- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2019

Late in the third period of Thursday’s game, Nicklas Backstrom did exactly the type of thing that separates playoff hockey from the regular season. As the Carolina Hurricanes were on the power play, looking to tie the game, the Capitals star used his body as a shield using to block two shots.

Backstrom’s effort was part of an overall effective penalty kill that helped the Capitals hold on in a 4-2 win. Carolina scored twice in the third, but couldn’t capitalize on its two power-play opportunities after those goals.

The Capitals now lead the series 1-0.

“It was good to face some adversity, make us realize how much each play means,” defenseman John Carlson said. “Yeah, at the end, that was big, a lot of big-time blocks, big time clears and guys paying the price and that’s what we’re going to need.

“No team is going to just roll over no matter what the score in the playoffs and I think we did a good job taking care of business there.”

Washington didn’t need to be reminded of how quickly games can change in the playoffs. A year ago, they trailed the Columbus Blue Jackets two-games-to-none because they surrendered two-goal leads in each of them.

But they were still tested, regardless. Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov scored both of his two goals 2:19 apart after the Capitals initially led 3-0. Then wingers Jakub Vrana and T.J. Oshie each committed penalties — causing the Capital One Arena crowd to get quiet.

Washington’s penalty kill, too, was a question mark heading into the postseason. They finished the year ranked just 24th (78.9 percent), and those numbers were actually boosted thanks to a strong second half. After the All-Star Break, the Capitals had allowed just 15 power play goals on 85 opportunities, the 11th-best in that span.

Earlier this week, veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik attributed that improvement to the fact the unit was on the ice for less time. “The more you put a PK unit out there, the more tired they get and then you put good power plays on the ice, the more they’re going to figure you out,” he said.

Still, Washington needed to prove they could stop power plays in high-leverage situations. Though it was just one game, Thursday was a good start.

They killed off a 6-on-4, too, after Carolina pulled goaltender Petr Mrazek. 

“Even if you let them back in the game with two goals in the third, we didn’t panic,” Backstrom said. “We stuck with it, and the penalty kill there, that’s what you need, stuff like that. You need everybody.”

In general, Washington finished the game with 17 blocked shots — up from the 15 they averaged in the regular season. Throughout the game, Carolina was often more aggressive — outshooting Washington, 29-18.

The Capitals’ credited Carolina’s push, noting that their shot volume helped keep the puck in their zone.

Carlson said the Capitals have to address that area moving forward. The two teams meet again Saturday for Game 2.

“(We) did a good job kind of weathering the storm there in the third, but would certainly like to have a little bit better,” Carlson said.

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