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T.J. Oshie's skills, Carl Hagelin's smarts, and a huge video review

T.J. Oshie's skills, Carl Hagelin's smarts, and a huge video review

The Capitals and Boston Bruins battled in one of the best games of the season as Washington narrowly managed to edge out the Bruins for the 3-2 win on Wednesday.

Check out a recap of the game here.

Observations from the win

Hell of a game

This one lived up to the hype. A Tom Wilson-Zdeno Chara fight, a back and forth game, T.J. Oshie taking over, physical play, everything you could have wanted from a hockey game.

In hockey, we are rarely treated to the matchups we want to see in the playoffs, but I wouldn't mind this as an Eastern Conference Final.

Backstrom has to shoot on the power play

Since returning to the lineup from an eight-game absence due to injury, Nicklas Backstrom looks like he has not missed a beat. He set up John Carlson for the game-winner on Wednesday and looks as lethal as ever. If there is one aspect of his game he needs to improve on, however, he needs to shoot more on the power play.

Backstrom has a deceptively good shot which he does not use nearly enough. OK, so he likes to distribute the puck more. That's fine. But on the power play, Boston clearly did not respect Backstrom's shot. The penalty killers made it very clear they did not expect him to shoot at all.

When they are giving you the room and the lane, you have to take it. It's not just about scoring, it is about forcing the penalty kill to account for the possibility that you may shoot.

Backstrom plays the half-wall on the power play on the right side. You know who's on the left? Alex Ovechkin. So if the penalty kill has to cheat over to account for Backstrom's shot, they are giving Ovechkin more space. If teams do not have to account for Backstrom, they won't and their penalty kill will be tougher to beat because of it.

The penalty kill was great

I know people are not happy about Carl Hagelin having no goals, but the Caps did not sign him for offensive production. The signed him for all the other things he brings to the table, especially the penalty kill.

Boston entered Wednesday's game with the sixth-best power play in the NHL. They had five opportunities against Washington and, after a successful offside challenge, did not score a single power play goal. Hagelin played a game-high 6:13 of shorthanded ice time.

The problem with players like Brett Connolly and Andre Burakovsky is that they did not contribute much if they were not producing offensively. The Caps needed different types of players who could still have an impact on a game even when they were not scoring. Hagelin had zero points on Wednesday but was absolutely one of the reasons Washington won.

Turning point

Patrice Bergeron thought he had put the Bruins up 2-0 in the first period with a power play goal. Todd Reirden challenged the goal as offside, just the second time he has done so all season. A review of the goal showed that Jake DeBrusk had his back skate off the ice.

For some reason, this is the standard in which we want to hold players to on offside reviews. It doesn't make any sense at all why we would want to slow the game down and take goals off the board to analyze pixel by pixel if a player is offside even though if he was it had zero effect on the play, but I digress. The successful challenge took Bergeron's point off the board allowing T.J. Oshie the chance to take over the game in the second period.

As an aside, the offside video review is garbage and the league should get rid of it. But as long as it is still a thing, you better have a good video staff to make those calls. The Caps certainly do.

Play of the game

This will go down as one of the top plays of the season for the Caps. Oshie went outside, in on Connor Clifton, split the defense, got hooked and still roofed the puck with the backhand.

Stat of the game

Hagelin is such a boost to the penalty kill.

Quote of the game

Oshie wanted to make sure everyone got their due after a big win.

"You are probably just going to talk to a couple of guys here, but a lot of guys had really good nights. A lot of guys did their job, whether it was on the PK, you know Holts, guys blocking shots, guys getting the puck in, making smart plays, the video guys in the backroom calling the offsides there on the no goal. We had everyone in tonight.”

Fan predictions

Hagelin was good. Lars Eller was pretty quiet. Richard Panik...this was not a great game for Panik who played only 9:52 for the night and 54 seconds on the penalty kill.

Well, that was certainly bold.

The cow was spotted. I'm not sure if Marchand was looking.


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Halaked: The series that almost defined an era

Halaked: The series that almost defined an era

The Capitals return from the bye week on Monday against the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m., NBC Sports), a team that brings back memories that most Caps fans would love to forget. The first team in franchise history to win a Presidents’ Trophy as the top team in the NHL saw its season end abruptly in the first round of the playoffs in 2010 at the hands of the Canadiens. It was a series that perhaps fans never would have truly gotten over if not for the Stanley Cup win in 2018.

On Thanksgiving Day In 2007, Bruce Boudreau took over as head coach of the Caps and promptly sparked a turnaround that saw Washington win the Southeast Division and reach the postseason for the first time since 2003. That team lost in the first round of the playoffs in seven games to the Philadelphia Flyers. The following year, the Caps again won the division and won a playoff series for the first time since 1998. That year, they lost in the second round in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

Despite the loss, however, there was optimism the following year as the team continued to improve. In the 2009-10 season, it looked like there was no stopping them. Washington breezed through the regular season in one of the most dominant campaigns in league history, amassing 121 points. It was almost assumed that the team’s dominance would translate into the postseason, at least through the first round.

