With their backs against the wall, the Washington Capitals finally fought back in a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. They did it in large part by reviving a power play that had been kept largely in check for much of the series.
The Caps finished the regular season with the fifth best power play in the league with a success rate of 21.9 percent. It also played a major factor in their first round victory over the Philadelphia Flyers as Washington struck eight times in the first three games with the man advantage, helping the Caps take a 3-0 series lead.
But the power play was largely absent against the Penguins with only one goal heading into Game 5. Then early in the first period on Saturday, it re-emerged.
"We were able to do some things against them and getting the power play goals gives a little bit of confidence in that," Trotz said.
The Caps managed two power play tallies on that night and both proved critical as it allowed the team both to open the scoring and then retake the lead. The difference seemed to be anticipating what the Penguins' penalty killers were going to do rather than just running the power play as usual.
"I thought for the most part we kept the puck out of their pressure and when you do that eventually someone's going to get open," T.J. Oshie said.
The first goal was a vintage Alex Ovechkin one-timer.
Off the face off, Carlson fired a slapshot that was blocked by Ian Cole. Three Penguins collapsed to the middle after the loose puck, but Oshie was able to tip it Nicklas Backstrom along the wall.
"[The Penguins] do a good job collapsing, shrinking and getting on loose pucks," Carlson said and the Caps used that to their advantage.
The extra room gave Backstrom a chance to set up Ovechkin with a cross-ice pass for a blistering one-timer. Penguins goalie Matt Murray, who has looked phenomenal throughout the series, was made to look helpless by the shot, feebly reaching with the glove as the puck hit the roof of the net.
"That first goal," Trotz said, "Lucky there's boards and glass because that thing was moving."
With the score tied at one in the second period, the Caps again struck on the power play set up by another Ovechkin one-timer. This time Murray was ready and he slid over to make the intial save. He was unable to control the rebound, however, and it bounced right to T.J. Oshie who was able to whack it out of the air and into the net.
The two tallies seemed to flip the script on the series. A Caps team that had managed only one power play goal suddenly had two on the night. Ovechkin, who had been held largely in check with only three points in the series, had two points in the game.
And a Caps team that could not afford to have a bad start and allow doubt to creep into their minds found themselves with an early 1-0 lead, all because the team got its scoring touch back on the power play.
"It just gives you a spark," Oshie said. "It gives you a spark to start the game and whatever mentally that does for the other team, it's beneficial for us."
Perhaps most importantly, it gave truth to what Trotz has preached ever since the team returned from Pittsburgh down 3-1: That despite the score in the series, the Caps have played well, that the bounces will start to go their way and they will be able to turn the series around if they just continue sticking to the gameplan.
Said Trotz, "You keep telling guys to do the same thing, you're doing the right things and all you want is to get rewarded."
On Saturday, the Caps finally were.
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