1. Sam’s On/Off
A surprise Game 3 starter given how well Craig Anderson played in Games 1 and 2, how recently he came off the dreaded COVID list, and <waives hands wildly> other stuff, Ilya Samsonov was terrific... until he wasn’t.
Samsonov stopped 40 of the 43 shots he faced, including 28 of 30 at five-on-five, and saved 1.6 goals “above expectation,” given the shots he saw. Really, he stopped everything he “should” have stopped and then some, often spectacularly, giving the Caps every chance to win Game 3.
And then this happened:
If anyone tries to tell you that that goal is in any way Justin Schultz’s fault, politely tell them they are dead wrong. Samsonov’s indecisiveness and obvious lack of communication with Craig Smith bearing down on him was a disaster waiting to happen, and his decision to circle behind the net rather than retracing his steps to the front made sure that disaster came to fruition.
“Just a little miscommunication on the call on what the play on the puck was. I think he was thinking he was just trying to get it out of there and I was thinking that he was going to leave it,” said Schultz.
No, sorry, that’s not what Schultz said. That was T.J. Oshie back in April when a similar miscommunication ended up not in a goal, but in knocking Samsonov out of the game:
Ilya Samsonov was forced to leave the game just 30 seconds in after T.J. Oshie collided with him. pic.twitter.com/n2rpTyVdSN— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 1, 2021
Back to the present, Peter Laviolette was diplomatic and protective of his young netminder:
Laviolette on the miscommunication w/ Bruins' 2OT GWG: "It looked like one of them went for 'leave it' and one went for an outlet pass. There was just a little bit of a miscommunication. It was a tough break the way the game ended. I thought Sammy played a hell of a game for us."— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) May 20, 2021
The Captain? Maybe a little less so...
Angry Ovechkin after Caps lose Game 3 in OT pic.twitter.com/S8yD92kTZm— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) May 20, 2021
Laviolette’s right, of course - Sammy did play a hell of a game. One (really, really) bad play an hour-and-a-half into the match doesn’t change that.
Carlson on lifting Samsonov's spirits:— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) May 20, 2021
"He was huge tonight for us. I wouldn't say anything other than keep your head up, there's a lot more hockey to be played. He did a great job for us tonight. If he didn't stand on his head, we probably wouldn't have gotten to that point."
Can Samsonov move past that gaffe? Can Laviolette? We’ll see who the coach thinks gives the Caps the best chance to win Game 4 tomorrow, but who would you start?
Who would you start in Game 4?
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2. Ups and Dowds
For nearly 13 minutes of game time, Game 1 hero Nic Dowd looked as if he might be adding “Game 3 hero” to his resume after putting the Caps ahead 2-1 late in the second period on his only shot of the game:
Then, midway through the third period, Dowd took a brutal high-sticking penalty well behind the play (granted, if Tom Wilson got called for embellishment in Game 2...):
Nic Dowd goes fishing for Charlie McAvoy well behind the play: pic.twitter.com/BYORPDaZQs— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) May 20, 2021
Bruins get a gift of a power play. No reason for Nic Dowd to take that penalty. Have to take advantage.— Fluto Shinzawa (@FlutoShinzawa) May 20, 2021
<Ron Howard narration> They did.
Of note, Nicklas Backstrom was on to kill that penalty in place of Dowd (who has killed 6:55 of penalties so far without yielding a goal-against), so there’s your double-whammy.
It’s hard enough to win games against good teams in the playoffs without the self-inflicted wounds the Caps keep amassing. If they don’t clean up their game, it’s hard to see them winning three more times this spring.
Through sixty minutes, the Caps were, if not the better team, the Bruins’ equal, particularly at five-on-five:
To that point, at five-on-five, the Caps had a 21-11 edge in shots, a 7-1 lead in high-danger scoring chance, and 1.62 to 0.96 advantage in expected goals.
Overtime, however, was a totally different story. Played entirely at fives, the Bruins dominated the extra sessions, besting the Caps in shot attempts (30-17), shots on goal (19-8), scoring chances (19-4), high-danger chances (6-1), expected goals (1.41-0.40), and horrific goalie miscues (0-1).
The reality is that the NHL’s oldest team looked every bit of that in overtime, and the game would’ve been over a lot sooner if Samsonov hadn’t been great in the blue paint. But as this series (and the season that came before it) continues to take its toll, it seems the Caps will be battling not only the Bruins, but Father Time as well... and the latter is undefeated.