• Andre Burakovsky to miss remainder of the series after needing surgery. (Read more)
Capital One Arena had been a springtime house of horrors for the Washington Capitals lately. An impressive regular season had assured the team home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but after just the first two games of their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, it seemed the Capitals would be better off playing away from the District. With anxious red-clad fans in the stands, the Capitals had lost Games 1 and 2 at home to fall into a disastrous hole.
They had seemed more at ease on the road, storming back to tie the series before a pivotal Game 5 back in Washington on Saturday afternoon. Those red-clad fans groaned when the puck bounced around in Washington’s end too long. They cheered when Braden Holtby made one spectacular save after another. They threw their hands up in frustration when Sergei Bobrovsky did the same on the other end of the ice.
And then they jumped for joy when Nicklas Backstrom’s stick smacked Dmitry Orlov’s shot at just the right time, deflecting the puck to plop into the Columbus net 11:53 into overtime. The Capitals were jumping with them, the bench clearing as the team celebrated in a corner. With Washington’s 4-3 overtime win, the Capitals now have a three games to two series lead over the Blue Jackets and are one win away from advancing to the second round.
“We’ve been playing some good hockey,” said Backstrom, who scored his first two goals of the postseason Saturday. “Hopefully we can bring our confidence to Columbus on Monday.”
Washington entered the third period with a 3-2 edge, but the team has struggled to protect leads for most of the series. On an extended shift in the Capitals’ zone, center Evgeny Kuznetsov attempted to clear the puck out but Columbus’s Alexander Wennberg was able to keep it in. A point shot by Blue Jackets defenseman Ian Cole was redirected by Oliver Bjorkstrand, tying the game once again 2:30 into the period. Though Washington wasn’t losing, the energy seemed to drain out of the arena. The hosts didn’t record their first shot on goal in the period until 11:39 into it.
That shot was the only one the Capitals managed in the third period, while the Blue Jackets fired off 16. Washington had flatlined to end regulation, fortunate to have an intermission to regroup as it prepared to play overtime for the fourth time in five games.
“We just said, ‘Hey, let’s get on our toes and let’s go for it,’” Coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s what we’ve wanted to do when we’ve got into the playoffs: Go for it. We’ve done that in overtimes. As I was leaving the [locker] room after the period, I could hear the right guys all saying the right things.”
Said defenseman John Carlson: “We came out as a new team in overtime.”
Bobrovsky might have been bored in the third period, but he certainly looked sharp early in overtime. He stopped an Alex Ovechkin one-timer from the high slot and then gloved a Carlson wrist shot from point-blank range. Holtby answered with his own fantastic sequence of saves, and a duel in net played out through nearly 12 minutes of the extra period. Holtby was ultimately better, winning his third straight playoff start after making 39 saves.
“I’ve played enough against him to know he’s going to come up with big saves every game,” Holtby said. “That’s who he is. As a fellow goaltender, I just try and block out as much as I can. What happens at the other end of the ice has absolutely nothing to do with my job. I’m just focusing on my job because I know he’s going to do his. That’s just part of knowing your role, knowing how to prepare to play your best.”
Entering Saturday afternoon, the Capitals had lost five of their past six home playoff games dating back to last season’s second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Players had admitted feeling some extra pressure playing in front of their home fans. Through regulation, Game 5 had been the worst game Washington had played in the series.
But overtime was a chance for the Capitals to regroup in their home locker room. The team in the visiting dressing room left Capital One Arena disappointed but confident this wouldn’t be its last game in this building.
“We’ll be back here for Game 7,” Columbus Coach John Tortorella said.
“What else are you going to say?” Trotz said. “That’s good. He wants to get it out there that he believes in his team, just as I believe in my team. It’s our job not to let that happen.”
Backstrom’s back, alright: Coming into the game, the Capitals center had not done much at even strength. On Saturday, he delivered two huge goals, including the game-winner in overtime. Backstrom had five assists in the first three games of the series, but all of those game on the power play. Both of his goals Saturday came five-aside.
The third-period: While the game ended in a win for Washington, it sure didn’t seem like it would in the final period of regulation. There’s really no sugar-coating it. This was a wretched 20 minutes for Washington. Not only did the Blue Jackets get the tying goal on a hustle play, but Washington was outshot 16-1.
This was a pivotal game that pushed one of these teams to the brink of elimination. Washington held a lead heading into the final 20 minutes, but the Capitals didn’t appear to show up for that last frame.
This is not the first time this issue has surfaced for the team dressed in red. Maybe it’s fatigue. Maybe it’s focus. Maybe it’s luck. Maybe … it’s an exercise in futility to figure out what keeps tripping up a team that alternates between looking like a Stanley Cup contender and an also-ran. Washington was lucky not to be burned when it prevailed in overtime.
