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4 keys to a Game 5, Stanley Cup-clinching win for the Capitals

4 keys to a Game 5, Stanley Cup-clinching win for the Capitals

If the Capitals can claim the Stanley Cup with a Game 5 win. Here's how they can close out the Vegas Golden Knights.

The first period

A desperate Vegas team will be back home playing in front of its home crowd where the Golden Knights have been extremely formidable all season long. The crowd is going to be pumped and Vegas is going to come out swinging.

The Caps won’t face a tougher push this series than they will at the start of Game 5.

Let’s not forget how Game 4 started. Washington may have ultimately taken a big lead in the first, but the start of that period was all Vegas. If not for the goal post and James Neal’s inexplicable miss on an open net, the Golden Knights could have very easily jumped out to a one or two-goal lead.

It may sound crazy for a period the Caps ultimately took a 3-0 lead in, but they have to play better to start Game 5 than they did in Game 4.

Discipline

When Michal Kempny and Brett Connolly put Game 4 out of reach in the third period, things devolved quickly. Both teams combined for 42 penalty minutes in the third period alone.

Vegas is going to try to bait the Caps into taking penalties, especially Tom Wilson for obvious reasons and T.J. Oshie who has risen to the bait at times in this series. If frustration starts to mount, things could get nasty.

Time and time again we see in hockey that it’s not the first guy who gets the penalty, it’s the guy who reacts. The Caps need to be careful not to react. They need to know when to walk away and when to take a hit and let the refs sort it out from there.

Counterattacks

Vegas is at its best playing a fast game and committing to a five-man forecheck. Considering they are facing elimination and how Braden Holtby has been able to stifle their offense for three straight games, do not be surprised if the Golden Knights are a bit over aggressive.

While most people equate the neutral zone trap to boring hockey, it does generate odd-man breaks when the opposing team is too aggressive, especially when the defensemen get caught pinching too far up.

The opportunities for odd-man rushes are going to be there for the Caps. They need to take advantage.

Game 7 mentality

Game 5 is not a must-win for Washington. The Caps have built a two-game series lead and have some cushion to work with, but they should not approach Thursday’s game with that mentality.

When Washington faced elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, the team turned in one of its best performances of the postseason in a 3-0 win. After the game, the Tampa Bay Lightning players lamented the fact that the Caps played like a desperate team and the Lightning played like a team that had a game to give. Instead of closing it out in Game 6, Tampa Bay gave up its series lead and ended up losing in Game 7 at home.

This series against Vegas sure felt over in the second half of the third period as frustration boiled over for the Golden Knights. Given all the history of the Stanley Cup Final, a 3-1 lead seems insurmountable. A 3-2 lead, however, does not.

The Golden Knights have no reason to believe they can win this series at this point. That could change if they win Game 5. Washington should not allow them back into the series by approaching Thursday like a team with a two-game lead.

Don’t think about Game 6 or Game 7. Just win Game 5.

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The next great hashtag, give props to Stephenson and Carlson can't stop scoring

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The next great hashtag, give props to Stephenson and Carlson can't stop scoring

Game 1 of the World Series was completely overshadowed by the big matchup in Calgary between the Capitals and Flames...OK, so that’s not entirely true, but while the Nationals were battling in Game 1, the Caps extended their win streak to four games including two wins to start their five-game road trip.

Here is everything you need to know from Tuesday's 5-3 win.

Observations from the win

Another big-game for Carlson

The NHL points leader scored another two goals to give him 20 points in his first 11 games. He now has a career-high eight-game point streak.

Yawn. Seen it. It's all routine at this point.

All kidding aside, if you’re not on the Carlson hype train, get on board. This is quickly turning from a great start to a special one.

Reirden is showing a lot of trust in his fourth line

Brendan Leipsic, Chandler Stephenson and Nic Dowd only played about 6:45 together as a line on Tuesday, but the vast majority of that time came in the third period when the Caps when it really mattered and with the Caps protecting a lead.

Six minor penalties in the first two periods limited their ice-time to less than seven minutes. You may look at that as a sign of distrust, but if you dig deeper and see that the fourth line took six shifts in the third period alone, you start to realize it’s not how much they were used but when that really matters.

Big props to Stephenson

At no point in the offseason did I think Stephenson would be a regular in the Caps’ lineup this year. That’s not just me, the Caps essentially broadcast that they were not satisfied with his play when they signed him to a contract just under the maximum cap hit that can be buried in the AHL. At that point, I thought he should have started packing his bags for Hershey. Instead, he worked his butt off, had a great training camp and has stuck on the roster ever since.

Stephenson’s goal was not just pure luck. No, I don’t mean he meant to bank the puck off Rasmus Andersson. What I mean is he followed the puck on a dump-in, sped in to steal it from Cam Talbot behind the net and then banked it in. He didn’t give up on the play and created a goal out of nothing.

