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When Jay Beagle had his eye-opening moment in Game 1

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When Jay Beagle had his eye-opening moment in Game 1

Jay Beagle entered this post-season with just three playoff goals in 37 games. 

So his eyes must have been the size of hubcaps when Marcus Johansson stripped Flyers left wing Jake Voracek of the puck and feathered a perfect pass onto his stick in the high slot.

“Their D kind of sank back and I was able to walk in down the middle,” said Beagle, who had a 6.5 percent shooting percentage in his playoff career. “I had a little bit of time. When you can walk down the middle like that it’s always the advantage of the shooter when you’re not rushed to throw it. I closed my eyes and it went in.”

Closed eyes or not, Beagle’s goal brought 18,506 fans at Verizon Center to their feet and sent the Caps on their way to a 2-0 win over the hard-hitting Flyers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Goaltender Braden Holtby took care of the rest, holding the Flyers scoreless on four power plays to earn his third career playoff shutout. Holtby entered the game with the highest playoff save percentage (.936) among all NHL goaltenders and he pushed that even higher by stopping all 19 shots he faced.

Holtby said the Capitals’ would savor their Game 1 victory until they return to work Friday morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

MORE CAPITALS: CAN THE PHYSICAL PLAY REALLY CONTINUE?

“I assume it’s not going to be quite like this the rest of the way,” he said, ereferring to the combined 56 hits. “I think both teams know they can’t take that many penalties in playoffs, but the physicality is still going to be there.

“We have a big goal in mind. You can’t get wrapped up in one game. You erase it right away and the less emotion you put into it, especially between the whistles, the better off you are.”

Benching Schmidt: Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt saw just three shifts in the second period and one in the third as the Caps shortened their bench. 

“He’s fine,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “He was smiling after the game. I shook his hand.” 

It will be interesting to see if the Capitals keep Schmidt in the lineup for Game 2 after using him for just 7:02 in the opener. His defense partner, Dmitry Orlov, saw 11:18 of ice time and just four shifts in the third period. 

That meant the majority of ice time for the Caps’ blue line fell on Matt Niskanen (25:43), John Carlson (23:50), Karl Alzner (22:19) and Brooks Orpik (21:56) .

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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
 
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
 
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”

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Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom passes 600 career assists with a three-point night vs. Canucks

Nicklas Backstrom can so often be overlooked thanks to his superstar teammates. But on a night in which Alex Ovechkin scored two goals and four points and John Carlson had a goal and three points, Backstrom was the man of the hour on Monday in Vancouver.

With his three assists on the night, Backstrom tallied assists No. 599, 600 and 601 of his career. He is just the 87th player in the history of the NHL to reach the 600-assist mark.

“It means that I’ve been playing in this league a long time I think now,” Backstrom told NBC Sports Washington’s Alan May after the game. “It's a nice milestone, of course, but we’re not going to stop here. We’re just going to keep going.”

Very fittingly, Backstrom’s 600th assist came on a power play goal to Ovechkin. Per NHL Stats, 235 of Backstrom’s 601 assists have been to Ovechkin. T.J. Oshie comes in at a very, very distant second as Backstrom has set up the veteran winger 49 times.

Ovechkin and Backstrom’s careers will be forever linked given the success they have had together in Washington. While that has caused many to overlook the soft-spoken Swede, it is foolish to continue to underrate him and his ability.

Backstrom is an absolute superstar who just so happens to play on the same team as one of the best players in the world and one of the biggest personalities in the sport.

But make no mistake, Backstrom is an elite talent in his own right.

Backstrom is now the first player from the 2006 draft class to reach 600 assists. The next closest is Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux with 471.

The level of success Backstrom has managed to find while in the league has been surprising even to him.

“I wasn’t really sure what I expected out of myself,” he said. “I was just trying to enjoy it. Luckily this organization believed in me and played me a lot after a couple games there and then it just took off. It’s been going fast, but I’ve had so much fun.”

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