WASHINGTON – Just one night after the Tampa Bay Lightning yielded a 3-0 lead to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a stunning loss, the Capitals managed to avoid a similar fate, but just barely. Washington took a 3-0 lead in the first period and held on for the 4-2 win in Game 1 on Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Nicklas Backstrom scored the first two goals of the game while Alex Ovechkin netted what would prove to be the game-winner. After going up 3-0, it looked like the Caps would cruise to the easy win over their inexperienced opponents, but Carolina had other ideas.
Rookie Andrei Svechnikov scored twice in the final frame to pull the Hurricanes to within one, but that would be as close as they would come as Washington held on for the narrow win.
Here are five reasons the Caps won to take a 1-0 series lead.
Carolina had a plucky start to the game and fired the first six shots on goal. It did not take long, however, for the Hurricanes’ inexperience to show. Offensively, Carolina seemed to rush a lot of shots instead of letting plays develop. Jordan Matrinook got the puck in the high-slot early in the first period with the score still tied at 0. With no pressure on him, he could have taken aim and fired a dangerous shot or set up an open teammate on the wing. Instead, he immediately fired an awkward looking shot that was clearly rushed.
In the second period, Andrei Svechnikov chased a puck into the offensive zone. His eyes never left the puck, however, and he had no sense of Brooks Orpik closing in on him. Orpik knocked the rookie to the ice and skated away with the puck.
Those type of plays were evident in the first two periods and the Caps took advantage. When Carolina finally settled down in the third period, it was a completely different game.
2. Physical play
The physical prowess of Washington was a big talking point heading into the series. Early in Game 1 it was very clear that Carolina wanted to show the Caps that they were not intimidated and they began throwing their bodies around.
The Hurricanes, however, are not an overly physical team. That’s not who they are or how they play. Trying to force that into their game at the start of the playoffs just felt awkward.
When a team plays physically, it doesn’t mean they hit and fight a lot. The Caps use physical play to wear down opponents. They play a physical, grinding cycle in the offensive zone that helps wear down defenses. On defense, they challenge teams at the blue line and forced forwards to the outside. They don’t just hit.
Carolina was just hitting at the start of the game, but they were not physical when it mattered. Midway through the first period, Backstrom skated the puck into the offensive zone and was barely challenged at all. The Hurricanes made his entry into the zone far too easy and he made them pay with the first goal of the game.
3. Superstar talent
The stars came out to play in this one. Backstrom scored the first two goals of the game, his third career multi-goal game in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin scored what proved to be the game-winning goal later in the third period. John Carlson assisted on all three of Washington’s first period goals which matched an NHL playoff record for most in a period, per the NHL.
Backstrom also came up big late in the game with two huge shot blocks in the third period as Carolina pushed for the game-tying goal.
4. Cheating to Ovechkin on the power play
Washington’s power play did not look good heading into the playoffs, but they scored on both of their first opportunities on the night.
On the first power play, Carolina played Ovechkin very closely. That’s understandable given he is the best goal-scorer in the world, but you can’t leave Backstrom wide-open on the backdoor. Kuznetsov had the puck on the half-wall and Jaccob Slavin skated out to challenge him. Brett Pesce, however, did not come down to cover Backstrom, but instead stayed up high, cheating to where Ovechkin was. With a wide-open passing lane and no one on Backstrom, Kuznetsov hit Backstrom for the easy goal.
5. Not covering Ovechkin on the power play
On the next power play, the Hurricanes’ new penalty kill strategy was evidently to not cover Ovechkin at all. He had all sorts of room and fired three shot attempts towards goalie Petr Mrazek before his fourth finally found the back of the net. That gave Washington the 3-0 lead.
MORE CAPITALS NEWS:
- Back-To-Backstrom: Nicklas Backstrom scores twice in the opening frame
- Playoff Primer: All you need to know about Caps vs. Canes
- Quest For Back-to-Back: Playoff rookies who can help Caps make a deep run