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Capitals clinch Metro and home ice in playoffs

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Capitals clinch Metro and home ice in playoffs

Post-game analysis of the Capitals’ Metropolitan Division-clinching 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night at the Canadian Tire Centre.

How it happened: In a rarity this season, the Capitals got all the offense they would need in the opening period when Mike Richards (2:32), Alex Ovechkin (12:22) and Nicklas Backstrom (14:37) scored goals to give the Caps a commanding 3-0 lead. Braden Holtby took care of the rest, stopping 28 of 30 shots to earn his 44th victory of the season. But it certainly got interesting. The Senators drew within 3-2 with 1:33 remaining on a goal by Mika Zibanejad, but T.J. Oshie scored his 23rd goal of the season into an empty net.  

What it means: The Caps clinched their first Metro Division title with the win and secured home ice through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The Caps have won a division title six times in Alex Ovechkin’s 11 seasons (five Southeast titles, one Metro title).

Holt-beasty: The Capitals are now 14-0-1 this season and have outscored opponents 53-26 in those games, holding opponents to two or fewer goals in 13 of those 15 games. Braden Holtby improved to a perfect 13-0-0 following his own losses, and has allowed just 23 goals in those games, never more than two in a game.  Holtby is now 44-9-4 and is four wins shy of matching Marty Brodeur’s single season record of 48 wins, set in 2006-07.

Line juggling: The Caps opened the game with Justin Williams on the top line, but by the end of the game Williams was back on a second line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky, and T.J. Oshie was up with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. 

Worth noting: Mike Richards’ first-period goal was his second of the season and first since Feb. 22. Alex Ovechkin’s first period power-play goal was his 43rd goal of the season and 518th of his career, tying him with Dale Hawerchuk for 35th all-time. Next up, Pat Verbeek (522).

If the season ended today: The top-seeded Caps would face the eighth-seeded Detroit Red Wings, but that could change because the Philadelphia Flyers moved into a tie with the Red Wings with a shootout loss in Columbus, blowing a two-goal lead in the final minutes of regulation.  The Flyers have 10 games remaining; the Red Wings nine.

Look ahead: The Caps are tentatively scheduled to practice at Kettler on Wednesday but those plans could change following their win. The Caps will be at Kettler on Thursday and will visit the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

MORE CAPITALS: Caps get off to fast start in first period against Senators

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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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