Story highlights: The Washington Capitals find themselves down 2-0 in their NHL Stanley Cup playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets – but the Caps can only blame themselves for the predicament they have found themselves in.
By Glynn Cosker
Managing Editor, DCpuckDrop
The Washington Capitals lost 5-4 in overtime to the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday night to end up in a 2-0 playoff series hole that few NHL teams have managed to dig themselves out of. The Capitals had a two-goal lead Sunday, gave a goal back, regained the two-goal lead and then allowed the Blue Jackets back in again – thanks to stupid penalties – and eventually lost in overtime. Sound familiar? It was a remarkably similar story in Game 1 on Thursday. The second consecutive overtime loss is yet another bitter pill to swallow for fans, players and coaching staff alike.
Alex Ovechkin on Fire
The evening started out well enough for the Capitals. Jay Beagle opened the scoring early on with a deft deflection off a Brooks Orpik slap shot. Alex Ovechkin was in overdrive mode from the outset and looked like he was there to take charge of the situation and win the game for his team. He was all over the ice, hitting opponents with ferocity, he was strong on the back-check, and he was shooting at will. It was just a matter of time before he found the net, and he scored his signature goal from the point on the power play with 6:34 left in the first.
Things were looking good for Ovechkin and the Capitals. The Blue Jackets’ Cam Atkinson pulled one back late in the first, but Ovechkin was there again in the second stanza to score another power-play goal. A neutral fan watching the game – and seeing Ovechkin on fire – would assume it would be plain-sailing for the Caps from then on out. But, that would be a neutral fan who was somehow unaware of the Caps’ post-season history during the past 20 years.
Needless Penalty #1: Tom Wilson
Josh Anderson, a Columbus player who shouldn’t have even been on the ice because of the hit he issued to Michal Kempny in Game 1, slotted home (up high on Philipp Grubauer’s glove side) to make the score 3-2 Caps with 11:11 left in the second. Soon after that, we had needless penalty #1 of the game when Tom Wilson decided to pull a Blue Jacket out of a harmless goalmouth scrum and throw him down to the ice to earn an avoidable roughing minor. Atkinson scored his second tally on the subsequent power play to even the game at 3-3 – again the goal was scored high on Grubauer’s glove side. Seth Jones scored the same way in Game 1, as did Artemi Panarin; had the Blue Jackets figured out Grubauer? It must have weighed heavily on Caps’ head coach Barry Trotz’s mind after that second Atkinson goal.
Needless Penalty #2: Devante Smith-Pelly
Toward the end of the second, the Capitals committed needless penalty #2 when Devante Smith-Pelly inexplicably hugged a Columbus stick for five seconds. The ensuing holding-the-stick penalty and Blue Jackets man-advantage saw Zach Werenski convert from just inside the blue line to give the Blue Jackets a 4-3 lead. Two dumb penalties by Washington resulted in two goals for Columbus, and that also happened in Game 1. In short, lapses of judgement and common sense cost Washington dearly in Game 1 and Game 2.
Caps Score – and Hit the Post Twice in the Third
After Braden Holtby replaced Grubauer in goal for Washington to start the third period, the Blue Jackets gifted the Caps with a silly penalty of their own when Werenski sat for delay of game, and T. J. Oshie smashed home a goal on the power play from the high slot to tie the game at 4-4 with 3:35 left to play in the game. And, with less than 25 seconds left in the game – and on the power play (again) – the Caps almost won it when John Carlson ripped a shot from the blue line off the post. That was the second pipe-ringer of the period; earlier, Alex Chiasson saw his deflected shot ping off the same post.
Capitals Miss Opportunity – Blue Jackets Convert Theirs
So, into overtime we went – and after surviving a penalty kill early on, the Capitals went close a few times but couldn’t convert. Wilson fanned on a shot from the point (where Ovechkin usually hangs out) after Evgeny Kuznetsov chose the passing option over shooting the puck himself with both Wilson and Ovechkin nearby to slot home any rebounds. By the way, Wilson had a mostly empty net to aim at. However, it wasn’t to be and soon after that opportunity, the Blue Jackets’ got the win when Werenski did what Kuznetsov should have done earlier (he shot the puck) – and Matt Calvert jammed home the rebound.
A Tale of 3 Goalies
Replacing Grubauer with Holtby was the correct move by Trotz, and Holtby should start Game 3 between the pipes. Grubauer was sublime during the last month of the regular season, he thoroughly deserved to start the playoffs, but the Jackets got in his head a bit too much over his 100 minutes in net through two games. At the other end of the ice, Blue Jackets’ netminder Sergei Bobrovsky was incredible. He was Columbus’s best player and made a career-best 54 saves from Washington’s 58 shots. ‘Bob’ needs a bad game (or two) if the Capitals have any chance of salvaging this series. That said, even if Bobrovsky continues to shine, if the Capitals can’t win games after scoring four goals and taking 58 shots, they cannot possibly win this Stanley Cup playoffs series.
Heading into Game 3, a few things need to happen to get the Capitals back in contention: First, the discipline needs to return, because both games saw goals against after senseless and needless Capitals penalties; second, Holtby must start Game 3; and third, it’s time to inject something new into the offense. Andre Burakovsky left Game 2 early on with an upper-body injury and is now day-to-day. Trotz should bring back Jakub Vrana and – this would be a gutsy move – slot rookie Shane Gersich into the bottom six. Business as usual always fails for the Capitals in the postseason, year in and year out.
Game 3 of the series is in Columbus on Tuesday night at 7.30 p.m. ET.