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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