Ah, a tradition unlike any other: teeth-gnashing playoff hockey anxiety in Washington.
Let’s get into it!
Here’s Thursday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: Two of the players the Capitals most needed to show up and show out tonight, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Philipp Grubauer, did just that. Kuzy scored two doozies, and Grubi stopped just about every shot you could reasonably expect a human being made of flesh and not elastic to make.
Minus: Losing freaking Game 1 at home. Right? Yeah, gotta be.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
1. Ahhhh! It’s here! The most wonderful, terrible, fantastic, tragic, delightful, detestable time of the year! The Stanley Cup Playoffs. With Washington drawing the Columbus Blue Jackets and former Vezina-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the first round, could the Capitals jump out to an early series lead and hold serve on Thursday night in D.C.?
2. A little bit of line-up news to attend to before puck drop: German wundermensch Philipp Grubauer got the start in net for Washington over other former Vezina-winner Braden Holtby. Absent, however, was fourth-line center Jay Beagle, who is still nursing an injured muzzle-....er, I mean, paw-.....er, I mean, upper-body. Who would step up for Washington and fill the bowl?......I MEAN HOLE.
3. With the Red thoroughly Rocked and the fans ready with typically awesome pre-game lightsabers (and a brand new ice projection system, ooooh!), playoff hockey kicked off its 2018 edition in the nation’s capital!
4. The first period transpired with not a ton of shooting from either team, the two clubs sharing just 13 shots in the opening frame. But the real momentum-jiggler came with just three minutes remaining. Columbus winger Josh Anderson smashed Michal Kempny along the back boards. Kempny went down in a heap, and was eventually helped to the locker room, clutching his face in a towel. For his trouble, Ol’ Josh was awarded a boarding major, a game misconduct, and a scenic express tour of the visitors’ showers.
5. With the Capitals on the man-advantage for a full five-minutes no matter the result, Washington decided to strike like picket lines. A crashing Evgeny Kuznetsov picked himself an apple from Nicklas Backstrom right in the crease, paddling the picture-perfect persimmon through Bobrovsky’s legs and into the net to make it 1-0 Caps.
6. But Kuzy wasn’t done! Just 30 seconds later and with the Capitals still up a man, the Boy Who Scored decided to do it himself this time, ripping a dagger of a wrister a la Alex Semin that buzzed past Bob’s glove to make it 2-0 Caps at the first break.
7. Columbus came out swinging at the bell like Muhammad Ali, if Muhammad Ali was a wild card hockey team from Ohio. Four and a half minutes into the frame, Columbus’ Alexander Wennberg caught a cross-crease pick-me-up from Boone Jenner, Man Whose Name Is a 22-Year-Old Single Barrel Bourbon. A stretching, acrobatic Grubauer was unable to reach it, and Wennberg cut Columbus’ deficit to just one.
8. The score held until the start of the final(!) period. With Tom Wilson in the no-no timeout box for charging, the Blue Jackets’ Thomas Vanek dove hard into the blue paint like a confused swimmer, popping home an assist from Pierre-Luc Dubois to knot this game up like rad ropes, 2-2.
9. With every fan in the stadium palpably nervous, Jakub Vrana and Devante Smith-Pelly said, “Don’t worry, y’all, we got this.” Vrana, showcasing his mercurial speed, raced down the right wing and around his defender before curling back around and firing an instinctive cross-ice pass to Smith-Pelly low in the left circle. Devante fired it home like a merciless mercenary, and all of Washington was down with DSP to the tune of 3-2.
10. But of course, with Andre Burakovsky (who had otherwise been excellent, flying up and down the ice and recording three shots on goal) in the box for a stupid offensive zone tripping penalty, Columbus tied it up. Seth Jones, who drew the penalty himself, walked in and fired a bullet past Grubauer to send this one to......OVERTIMEEEEEE!
11. And 7 minutes into the extra frame, Artemi Panarin stuck the dagger in, ripping a shot bar-down and into the net to give the Jackets a 4-3 win and a 1-0 series lead.
Some injury notes: Michal Kempny did not return to the game. Columbus’ Alexander Wennberg also left the game early after the collision with Wilson, and did not return. The Blue Jackets’ Nick Foligno caught a downright scary Jakub Jerabek shot right in the face, and though he hurried to the locker room with blood on the ice, he would return to action.
Well, dang. Game 2 is Sunday in Washington.