The Caps have struggled to find their groove all season long - but if there’s one thing we know they can do, it’s play outdoors. And they did it darn well tonight.
Check back for the full recap later tonight, but first, here’s Saturday night’s Plus/Minus:
- Plus: The stars under the stars. On this big stage, with so much focus on them, the Caps’ best players were their best players tonight - topped off by three-point nights for both Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
- Minus: ...honestly there wasn’t much. A cool night all around.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
- The layout for the last outdoor game in DC is pretty hard to top, but this one came pretty darn close. With the requisite military pageantry, the flyover, the aircraft carrier setup, the bagpipes... just a cool presentation. Really well done by all involved.
- The first sign that this was not your normal hockey game (aside from the lack of a roof and the midshipmen everywhere)? The Caps getting on the board first, courtesy of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s power-play strike, his 20th goal of the season.
- The joy was short-lived, however, as the Leafs fired back just under two minutes later. Weird play all around, as the initial shot was fairly harmless but then got deflected in front of the net by Zach Hyman to beat Braden Holtby and tie the game.
- If there was a common theme in tonight’s game, though, it was quick responses, and the Caps were right back at it with none other than the captain himself picking up his 40th of the season - and career goal #598 - to regain the lead. Great work by linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson to help keep the play alive in a scramble around the net, and by Wilson in particular to set up Ovechkin for the goal. That line was highly visible, in a good way, all night long...
- ...with Nicklas Backstrom leading the way, picking up his third point of the period, a goal late in the third off a Kuznetsov twister pass to extend the lead to three.
- After giving up three goals in the first, you had to expect a push back by the Leafs, and they definitely had a bit of that in their game once the middle frame began. That was capped off by a seeing-eye puck from Nazem Kadri getting through Holtby to once again cut the lead to one. There was a lot of traffic in front... but man, Holtby has struggled at times to track pucks of late, and close off the posts, and that was no exception.
- Remember that whole quick response thing? It popped up again one last time when John Carlson took advantage of chaos in front of the net and fired home the fourth goal of the night into a wide-open net, this time less than a minute after the Leafs scored. For some reason, Mike Babcock decided to challenge - and no matter how crazy that sounds, it’s still a bit nerve-wracking whenever the Caps are up against an official review. Thankfully logic won out and the goal stood, 4-2 good guys.
- You guys remember some guy named Jakub Vrana? Little Czech dude, wears #13? Yup, he’s alive and well and finally cashed in on all of those chances he’s been generating during a painfully long goal drought. Nice job by Dmitry Orlov to pick a Toronto player’s pocket and get the puck quickly out of the zone (whaaa?) to Kuznetsov, who set up Vrana’s breakaway to pick up his third point of the night, and then it was all Vrana.
- The two teams switched ends halfway through the third period, as planned; what wasn’t planned was the subsequent power outage, which delayed the game for about 15 minutes as the rink was doused in darkness. Nice work by the fans to provide additional illumination via cell phone flashlights until the lights came back on, and the rest of the game continued without further incident.
Bonus note: Really great gesture by the NHL to feature the gold medalist USWNT at the second intermission, and even better gesture by the fans in attendance to welcome them with an ovation worthy of these awesome athletes.
That’s a big win for the good guys... now if they can just carry that same level of effort and skill into the final stretch and (god willing) the playoffs? Who knows what could happen?
Everybody dance now.
When you've still got to finish playing a hockey game but your jam comes on. pic.twitter.com/3doMtK0dDc— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 4, 2018