The Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets will play a pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Capital One Arena on Saturday. The road team has prevailed in every game in this series so far.
The Capitals responded from overtime losses at home in Games 1 and 2 and tied the series with two wins at Nationwide Arena, winning 3-2 in double overtime in Game 3 and 4-1 in Game 4. The game will be telecast on NBC at 3 PM.
Here are five keys for the Capitals as they try to take a 3-2 lead on Saturday afternoon:
1. Keep Pressuring Bobrovsky
After sitting dead last in the league in shots per game with 29, the Capitals sit on top in the postseason with an average of 41.5 shots per game. The next best team in shots per game is the New Jersey Devils, who have averaged 36 shots per game in the playoffs.
The Capitals fired 77 shots at Columbus Blue Jackets’ goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus and scored seven goals in the last the last two games combined. The Capitals fired 88 shots in the first two games against Bobrovsky in Games 1 and 2 at home but couldn’t find a way to get a puck past the netminder during overtime.
The Capitals must continue firing pucks at the reigning Vezina Trophy winner to get goals. Washington scored two goals pressuring Bobrovsky in Game 4, scrambling in front of the net and firing three shots before Tom Wilson was able to score the first goal of the game and getting three rebounds before T.J. Oshie tucked in the second goal.
If the Capitals continue to get traffic in front of the net and pressure Bobrovsky, they will make it harder for him to stop pucks.
2. Take Advantage of Home Ice
Dating back to last year’s playoffs, the Capitals are 1-5 in their last six playoff games at Capital One Arena and are 3-6 since the beginning of last year’s playoffs despite going 28-11-2 (.707 winning percentage) at home during the regular season this year and 32-7-2 (.804 win percentage) at home during the regular season last year.
The Capitals must find a way to win at home. They fell in a 0-2 series hole because they weren’t able to take advantage of home ice for the second consecutive season. They were in the exact same situation in the Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins last season and only won one out of four home games in the seven-game series. They have only led on home ice going into the third period only once since the beginning of the Penguins series last spring.
The Capitals need to find a way to perform the way they did at Nationwide Arena, especially since the Blue Jackets will come out hard after the Capitals dominated them in Game 4. Washington will have to come out with the same urgency and intensity as the Columbus Blue Jackets to win tomorrow afternoon.
3. First Line
Kuznetsov had a goal and four points in Game 4 and has three goals and six points in the series, Ovechkin had a goal and an assist in Game 4 and has three goals and six points in the series (including three straight two-point games), and Wilson had a goal and two points in Game 4 and has two goals and three points in the past two games.
The line combined for half of the Capitals’ goals in Columbus and has outscored the entire Blue Jackets roster in Games 3 and 4 by a 4-3 count in those two games. The Capitals will need the top trio to continue the hot hand and bring their scoring back home with them.
4. Depth Scoring
Wilson, Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin may have produced most of the offense for the Capitals in the series but the bottom six has also played a big role. The Capitals have three players in their bottom six that have scored a goal in this series so far (Devante Smith-Pelly, Lars Eller, and Jay Beagle each have one). T.J. Oshie also had two goals in this series and scored in Game 4.
The Capitals may have gotten contributions from seven different players but Nicklas Backstrom, Brett Connolly, and Jakub Vrana have yet to score in the series. Every one of those players scored more than 10 goals in the regular season (Backstrom had 21, Connolly had 15, and Vrana had 13) but haven’t pitched in like the Capitals need them to, though Backstrom has five assists in those four games. Vrana and Connolly each just have an assist.
In addition, the defense has combined for just 11 points in the series, 8 of which came from John Carlson. No one else has more than one assist. Washington’s other defensemen need to contribute like they did during the regular season when they combined for 176 points, including 140 at even strength.
5. Braden Holtby
After Philipp Grubauer started the series and gave up eight goals on 49 shots (.837 save percentage) in Game 1 and 2, the Capitals flipped to Braden Holtby in the third period of Game 2, when he made seven saves on eight shots.
Holtby has been excellent and has reclaimed the starting job in winning Games 3 and 4, giving up just 3 goals on 59 shots. He also hasn’t given up a power-play goal in the series, though he has just seen three shots on seven power plays against.
Holtby was excellent in Games 3 and 4 and will have to stay hot in Game 5 for the Capitals to head to Columbus one win away from Round 2.
Capitals’ Projected Lines
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) April 19, 2018
Andre Burakovsky will miss the remainder of the First Round and will have “minor surgery.” He has been out since Game 2 with an upper-body injury following a hit from Blue Jackets’ forward Boone Jenner. Coach Barry Trotz said that he could return to the postseason if the Capitals go deep.
Blue Jackets’ Projected Lines – TBD
A few line tweaks for Blue Jackets
I guess that means Vanek has been dropped to fourth line.
— Tom Gulitti (@TomGulittiNHL) April 20, 2018
— Brian McNally (@bmcnally14) April 19, 2018
Center Alexander Wennberg has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury but skated with the Blue Jackets today. He was not assigned to a line, though. The Blue Jackets did not rule him out of the series but he probably will not play Game 5.
By Harrison Brown