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Strong start fuels Caps to playoff clinching win


Strong start fuels Caps to playoff clinching win

WASHINGTON — The Capitals knew they were on the verge of reaching the playoffs, they just needed a complete game effort to clinch it.

Playing a full 60 minute game was something the team struggled with in recent days. With such a substantial lead in the standings, the Caps always seemed to start slow, needing a period or two to get themselves mentally into the action. That was not the case on Tuesday as the Caps clinched a playoff berth with a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

"It was a really good start," Jay Beagle said. "We got it deep and we went after them and didn't wait for them to kind of see how the game was going to play out. We went after them and tried to dictate the pace and the game in our barn and that's the way we've got to play."

"We showed what we can do to start the game and set up our game," Braden Holtby said.

The Caps had given up the first goal in 13 of their last 15 games, but came into Tuesday's contest determined to flip the script. They dominated the first period of play and, though they went to the locker room still scoreless, it seemed like a matter of time before they finally struck first.

"I was fine with the first period," head coach Barry Trotz said. "We hit a couple crossbars and I thought we were playing the right way. Sometimes you're not going to find the back of the net, but I'll take that start most nights."

RELATED: Caps clinch playoff berth, Ovechkin scores in OT to beat Hurricanes

Despite hitting the post three times in the first period, there was no panic in the Caps' play, only patience. They knew if they continued to dominate, they would eventually get one past Carolina goalie Eddie Lack.

They were right.

Just 1:30 into the second period Justin Williams tipped a pass from Jason Chimera into the top corner of the net for the game's first goal.

Not only was it a relief for the team to finally score first, it was also vindication for Trotz who shuffled the lines prior to the game in the hopes of sparking the team out of its current slump.

Said Trotz, "Really what it is is trying to get people back focused on the right areas of getting back to our strong work ethic, getting to play the right way, getting a little more traffic, working teams down low and getting some movement from our defense."

One of the changes he made was moving Williams to the third line to play alongside Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson.

"I thought Justin, he's played very well for us all year," Trotz said, "and I thought his experience in all that would be beneficial for Marcus and Chimmer who maybe were getting a little frustrated that things weren't happening on that California trip."

The assist snapped a nine-game pointless streak for Chimera.

Though Carolina responded with a goal of their own later in the period, Williams' tally would be all the Caps would need to clinch their spot in the postseason. As the game went into overtime tied at 1, Washington earned at least one point. An overtime winner from Alex Ovechkin was just icing on the cake.

The Caps are now the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff spot this season and it took only 69 games to get there.

"It's certainly unexpected with this many games left," Williams said, "but it's a tribute to how we've played and we're proud of where we sit, but not proud enough to rest on our laurels."

With a postseason berth now theirs, it's on to the next goal for the Caps.

"When we came into training camp, we said we wanted to win our division," Trotz said. "That was where we started. Let's just win our division and go from there."

MORE CAPITALS: The Schminute: Cornhole champ

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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."