• Top takeaways: For once-loose Capitals, pressure is on. (Read More)
• Alex Ovechkin wasn’t happy with his play in Game 1. (Read More)
• Washington knows it needs to be better, but the team wasn’t overreacting over its first playoff loss yet. (Read More)
By Isabelle Khurshudyan
Fans stood, waited and stared at the scoreboard to learn their team’s fate. The Washington Capitals stayed seated on the bench as officials huddled around an iPad with headsets on. Like most everyone else, the players squinted up to see the replays, a sinking feeling settling in with each closer look at Matt Calvert’s skate and if it was onside.
“You couldn’t quite tell if his skate was up or not — we were sort of hoping and praying it was,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “But I didn’t feel good about it, that we were going to get a call there.”
Calls had defined the game to that point, some forcing the Capitals to lose their grip on it before others got them back into it. The referee skated out to center ice and delivered Washington’s unfortunate news. The overtime game-winning goal from Calvert was onside, and that meant the Capitals had lost, 5-4, in Game 2 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Capital One Arena on Sunday night.
Now Washington is in an 0-2 series hole, having lost both games at home with the next two at Columbus’s Nationwide Arena. For a second straight game, the Capitals squandered a two-goal lead. For the second straight game, Washington fell in overtime. For a fourth straight season, the team is now on the precipice of another postseason disappointment that ends short of the conference final.
“It’s hard,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “Obviously, we have opportunities to finish it up, but we didn’t two games in a row.”
The Capitals have played eight first-round playoff games the past two seasons, and seven of those have gone to overtime, hockey’s ulcer-inducing version of a coin flip. For the second time in two games this series, Washington ended up on the wrong side of it. A veteran team will once again have to ask itself what could have been had it played more responsibly against a club that’s never won a playoff series.
“We need to be a little smarter,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We need to play with better discipline — especially when we have the lead twice. There is where we have to get better. And we have to play for 60 minutes. They’re a good team and obviously they’ve shown these last two games that they’re never going to give up. So it’s going to be a battle with them. Unfortunately we’re down 2-0.”
Capital One Arena was a cacophony of cowbells, chants, horns and groans Sunday night, but it’s the whistles that the Capitals might remember most. Three days after the team blew a two-goal lead because it took too many penalties, it again blew a two-goal lead because of the same problem. But after Columbus went ahead late in the second period, the Blue Jackets did Washington a favor and were called for three minor penalties of their own in the third.
On the third power-play try of the period, the Capitals finally broke through to tie the game. T.J. Oshie beat goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky from the slot with 3:35 left in regulation. Bobrovsky had saved a whopping 20 shots in the period, but the one from Oshie marked Washington’s third man-advantage tally of the game and its fifth of the series.
Apparently not learning their lesson in Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets, the Capitals were again stung by their own lack of discipline. After Josh Anderson cut Washington’s second-period lead to one goal on a five-on-two rush at goaltender Philipp Grubauer, Capitals forward Tom Wilson was called for roughing after a post-whistle skirmish in front of Washington’s net. Wilson’s actions were unnecessary, and while the home fans booed, the call stood nonetheless. In Game 1, the Blue Jackets had tied the game with Wilson in the box. They did the same Sunday night, with Cam Atkinson scoring his second goal of the game on the power play to make it 3-3.
Then, with 2:20 left in the second period, Devante Smith-Pelly went to the box for holding the stick, and Zach Werenski’s point shot on the power play beat Grubauer to lift the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 lead before second intermission. Grubauer had allowed four goals on 22 shots, and as the team came out of the tunnel for the third period, it was goaltender Braden Holtby leading the way.
“I don’t think I played that good,” Grubauer said. “The last one was on me.”
Neither Washington netminder could help the Capitals beat Bobrovsky, however, as he finished with 54 saves.
“At the end of the day, you look at the two sides, and Bob was the difference today for them,” Trotz said. “He was on his game, and we just needed that one save. We just needed that one save, and we weren’t able to get it.”
