Round one goes to the Capitals. After battling to a 1-1 tie through 40 minutes, Washington broke the game open in the third period with three goals to down the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 on Tuesday in the first leg of a home-and-home.
The Caps will travel to Carolina for the rematch on Thursday. Tuesday's win extends Washington's lead over the Metropolitan Division to three points after the New York Islanders fell 4-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday.
Here are four reasons the Caps won.
No. 49 for No. 8
Alex Ovechkin has been running away with the goal-scoring lead for much of the season. He had not scored in his last four games, however, and had only two goals in his last nine. When John Tavares scored four goals on Monday to pull within three of Ovechkin, you knew Ovechkin was going to respond.
Sure enough, he did, and it came at a critical time.
Locked in a 1-1 tie in the third period, Evgeny Kuznetsov entered the offensive zone on the right. Ovechkin was in on the rush on the left and cut to the middle as Tom Wilson streaked down the center, drawing the defense down low. With space to shoot, Ovechkin ripped a one-timer from the high-slot to beat goalie Petr Mrazek for what would prove to be the game-winner.
The goal was Ovechkin’s 49th on the season, tying his season total from last year. He now sits just one shy of hitting 50 goals for the eighth time in his career.
A brilliant pass by Kuznetsov
Mrazek had a heck of a game, but he was beaten late in the first period by T.J. Oshie, thanks to a phenomenal pass by Kuznetsov.
The Caps were working the boards in the offensive zone when Carl Hagelin swooped in to grab the loose puck. He passed it back to Kuznetsov, who cut deep into the zone with Brett Pesce tailing him closely. Kuznetsov began to turn as if he was taking the puck behind the net, but just after he passed the goal line, he delivered a backhanded pass just out of the reach of Pesce, through the crease in between Mrazek and Justin Faulk and to the backdoor, where T.J. Oshie was waiting. Oshie shot the one-timer just inside the post past the outstretched Mrazek to give Washington the 1-0 lead.
A sneaky pass by Orlov
John Carlson delivered the knockout punch to the Hurricanes in the third period when he deflected a pass into the net on a play made possible by a fantastic fake by Dmitry Orlov.
Kuznetsov carried the puck to the blue line and Carlson made the switch with him, going to the net. Kuznetsov passed the puck to Orlov, who wound up the stick for the shot…then passed it to the wide-open Carlson, who deflected the puck. The pass was a heads-up play by Orlov, who saw there were a lot of bodies between him and the net but had a wide-open passing lane to Carlson. The pass was a smart play and the fake made it a pretty one.
After a great start to the season, we have not really seen the dominant Kuznetsov from last year’s playoff run since the first month of the 2018-19 campaign. The bottom line is that the Caps do not go as far in the playoffs as they did without him playing at a superstar level. Now, finally, he is starting to look like that player again.
Kuznetsov recorded an assist on each of Washington’s first three goals. His brilliant pass in the first period set up Oshie’s first goal, and he found Ovechkin cutting to the middle on the second. On the third goal, Kuznetsov was stickhandling in the offensive zone and carried the puck out all the way to the blue line, drawing three Hurricanes with him, which opened up room for Carlson, who went to the net as Kuznetsov came out. Kuznetsov managed to get the puck through to Orlov who passed to the open Carlson using the clear passing lane Kuznetsov had created.
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