The first test for Washington was a Montreal Canadiens team who had just managed to squeeze into the final playoff spot by a single point. It wasn’t even really clear who would be the starting goalie for the Canadiens going into the series as the netminding duties had been split that season between Jaroslav Halak and Carey Price.

The Canadiens chose Halak and the rest, unfortunately, is history.

Washington stumbled out of the gate, dropping Game 1 in overtime. After Jose Theodore gave up two goals on the first two shots he faced in Game 2, Semyon Varlamov replaced him and seemed to right the ship. The Caps won that game as well as Games 3 and 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The series looked all but over.

But that’s when Halak put on his cape and dashed the hopes of Washington.

Over the next three games, Halak turned aside 131 out of 134 shots for a stunning .978 save percentage. Even typing that number still seems unbelievable all these years later.

It was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the league.

The next several years were full of playoff disappointments from a series sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a blowout Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers, a 3-1 blown series lead to the Rangers, and two straight second-round exits to Pittsburgh who, in each season, would go on to win the Cup.

But none of those seasons came to define Washington’s playoff futility quite like the loss to Montreal. Had the team never won the Cup, Halak would have stood as the asterisk to the whole of the Ovechkin era.

Thankfully, the Caps overcame their history in 2018 and all of those playoff disappointments made that Cup run all the more satisfying in the end. But that doesn’t mean Caps fans do not remember 2010 or get that much more enjoyment every time they see Washington beat the Canadiens.

It was the series that, until Ovechkin raised the Cup over his head on the ice in Vegas, had defined the era of playoff struggles.

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Caps at Canadiens: Washington returns to action without Ovechkin

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Caps at Canadiens: Washington returns to action without Ovechkin

With the bye week and the NHL all-star break now over, it is back to business for the Capitals (33-11-5) who return to take on the Montreal Canadiens (22-21-7) on the road in Montreal. Tune in to NBC Sports Washington for all of the action. Pregame coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Caps FaceOff followed by Caps Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. which will take you up to the 7 p.m. puck drop. Stick with NBC Sports Washington after the game for postgame coverage with Caps Postgame Live, D.C. Sports Live and Caps Overtime Live.

Here is what you need to know for Monday’s game.

In case you forgot

The Caps have not played since Jan. 18 so in case you need a refresher, Washington entered the bye week on a three-game winning streak. The final game before the break was an incredible come-from-behind win over the New York Islanders in which Washington erased a 4-1 deficit in the third period to win 6-4 in regulation. The team now returns from the bye still with the top record in the NHL with 71 points.

Washington currently boasts a one-point lead (with two games in hand) over the Boston Bruins for first in the conference and a four-point lead (with one game in hand) over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

No Ovechkin

For the first time this season, the Caps will be without Alex Ovechkin who is serving a one-game suspension for his decision not to attend the All-Star Game. That is about the only thing that can slow him down at this point as he scored eight goals in three games heading into the bye week.

Here is what the lines looked like without Ovechkin at the morning skate, per Samantha Pell:

Richard Panik - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Lars Eller - Travis Boyd
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnet Hathaway

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas

Holtby in net

Braden Holtby, fresh off his appearance in the All-Star Game, will start in the first game back from the break. Heading into the bye week, Ilya Samsonov started two out of three games and came on in relief for Holtby in the only game in which he did not start. Holtby, however, remains the No. 1 for now as Todd Reirden continues to handle his rookie netminder with kid gloves.

Down the final stretch of the season, it is likely we see more of a split between the two netminders than we saw through the first 49 games (Holtby started 33 of those 49 games), but it remains unlikely Samsonov begins shouldering a bulk of the load barring any injury or a complete collapse by Holtby.

When last we met

Monday's game will be the second of three meetings against Montreal this season. These two teams last met on Nov. 15, a game in which the Canadiens won 5-2 to snap Washington's 13-game point streak. 

In a 0-0 game, Ovechkin smoked forward Jonathan Drouin with a huge hit that seemed to wake up Montreal which scored about two minutes later and would go on to score the first four goals of the game.

Here's a recap of that loss.

The power play is...still bad

The bye week was nice in that it gave everyone a break from having to think about how bad the power play has been. Now, however, it is back to reality.

Since Dec. 1, Washington's power play ranks 30th in the NHL at 14.1-percent. That is something the team needs to turn around quickly.

The Price is right

Carey Price is one of the best goalies in the world, but he has not looked like it all too often this season with a .908 save percentage. Having said that, he has been lights out in 2020 with a .935 save percentage since Jan. 1.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.