Mystics-Liberty preview, Game 2: Seal the deal


Mystics-Liberty preview, Game 2: Seal the deal

The Washington Mystics reached the playoffs in each of coach Mike Thibault's first two seasons, but failed to advance out of the opening round. That all changes with a win Sunday.

Leading 1-0 in their best-of-3 Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Mystics host the New York Liberty 1:00 p.m. at Verizon Center in Game 2. Washington won an 86-83 double-overtime thriller over New York Friday night.

Ivory Latta scored 15 points, including a clutch game-tying 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining in regulation before a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden. The point guard also penetrated and fed Emma Meesseman for a layup with 1.6  seconds left in the first overtime to force a second. Meesseman finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. 

Neither team led by more than four points during the second half or overtime sessions until the Mystics took control with a 7-0 run. Latta's two free throws with 9.3 seconds remaining put the fourth-seed up 85-80. Washington sank 19 of 24 overall while New York went 16 of 26.

RELATED: Latta, Meesseman help Mystics outlast Liberty 86-83 in 2OT

New York finished with the best record in the East this season, but Washington entered armed with confidence having won three of four head-to-head meetings.

''Absolutely not,'' Latta told reporters following the win when asked if any intimidation existed. ''Everyone had a positive mindset, we just made sure we took care of what we needed to do. Play hard and together as a team.''

Three things to know heading into Sunday's Game 2 at Verizon Center:

1. Thibault told Saturday that All-Star center Stefanie Dolson is expected to play Sunday. She exited with 3:20 remaining after injuring her ankle. Guard Kara Lawson did not suffer any setbacks from a back injury that kept her out of the final eight regular season games before scoring eight points in 19 minutes off the bench.

2. Speaking with ahead of Game 1, Lawson said Washington's starting five might not stand out compared to others in the league, but that the overal roster was as strong as any. Depth certainly played a factor in the opening win. The Mystics' reserves outscored their counterparts 33-6. All five players off the bench scored, including Tayler Hill with points and eight from Lawson. New York relied heavily on its starting lineup

3. New York finished the regular season with a WNBA-best 11-6 road record. In other words, this series is hardly over. Guard Epiphanny Prince led all scorers in Game 1 with 26 points on 11 of 16 shooting while All-Star center Tina Charles had 22 for the Liberty on 10 of 27 shooting. Those two nearly carried New York to a win without much scoring help elsewhere.

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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."