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Best comebacks of 2019-20 bracket: Stunning the Sharks vs. battle of champions

Best comebacks of 2019-20 bracket: Stunning the Sharks vs. battle of champions

With the NHL hitting pause on the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington is looking back at the highlights from the first 69 games of the regular season. The Comeback Caps dug many holes and climbed back out of a large number of them, but which comeback was the best? We created a bracket to find the answer of what was the best comeback of the season. 

ROUND 1: Caps rally for 5-4 win over Sharks (JJ Regan) vs. Vrana’s OT winner finishes opening night comeback vs Blues (Jason Murphy) 

The set-up

 

JJ: Logan Couture scored an empty-netter with exactly one minute remaining in regulation to put the Sharks up 4-2 and the game was over. The red-clad fans at Capital One Arena began migrating en masse for the exits because you can’t overcome a two-goal deficit in 60 seconds. There was probably a fair amount of grumbling from Caps fans as Todd Reirden pulled Braden Holtby yet again for the extra attacker. As if losing to one of the worst teams in hockey wasn’t bad enough, now the team was opening itself for the Sharks to tack on yet another empty-netter.

JM: It’s Opening Night of the NHL season. The 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals were forced to watch the 2019 Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues raise their banner. The Caps remember this night last year when they boat-raced the Boston Bruins by a final score of 7-0. Enterprise Center was electric and then the Blues scored just 53 seconds after the opening puck drop.

Uh-oh.

St. Louis would tack on another goal from Alex Pietrangelo seven minutes later on the power play and it looked like Washington was headed for a similar fate as Boston the year before.

The comeback

JJ: There were several key moments in the final minute and in overtime to set this up, but the catalyst of it all was Jakub Vrana’s goal just 13 seconds after Couture made it 4-2. By scoring so quickly, Washington suddenly had 47 seconds to work with to get one more goal. Suddenly the task ahead of them did not seem so daunting. 

Nicklas Backstrom pulled off a great pass to set up T.J. Oshie in the slot and he tied the game with just 15 seconds remaining. Once the game got to overtime it was not as if a demoralized Sharks team just collapsed. San Jose should have won it twice, but Braden Holtby turned in two dynamite saves to keep Washington alive long enough for Lars Eller to score off a 2-on-1 break with John Carlson. 

JM: Alex Ovechkin clawed one back before the first intermission, walking through the Blues defense on the rush and beating Jordan Binnington. From that point, the Caps outshot the Blues 25-15 but the Caps still needed Holtby to make multiple game-saving stops. A Dmitry Orlov slapper deflected off a Blues stick halfway through the second period to tie the game. Holtby had one more important save in the last minute of regulation.  

 

And then Vrana turned on the jets and netted the overtime winner, wheeling around the top of the zone before a wicked wrister beat Binnington and the comeback was complete. 

The importance

JJ: In terms of the season, those were two important points the Caps were in danger of forfeiting. It’s not the games against the good teams that are important during the regular season, it is the games against the bad teams because those are the games you need to win. Those are the points you can’t afford to give away. Washington has not been very good since Dec. 23, but have managed to stay afloat in the standings largely because they have still been able to collect points against bad teams. A loss in this game would have been the Caps’ third loss in four games. 

In a more historical sense, this was the first time in franchise history that Washington was able to overcome a multi-goal deficit in the final minute of regulation to win. Anytime you can make history, that’s a big night. 

JM: No history is made in the first game of the season so it is hard to say this was a hugely important win, but beating the defending champs is always a good thing. It doesn’t have the dramatics of the Sharks win but this game was hanging at the edge of a cliff and the Caps walked it back and Vrana showed us all a glimpse of what was to come for him personally and for the Caps in a season full of comebacks. 

Which comeback gets your vote?

JJ: Let me repeat myself just in case it didn't sink in the first time: This was the first time in franchise history the Caps were able to overcome a multi-goal deficit in the final minute of regulation to win. Of course the win over the Sharks should advance, it’s no contest. 

JM: As much as I’d love to argue this one, it’s clearly the Sharks game. Two 6-on-5 goals in the final minute is going to beat just about anything you throw at it. 

You decide!

CALL TO ACTION

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How the 24-team playoff both helps and hurts the Capitals

How the 24-team playoff both helps and hurts the Capitals

The return to play format for the NHL is not set in stone and there are still some details that need to be worked out, but it certainly appears as if there will be a 24-team playoff when the league resumes and the Capitals will get a bye through the first round as one of the top-four teams in the Eastern Conference. At face value, that's a good thing. Out of 24 teams, only eight are guaranteed to make it to the next round and the Caps are one of those eight. But no one is quite sure how teams will look when the season resumes and with that uncertainty comes the possibility that the first-round bye might not actually be a positive.

