The Capitals season will continue for at least one more game as they fought off elimination with a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders in Game 4 on Tuesday.
Observations from the win
Not how they drew it up
This game did not play out at all the way I expected it to. Quick summary, a team down 3-0 in a series had an awful start to the game and looked like they did not want to be there, went down 2-0 against a defensively stingy team, bungled a 5-on-3 power play...then rallied back for three straight goals to win?
Yeah, this one caught me by surprise. The Caps had an extra gear I did not think they would be able to find and they played their best game of the series.
Stars shine bright
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov were phenomenal in this game. Ovechkin scored from the office in a vintage Ovechkin goal then just unleashed an unreal wrister on an odd-man break for the game-winner. He has scored all three of Washington's 5-on-5 goals in this series. As the team's captain and best player, he is linked to the success of the team. If the Caps lose the series, he will have to wear that as he has his entire career, but make no mistake, he is doing everything he can to will this team to victory.
And then there's Kuznetsov. No one even reacted when he scored because the play was so smooth I think it took everyone by surprise. The loss of Nicklas Backstrom from the lineup really hurts him because more is expected from him defensively as the team's top center and that's not a strength of his game, but offensively at least he is incredible and he showed that again on Tuesday.
What does this mean?
The Caps are taking the series one game at a time, but that doesn't mean we have to. What does this win mean in terms of the series and their prospects for a comeback?
Here's a quote from Todd Reirden after the game that I think is telling:
"I thought our prior game was our best game we had played in the series and then there were some things that you could look at to how we could have success," Reirden said. "And then today we were able to do it shift after shift for longer periods of time. At times, it's difficult when you don't find the back of the net that that's something that's working, but our team believes in that style of play and for us it was a matter of continue to do it over and over and over and then get rewarded."
The Islanders are a frustrating team to play against and this win is a relief because it shows the Caps they can win if they play their game and play the right way. The problem is it doesn't sound from those quotes like the team's success is due to any adjustments the team made, but rather was just the result of the Capitals playing like the better team for the first time since probably the first period of Game 1. That's great in Game 1, but it's Game 4 and the Caps are down 3-1. I don't think it's good enough to say, see? If we stick to our gameplan we can win! You've lost three out of four with your original gameplan. You don't just win four straight just because you are the better team especially against a team like New York that plays its system so well and is able to frustrate and suffocate its opponents. It doesn't sound like the Caps saw anything to exploit or made any major adjustments to combat the Islanders' gameplan, they were just able to play the way they thought they would at the start of the series.
I think we will look back at Game 4 and wonder what could have been if the Caps were able to play like that from Game 1 on and not have to wait until they were already down 3-0. At this point, I am not convinced I saw enough on Tuesday to think Washington has a realistic chance of completing the comeback unless....
Is Backstrom the wild card?
Brian PInho played third line center and played a whopping 3:22. I do not believe this was injury related, but mea culpa if it was and I missed it.
There's no point to this, at all. If you distrust a player that much, put someone else in. If you enter a game expecting to have to double shift your top centers all game-long, then you've got the wrong guy in the lineup.
So why bring back Pinho if he wasn't going to use him? I wonder if he is just a placeholder at this point for when Backstrom returns and pushes Eller back down.
If Backstrom is not in the lineup for Game 5, there should be some serious questions about how Reirden is managing the minutes of his players.
You may have noticed some of the players sporting new looks for Game 4. Kuznetsov 's head appears to be completely shaved, Jakub Vrana's hair is a little longer than Kuznetsov's but not by much, while Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Ilya Kovalchuk and Radko Gudas all sported new goatees.
The players were asked about it after the game, but pretty much no one would bite.
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"What happen with the team stay with the team," Kuznetsov said.
In the second period, everything was going wrong for Washington until Kuznetsov stunned everyone with a sneaky goal to get the Caps on the board.
Kuznetsov took the puck in the defensive zone and casually skated it into the neutral zone. When he neared the offensive blue line, his smooth strides began to quicken deceptively and suddenly he had a lane to turn the corner behind the defense and cut to the net. He completely caught the defense off guard and neatly tucked the puck underneath the pad of goalie Semyon Varlamov to put Washington right back in the game.
It's an amazing goal and he looks like he wasn't even trying.
Play of the game
Stat of the game
Since the Caps are still down 3-1 in the series and face a massive climb to get out of that hole, I think it takes away from what they were able to accomplish on Tuesday. When they went down 2-0, this was not a game they were supposed to win and it's pretty incredible that they did.
Quote of the game
Evgeny Kuznetsov is one of a kind.
“I think we just stopped thinking about those Corsi, whatever that stats, and just tried to play fun hockey. We tried to hold onto the puck. That’s how we always play and I think, maybe I don’t understand hockey, but that’s how we’re supposed to play."
Not sure about Lee, but Ovechkin gave little Sergei two goals!
You should have stuck to the 3-2 Caps win.
Backstrom looked like he was behaving himself.