1. Comeback Caps
The Florida Panthers went 39-0-1 during the regular-season when leading after two periods for a .975 win percentage, tops in the League. In fact, over the last three seasons, they’re 91-1-3 when up after 40 minutes... in the regular-season.
Now they’re 0-1 in the 2022 postseason.
The Panthers carried a 2-1 lead into the final stanza of regulation in Game 1 on Tuesday night only to see that lead turn into a deficit in a span of 2:23 in the middle of the frame.
Kuznetsov on Ovechkin’s diving play to get him the puck for the breakaway goal:— Sammi Silber (@sammisilber) May 4, 2022
“That’s why he’s legend, right?”#ALLCAPS
T.J. Oshie on his game-winning goal, and Backstrom's sweet pass to set it up:— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) May 4, 2022
“Typical Nicky fashion, [he] sauced it through a guy’s legs and right on my tape. I just redirected it, didn’t see it go in so he had to come tell me that we scored."
The Caps, for their part, hadn’t turned that trick in a few years...
The @Capitals overcame third-period deficit to win a playoff game for the 20th time in franchise history and first since their #StanleyCup-clinching win during Game 5 of the 2018 Final.#NHLStats: https://t.co/pDe4cwawB8 pic.twitter.com/t1QqwexoQ2— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 4, 2022
I’m sorry, since their what? Damn right.
2. I’m Laving It
Not only did the Caps win Game 1 (kinda important in retrospect), but they deserved to win Game 1 (which, you’d think, is kinda important going forward):
At five-on-five, the Caps edged the Panthers in scoring chances (23-20) and high-danger chances (9-7), impressive work on its own, but even more so when you consider the defensive effort in light of what Florida was able to do at home during the regular season:
The Caps limited shot volume, but massively reduced scoring chances, nearly halving the Panthers’ high-danger shot attempts, and the goaltending held up, if not “good” certainly plenty “good enough.” (Frankly, if Vitek Vanecek holds the Kitties to two goals per game, he can put them in the net himself for all I care.) Corey Sznajder summarized the effort pretty succinctly:
Caps-Cats statcap— Corey Sznajder (@ShutdownLine) May 4, 2022
Washington pretty much played a perfect game against Florida. Forced a lot of blue line turnovers, dump-ins & point shots while getting their own chances off the rush. Not many teams have been able to do this to the Panthers. pic.twitter.com/KUCRqzYuVA
That’s the “what.” As for the “how”...
1-3-1 NZ trap by WSH, who seems to have decided that once FLA has full control of the puck, it's better to retreat instead of getting beat up-ice. pic.twitter.com/CHHif56Uim— Jack Han (@JhanHky) May 4, 2022
Moments before WSH's 2-2 goal.— Jack Han (@JhanHky) May 4, 2022
Weegar carries into the NZ trap while his teammates are on a change. Ovechkin was there. pic.twitter.com/wH83rZN7Va
[Jack has much more on the Caps’ neutral-zone tactics in his newsletter today, and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re into the X’s and O’s of it all.]
Go back and look at T.J. Oshie’s goal and it’s also the result of structured neutral-zone defending leading to a turnover and transition.
#FlaPanthers Brunette: "I think our execution could be a little better ... A lot of credit to them. They played a really good road game."— Erin Brown (@rinkside) May 4, 2022
What is the Caps’ biggest strength vs. the Panthers? Their biggest weakness?
The Caps’ biggest strength should be their experience behind the bench. This is Peter Laviolette’s 20th season as an NHL head coach. He’s coached 1,348 regular season games, 148 playoff matches (winning more than half) and taken three different teams to the Finals. Andrew Brunette wasn’t even an NHL head coach on opening night this season. Granted, he spent three years as an assistant under a pretty decent bench boss (on-ice, at least), but the Panthers were one-and-done in the last two postseasons and didn’t make the playoffs in that first year. You can win a lot of regular season games with a talent advantage (just ask Bruce Boudreau’s Caps), but you know I like to harp on how coaching in the playoffs is a totally different skill than doing it in the regular season. If the Caps have an edge in this series, this is where it is… in theory.
That advantage was very clearly borne out in Game 1 - Peter Laviolette made a tweak (as Jack Han noted, “This [1-3-1] NZ forecheck is somewhat different than the 1-1-3 Washington used in the regular season”), and now it’s Andrew Brunette’s turn to adjust. But if the Caps’ neutral-zone play can turn this series into “coin-flip hockey,” that gives them a much better chance than just about anyone gave them coming into the series. After all, “50/50” looks pretty decent when going 3-and-3 means advancing.
3. Willy or Won’t He?
The Caps’ victory in Game 1 is all the more impressive considering they did it down a key man for most of the night. Tom Wilson skated only three shifts and 1:31 on Tuesday night, leaving with a lower-body injury and not returning to the game:
Tom Wilson has a lower-body injury, per Laviolette. He’s still being evaluated.— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) May 4, 2022
It was an eventful three shifts - Wilson drew a penalty, scored a goal and registered two shots and a hit - which is a good microcosm of what the Caps would be missing if Wilson were to miss any more time. Wilson is a versatile winger who plays all situations and brings the type of game that NHL coaches and GMs drool over come spring time. But I don’t need to tell you that, and you don’t need these numbers to tell you that he was arguably the Caps’ most valuable forward during the regular season either, but here they are:
Connor McMichael can replace a lot of what Wilson brings to the table offensively, but he’s not Tom Wilson... something for which 31 rival GMs are probably thankful. Godspeed, Willy, who has to be considered questionable for Game 2 at this point.
And speaking of “questionable,” how about this headshot by Sam Bennett on John Carlson in the dying moments of the game?
In a League that actually cared about its players’ health and traumatic brain injuries, that hit would warrant supplemental discipline. But this is not that League, so expect Bennett to go unpunished... at least by the NHL.