Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHL via Getty Images
While the third period provided the Capitals and their fans in Capital One Arena with a bit of a scare, the rest of the team’s 4-2 Game 1 victory on Thursday night was due in large part to the efforts of some of the Caps’ highest-profile and big-name players, who pushed the home team to a hard-fought win in their opening game of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Star center Nicklas Backstrom kicked off the Caps’ three-goal first period with a wicked wrist shot over the shoulder of Carolina Hurricanes‘ goaltender Petr Mrazek to put the Red, White, and Blue ahead 1-0 at the 9:58 mark of the opening frame,
and potted his second goal of the contest just a few minutes later on the power play.
Backstrom played 18:13 on the night for Head Coach Todd Reirden, including just under five minutes over the Caps’ four power play opportunities (two of which the team converted on) and won 43% of his faceoffs on the night.
Captain (and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner) Alex Ovechkin also added a goal (the Capitals’ other power play marker) at the tail-end of the first period to give the Caps a lead they never relinquished (and one that was crucial in preserving the team’s eventual win) and the Capitals’ best player, who played with fire during the franchise’s Stanley Cup run last summer, appears to be ready to repeat his individual run this spring. With the goal (his 62nd postseason tally), Ovechkin tied Bobby Hull for 27th All-Time.
Defenseman John Carlson also had a banner first period, recording assists on all three opening frame goals; per The Washington Post, he tied a record for assists in a single period in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. With the three helpers, he passed Capitals’ greats Peter Bondra and Michal Pivonka in All-Time Postseason Points to take sole possession of fifth on the franchise playoff scoring list and with three more points, will pass Mike Ridley for fourth.
John Carlson had a historic first period.
The #Capitals defenseman tied the NHL’s playoff record for assists in a period.
— Post Sports (@PostSports) April 12, 2019
Right wing Tom Wilson and center Evgeny Kuznetsov also added assists of their own to aid in the eventual 4-2 victory. Goaltender Braden Holtby had a solid Game 1 performance, finishing with a save percentage of .931, stopping 24 of 26 shots fired at him by Carolina at even-strength (27 of 29 in total), while continuing his strong play from the end of the regular season.
If the Capitals are going to successfully defend their championship, they are going to need these kinds of games from their top players (all of the players mentioned above are among the team’s top paid players in terms of Annual Average Value), in addition to the secondary scoring and fantastic goaltending that bolstered their run in 2018. And if Game 1 is anything to go by, that won’t be a problem going forward.
By Michael Fleetwood