The Washington Capitals, their entire season on the line and facing elimination in front of the home crowd at Capital One Arena, did not falter, stumble, or fall. They dominated. And they earned one more chance to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the process.
Here’s Monday night’s Plus/Minus:
Plus: The Capitals have a one-game playoff for a ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Minus: Honestly, nothing. This may have been the most complete game the Capitals have played all season, and they did it when they needed it most.
And now, this...
Ten more notes on the game:
1. I don’t need to tell you this, but after winning the first two games of the series in Tampa Bay, the Capitals proceeded to drop Games 3, 4, and 5 to the Lightning to bring the series back to Washington facing elimination for the first time this postseason. Could the Capitals, with their backs to the wall, come out swinging and force the issue, the brass ring, and the infinity gauntlet: an ultimate Game 7?
2. Back in the lineup tonight after being scratched for Game 5 was winger Andre Burakovsky. Burakovsky, who has struggled with mental toughness (and several nagging injuries) in his career, said today that he plans to hire a sports psychologist in the summer (a decision we here at the Rink applaud for its wisdom). Back on the third line and with Alex Chiasson in the press box, would the Sweet Swede be a difference-maker for Washington when they needed it most?
3. Both teams came out playing like this one was For All The Marbles. In the first period alone, the Capitals posted 8 shots to Tampa’s 5, and Alex Ovechkin led all skaters in putting pucks on target. Plenty of nervous energy both ways, and both clubs flubbed a few opportunities due to jitters. This one felt important. Would Washington crumble under the barometric pressure of the Lightning?
4. In the second frame, the Capitals got something they hadn’t had since the second period of Game 4: a power play opportunity. And what do you need to do when fate drops a filigree man-advantage in your red-rocked lap? You capitalize. And Washington did just that! With T.J. Oshie lurking in his usual spot between the circles, Thick ‘N’ Slick Nick with the Quick Stick Nicklas Backstrom slid him the biscuit. Oshbae, AKA The Slot Machine, rang up Double Sevens and ripped a one-timer that struck the jackpot and the back of the net. The Capitals took a 1-0 lead.
5. After the second period, Washington led the shots 23-14, and Capital One Arena was loud and proud.
6. In the third period, Tampa Bay came striking back like...well, some sort of electrical storm common along Eastern beaches. Tampa recorded the first six shots of the frame, and it was all the Capitals, and the fabulously elastic Braden Holtby, could do to keep them off the board. Capital One Arena was tense, and fans, still loud, held their decades-of-heartbreak in their throats.
7. BUT WITH 10 MINUTES LEFT IN THE GAME, Chandler Stephenson flew down the wing like a man possessed with an unquenchable thirst for unconditional enemy surrender. He won his race, and from beneath the goal line, threw a no-look backwards pass to a crashing Devante Smith-Pelly. DSP, brought in for clutch postseason moments exactly like this one, did not pass Go, did not collect $200, and did not miss. Devante Snipe-Celly went far side and in, and stretched Washington’s lead to 2-0. Capital One Arena exploded.
Stephenson to Smith-Pelly for the 2-0 Caps lead pic.twitter.com/UdosSozE68— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 22, 2018
I asked Chand The Man about his success this postseason using his speed to get pucks deep. He said, “I try to use my speed as much as I can. I try to create ice for my linemates, and just get behind them as much as I can.”
8. T.J. Oshie added the empty-netter in the final minute, and the Capitals claimed a hard-fought 3-0 victory to force a Game 7, the icy peak of the mountain, on Wednesday in Tampa.
I asked Devante Smith-Pelly how it felt to hear this Capital One Arena crowd roar tonight. He smiled, laughed, and said, “If you saw my face...I was just yelling. It was pretty exciting. Anytime you score in the playoffs, it’s huge. And anytime you score an important goal in the playoffs, it’s huge.”
9. You may notice the ol’ goose egg at the end of that scoreline. That’s because Braden Holtby recorded his 5th career postseason shutout, and his first of these playoffs. The Holtbeast stole this game like his counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy had the last two matches, stopping all 24 shots he faced, including some absolute mind-benders late in the contest.
10. ENORMOUS bounce-back games tonight from Andre Burakovsky and Dmitry Orlov. Brooks Orpik was a defensive force behind the net, stapling Lightning players to the boards like your freshman RA posting the dorm rules. But perhaps no player was as fantastic top-to-bottom as Jakub Vrana, who wreaked havoc on Tampa in the offensive zone and broke the Capitals cleanly and swiftly out of their own end when called on.
This is it, folks.
The Capitals are one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals.
Game 7 is Wednesday in Tampa.
Go out and take it.
Let’s Go Caps.