In his first game back from an undisclosed “upper-body” injury, fourth-line center Jay Beagle gave the Capitals an unexpected offensive lift Sunday. He deflected defenseman Brooks Orpik’s shot into the net just 2:12 into the game. That marked Beagle’s seventh goal in 63 career playoff goals. Washington then extended its lead with a familiar source of offense. After Atkinson was called for goaltender interference, the Capitals’ power play took advantage with an Ovechkin one-timer from his sweet spot in the left faceoff circle.
Ovechkin had been disappointed with his play in Thursday’s game, too quiet for the NHL’s leading goal-scorer during the regular season. His first power-play goal Sunday gave Washington a 2-0 lead less than 14 minutes into the game.
The Blue Jackets didn’t take long to answer. Atkinson got behind defenseman Dmitry Orlov on a breakaway, patiently waiting out Grubauer to tuck the puck into the small opening between Grubauer’s skate and the goal post. That made it 2-1 after the first period, but Ovechkin again came through with another vintage shot from the left circle on the power play.
With the Capitals up by two goals again, they imploded once again by taking penalties, a familiar refrain for springtime hockey in this city. Now the team has to hope the Blue Jackets’ two-game lead is as dangerous as a two-goal one has been for Washington.
“Our group has a lot of fight in it, and we’re not going away,” Trotz said. “We’re not going away. We’re going to be around, and you’re going to see us dig in. And you’re going to see us fight. And you’re going to see us make something happen here. I really believe in the group, and I’m excited to get to Columbus and I’m excited for Game 3.”
The feeling was that the Capitals felt loose at the start of these playoffs, unperturbed by playoff failures of the past and ready for a new beginning. Now, through two games, the ghosts that have dogged the Capitals for the past 10 years or so have risen from the ice, smacked every player and fan inside Capital One Arena about the head and shoulders and laughed heartily before boarding a charter flight for Columbus, Ohio.
The Washington Capitals, the top team in the Metropolitan Division for the third straight regular season, trail the wild-card Columbus Blue Jackets two games to none as the series shifts to Buckeye country for Game 2.
The Caps have often looked like the superior team for the majority of both of the first two games, and yet they’ve come out on the short end twice following untimely mental lapses, a mind-boggling lack of discipline on the penalty front and studly goaltending performances by the Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky (54 saves Sunday).
If Washington is to finally author a new ending to its all-too-familiar playoff flameouts, it has a daunting task in its immediate future against a talented and opportunistic Columbus team. The fans in Ohio figure to be in good spirits as the Blue Jackets now have a very good chance to win their first playoff series in franchise history, and a shot at a four-game series sweep as well.
Extending the misery
One of the most vexing parts of the Capitals’ recent postseason struggles isn’t just the ultimate disappointing result, it’s that Washington has been thisclose to coming out on top of so many of these close games.
That tweet was sent after Game 1, so those totals now increase by one.
Vexing penalties and special teams success
The story here is as much about both team’s efficiency on the power play as it is their inability to stop taking penalties. Of course, it’s burned the Capitals more significantly through the first two games.
Through two games the teams have combined for 22 penalties — the last a tripping call on Washington’s Matt Niskanen in overtime. Columbus has four power play goals, while Washington has five, with T.J. Oshie’s third-period tally serving as the last man-advantage strike after a harrowing penalty kill by Washington to start OT. After two days off between Games 1 and 2, you’d think this would have been a point of emphasis, at least for the Capitals. Instead, we saw 13 more penalties in Game 2 and five more power play goals. One would think both coaches would be pleading for more restraint heading into Game 3. For both teams, the third-period penalties by the leading team have been inexcusable.
Grubauer and Holtby
Philipp Grubauer stopped 24 of 27 shots in Game 1 and looked neither particularly good or bad. The consensus was that he did nothing to warrant losing the starting role for Game 2 and so he stood in the crease once again. He stopped 18 of 22 shots in Game 2 and looked neither particularly good or bad. He was replaced by Braden Holtby in the third period.
This was likely more about sparking the team than anything Grubauer did or didn’t do. But in the playoffs, winning teams often get key saves from netminders in big spots. While Grubauer had a good one to keep the score 1-0 in the Capitals’ favor in the first period, he couldn’t stem the tide in the second.
Holtby’s best work came in overtime, particularly considering the early penalty on Niskanen and the fact he’d only had a 20-minute warm-up before next-goal-wins hockey. He finished with seven saves on eight shots.
