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Zach Sanford's first NHL goal seals a win for the Capitals over the Ducks

Zach Sanford's first NHL goal seals a win for the Capitals over the Ducks

Final score: Washington Capitals 6, Anaheim Ducks 4

How it happened: Washington looked like they were going to cruise as they took a 3-0 lead in the third period. Anaheim battled back, however, with two goals in the second and third period to tie the game at 4, but then Zach Sanford stepped in with his first career NHL goal and first game-winning goal to boot.

What it means: The Caps enter the bye week undefeated at home in 2017 with 12 straight home wins. It is also the teams’ sixth straight win overall.

Goals

Capitals goal: T.J. Oshie (power play) from Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom at 6:45 in the first. Johansson had the puck to John Gibson’s left, but the defense left him a lane. He took it and drove on net until the defense finally bit, then he sent the puck over to Oshie waiting in the slot. Caps 1, Ducks 0

Capitals goal: Nicklas Backstrom from T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin at 14:35 in the first. Backstrom carried the puck behind the red line and flicked it out to Ovechkin. Gibson stopped the initial shot, but Backstrom was there to backhand in the rebound. Caps 2, Ducks 0

Capitals goal: Tom Wilson from Daniel Winnik and Jay Beagle at 17:48 in the first. Some pressure from Beagle behind the net forced a Ducks turnover. Winnik took the puck, but rather than shoot it, he fed Wilson on the backside for the goal. Caps 3, Ducks 0

Ducks goal: Jakob Silfverberg from Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Getzlaf at 7:16 in the first. Silfverberg skated the puck into the offensive zone and fired a shot to the far-side top corner that beat the blocker of Braden Holtby. Caps 3, Ducks 1

Caps goal: Daniel Winnik (shorthanded) at 10:31 in the second. Winnik pounced on the loose puck in the defensive zone. Anaheim looked like they had him well covered, but he forced the issue and found a seam as the Ducks got their signals crossed. With the open shot, he sent a wrister past Gibson. Caps 4, Ducks 1

Ducks goal: Hampus Lindholm from Ryan Getzlaf and Jakub Silfverberg at 17:36 in the second. Getzlaf looked like he would take the puck behind the net, but just before he did, he switched to the forehand for the sneaky pass to Lindholm in the slot that completely fooled the Caps' defense. Holtby appeared to be the only Cap who knew where the puck was as he stopped Lindholm's first shot, but Lindholm put the puck away on the second opportunity. Caps 4, Ducks 2

Ducks goal: Ryan Kesler from Cam Fowler at 9:38 in the third. Dmitry Orlov tried to wheel the puck around his own net, but he was chased down from behind by Kesler who forced a turnover. Fowler then found Kesler in the high slot for the goal. Caps 4, Ducks 3

Ducks goal: Ryan Getzlaf from Cam Fowler and Kevin Bieksa at 11:48 in the third. Fowler took the puck from behind his own net after the defensive zone draw and fired the long-range pass to launch a streaking Getzlaf on the breakaway. Caps 4, Ducks 4

Caps goal:  Zach Sanford from Matt Niskanen and Brett Connolly at 17:21 in the third. Sanford scored his first career NHL goal to break the tie. Caps 5, Ducks 4

Caps goal: Marcus Johansson (empty netter) at 19:47 in the third. Caps 6, Ducks 4

3 Stars

1. Ryan Getzlaf: Getzlaf's assist on Lindholm's goal was a thing of beauty. It completely froze Washington's defense as they could not locate where the puck was allowing Lindholm plenty of time to score. He also had the presence of mind to launch himself down the ice on what looked like an innocent faceoff win for the Ducks that launched him for the breakaway goal.

2. Daniel Winnik: Winnik was fired up after what looked like a slewfoot from Corey Perry early in the game. He tallied an assist in the first period with a heads-up play to pass to a wide open Wilson on the backdoor rather than trying to take the puck on net himself. Winnik was at his best, however' on the penalty kill where he not only frustrated the Ducks' power play, but he also pounced on a loose puck and turned it into a shorthanded goal in the second period.

3. Zach Sanford: His first NHL goal was an important one. The Ducks battled back from 3-0 and 4-1 to tie the game at 4, but Sanford stepped in wiht his first career NHL goal to give the Caps the win.

Look ahead: Saturday’s game was the Caps’ last before the bye week. They will not return to the ice until Friday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for a 10:30 a.m. practice. They then head to Detroit for an afternoon game against the Red Wings on Saturday.

Tell us what you think: The Caps remain red-hot with their 12th straight win at home and 11th straught home game with five or more goals. But they won't have a chance to keep the momentum going until Saturday after their bye week. Given how well the team is playing, do you think the bye week is coming at a bad time for Washington?

