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Let’s get physical: Expect Capitals-Lightning rematch to be a rough one

Let’s get physical: Expect Capitals-Lightning rematch to be a rough one

Last season the Capitals came up against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning were heavily favored, but the Caps walked away victorious in seven games. One reason was because of the physical play. Washington flat out pushed the Lightning around.

On Saturday, Washington and Tampa Bay met for the first time since the Conference Final and the Lightning clearly made an effort to show that this year, things would be different.

Tampa Bay officially outhit the Caps 33-23 as they threw their bodies around at everything dressed in white. Alex Killorn’s second goal of the night came on a play in which he physically pushed Nick Jensen off the puck on his way to the net. At one point, Ryan McDonagh even had T.J. Oshie in a headlock.

That’s not to say that Washington was pushed around. Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson were giving as much as they took. Wilson hit Mikhail Sergachev with a thunderous hit in the first period and he was ready to drop the gloves with Erik Cernak late in the third after the two exchanged jabs.

So what does this all mean? It means we are in for one heck of a rematch on Wednesday (7:30 p.m., NBCSN).

Game notes:

Familiar foes

Wednesday’s game marks the second of three games between Washington and Tampa Bay in the month of March. They had not played one another prior to Saturday’s meeting.


The Caps are back in action on Wednesday after playing the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. For the season, the Caps are 5-5-2 in the second game of a back-to-back. While that’s not terrible, a number of Washington’s worst losses have come on the backend of a back-to-back including a 6-0 loss to New Jersey on Oct. 11, a 7-2 loss to Nashville on Jan. 15 and a 3-0 loss to Columbus on Feb. 12.

The good news is that the Caps were able to stay relatively fresh on Tuesday against an injury-depleted Devils team. The time on ice for all the team’s forwards ranged from 12:03 to 18:26 as Todd Reirden did his best to roll all four lines. On defense, Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen carried most of the load each playing for over 21 minutes. John Carlson meanwhile was held to 20:55. None of the other three defensemen played over 20 minutes. Brooks Orpik and Braden Holtby each had the night off as well.

So while this may be a back-to-back, Washington did just enough to get the win on Tuesday while staying fresh for Wednesday’s game.

The Presidents’ Curse?

Tampa Bay has already clinched the Presidents’ Trophy for the season before any other team in the East has managed to clinch a playoff spot. The season the Lightning are having is incredible, but Washington fans know better than anyone that regular season success does not necessarily mean anything for the playoffs.

Of the 32 winners of the Presidents’ Trophy, 11 of those teams have reached the Stanley Cup Final and eight of those teams have won the Cup. Fans usually point to this as evidence of a “curse,” but to be able to pick out one team out of 16 and give that team a 35-percent chance of reaching the final is actually pretty good.

One funny note though, the Lightning clinched a playoff berth in just 68 games, tied for the second fastest in NHL history. The 2008-09 San Jose Sharks also needed just 68 games clinch while the 2009-10 Capitals were the fastest with just 67 games. Both of those teams lost in the first round of the playoffs. Just something to think about.


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Backstrom the catalyst behind Capitals' trip to the edge of advancement

Backstrom the catalyst behind Capitals' trip to the edge of advancement

WASHINGTON — It had been nine years since Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom last had a four-point game in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

That was a different time, an era when Backstrom and his teammates too often faltered under the weight of enormous expectations.  That’s all gone now. There is a Stanley Cup banner hanging in the rafters at Capital One Arena to prove it. Now they can all just play. 

With teammate T.J. Oshie hurt and likely out for the season, Backstrom continued to raise his own game in Game 5 of a first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. He had two goals and two assists in a 6-0 thrashing as Washington took a 3-2 series lead and pushed the Hurricanes to the brink of elimination. Alex Ovechkin added a goal and two assists.  

Backstrom’s last four-point playoff games was April 17, 2010. He had a hat trick that night and scored the game-winning goal in overtime. 

“That was probably Montreal, right?” Backstrom said before confessing. “Yeah, Ovi told me. He remembers everything.”

Those were darker days. The Capitals blew a 3-1 series lead against Montreal that year and maybe the best team of the Ovechkin era went out in the first round despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy. No wonder Backstrom needed help remembering. 

There is no such issue this season. The 31-year-old Swede is carrying the Capitals, who are one game away from advancing. It was his second two-goal game of the series. He has five total, which matches his career high for one playoff series set in 2010 against the Canadiens. He and Ovechkin, who has seven points in the series (three goals, four assists) set a tone and their teammates followed. 

"In all areas, too,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “Obviously they got on the point sheet, but their play away from the puck, on the forecheck, supporting each other, they're real tough to play against when they play like that and I thought they've been doing a great job all playoffs, too.”

Backstrom’s five goals matched what he had all last postseason when the Caps won the Cup. He missed games because of a broken finger, but still played in 20 and had five goals and 18 assists. He matched his total output of eight points in 2009 against Pittsburgh and 2018 against Columbus. His career best is again that Montreal series when he had nine points. Not that he cares about that now. None of the Caps do. If the production leads to wins and advancing to the second round, that’s all that matters.  

“It’s good for the confidence I think. But it’s going to be a different game in Carolina,” Backstrom said. “We’ve just got to regroup here and move forward. That was just a 3-2 lead. Toughest one is the last one. We haven’t been happy with the way we’ve played in Carolina so far. Let’s change that.”


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Braden Holtby’s new franchise record overshadowed by blowout win and he’s just fine with that

Braden Holtby’s new franchise record overshadowed by blowout win and he’s just fine with that

WASHINGTON – On a night in which the Capitals erupted for six goals against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead, goalie Braden Holtby’s contributions were largely overshadowed. Nicklas Backstrom scored his fourth and fifth goals of the playoffs in a four-point night while Alex Ovechkin added a goal and three points of his own. Even Nic Dowd got into the mix as he scored Washington’s first penalty shot goal in playoff history.

When a team wins a game 6-0, it is easy to discount the contribution of the goalie and assume the offense carried the team. That was not the case on Saturday as Holtby played a pivotal role in Washington taking back control of its first-round series.

And he set a franchise record doing it.

With 30 saves, Holtby recorded his seventh career playoff shutout passing Olie Kolzig’s previous franchise record of six. Holtby now stands alone with the most postseason shutouts in team history.

But you won’t see him celebrating too hard.

“It means I’m getting old,” Holtby said.

Holtby may be the only goalie in the world who does not seem to care about shutouts. He has been consistent on this point throughout his career, always saying that shutouts only matter because it means he helped put the team in a position to win.

When it comes to individual accolades, however, Holtby is just not interested.

When asked what holding Carolina scoreless on Saturday did for his confidence, Holtby was blunt.

"Nothing,” he said. “It's a win. We regroup, we know they're going to come harder next game and we'll focus on that."

As focused as Holtby seemed to be after the game, was just as focused in it on Saturday as he turned in his best performance of the series. Despite the final score, the game was close halfway through with Washington clinging to a one-goal lead. Holtby was brilliant between the pipes, however, especially in the second period as Washington faced three straight power plays. He turned aside 15 shots in the middle frame alone to help the Caps keep their lead and eventually run away with the win.

“Our goaltender was tremendous,” Todd Reirden said. “Those things, if you can have the special teams and your goaltender at that type of a level then you're going to give yourself a real good chance to have success.”

The offense stole the headlines after Saturday’s win, but that’s a result the Caps do not get without Holtby’s record-setting performance in net.