We’ll see if Washington sticks with Holtby heading into Game 3, which is now as much of a “must-win” as any non-elimination game can be.
Burakovsky goes down
The Capitals’ second line took a significant blow after Andre Burakovsky left the game after taking a hit from Boone Jenner in the first period. He was later ruled out with an “upper-body” injury. An update will likely follow tomorrow, but this is a significant loss if Burakovsky misses more time. The winger was just starting to round into form and was solid it Game 1, despite his now infamous offensive zone tripping call that led to the game-tying goal for Columbus.
If he can’t play, expect Jakub Vrana, a healthy scratch for Game 2, to draw into the lineup again. Whether he would play on the second or third line would be the question to monitor going forward.
Final: Blue Jackets 5, Capitals 4
Matt Calvert scored in overtime to give the Blue Jackets their second win of the series in extra time. The series heads to Columbus Tuesday with Washington needing at least one win to keep the series alive and stave off the upset attempt.
End of Period 3: Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 4
It’s the end of regulation in a Capitals’ playoff game. And the score is tied. Because, of course it is.
Washington has earned a temporary reprieve from what would be a pressure-packed Game 3 in Columbus, but the game’s not over yet. The Capitals dominated the third period, outshooting the Blue Jackets 21-5, aided by several penalties on Columbus. Now it’s on to sudden death.
T.J. Oshie ties it late: With 3:35 to go, T.J. Oshie took a pass in the low slot and wristed it into the goal, knotting the score at 4 when Washington’s hopes were waning. Starting at a potential two-games-to-none deficit, Washington got new life after a clearing attempt from defenseman Zach Werenski flew over the glass for a delay of game penalty.
End of Period 2 | Blue Jackets 4, Capitals 3: It is clear that the next 20 minutes will likely be the biggest to date in the Capitals’ 2017-18 season. They slogged through the regular season to again capture the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. And now they are once again eye-to-eye with the same playoff ghosts that have haunted this team since Alex Ovechkin joined the roster.
During the intermission report on NBCSN, Jeremy Roenick railed on the Capitals for making so many familiar, and repeated, mistakes in this series.
“How many times are you guys going to take penalties when you know the team you’re playing has a good power play?” Roenick asked rhetorically. “I mean listen, I’m not rooting for anybody, but I don’t like to see stupidity time and time again, especially for a team that hasn’t gotten past the second round in 20 years.”
While Philipp Grubauer has made several key saves, Braden Holtby will start the third period for Washington as the Capitals search desperately for a spark.
One player who will not be seen for Washington? Andre Burakovsky, who has officially been ruled out by the team.
Linesman leaves on a stretcher: Linesman Steve Barton went down with an apparent left knee injury with 48 seconds remaining in the second period and had to be carried off the ice. Garrett Rank, the backup referee has taken over linesman duties for the third period.
Capitals take another penalty, Blue Jackets take the lead: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly was whistled for holding the stick, leading to another Columbus power plan and the Blue Jackets’ Zach Werenski scored from the point with a minute and eight seconds remaining in the second period.
Suddenly Washington’s postseason fate feels like it will swing significantly on the third period. The Capitals have looked dominant for the majority of the first two games and yet face the potential of heading on the road for Games 3 and 4 trailing in the series 2-0.
Another head-scratching penalty stings Capitals and the game is tied at 3: Just seconds after Washington’s Tom Wilson was sent off for a penalty in an after-the-whistle scrum, Columbus’s Cam Atkinson ripped home a wrist shot over Philipp Grubauer’s glove on the power play.
For a second straight game a careless physical penalty has burned the Capitals. The Blue Jackets scored the game-tying goal at the start of the third period in Game 1 after Wilson took an offensive zone penalty.
The game is tied at 3 and the arena is suddenly very quiet. This film has been viewed more times than this audience would care to remember.
Washington can’t shake Columbus: Twice in this game the Capitals have extended their lead to two goals, and twice the Blue Jackets have trimmed it back to just a single tally.
