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Capitals reflect on tough series victory over Isles

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Capitals reflect on tough series victory over Isles

For the first time in three years, the Capitals skated through a post-game handshake line with smiles on their faces.

Having just gone through one of the most physical playoff series in NHL history, one which totaled 630 hits between them and the New York Islanders, the Capitals are still alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs for a multitude of reasons.

Among them:

Evgeny Kuznetsov was a beast in Round 1: The 22-year-old Russian rookie scored three goals on 13 shots in the seven-game series victory over the Islanders, none more dramatic than his series-clincher with 7:18 remaining in regulation.

“It was unbelievable,” Kuznetsov said. “All my years of hockey I never feel this. I’m so excited I scored and we won the game.”

Joel Ward is an immovable object: The Caps’ 34-year-old veteran refused to be moved from the goal crease throughout the series, resulting in Nicklas Backstrom’s overtime goal through Ward’s legs in Game 4, and his go-ahead goal in Game 7.

Ward said he fed off the energy of the crowds in both Uniondale and Washington, where he was both reviled and reveled.

“When you’re on the road in Long Island and people are booing you and cursing you out, you want to be in that moment and you want to be that guy. I just love hockey, I love playoffs. I want to win the Cup. I just happened to get a few bounces and I got a couple of bounces to put it in. But I’m just excited to move on and keep ‘er going.”

The Caps’ penalty kill was perfect: The Islanders relied heavily on their power play during the regular season and the Caps’ penalty killers were a perfect 14-for-14 in the series.

That perfection included a wild and wooly two-minute kill of a roughing minor on defenseman John Carlson with 2:54 to play in regulation. Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who broke a skate blade when he blocked a shot by Kyle Okposo minutes earlier, was on the ice for 1:15 of that kill.

“I think the main thing for our success on the PK in this series was we didn’t allow them to enter [the offensive zone] very well,” said Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, who faced just 11 shots, the lowest Game 7 shot total in NHL history “Our coaching staff did a great job preparing us.”

Staying healthy: While the Islanders lost two key defensemen in the series because of injuries, the Caps’ only casualty came in Game 3 when Eric Fehr was injured on a check by Cal Clutterbuck.

The two teams combined for 100 hits in Game 7 alone.

“That’s one of the tougher first-round series I’ve ever played in,” said Orpik, who dished out a team-high 41 hits in the seven games, second only to Matt Martin’s NHL-leading 52 body checks. “For a team that had that many injuries, I can’t say enough good things about the way they competed.”

Because of the physicality of the series and the fact the Caps will not begin their second-round series against the New York Rangers until Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, Barry Trotz gave his players the day off on Tuesday.

They will return to Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington on Wednesday to prepare for Rick Nash, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and the rest of the Rangers, who went 3-1-0 against the Capitals during the regular season.

“It gets tougher every round,” Ward said. “They won the Presidents’ Trophy [with an NHL-best 113 points] and they had a good first series [five-game win over Pittsburgh]. It’s going to be tough, but when we play within our system and not get carried away we have better results. It’s going to be fun again going back to New York and Madison Square Garden.” 

[RELATED: Capitals advance with Game 7 win over Islanders ]

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference after Game 4

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

The win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.

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