Penalties, penalties everywhere: There was a time when you basically had to mutilate an opponent to be called for a penalty in a Stanley Cup playoff game. Those days, clearly, are over.
Through five games, the Capitals and Blue Jackets have taken 44 penalties (45 if you count Josh Anderson’s Game 1 boarding penalty as two separate calls). For those of a certain age, as in anyone who watched hockey before this season … the number of whistles is a little bit shocking. And that certainly seems to be the case with the players in this series as well, who have had trouble refraining from infractions.
Who is Matt Calvert?: The Blue Jackets’ grinder has three goals in this series, including the game-winner in the overtime of Game 2. He added another two goals in Game 5, including a breakaway after T.J. Oshie couldn’t hold the puck in the offensive zone in the second period. And while NBC analyst Ray Ferraro noted it was “the ugliest breakaway goal I’ve ever seen” it still counted.
In Game 5, the Jackets never took advantage, finishing 0-of-5 with the man advantage.
Final: Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT)
Washington survived a ghastly third period to prevail in overtime, winning Game 5 4-3 to push the Columbus Blue Jackets to the brink of elimination of the best-of-seven series.
Nicklas Backstrom scored on a deflection with just over 8 minutes remaining in the first overtime to give the Caps the victory after a ghastly third period that raised all of the usual doubts about Washington’s recent playoff shortcomings.
After winning the first two games of the series, Columbus is now on the brink of elimination with Washington leading the series 3-2.
Holtby answers: Boone Jenner had a similarly dangerous chance with 8:56 left in overtime but Braden Holtby proved equal to the challenge. Both teams have had high quality scoring chances, but both goalies have proved equal to the challenge so far.
Carlson can’t convert in overtime: As good as John Carlson has been in this series, he could have pushed his stock even higher had he converted this glorious chance in overtime. He did not.
End Period 3: Blue Jackets 3, Capitals 3
You could say that fans at Capital One Arena have gotten a great value for their tickets, as every single one of these games in Washington has gone to overtime. You could also say every Capitals fan in attendance has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment from the postseason sports perspective.
Ok: Now 11 of the last 12 first round Caps playoff games will have been decided by a single goal, and 9 of the 12 have gone to overtime— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) April 21, 2018
Once again Washington entered the third period with a lead and once again the game will require extra time. Both times previously, the game ended in bitter fashion for Capitals fans. We’ll soon see if Game 5 follows in kind.
This is going to OT. Fourth time in five games. Caps are lucky it got there. They were outshot 16-1 in the third period (!!!)— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 21, 2018
Holtby goes hero mode: With 11:15 remaining in the third, Braden Holtby stoned a pair of dangerous chances by the Blue Jackets, the last of which a point-blank shot by Pierre-Luc Dubois that Holtby stopped with his left pad then snared the puck out of the air with his glove.
The first goal allowed by Holtby was not a great one, even if it was on a 2-on-1, but this series was spectacular.
Quite a sequence of saves by Holtby there.— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 21, 2018
Columbus ties it up at 3: Alexander Wennberg played in his first game since leaving Game 1 after a big hit by Tom Wilson. In that game he had a key goal, putting Columbus on the board with its first goal after falling behind 2-0. In Game 5 a diving effort to push the puck to the point resulted in what is now the game-tying goal by Oliver Bjorkstrand, who deflected the slap shot to knot the score at 3.
In the second period, NBC analyst and former NHLer Ray Ferraro noted that the crowd at Capital One Arena was uncharacteristically quiet. “It’s like they’re waiting for the ceiling to cave in,” he said then. Tied in the third period after seeing Games 1 and 2 squandered — and much playoff futility before that — it is again very quiet in the normally raucous arena.
Game is tied and feels like the energy has been sucked out of the team and the building.— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 21, 2018
It has not been a good third period for Washington.
End of Period 2: Capitals 3, Blue Jackets 2
So, penalties. Both teams would be wise to stay disciplined in the third after every single transgression seems to earn a whistle in this contest. Through two periods, the Capitals have taken advantage more than the Blue Jackets and lead 3-2. But given the way Games 1 and 2 ended, there won’t be too many relaxed fans in Capital One Arena for the final 20 minutes.
Oshie, Carlson continue to shine, give Washington 3-2 lead: The Capitals reclaimed the lead when T.J. Oshie expertly deflected a power play point shot by John Carlson past Sergei Bobrovsky to put Washington back into the lead. Special teams play seems like it will play a huge role in this game, as it did early in this series.
Ovechkin robbed on power play to keep game at 2: The Blue Jackets ended up on the kill after a questionable tripping call against the Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert. Nevertheless, Columbus killed it off thanks to a sprawling toe save on Alex Ovechkin by Sergei Bobrovsky who did the splits while pushing across the crease to erase a certain goal. The game remained tied at 2 with 9:41 remaining in the second period.
