolific goal scorer to start the season, racking up seven in the Caps’ first two games. Against the Bolts, he did not record a point, though he played well and nearly set up a couple of goals with nifty passes. No. 8 did, however, finish with four shots on goal.

All Together: With Grubauer getting his first start, Trotz has worked 21 of the 23 players on the roster into a game. The only players yet to suit up are rookie defenseman Christian Djoos and right wing Tom Wilson, who served the third game of a four-game suspension. Wilson is eligible to return Friday in New Jersey.

Two-for-Three: Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists) and TJ Oshie (2 goals, 1 assists) each posted three-point nights.

What’s Ahead:

The Caps have a scheduled day off on Tuesday.

They host the Penguins on Wednesday, then face their first back-to-back of the season—at New Jersey on Friday and at Philly on Saturday.

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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."