Shortly after Alex Ovechkin’s second goal of the game, the Capitals were controlling play in the offensive zone when winger Brett Connolly fell while trying to make a play on a puck. The turnover led to a four-man rush for Columbus that ended in a pretty glove-side goal by Josh Anderson.
Once again, Washington seems to be showing there is no such thing as an easy playoff victory.
Ovi strikes again: Just over four minutes into the second period, Alex Ovechkin’s second power play goal of the game pushed the Capitals’ lead back to 3-1 after the Washington captain deposited his second puck in the back of the net this game. This time it was a one-timer shortly after an offensive-zone high-sticking penalty by Columbus center Brandon Dubinsky. In case you’re wondering offensive zone penalties have been a bit of theme this series, as Columbus scored twice on such miscues by Washington in Game 1.
Another running theme: The Washington power play is clicking at a 50-percent clip (4-of-8) to this point in the series.
Burakovsky not out to start second period: Washington forward Andre Burakovsky was not on the bench to start the second period. Chandler Stephenson is taking his shifts on the Capitals’ second line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie.
End of Period 1 | Capitals 2, Blue Jackets 1: Washington outshot the Blue Jackets 17-8 through the first period and largely controlled play for the first 20 minutes, but the Capitals only lead by a goal after a late goal by Cam Atkinson.
Aside from the opportunistic goal by Atkinson, the Caps looked impressive in the opening period. Sparked by an early goal from fourth-line center Jay Beagle, Washington appeared energized in the aftermath and then padded its lead with Alex Ovechkin’s first goal of the playoffs. The game could have been more lopsided early if not for a huge save at the 14:45 mark on Lars Eller by Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky.
The positive spin for Washington is that the Capitals yielded all of three decent scoring chances, by our estimation, in the opening period. The negative spin is that despite what seemed to be a lopsided first, the Caps only lead by one goal. The next goal will be a big one in this series.
Atkinson gives Columbus a spark late in first: With the Capitals largely outplaying the Blue Jackets through the first period, the Blue Jackets got a huge goal in the final two minutes by Cam Atkinson while skating four-on-four. A perfect pass out of the Columbus zone by Nick Foligno met Atkinson’s stick right before he hit the Capitals’ blue line. A deke by Atkinson took him to Philipp Grubauer’s left and the goalie left just a puck-sized gap between his left skate and the post. Atkinson sneaked it through to give Columbus a timely boost just before the end of the period.
Ovechkin puts Caps up 2-0 on the power play: On the power play following Atkinson’s penalty, Washington captain Alex Ovechkin scored from the left circle, passing up his trademark one-timer for a wrist shot that beat Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
With a little over six-and-a-half minutes left in the first period, the Caps lead by two, which would be fairly reassuring aside from how Game 1 managed to elude them after leading by the same margin after the first period.
Interference erases a would-be Columbus goal: A promising rush by the Blue Jackets’ top line ended with the puck in the back of the Capitals’ net, however the officials deemed that it did so only after Columbus winger Cam Atkinson interfered with Washington goalie Philipp Grubauer. Atkinson lost his feet while driving to the net and skidded into Grubauer, taking the goaltender into the net ahead of the puck.
Not only was the goal waved off, but Atkinson was sent to the penalty box for two minutes.
Welcome back, Jay Beagle: Well, that should settle some nerves. The Washington fourth-line center missed Game 1 as he dealt with a lingering injury, but his presence was immediately felt in Game 2. Beagle deflected a wrist shot by defenseman Brooks Orpik into the bottom right corner of the net to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead just over two minutes into the game.
Given Washington’s playoff history, the longer Washington went without a lead, the more tense the atmosphere would have become. That was a big early goal for the Capitals.
Is that anticipation or dread ahead of a must-win game?: The pregame atmosphere at Capital One Arena before Game 1 between Washington and Columbus was subdued on Thursday night, but there were noticeably more fans who showed up for warmups a half hour before Game 2 on Sunday night. The crowd knows what’s at stake after a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1. Everyone in the building received a towel emblazoned with the phrase “We Are All Caps,” which were already waving in force as the Capitals went back to the locker room before the start of this decisive game.
