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3 keys to a Game 3 win for Washington

3 keys to a Game 3 win for Washington

The Stanley Cup Final shifts to Washington on Saturday for Game 3 with the series tied at 1. The series lead will be on the line when the Caps take the ice against the Vegas Golden Knights. Here are three keys to the game.

Use the crowd to your advantage, not your detriment

Considering how crazy an atmosphere Capital One Arena has been in Game 1 and Game 2 when the series was in Vegas, you can expect a raucous atmosphere for Game 3 when they will actually be playing in Washington. So far this postseason, the Caps have not been great on home ice with a record of only 4-5. In two of their three previous series, the Caps lost both of their back-to-back home games (Game 1 and Game 2 against Columbus, Game 3 and Game 4 against Tampa Bay).

If the problem were easily diagnosed, it would be easily corrected. Clearly there are several contributing factors, but one of those factors is how the team responds to the home crowd.

Washington has been at its best in these playoffs when they simplify their game, something they do on the road very well. At home, however, buoyed by the crowd, the Caps tend to get a bit more…adventurous.

Suddenly, they are not making the simple plays anymore. They get fancy, overpass and frequently turn the puck over with ill-advised plays like cross-ice stretch passes in the defensive zone.

Game 6 against the Lightning was Washington’s best home game of the postseason. Facing elimination, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stood on his head into the second period keeping the scored knotted at zero. The normal trepidation we see from the crowd in those moments was not there, however, because of the Caps’ physical game. They hit everything that moved, which kept the crowd engaged (despite no goals in a game they were dominating and one they had to win to avoid elimination) which gave the team something to continue to feed off of.

The Caps should be able to use what will be a crazy home atmosphere Saturday. Don’t worry about giving the crowd a show. The Caps will have a better shot of winning if they play boring and play simple. Adding that physical element will help pump up the crowd through the game which will make sure crowd support won’t dwindle as the game goes on.

Limit the penalties

Simply put, Washington took too many penalties in Game 2 as they gave up five power play opportunities. A two-man advantage in the third period nearly cost the Caps the game. Washington also has given up a power play goal to the Golden Knights in each of the first two games of the series.

When a player gets caught flat-footed against a fast team, this often leads to obstruction penalties such as hooking, holding, tripping, etc. That was the case in Game 2 as the Caps took three such penalties. T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson were also both booked for interference in what were two undisciplined penalties.

You can’t get away with giving up five power plays every game. The Caps need to be better positionally to avoid obstruction penalties and show better discipline to avoid the others. Your opponent will always try to agitate in a playoff series and the Caps cannot get caught up in that.

Slow it down

Vegas wants to play fast. Washington needs to slow things down. The Caps got caught up in a track meet in Game 1 as both teams traded opportunities in a very back and forth game. That fire wagon hockey may be really fun to watch, but that style of play favors Vegas which is a much faster team.

The Caps have been successful this season by finding ways to slow down their speedy opponents like the Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have done this playing the trap in the neutral zone, stacking up the blue line and countering when other team’s defensemen get too aggressive.

Now with the series in Washington and the fans behind them, the Caps cannot let the excitement or the home fans distract them to the point that they abandon their game plan.

Game 2 did not start well with the Caps again getting caught trading chances with Vegas. They took over the game when they finally established their own game plan.

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A frustrating Game 6 loss, but Caps can't dwell on the negative

A frustrating Game 6 loss, but Caps can't dwell on the negative

RALEIGH — By the end of the night the frustration was evident. Three times the Capitals have played at PNC Arena during this Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series and three times they have left the ice stick-smashingly angry. 

Capitals coach Todd Reirden screamed at the officials. Alex Ovechkin earned a game misconduct after a mock wave following a late penalty call. By then the Carolina Hurricanes had already assured there would be one final game in this closer-than-expected series with a 5-2 win. Now both teams face elimination with Game 7 looming Wednesday at Capital One Arena. 

Washington’s anger was understandable. Alex Ovechkin apparently poked home the game-tying goal with 9:26 remaining. But while the Capitals celebrated, referee Kyle Rehman blew his whistle. In his view, Ovechkin had shoved Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek’s pads to force the puck into the net. 

The NHL Situation Room in Toronto upheld that call on the ice after the Capitals tied it. Just 1:24 later, ex-Capitals forward Justin Williams stuck a dagger in the heart of his old team with a deflected goal to give the Hurricanes a 4-2 lead.

"I don't think anyone expected it to be easy,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. “They played well all series. We were up 2-0 and we were probably fortunate to be up 2-0 and we've been good on home ice and now we have a Game 7 and it is probably good that we have home ice."

There were other issues on Monday. Dmitry Orlov was whistled for embellishment in the second period that denied Washington a power play. Carolina tied the game 2-2 at 1:56 of the second period when referees – in the Capitals’ view – missed an obvious slash by Sebastian Aho on defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler behind the net. His attempted clear was flubbed and Aho found Teuvo Teravainen alone in front for an easy goal.

None of it matters now. The Capitals didn’t play well enough to win anyway, especially in a ragged second period that ominously looked like the 5-0 Hurricanes win in Game 3. Reirden himself admitted that Carolina earned the breaks it got. Goalie Braden Holtby was especially critical of his team for not building on a dominant 6-0 win at home in Game 5 on Saturday. 