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How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

How former Capital Sergei Gonchar helped the Penguins win Game 1

Hockey is a game of organized chaos.

Sure, pucks can take some unexpected bounces, but a lot of what you see on the ice doesn’t happen by accident.

Trailing 2-0 early in the third period of Game 1, Patric Hornqvist got the Pittsburgh Penguins on the board with a deflection that scuttled past Braden Holtby.

You may dismiss the play at first glance as a lucky deflection off a wide shot, but it actually was much more coordinated than that.

The play starts with defenseman Justin Schultz holding the puck at the blue line. He buys time, sees Hornqvist and fires a wrister at the net. The shot is not going on net, but the net isn’t the target.

You can see the play here:

Schultz is specifically aiming to put the puck in a position for Hornqvist to deflect it on goal.

“Justin does a great job just changing his angle, having some patience and just delivering pucks down to the net that gives our forwards an opportunity to get a stick on it,” head coach Mike Sullivan said after the game.

According to the coach, it is a play the Penguins practice daily and one that is reminiscent of former Capital Sergei Gonchar who routinely made smart plays from the blue line to set up his teammates.

Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the league over a playing career that spanned from 1994 to 2015. He recorded 811 points in his NHL career, 416 of which came during his 10 seasons with Washington.

Now, however, he serves as an assistant coach for the Penguins helping the defensemen practice plays just like the one Schultz made to set up Hornqvist.

“Sergei is so good at helping those guys with the subtleties of the game and just those little skill sets along the offensive blue line,” Sullivan said. "I don't know that there was anybody better in his generation than Sergei was and he does a great job at relaying some of those subtitles to our guys and those guys, they work at it daily.”

Deflections are obviously very difficult for a goalie to handle. It is nearly impossible to react to the puck’s mid-air change of direction. A goalie has to be positioned perfectly to make the save. It also gives shooters at the blue line more targets. Rather than shooting just at the 42x78 inches of the net, players can shoot on net or in the shooting lane of any of their teammates anywhere on the ice. Essentially, the entire offensive zone becomes a potential target.

There’s a reason the Penguins have been as good as they are for as long as they have. They are not getting lucky bounces, they are creating their own deflections thanks in part to the expertise of the former Cap.

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3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

3 reasons why the Caps lost to the Penguins in Game 1

If you had to boil down the playoff history of the Washinton Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins into one game, Game 1 certainly seemed to fit the bill.

The Capitals had their chances, they got good performances from star players and all of it came to naught as they were once again foiled by the Penguins in a 3-2 loss.

Here's Washington let this game slip away.

3 Reasons Why the Capitals lost Game 1 to the Penguins:

1. Missed chances

The Caps were buzzing in the first period.

Already up 1-0, Dmitry Orlov and Alex Ovechkin had an opportunity to add a second goal early on a 2-on-1. Orlov faked the shot then passed to Ovechkin who had a wide open net to shoot at…but he missed. Ovechkin doesn’t miss too many of those shots. Despite how good the Caps looked in the first period, they got only six pucks through to goalie Matt Murray and took only a 1-0 lead into the dressing room. In the second period, Devante Smith-Pelly was denied an empty net rebound by Murray (more on that later). We all knew the push was coming. We’ve seen this all play out before.

Simply put, Washington did not convert on its opportunities when they had control of the game. A two-goal cushion was not enough to take the wind out of Pittsburgh's sails nor was it enough to survive the three-goal flurry that was to come.

2. A five-minute snowball in the third period

When the push finally came, it came fast.

In a stretch that lasted for less than five minutes, Pittsburgh scored three times to turn a 2-0 Caps lead into a 3-2 deficit. Patrick Hornqvist deflected in a shot from Justin Schultz at 2:59, Sidney Crosby netted a pass from Jake Guentzel at 5:20 and Guentzel got a deflection goal of his own at 7:48. That is a span of 4:49. Pittsburgh’s momentum snowballed into three quick goals which carried them to the win.

Braden Holtby was brilliant for 55:11, but those 4:49 were enough to doom the Caps.

3. Matt Murray

As good as Holtby was, Murray was better. Despite allowing a goal just 17 seconds in, he recovered very well in what was a 32-save performance. You can put some of this game on Washington’s inability to convert on its chances, but you also have to give credit to the Penguins’ netminder as well who came up with some big-time saves to keep his team in it. The biggest was in the second period when he extended the arm and blocked what looked like an easy goal for Smith-Pelly with the glove of his blocker.

As hard as it was to beat Murray when the Caps were ahead, he was unbeatable when his team finally gave him a lead to work with.

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