Five-on-five: It’s unusual to see so many penalties called in a playoff game, so Washington expects to spend more time in even-strength situations on Sunday night. The Capitals have typically struggled to score in that area, and both teams managed just one five-on-five goal in Game 1. The teams seemed fairly even at even strength on Thursday — Washington had 46 shot attempts to Columbus’s 51, though the Capitals had a slight edge in high-danger chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.
“I feel like we didn’t really put pucks to areas where we could get them back,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “I felt like we were dumping pucks in and feel like we didn’t turn too many over, but we were putting them to areas where they had enough time to get it, turn, look up and just break out against us without us being able to use pressure.”
Beagle back: The Capitals missed their regular fourth-line center on Thursday night. Beagle had the fourth-best faceoff percentage (58.5) during the regular season, and he’s the only right-handed draw man on Washington’s roster. Without him, the team got crushed on defensive-zone faceoffs in the third period, losing 10 of 11. He also plays the most shorthanded ice time among forwards, so his return will be a boost to a penalty kill that yielded two goals last game.
Vrana out: Though rookie Jakub Vrana created the Capitals’ lone five-on-five goal last game, sending a perfect pass across the crease to Devante Smith-Pelly to give Washington a 3-2 lead in the third period, he’ll be a healthy scratch on Sunday night. Vrana scored 13 goals and 14 assists in 73 games this season, and he’s the fastest player on a team that’s struggles with speed in recent years. But with Beagle back in the lineup, Coach Barry Trotz had to choose one forward to push out, and Vrana had a pair of turnovers and less than seven minutes of ice time on Thursday night.
“As we sat down with the coaches, we looked at just everything and where we are and what we need, in terms of role and that,” Trotz said. “We felt that this is the lineup we need to go with tonight. I thought V made a really good play on the goal. He didn’t have a lot of ice time, and there’s some things we need to clear up in his game and get him reset. We’ll see where we are next game.
Alex Ovechkin: The Capitals’ captain was surprisingly quiet last game. He skated 25:42 and finished with eight shot attempts — four were on goal — but it wasn’t the point-per-game Ovechkin who’s usually a physical force in the postseason. With 49 goals this season, he’s scored roughly 19 percent Washington’s offense this year, so the Capitals need him to have a good series if they want to advance. Ovechkin’s line with center Evgeny Kuznetsov was matched mostly against Columbus’s second line with Wennberg, a head-to-head Washington lost at even-strength. With Wennberg out, the Capitals could take advantage of what might be an easier matchup now.
“Obviously, I have to be better,” Ovechkin said. “I think our line has to be better, for sure, five-on-five, I mean. I think we played very well on the [power play], but five-on-five, I don’t think we created enough chances. We didn’t play our game, and we understand that and going against these guys, our line has to be more dominant.”
Sergei Bobrovsky: Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy a year ago as the NHL’s top goaltender, and it was his second time receiving his award. His numbers were good again this season, as he had a .921 save percentage and a 2.42 goals against average in 65 games played. But Bobrovsky has curiously struggled against the Capitals in his career: 7-10-4 with a .900 save percentage and a 3.02 goals against average. He also hasn’t had postseason success, as in 19 games played, he has an .888 save percentage and a 3.57 goals against average. In Game 1 against Washington, Bobrovsky was sharp with 27 saves in the 4-3 overtime win.
Immerse yourself in the Capitals’ postseason with The Post’s coverage of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Washington’s expected lineup
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Devante Smith-Pelly
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Scratches: Jakub Vrana, Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd (illness)
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Jakub Jerabek
Scratch: Christian Djoos, Madison Bowey
Philipp Grubauer (starter)
Scratch: Pheonix Copley
Columbus’s expected lineup
Artemi Panarin-Pierre-Luc Dubois-Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner-Nick Foligno-Thomas Vanek
Sonny Milano-Brandon Dubinsky-Josh Anderson
Matt Calvert-Mark Letestu-Oliver Bjorkstrand
Zach Werenski-Seth Jones
Ian Cole-David Savard
Ryan Murray-Markus Nutivaara
Scratches: Markus Hannikainen, Alex Broadhurst, Taylor Chorney, Jack Johnson, Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, Lukas Sedlak (upper body), Alexander Wennberg (upper body)
Sergei Bobrovsky (starter)