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Holtby blanks Flyers to win series, Capitals face Penguins next

Holtby blanks Flyers to win series, Capitals face Penguins next

It certainly wasn’t easy on themselves or their fans, but the Capitals are a quarter of the way toward winning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom scored 8:59 into the second period with a bad-angle bullet under the crossbar and goaltender Braden Holtby stopped all 26 shots he faced for his fourth career playoff shutout to give the Caps a 1-0 win over Michal Neuvirth and the Flyers Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

With the win the Caps finished off the Flyers in six games and earned the right to face perhaps the hottest team in hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins, for the first time in the playoffs since 2009. 

The schedule for Round 2 has not yet been announced, but with Justin Bieber slated to perform at Verizon Center on Friday, it’s likely Game 1 will be either Thursday or Saturday night in Chinatown.

The Caps went 2-2-1 in five games against the Penguins this season and were outscored 16-13 in the season series. Sidney Crosby netted a goal and three assists, while Alex Ovechkin was held without a point.

The Penguins have ousted the Capitals in seven of their eight playoff meetings, with the Caps’ only post-season win against them coming in 1994.

How it happened: Both teams squandered 5-on-3 power-play opportunities before Backstrom gave the Caps the lead just 4 seconds after a holding-the-stick penalty to Ryan White expired. John Carlson began the play with a long outlet pass to Ovechkin, who fought off a stick check by Radko Gudas at the blue line and fed the puck to Marcus Johansson. Johansson hit Backstrom with a pass at the bottom of the right circle and Backstrom one-timed a shot over an outstretched Neuvirth for his second goal and team-high seventh point of the series. The Flyers were held to just 15 shots through two periods but kept the pressure on Holtby in the third.

Save of the game: With six seconds remaining in regulation, Jay Beagle slid in front of a one-timer by Wayne Simmonds on what could have been a game-tying goal.

Stat worth remembering: The Caps improved to 4-0 in the playoffs and 41-0-1 overall when leading after two periods. 

Feeling Neuvy: Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth might have earned the No. 1 job to start next season with his herculean performance in Games 4, 5 and 6. He stopped 103 of 105 shots 

What’s next: A day off maybe? With at least three days off before the next series the Caps are likely to get the day off on Monday. 

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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.

A quick start

Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.

RELATED: SEE THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-SABRES HERE

Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.

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3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.

Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period to pull Buffalo to within one. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 983 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first came on a power play goal from the office, but there was no need for a one-timer on this one. The Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner.

He added a second goal late off a deflection from a John Carlson shot.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net.

It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole.

Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but his speed caught the Sabres off-guard and they were not able to recover in time to actually slow him down.