Matt Calvert scores brutally ugly breakaway goal to tie it up: With 15:15 remaining in the second, Washington refunded their brief one-goal lead. Matt Calvert, who is rapidly becoming the Capitals’ nemesis in this series scored on a breakaway when Washington couldn’t keep the puck in its zone. Calvert skated down … and completely whiffed on his shot. However, the miss was so bad, Braden Holtby bit on the shot attempt and Calvert smartly spun around and backhanded it into the net. NBC color commentator Ray Ferraro called the goal ‘the worst breakaway goal I’ve ever seen.’
The game is tied at 2 and the Capitals have once again found a way to fritter away a lead at home.
Kuznetsov puts Capitals up 2-1: A Dmitry Orlov stretch pass sent Evgeny Kuznetsov into the offensive zone unimpeded and he gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead. It was fleeting.
End Period 1: Blue Jackets 1, Capitals 1
The Capitals flirted with danger, taking back-to-back penalties near the end of the first 20 minutes. Following the Capitals’ tying goal, Washington drew a power play but it was shortened when T.J. Oshie was called for a slash. Just after the Caps killed off that penalty, Chandler Stephenson was whistled for a cross check and send to the box with just over 2:30 left in the first period. Washington’s kill stayed hot however, as did Braden Holtby, keeping the score level through the penalty kill and the end of the first period.
1-1 through one. Caps have killed 11 straight penalties.— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 21, 2018
Backstrom pass ends up as a goal, as Caps tie game at 1: The Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom skated behind the net, then flicked a pass back into the slot. The puck hit the skate of Columbus defenseman David Savard, squirted upwards and rolled off the back of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and into the net for a Washington goal. The score is tied at 1 as the Capitals get a huge boost after allowing a deflating first goal.
Caps get their first power play, but Blue Jackets score first: A slash by Thomas Vanek on Brooks Orpik deep in the Washington zone gave the Capitals their first power play of the contest. Washington has been converting power play chances a little over 33% through the first four games (7 of 20), but instead it was Columbus scoring first. Matt Calvert finished off a 2-on-1 opportunity with a wrist shot that slipped between Braden Holtby’s blocker and body.
Matt Calvert scored after Ovechkin had a giveaway on the power play.— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 21, 2018
The Capitals threatened early on the power play, as the Blue Jackets’ Brandon Dubinsky lost his stick, effectively making it a 5-on-3.5 power play for Washington. John Carlson sent a slap pass through the slot but Evgeny Kuznetsov’s redirection was tipped just wide.
It is the first time Columbus has scored the first goal of this series.
Refs continue to show intolerance for post-whistle scrums, send Eller to the box: Columbus received the first power play of the game roughly five minutes into the game after Lars Eller was sent to the penalty box after a scrum in front of Braden Holtby’s net. The officials have seemed to show less patience that many playoff series during the five games between the Blue Jackets and Capitals, which has featured a ton of penalties, particularly in the first three games. The Capitals were able to kill of the penalty.
Eller for roughing. CBJ getting a PP 4:52 in.— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 21, 2018
The Capitals were much better on the penalty kill in Games 3 and 4 and now Game 5 is off to a good start.
Capital One Arena ready to rock: A late afternoon crowd at Capital One Arena was still filing into their seats about 15 minutes before Saturday’s Game 5 against Columbus, where some red-clad fans pointed and smiled at six-year old Keelan Moxley at the entrance of Section 204. Moxley became viral star during Game 3, when she caught a puck from forward Brett Connolly during pregame warmups. The NHL would later call it the most streamed league video on Twitter of all time. Moxely was back in the arena with her mother Lauren on Saturday, meeting with Capitals owener Ted Leonsis and leading the “Lets go Caps chant!”
‘”I’m so excited! If I were a bomb I would explode!” she screamed shortly before the game began.
Columbus Blue Jackets center Wennberg back in action: Columbus Coach John Tortorella said Alexander Wennberg is back in the lineup after he missed the past three games in the series with an undisclosed “upper-body” injury sustained on a hit from Capitals forward Tom Wilson. Wennberg centers a second line with wingers Boone Jenner and Thomas Vanek that’s been quiet without him for the past three games. Without Wennberg, Tortorella had shortened his bench, scarcely playing his fourth line, but with captain Nick Foligno back into the third-line center role, Tortorella may be able to balance the ice time more as Coach Barry Trotz has more control of the matchups with last change at home.
Immerse yourself in the Capitals’ postseason with The Post’s coverage of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Scratches: Andre Burakovsky (upper-body injury), Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd, Brian Pinho
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos
Scratches: Jakub Jerabek, Madison Bowey
Braden Holtby (starter)
Scratch: Pheonix Copley
Artemi Panarin-Pierre-Luc Dubois-Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner–Thomas Vanek
Matt Calvert-Nick Foligno-Josh Anderson
Oliver Bjorkstrand-Mark Letestu-Brandon Dubinsky
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)