WASHINGTON -- It may have been an exhibition game, but it didn't look like it to the three Caps players who suited up for Team USA on Tuesday. USA managed a 3-2 win over Team Finland thanks in large part to contributions from the hometown heroes in the team's final tune-up game before the World Cup of Hockey.
The Capitals led the NHL in home wins last season with 29 and T.J. Oshie, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen seemed to pick up right where they left off as soon as they hit the ice with Oshie scoring an early tally to put USA ahead.
"We take pride in playing here," Niskanen said. "We want to play well at home, that's something that we've worked on during the season with the Caps."
It took Oshie less than two minutes to get USA onto the board, scoring at the 1:08 mark of the first period. Ryan Kesler had the puck behind the net and fed Oshie with a perfect pass that he was able to tuck into the top opposite corner of the net to beat goalie Pekka Rinne.
"Nice to put one on the board before the tournament starts and nice to do it in front of the hometown fans," Oshie said.
USA's second goal was set up by a breakout pass from John Carlson. The Caps defenseman took the puck in his own zone and passed it out to Max Pacioretty on the Finnish blue line. Pacioretty found Blake Wheeler who fed Kesler for the goal in what turned into a nice one-two-three pass play. Carlson was not credited with an assist, but it was his original pass that set up the eventual goal.
Carlson would get on the score sheet later in the second as he turned a Finnish turnover into a Derek Stepan breakaway goal. Jusi Jokinen lost the puck on the boards and Carlson instantly took it and fed Stepan between the Finnish defense.
The only Caps player who did not get on the score sheet was Matt Niskanen, but his presence was still felt on the blue line. Niskanen was second on the team in ice time, coming in behind only Carlson.
If it looked like the three players felt more comfortable on their home ice, it's because they were.
"Coming in here, you know your routine and obviously your home rink probably works best with how your routine goes as far as what time you get here, what you do, how you set your warmup," Carlson said.
"When you're at your home rink you just feel comfortable," Oshie said. "It's almost like it's easier to feel where you are on the ice without having to look around, whereas other buildings, I don't know why, it's the same length and width and everything. It just seems like it's easier."
But with that comfort also comes a measure of pressure to perform well in front of your fans. Some teams and players can wilt under that pressure, but that was not the case for the Caps on Thursday. Instead, it fueled each of them to an impressive night.
Said Niskanen, "Hopefully we made them proud."
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