- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Washington Capitals saw the Carolina Hurricanes‘ five-goal win in Game 3, and they said, “We’ll raise you one.”

Nicklas Backstrom posted two goals and two assists, Alex Ovechkin had a goal and two helpers and the Capitals trounced Carolina 6-0 Saturday at Capital One Arena to take a 3-2 series lead.

Braden Holtby made 30 saves for his seventh career postseason shutout, the most by any goalie in franchise history. Brett Connolly, Tom Wilson and Nic Dowd also scored, and John Carlson and Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded two assists apiece.

With one more victory, the Capitals will advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals to take on the New York Islanders. Game 6 against the Hurricanes is Monday at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.

It was the biggest statement the defending Stanley Cup champions could make after losing two straight games at Carolina and scoring a total of one goal on the road.



Special teams came up huge for Washington — the Capitals went 3-for-4 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill. But they also played better at even strength than they have all series.

“It’s big because we did it the right way,” Holtby said. “The forecheck was the best it’s been all series … Now we know what we have to do. It’s about bringing it in Game 6 now.”

Coach Todd Reirden praised the level of physicality his players brought Saturday after being disappointed with it during the series, in both wins and losses.

“We just felt that we really hadn’t imposed our will and played the type of physical brand of hockey that we’re capable of,” Reirden said. “We knew we had another level to get to. And that was a real strong point, was how we were able to respond in that aspect, because I think it is something that makes our team special — is the ability to be able to execute high-end skill play but still be able to really physically be abrasive on the forecheck and then all over the ice and make it difficult for the opposition.”

Backstrom’s first goal came on the power play, when Carlson and Wilson set up a tic-tac-toe play to him while on the forecheck. Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek stopped the first effort, but Backstrom reached for his own rebound and popped it through before Mrazek could cover the puck.

Through the meat of the second period, the Capitals killed three Carolina power plays in a row, including one resulting from a questionable goaltender interference call. Moments after the third kill, Ovechkin took a loose puck for an easy 2-on-1 rush with Backstrom, and the Swedish center delivered the pass to the top shelf.

Backstrom leads the Capitals with five goals in the series — matching his goal total from the entire 2018 postseason.

“It was great. I feel like when we play this way, you get confidence,” Backstrom said. “Guys are buzzing and guys are giving each other energy on the bench, too. We just keep pushing and pushing, and that’s what we like to do.”

Two minutes after Backstrom’s second, Ovechkin went behind the Hurricanes‘ net, shepherded the puck away from a defender and sent a pass to Connolly right on the tape to score. Connolly subbed in for Wilson in the middle of the play and skated in, uncovered.

To put a bow on Washington’s excellent middle frame, Sebastian Aho drew a tripping penalty that carried into the start of the third. Wilson scored in the waning seconds of the power play, sweeping in a puck from the crease that was also aided by an accidental kick by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Washington didn’t relent as Carolina crumbled. Dowd found himself on a solo breakaway, and officials deemed a Hurricanes player interfered with him from behind as he shot. Dowd was awarded a penalty shot and scored.

Dowd said he hadn’t taken many penalty shots before in his career.

“Oh, I think five, and I missed all five of them,” he said. “I took a couple in college, maybe two in the NHL and zero percent. Not a big fan of those things, but I guess it helped a little bit we were up 4-0 at the time. Just fortunate that it went in.”

Ovechkin added his goal by scoring from the left circle two seconds into a power play to reach 6-0. It marked the largest playoff shutout win in Capitals history.

Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour bemoaned how his team let a close game become a bloodbath.

“It was a 1-0 game still and we got three power plays in a row and don’t even execute anything,” Brind’Amour said. “So that to me is kind of where the tipping point kind of was and they just took it from there.”

This is the only series of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs where the home team has won every game. But if the Capitals carry this swagger into Raleigh — and continue playing their best hockey to exploit a team that was missing three of its regular top 12 forwards Saturday — they’re in position to clinch the series victory on the road.

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