There are times I think Reirden shows Stephenson a little bit too much faith as I think Dowd should not be scratched as much as he is, but it is hard to argue with Stephenson continuing to play a fourth-line role considering how much he continues to work for it.

Give credit to Vrana

Tom Wilson scored the game-winner on a goal that was assisted by Lars Eller and Michal Kempny. But do not discount the role Jakub Vrana played on that goal.

Eller picks up the puck when Travis Hamonic failed to control it and Vrana immediately went hard to the net. Noah Hanifin went with him which left Wilson wide open for the goal.

Vrana may not get a point for it, but he was instrumental in setting up that play.

Turning point

Calgary battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game at 2 late in the second. That tie lasted...10 whole seconds.


Play of the night

Brendan Leipsic dumped in the puck and Talbot went behind the net to corral it. You see this multiple times per game, every game. Nothing ever comes from it. This time, however, Stephenson never gave up on the play and caught Talbot by surprise.

Stephenson stole it from Talbot and fired a centering pass off Andersson into the empty net.


Stat of the night

First, the obligatory Carlson stat:

Now another bonus stat just to make sure this does not get monopolized by Carlson.

Nicklas Backstrom picked up an assist on Ovechkin’s goal in the second period. That assist was the 649th of his career which moves him one past Daniel Sedin for the fifth-most assists all-time by a Swedish-born player.

Quote of the night

Ovechkin on Carlson’s incredible start to the season:

“#Johnny4Norris. That’s a hashtag right now. Let’s keep it going.”

Fan predictions

I don’t know whether to be more impressed by how many predictions you got right or the window.

Calling a Stephenson goal is pretty damn bold.

Nailed the score.

Caps in 5.

Anything to avoid going to Edmonton.

I’m kidding! I hear Edmonton is lovely this time of year….

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Carlson's two goals lead Capitals to sloppy 5-3 win over Calgary

Carlson's two goals lead Capitals to sloppy 5-3 win over Calgary

The Capitals are a perfect 2-0 to start their five-game road trip after a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. It was a sleepy game for the Caps who were largely outplayed through the first two periods. A few short bursts of brilliance, however, were enough to ensure Washington never trailed.

Here is how the Caps won.

A gift for Carlson

John Carlson entered the game as the NHL’s leader in points. He is arguably the hottest player in the league. He doesn’t need gifts, but he was gifted a goal by Calgary goalie Cam Talbot early in the second.

After a sleepy first period, the Caps’ came out swinging in the second and Alex Ovechkin nearly connected with Nicklas Backstrom on a pretty passing play on the backdoor. The puck curled around the boards and Carlson stepped up and just fired a hopeful shot on net that seemed to catch Talbot by surprise as it hit the short-side for the goal.

That is a horrific goal that Talbot just should not have given up. If you watch, he actually shifts a little backward after the initial play missed. Perhaps Talbot misjudged where he was in net, but that is an angle he should have been able to easily cut off based on the position of the puck. Instead, he backed up, left the near-side open and Carlson hit it.

The goal extended Carlson’s point streak to a career-high eight games. He would add an empty-net goal to give him 20 points on the season.

Bank shot!

Just over two minutes after Carlson put the Caps on the board, Chandler Stephenson extended the lead to 2-0 with a great play behind the net to pickpocket Talbot.

Talbot went behind the net to corral a dump-in from Brendan Leipsic, but Stephenson never gave up on the play and zipped in behind the net after Talbot. He stole the puck away from Talbot. He was boxed in by the Flames’ netminder and two more Flames skaters so he attempted to center the puck, but it bounced off of defenseman Rasmus Andersson and into the net.

A 10-second response

Overall, this was not a great game for the Caps. They looked sleepy and out of sync, missing numerous easy passes in the offensive zone that ended their offensive opportunities. Two early goals in the second spotted them a 2-0 lead, but Calgary took control and Austin Czarnik tied the game at 2 late in the period. That briefly woke up the Caps and Ovechkin put Washington back on top just 10 seconds after the game was tied.

Calgary won the faceoff after the goal, but Radko Gudas forced a turnover that Backstrom picked up. Two forwards had gone past him in anticipation of entering the offensive zone, a third player was on the ice after getting hit by Gudas, one defenseman stepped to the boards to give T.J. Oshie a shove, but could not recover to stop Backstrom and suddenly Backstrom was in behind four players for a 2-on-1 with Ovechkin. He made the simple backhand pass on the rush and Ovechkin fired the one-timer into the net.

Jakub Vrana’s drive to the net

Michal Kempny fired a stretch pass to launch a breakout. It looked like Travis Hamonic could have grabbed the puck, but he couldn’t control it and left it out for Lars Eller to continue the attack. As Eller took the puck, Jakub Vrana drove hard to the net bringing Noah Hanifin with him and that left Tom Wilson wide open. Eller passed to Wilson who netted the knockout punch.

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