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Ovechkin kicks off wild Capitals celebration


Ovechkin kicks off wild Capitals celebration

NEW YORK -- Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin has been described in many ways throughout his 11-year NHL career. Graceful has never been one of them.

Seconds after blowing past Rick Nash with a burst of speed and using Ryan McDonagh as a screen to beat Henrik Lundqvist for the 499th goal of his NHL career, a game-winner 1:25 into overtime, Ovechkin slid across the ice on both knees before face planting into the ice in front of the Capitals’ bench.

“Blowing out a tire never looked so good,” Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt said.

Unless, of course, you are a Rangers fan.

Having seen their team rally back from 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead midway through the third period, the fans in Madison Square Garden saw Nicklas Backstrom rip their hearts out with a game-tying goal with 7.5 seconds remaining in regulation.

Ovechkin stomped on those hearts with his second goal of the game and heard a cascade of boos as he left the ice following the wild celebration.

“If you don’t like the celebrating, then you’re taking the kid out of the game. That’s what makes him special," said Caps coach Barry Trotz. "Watch him celebrate when Nick Backstrom scores. It’s the same. He still has that child-type energy and enthusiasm. When us older people lose it we sort of lose a piece of ourselves. That’s what makes him Ovi. He loves the big moments and he loves to score goals.”

Ovechkin has spread that love 499 times in his career and now on the brink of a milestone only 42 other players have ever reached.

Ovechkin got the scoring started Saturday afternoon when Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi inadvertently passed him the puck for an open-net goal with 15 seconds remaining in the first period.

Justin Williams made it 2-0 in the second and with the Caps holding a 21-0-1 record when leading after two periods, their 31st win of the season seemed like a lock. But failed clearing attempts by Stan Galiev and Andre Burakovsky  led to back-to-back goals by Oscar Lindberg and Kevin Hayes and when Viktor Stalberg made it three goals on seven third-period shots for the Rangers, it looked like the Caps were on their way to their first regulation loss this season when leading after two periods.

That’s when Nicklas Backstrom came to the rescue, jabbing a Justin Williams rebound under the outstretched pads of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to send the game into overtime with 7.5 seconds remaining in regulation.

“We were managing the game really well until we turned that one puck over and they end up scoring on that. It just gave life to them and life to the building,” Trotz said.

“I think it was good for us, though. We’ve had a pretty good string of holding leads and once in a while you’re going to lose one of those leads, How do you respond? We didn’t hang our heads. We got a big play by one of the clutch guys in the league with Backstrom in front scoring the goal and Justin Williams finding the area to get that puck to Backy.”

Backstrom’s goal, his 13th of the season, sent the game into overtime, setting the stage for two very big plays. The first came when Derek Stepan was stopped on the doorstep by the tandem of Holtby and Schmidt.

Stepan stepped around Holtby, but his shot smacked off the stick of Schmidt, setting the stage for Ovechkin’s bulrush.

“All I know is that Holts gave me a big hug and was like, ‘You stopped it!’” Schmidt said. “I was like, ‘I thought we both stopped it.”

Stepan saw it this way:

“(Holtby) was pretty much in my face so I only had one move. The D-man (Schmidt) made a good save and they go down and score.”

Ovechkin saw open ice and went from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye.

“You think it's over but (Schmidt) stops the puck,” Ovechkin said. “I saw (Rick) Nash go to one side and then I used my speed to get to the middle. I made a move and put it in.”

And now Ovechkin can score No. 500 at Verizon Center, where the Caps return to action Sunday night at 7 p.m.

Trotz said it would be only fitting that Ovechkin reaches No. 500 in front of his home fans – and that Backstrom picks up the primary assist.

“Hopefully, No. 19 is passing him the puck,” Trotz said. 

MORE CAPITALS: Ovechkin's 499th goal gives Caps thrilling OT win over Rangers

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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."