The Washington Capitals opened the 2019 NHL Playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes and looked confident holding serve at home with a 2-0 series lead. Carolina responded by limiting Washington to one goal over the next two games, knotting the series at two apiece, and knocking out superstar T.J. Oshie in one of the most chippy games in recent history.
With the Canes playing with emotion in front of their boisterous home fans, was Saturday a must win home game for the Caps in order to advance to round two? With the potency the Hurricanes have been playing with in their building, Washington responded with a 6-0 statement victory exhibiting more urgency at Capital One Arena.
The Ovechkin Fight
The highlight of a physical Game 3 in Carolina was Alexander Ovechkin dropping the gloves with 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov. Ovechkin opened up a can of whoop ass on his fellow countryman by knocking out the rookie and slamming him to the ice. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound winger reminded opponents he can throw hands as well as score.
Svechnikov earned a black eye for his efforts, and afterwards the Hurricanes allowed only 15 shots in a shutout victory. Ovechkin won the battle, Svechnikov won the war. While fighting the Capitals captain is never a good idea, this decision seemed to work in favor of the home team as they responded for their young star by dominating the game after the fight.
Will the Real Kuznetsov Please Stand Up?
Evgeny Kuznetsov was unmanageable at times during the Capitals’ 2018 Cup run. His play in particular against the Pittsburgh Penguins was sensational and his 32 points and plus-12 rating put him in the discussion for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Kuznetsov hasn’t been terrible boasting five assists in five games in this series, but the Caps need him to start scoring.
Can the Capitals win the series without Kuznetsov having a big game? Carolina has been pestering Ovechkin and with Oshie out of the lineup, #92 needs to take on more of the offensive workload. Caps fans will be hoping for a few of his classic bird celebrations to finish off the Hurricanes Monday night.
Tom Wilson Time
With the dirty play that led to the Oshie loss and the overall physical play exhibited in this series thus far, Tom Wilson set the tone early in Game 5. Wilson showed his ability to take over a game with his toughness as well as improved offensive skills.
If Wilson continues his high energy style, draws more penalties and can put more traffic in front of Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek it will be a boost for the Capitals. Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom need someone to take the Hurricanes’ attention away from them. Fans also rally off of his play and that was key on Saturday to shift the momentum in the series. Don’t be surprised to see #43 deliver an early big hit and maybe even a clutch power-play tally in Game 6.
Pressure on Todd Reirden
Game 5 was a huge night for Capitals’ head coach Todd Reirden. Barry Trotz was masterful in these situations last season at getting the team to perform at their best in the most critical situations.
A first-round exit after being up 2-0 would signal Trotz leaving as the worst mistake owner Ted Leonsis has made during his tenure. Even the Capitals’ lackluster road performance thus far, combined with the Islanders’ success, has fans questioning the decision of not paying Trotz to stay. The Caps bounced back from many situations in the Cup run last season and Saturday was a huge win for the first year head coach in these playoffs.
Reirden has the horses and they all have championship experience but this could put even more pressure on the new bench boss to deliver. Will Washington close the series out in six or is a pressure cooker Game 7 in the future in this entertaining series?