At least for one night, it worked, and Burakovsky’s strong play on a top line is an encouraging sign it could work again in Game 6 on Monday night. He’s the Capitals’ streakiest goal scorer, and his success with Backstrom and Oshie could allow the team to roll three scoring lines against Pittsburgh, something Washington was unable to do at the start of this series.
On one shift back beside third-line center Lars Eller, Burakovsky was able to finally capitalize on one of his chances, scoring Washington’s first goal of the game. In the third period, Burakovsky set up Backstrom’s game-tying goal en route to the 4-2 Capitals win. He’s just the fourth forward to score a goal for the team in this series.
“I’ve been creating a lot of chances so it was nice to finally get one,” Burakovsky said. “I’ve been working hard to help the team and to produce. I’m a player that should produce and I haven’t done that this series. So it was nice to get a goal today and an assist for Nicky. Now we’re just going to take it from here.”
With Washington scoring four goals on Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury for the first time all series, it seems likely that Trotz will stick with the line combinations he debuted on Saturday night. Ovechkin struggled through the first 40 minutes of the game with new linemates, recording just two shots on goal in two periods — and both came during a power play in the first period. But just 27 seconds after Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal, Ovechkin provided insurance with his second goal of the series.
“Be honest with you, for us I don’ t think it matter who going to play with [who] and who going to play against each other,” Ovechkin said. “Right now it’s not a good time to talk about, ‘well, I’m going to play less or I’m going to play more.’ We’re here to get result and we’re here to get successful as a team, not individual. That’s a big part of our success.”
While a third line of Burakovsky, Eller and winger Tom Wilson had been playing well in this series, the zone time and shot attempts the three were generating weren’t translating into goal production. Despite emphasizing secondary scoring in offseason moves, Washington didn’t have a single goal from the bottom six in this series before Game 5. Burakovsky’s goal in the first period and Ovechkin’s goal in the third now count as two.
But first, Trotz had to sell the adjustment to Ovechkin.
“I talked to him, just saying that we need to change it up,” Trotz said. “Top players make people better, and I said, you know, it’s no different than [Phil] Kessel being on [Pittsburgh’s] third line last year. That had a lot of impact for the Penguins right through the playoffs. Before this game, we had one assist from our bottom six guys, and that was Lars Eller, who was on a line change when Ovi scored a couple games back, so I was looking to just try to give us a little more depth scoring. And I said, ‘Alex, I’m asking you to go down and go with Lars.’
“It’s a big line. They needed some finish, and obviously, they got a goal today and Burakovsky got a goal today. Hopefully, that gets us rolling in the right frame of mind. When we met as a coaching staff, what we wanted to do was get more scoring through all of our lines. And that was the intent, and today we did. We’ll see what we do next game, but I felt that all of the lines were going pretty well for us today.”
Burakovsky didn’t need such a pitch. He maintained that as long as he was creating scoring chances, which he was, then he wasn’t concerned with his game. But a two-point game, a breakout performance of sorts for Burakovsky in these playoffs, could be the confidence boost he needs to continue that production, especially as Washington will likely again count on him to play heavy minutes with Backstrom and Oshie.
“We won the game and that’s the most important thing,” Burakovsky said. “I think our line played really well. We were working hard, we battled for each other. And I think Lars’s line with Tom and Ovi did a really good job, too. They got a goal there, a huge goal that helped us to get a little more confidence and relieve the pressure a little bit.”