Let's be clear, a bye through the first round is not a bad thing. The NHL has more parity than any other sports league and no one is guaranteed to win a series regardless of who they play. Really, this is about how ready Washington is going to be for a playoff series after sitting out the first round.

When the NHL put its season on pause, just about everyone had an opinion on how things should look when play resumed. If there was one thing all of the players agreed on, except for Alex Ovechkin, it was that the league should not simply jump into the playoffs. Teams had to be able to play games before that whether it be regular-season games or exhibitions. After so much time away from the ice and away from the team, everyone is going to look rusty when they return to the ice. No one wants to go straight from an abbreviated training camp into a do-or-die playoff series. With the NHL pause stretching into May, however, and with no timetable for a return just, time is a factor the league must consider in terms of being able to finish the current season and still have a full 82-games season in 2020-21. As of the time of writing, it does not appear that teams will be able to play exhibition games upon returning...except for the top seeds.

Based on the format that is currently expected to be agreed upon by the NHL and NHLPA, the top four teams from each conference will play a round-robin to determine playoff seeding during the first round. While 16 teams will have to go from no hockey, to an abbreviated training camp right to what will likely be a best of five playoff series, the top seeds like the Caps will get three exhibition games before starting the playoffs.

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Granted, these would not technically be exhibition games because they would matter in terms of seeding, but even if the Caps were to be blown out in all three games, they would still advance to the second round. Not having to step into a best of five series with the season on the line immediately out of the pause is a huge advantage, or at least it is when looking just at the first round. But what will happen in the second?

When teams like Washington get their first chance to step onto the ice in the postseason it won't be against teams coming off exhibition games. Instead, the Caps will be playing a team that battled through three to five playoff games. While Washington will be trying to dial up the intensity to playoff levels, they will be playing against a team that has been playing at that intensity for a series already.

Who would you give the edge to between a team that just played a playoff series and one coming out of a three-game preseason?

What will make the 2020 postseason fascinating is the fact that we have absolutely no idea what to expect. This is completely unchartered territory.  Maybe the bye-in round will see teams suffer a number of injuries as they ramp up the intensity too quickly from training camp to postseason and the top seeds breeze past their weakened opponents. Maybe three round-robin games will be all it takes to get the Capitals back up to game speed and ready for their first playoff series. Or maybe teams coming off of a playoff series will find themselves in better game shape, more in sync and better prepared for a playoff series than a team coming off a bye that was preceded by a pause of several months. If we look back at this postseason and see that an overwhelming majority of the top eight seeds lose in their first matchups against teams that were already playing playoff hockey, would it really be that big of a shock?

If given the choice between having to step directly into a do-or-die best of five series or being in the Caps' position of getting a bye and playing three exhibition games before a playoff series, of course you should pick the bye. No team is guaranteed to win that first-round matchup, especially with all the uncertainty of the current season. But that does not mean that the bye won't end up proving detrimental in the second round as teams struggle to get up to playoff speed.

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T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie doesn't believe shootouts should dictate results in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

T.J. Oshie is no stranger to success in shootouts, especially in big games. Namely, his performance in the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Russia earned him that reputation.

If the shootout style was ever brought to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the NHL, there's a chance that Oshie's name would once again be called upon. However, the Capital isn't set on that scenario becoming a reality. 

As of now, playoff matchups head into as many overtimes as needed rather than a shootout. While that can be draining for players, Oshie believes it is a more genuine way to determine results in the postseason. Hockey is a sport that forces a team to come together as a whole, and he feels that shootouts take that away.

“Selfishly I’d love to see it. But I just look back and see some of the games that went to five overtimes and played past midnight," Oshie told NHL on NBC during a re-airing of his performance in the 2014 Olympics. “In the playoffs you need everyone on the ice, everyone doing their job. The shootout just feels a little bit more one-on-one.”

"So I don’t think it has a place in playoffs," he added.

As Oshie noted, he could see the fun and excitement in having shootouts in the playoffs due to his personal success experiences in those moments. Yet, his time in postseason runs, including Washington's 2018 championship has given him a larger perspective on the grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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The Capitals' Stanley Cup run was filled with grueling moments, but the success came from the team's effort altogether. Individual performances sparked big moments, but the Capitals were only as good as the sum of all their parts. To take that away in the biggest of moments is something that Oshie sees as wrong for the sport and the players who worked hard to get there.

“It’s just, after winning, I think you realize how much you need everybody playing well and so I think everyone deserves to play in those big moments," Oshie said.

So, while Oshie loves participating in late-game heroics, he'll take his chance at an overtime goal rather than a shootout. He does, however, understand that the continuation of the golden goal format could lead to more games with multiple extra periods. Though he is okay with those happening in place of a shootout, he also knows that he probably just talked himself into a lot more of those situations in the future.

“Watch I’ll go to like a five-overtime game and be dying an need an IV," Oshie joked. "And maybe change my tune.”

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