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Capitals survive third-period scare, ride early surge to Game 1 victory over Carolina

Capitals survive third-period scare, ride early surge to Game 1 victory over Carolina

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.

1. Inexperience

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.

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Capitals at Blue Jackets Game 35: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals at Blue Jackets Game 35: Time, TV Channel, Live stream, how to watch

The Washington Capitals are off to a good start on the road following Saturday night’s wing against the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2. 

It was two quick goals late in the third period by Lars Ellers and Garnet Hathaway that sealed the deal for Washington. 

The Caps look to win their second straight road game and fifth straight win in Columbus against the Blue Jackets. 

We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about the Monday night face-off that takes placed at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS at BLUE JACKETS GAME 1: HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals at Columbus Blue Jackets

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH

When: Monday, December 16th at 7:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Capitals at Blue Jackets game will be broadcast on NBC Sports. (NBC Sports channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals at Blue Jackets on NBC Sports live stream page.

Radio: Caps Radio 24/7

CAPITALS at BLUE JACKETS TV SCHEDULE:

5:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live

5:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live

7:00 PM: Capitals @ Blue Jackets (LIVE)

8:30 PM: Caps Postgame Live

11:00 PM: Caps Overtime Live

10:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

CAPITALS at BLUE JACKETS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: None 

Blue Jackets: D Ryan Murray, Upper body injury, day-to-day

RW Josh Anderson, Upper body injury, day-to-day

LW Sonny Milano, Upper-body injury, day-to-day

RW Emil Bemstrom, Ribs injury, indefinitely

D Zach Werenski, Shoulder injury, indefinitely

RW Kole Sherwood, Oblique injury, indefinitely

D Markus Nutivaara, Oblique injury, day-to-day

LW Brandon Dubinsky,  Wrist injury, indefinitely 

CAPITALS at BLUE JACKETS PLAYERS TO WATCH:

T.J. Oshie, RW, Caps (14,12,26)
T.J. Oshie ended up with a plus-2 rating, three blocked shots, a minor penalty and a hit in his 17:56 of ice time across 21 shifts following the Caps win over the Lightning. He was even good for a goal and an assist in Saturday's 5-2 road victory against the Tampa Bay. 

Ilya Samsonov, G, Capitals (8-2-1)
Ilya Samsonov allowed only two goals on Tampa Bay’s 28 shots in Saturday's 5-2 road victory against the Lightning. The rookie has improved to 8-2-1 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 10 starts and 11 appearances so far this season. 

Joonas Korpisalo, G, Blue Jackets (12-10-3)
In the Blue Jackets’ overtime loss to the Senators, Korpisalo stopped 17 shots. The last time that these two teams met  Korpisalo made 37 saves.

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Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Samsonov shines, the bottom-six was the difference and time to Panik?

Ilya Samsonov had his best NHL performance on Saturday in a big 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Capitals got contributions from players all over the lineup in a big win.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Everyone is pitching in

Look at Saturday's game and Wednesday's game. Whatever the Caps needed, they were able to get. Against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, they needed a key coach's challenge and the video coaches delivered. They needed someone to take over the game and T.J. Oshie delivered. They needed a big night from the penalty kill and Carl Hagelin and Co. delivered. They needed a response to Boston's tying goal and John Carlson delivered.

Now look at Saturday's game. Ilya Samsonov got the start and he delivered when the Caps had a slow start to the game. The fourth line settled everything down and Alex Ovechkin forced a turnover behind the net to give Washington the lead. The bottom-six scored twice to give Washington control, Oshie scored a quick response goal when Tampa Bay tried to battle back and the penalty kill delivered again.

The Caps are not being carried by Ovechkin, it's not a hot goalie or a dominant blue line, it is a complete team effort and it is extremely impressive to watch.

Samsonov had his best NHL game

We knew Samsonov and Braden Holtby were going to split the weekend's games for the dad's trip. I expected Holtby would get the tougher game in Tampa Bay, but instead Todd Reirden went with Samsonov. The rookie had three brilliant saves in the first five minutes of the game. Tampa Bay was the better team for the first two periods and Samsonov only gave up one goal in those 40 minutes. This was a big boy offense and some big boy hockey. Samsonov was up to the task.

Good penalty kill, too many penalties

The Lightning entered this game with the second-best power play in the NHL. Limiting penalties was a big key to the game for Washington and...they did not do that. The Caps gave up five power play opportunities to Tampa Bay, just daring the Lighting offense to take fire. Tampa Bay was only able to cash in only once.

On the one hand, it's great that the penalty kill is playing so well. On the other hand, the Caps must stop taking so many penalties.

Time to Panik?

I have stressed the importance of patience for Richard Panik who is not only adjusting to a new team, but who had an injury and missed 10 games on LTIR. Now, however, it seems like patience is starting to run out.

Panik played a team-low 8:10 on Saturday. Players who get that little ice time are usually either fourth line players or players who do not contribute to special teams. Panik is supposed to be a penalty killer, but despite five penalty kill opportunities, he registered only 14 seconds of shorthanded ice time.

Panik's offensive struggles have been well documented (he had an assist on Saturday), but if he is not contributing on the penalty kill either...well, that's an issue.

Turning point

Tampa Bay looked like the better team for the first 40 minutes. Thanks to Samsonov, the game was tied at 1 at the start of the third. These two teams boast some of the top offensive stars in the NHL, but it was Washington's bottom-six that gave them the edge as Lars Eller scored early in the third and Garnet Hathaway added a second goal just 45 seconds later.

Suddenly the Lightning were on their heels after looking in control for the majority of the game.

Play of the game

Just when the Caps took the one-goal lead, Hathaway came swooping in to make it 3-1.

Stat of the game

The Caps' PK had a success rate of only 78.9-percent last season. This is a dramatic improvement.

Quote of the game

John Hathaway, father or Garnet, stole the show between the first and second period:

"I think as parents, we try to teach them like two lessons as kids growing up. It's like, if you can dream it, you can do it and never, never, never give up. The dads are here tonight and I think they're not only so proud of their sons, but they're happy for their sons because they know that they had big dreams, they dared to dream big and they never gave up."

Fan predictions

Hey, two for two.

No Ovechkin goal, but you got the score right.

Eller with a big goal tonight assisted by Panik.

Backstrom had only two, but just a few games removed from returning from injury, he looks like he hasn't missed any time at all out there.

This bit will never get old to me.

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