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Capitals advance with Game 7 win over Islanders

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Capitals advance with Game 7 win over Islanders

Instant analysis of the Capitals’ 2-1 win over the New York Islanders in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series Monday night at Verizon Center:

How it happened: After the Caps surrendered a one-goal lead, rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov became their Game 7 hero when he weaved through three Islanders and roofed a shot over goaltender Jaroslav Halak with 7:18 remaining in regulation to provide the difference in the game. Joel Ward also scored for the Capitals, while Frans Nielsen scored the lone goal for the Islanders.

What it means: It was the Capitals’ first Game 7 victory on home ice since they beat the Penguins in 2009. The Capitals will face the President Trophy-winning New York Rangers in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The best-of-seven is expected to begin on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Block of the night: With a little more than 5 minutes remaining in the third period Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik blocked a slap shot by Kyle Okposo with his right leg and had to be helped off the ice by defense partner John Carlson. Orpik returned to the ice two shifts later and helped kill off a penalty to Carlson about 2 minutes later.  

MORE CAPITALS: PAUL PIERCE TROLLING ISLANDERS FROM FRONT ROW OF GAME 7

How they scored: The Capitals dominated the Islanders through two periods, outshooting them 21-7, but they didn’t break through on the scoreboard until 1:25 remained in the second period.

That’s when Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak appeared to lose sight of a long point shot by Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik and could not control the rebound. Ward, who was parked in the crease, pitch-forked the puck under the prone Halak for his first goal of the 2015 playoffs. 

Ward, who now has 12 goals and 30 points in 46 playoff games, reacted with two leaps into air before being congratulated by his teammates.

Outshot and outplayed through two periods, the Islanders tied the score with 3:13 gone in the third period when center Frans Nielsen took a pass from Thomas Hickey, fought through a stick check by Washington right winger Jason Chimera, and snapped a shot that somehow found its way through the legs of Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.

Kuznetsov finished off the Islanders with his goal with 7:18 remaining. He snaked his way through a pair of Islanders and, once Halak committed, he ripped a shot into he top right corner of the net for his team-high third goal of the playoffs.

Caps vs. Rangers: The Caps and Rangers will face each other in the playoffs for the third time on four years. The Caps lost each of their last two series against them in seven games. The Rangers beat the Caps in three of their four regular season meetings, including a 4-2 win at Verizon Center on April 11 in the regular season finale for both teams. The Rangers disposed of Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in five games.

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Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

Niskanen takes the blame for all three Lightning goals

There was no tougher critic on Matt Niskanen’s Game 5 performance on Saturday than Niskanen himself.

Niskanen and his defensive partner, Dmitry Orlov, were on the ice for all three of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s three goals in the Capitals’ 3-2 loss. That was striking given the Orlov-Niskanen duo is typically Washington’s best defensive pair.

That was not the case on Saturday and Niskanen took full responsibility afterward.

“First three goals are all my fault,” Niskanen said. “I had a tough first 20:30 so I've got to be better next game.”

Pretty much no one played the first goal right.

The goal came just 19 seconds into the game. Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov looked like he could have gotten the puck, but instead played the body of Cedric Paquette. Niskanen stepped up at the blue line, but the Lightning got the puck past him creating a short rush that beat Braden Holtby who was way too far back in the crease.

Yes, Niskanen got caught a bit high, but he was just as at fault as Orlov, Kuznetsov and Holtby.

The second goal happened because Steven Stamkos tripped Orlov to create a turnover and it wasn’t called.

Niskanen got in between Ondrej Palat and the puck, but Palat beat both him and Holtby on the shot. Not sure I would put this one on Niskanen.

The third goal…well, that one was a bad play by Niskanen.

When you go one-on-one with a player, a defenseman cannot allow that player to turn the corner. That’s especially true when that player is defenseman Anton Stralman who is not exactly gifted with blazing speed. This was just a complete misplay.

Regardless of how many goals were strictly on Niskanen, that’s not the point. This was a message not so much to the media but to the team. That message was this: This one’s on me, I will be better next game.

Leaders always take responsibility. Niskanen is taking the blame here and saying he will be better in the hopes the team around him will be better as well.

They will need to be to win Game 6.

“A lot of people counted us out when we were down 0-2 in the first round,” Niskanen said. “Things got hard in the last series where we could have melted and we just kept playing. So that's what we've got to do again, bring our best effort for Game 6 at home, win a game and then we'll go from there.

“But we're focused on bringing our best game of the season for Game 6 and we'll be ready to go.”

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3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

3 reasons the Caps lost Game 5 to the Lightning

When the Capitals take to the ice at home on Monday, they will be playing for their playoff lives. They lost their third straight game on Saturday as the Tampa Bay Lightning took Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead and push the Caps to the brink.

Here is why the Caps fell on the road for the first time in this series.

A rough start

Nineteen seconds was all the time Tampa Bay would need to score in Game 5.

Dmitry Orlov turned the puck over in the neutral zone and Evgeny Kuznetsov chased after it, but instead of getting the puck he inexplicably played the body of Cedric Paquette. Paquette was able to chip it into the offensive zone to Ryan Callahan. Callahan tried to pass to the slot, but it hit off of Orlov right to Paquette who buried it past Braden Holtby who was very deep in the crease.

If Orlov doesn’t cough the puck up in the neutral zone, if Kuznetsov plays the puck instead of the body or if Holtby challenges that shot, that goal doesn’t happen. An ugly play all around for Washington.

A no-call on Steven Stamkos

Later in the first period, Orlov went to corral a puck in the neutral zone, but was pressured by Stamkos, fell to the ice and turned the puck over to Nikita Kucherov. It was very clearly a trip on Stamkos, but there was no call. Palat would score on the play to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead.

You can read more about the play here.

A rough night for Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen

Orlov and Niskanen is normally the Caps' best defensive pair, but they had a very long night. They were on the ice for each of the Lightning’s three goals of the game.

Orlov’s turnover led to the first goal, Stamkos’ trip of Orlov led to the second. On the third, Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman was somehow able to drive and turn the corner on Niskanen leading to a scoring opportunity that eventually deflected off the glove of Ryan Callahan and into the net. Stralman is not the speediest of players. The fact he was able to go one-on-one with Niskanen and get in behind him was surprising to see.

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