“I don’t know. I thought we played pretty well to come out and we just faded,” Holtby said. “I’m not sure why. At this point it doesn’t matter. It’s over with and it’s down to one game.”

The challenge will be leaving all of that negativity in the PNC Arena locker room. One player walked away and said to no one in particular “No goal….what a call.” The sarcasm dripped. But it can’t follow the Capitals back home to Washington. This group of players has plenty of experience putting bad playoff losses behind them. 

If anything carries over into Game 7, however, they could be in trouble. Those days are thought to be long over after last spring’s Cup. And maybe they are. But the Capitals will have to forget about what happened in Raleigh. They have one last chance. It can't be clouded by what happened here.  

"It's over. Again, right now nothing you can do,” Ovechkin said. “After fight, you can't do anything. It was a good battle. Good for them, they win Game 6, and you know, Game 7 is going to be much interesting. We know how to play that. Pressure on both teams, but it's a good chance for us to beat them at home." 

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Right call, bad rule: Ovechkin's disallowed goal shows the ridiculous standard of goalie interference

Right call, bad rule: Ovechkin's disallowed goal shows the ridiculous standard of goalie interference

Alex Ovechkin thought he had tied Game 6 in the third period as he came streaking in trying to poke a loose puck into the net. As the puck crossed the goal line and Ovechkin celebrated with his teammates, the referee paused a moment, surrounded by Carolina Hurricanes players, then waved his arms. No goal.

The call proved to be one of the pivotal moments of Washington’s Game 6 loss and the Caps never recovered. Instead of tying the game at 3 and stealing momentum away from the Hurricanes, the Caps allowed two more goals to Carolina for the exclamation as the Hurricanes forced Game 7.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated past the net with the puck, put on the brakes and tried to curl the puck back into the net to catch Mrazek off-guard. Mrazek had the puck between his pads and turned, but Ovechkin saw a loose puck, came in and pushed it into the net. The referee waved it off almost immediately.

“We make a push, we scored a goal – I think it was clear,” Ovechkin said, “But again, it's on referee decisions and they made decisions.”

The play was a frustrating one not just because of its importance, but because the Caps were not exactly sure why the goal was disallowed in the first place.

“It’s kind of unclear for me as well right now,” Todd Reirden told the media after the game. 
“As playoffs go on there’s not a lot of communication between the refs and the coaches as there is during the regular season. They made their decision and it really wasn’t up for debate. They don’t have to come and give you a reason why and they did not come to the bench and tell me why.”

The problem is that Ovechkin caught the pad of Mrazek while going for the puck resulting in incidental contact. That was enough to disallow the goal. The Caps challenged, but the call was upheld.

The NHL released the following explanation of the call:

At 10:34 of third period in the Capitals/Hurricanes game, Washington requested a Coach’s Challenge to review the “Interference on the Goalkeeper” decision that resulted in a “no goal” call.

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Referee, the Situation Room confirmed that Alex Ovechkin interfered with Petr Mrazek by pushing his pad, which caused the puck to enter the net. According to Rule 69.3, “If an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.”

Therefore, the original call is upheld – no goal Washington Capitals.

By the letter of the law, this is the correct call. Mrazek was in the crease and you cannot argue Ovechkin did not make contact with Mrazek’s pad. While he was clearly going for the puck and not attempting to push Mrazek, it is irrelevant as the rule states even incidental contact will result in a no goal call.

Here’s the problem: This is a dumb rule. To say any contact with a goalie in the crease will result in a disallowed goal is a ridiculously strict standard that does not take into account battles over loose pucks that literally happen multiple times in every game.

“I saw the puck,” Ovechkin said. “He didn't get it in control. He didn't see that, so I don't know what the referee saw or what the explanation was.”

“From our angle from the bench it looked like the puck was loose,” Reirden said. “We talked with our video staff and they felt like it was worth a challenge in that situation. That’s not how the league or the referees saw it and that’s a decision they made. But for us, we thought the puck was loose. It was still a puck that was in play.”

But if even incidental contact can result in no goal, there is almost no way for a player to battle for a loose puck in the crease because he almost certainly will make contact with the goalie.

That puck was loose. It was in between Mrazek’s pads and it was loose. Ovechkin should be allowed to battle for the puck, but he can’t.

"If he has it covered, you can't push him in,” Brooks Orpik said, “But we didn't think he had it covered and if he doesn't have it covered usually you can get in there and it is fair game and it is kind of like a rebound.”

Rebounds are a part of hockey. Battles for loose pucks are a part of hockey. Pretending like this never happens in the crease is absurd.

If the rule stated that you cannot make intentional contact with a goalie within the crease, that is understandable. If the debate was over whether or not Ovechkin was going for the puck or intentionally pushing Mrazek’s pads, that is understandable. The fact that this goal was disallowed because Ovechkin is not able to battle for a puck that was clearly loose is an insane standard.

The Caps were upset after Game 6 over the disallowed goal and they should be. But it wasn’t a bad call that screwed them, it was a bad rule.

"What I can say?” Ovechkin said. “They make a call. It's on them, so it's over."

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