Backstrom provides OT winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead

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The Washington Capitals are on the verge of the second round.

Yes, the Capitals, who began the series with back-to-back losses in Game 1 and 2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, are now on the brink of eliminating Ohio’s team after Nicklas Backstrom‘s deft deflection in overtime gave the Capitals their third straight win and a 3-2 series lead.

It was the fourth time in the series both clubs played to a tie in regulation. After Columbus won the first two in OT, Washington replied with a win in double-overtime in Game 3 before Backstrom ended Game 5 at the 11:53 mark of the first frame of free hockey.

Backstrom scored his first goal of the series to open the scoring for the Caps and assisted for the sixth time in the series on the go-ahead goal in the second period before Oliver Bjorkstrand tied it in third.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Braden Holtby had to be sharp, especially in the third period as, inexplicably, the Caps were outshot 16-1. At home. Holtby made 40 saves when it was all said and done.

Two-hundred feet away, Sergei Bobrovsky was up to the task, making some silly stops including a big one on Alex Ovechkin earlier in overtime and a bigger one in regulation time off the same man’s stick.

Game 6 of this series is slated for Monday in Columbus, with a start time still to be determined.

In his post-game comments, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said, twice, that his team will be back in the capital for Game 7.

The promise has been made.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Chandler Stephenson scores twice in Caps 5-3 win over Flyers

Coming into Wednesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Washington Capitals had lost three of their last four games.

In a different vein, the Philadelphia Flyers were, well, flying.

Winners of nine of their past 11, they were heading into the nation’s capital against a team without a win in three straight at Capital One Arena.

None of the preambles mattered, however, as the Caps snapped their skid at home in a 5-3 win, scoring five unanswered and battling back from a 2-0 first-period deficit to increase their Metropolitan Division lead to six points over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Washington became the fourth team in the NHL to reach 30 wins behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets.

Philly got off to a quick start, with the second pick in the 2017 NHL Draft opened the scoring.

Nolan Patrick took a nice feed from Wayne Simmonds pulled the puck to his backhand and potted it up and over Braden Holby for a 1-0 lead 1:18 into the first period.

The Flyers doubled their lead before the eight-minute mark.

A nice rush from Sean Couturier resulted saved shot, but the rebound found its way to the stick of Travis Konecny, who buried his 11th of the season with Holtby down and out after getting knocked over by his own defender.

The Caps needed 47 seconds to erase the lead in the second period.

Rookie Chandler Stephensen stepped up in a big way, scoring both of the goals.

Stephenson cleaned up some garbage that Michal Neuvirth couldn’t manage in front for the first goal at 2:14.

Stephenson’s second came on the heels of a beautiful 150-foot pass by Madison Bowey to send the former in alone on Neuvirth.

Stephenson made no mistake, tying the game 2-2 at 3:01.

The Caps took their first lead of the night before periods’ end.

Andre Burakovsky got his stick on Lars Eller‘s centering pass, beating Neuvirth for a third time in the second frame to give the Caps a 3-2 lead.

T.J. Oshie made it 4-2 early in the third period and Washington’s fifth unanswered goal by Devante Smith-Pelly meant the end of Neuvirth’s night after allowing five goals on 20 shots.

Jakub Voracek hit double digits with his 10th of the season late.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Washington Capitals are up to their old tricks again

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The Washington Capitals are doing that thing again.

It seems every year they find a way to work themselves into the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. They’ve finished first in their division seven times out of the past 10 seasons and second twice. Only once — a fifth-place showing — have they been outside the top two during the past decade.

It’s become as predictable as it is remarkable.

And this year, at first glance, it’s sort of surprising.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin is still scoring, Nicklas Backstrom is still assisting and Braden Holtby is still stopping a lot of pucks.

But the Caps also took, what at least appeared to be at the time, a big hit on the backend over the summer.

Offensively, not much has changed (although they did lose Marcus Johannson’s 24 goals) but losing Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency and Nate Schmidt in the expansion draft left a sizeable hole to be filled on the blueline.

[Alex Ovechkin has never had a goal-scoring run like this]

Statistically speaking, they’ve also regressed from the numbers they put up last season when they amassed 55 wins.

They had the fourth best Corsi rating in the NHL last season, a statistic that made sense giving their winning prowess. Yet this year, with 21 wins, they sit 23rd in the category they dominated last season.

The same story plays out in expected goals, where they sat ninth last season yet are in 26th place now.

Analytically, a lot of their success this season doesn’t seem to add up, and yet they’ve won eight of their last 10 games and are currently on a three-game heater.

So why are they tied for first place in the Metro? There are a few answers to be had.

In the scoring department, several players have stepped up. Jakub Vrana has 10 goals in 33 games after three in 21 games last year and Tom Wilson is just three points shy of the 19 points he put up in 82 games last season. Brett Connolly and Alex Chaisson are also scoring at better rates and Washington sits eighth in five-on-five scoring.

What is also helping is their high shooting percentage.

At 9.22 percent, the Caps sit in fifth in the league, and their PDO, when you combine their shooting percentage and team save percentage, sits at 101.98, good for the third spot in the NHL.

And the Caps have proven they can keep that number high. Only two teams finished with over nine percent last season, and the Caps were one of them.

On defence, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov have picked up the slack. The rookie third pairing of Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey is averaging 14 minutes a game and have been a solid addition.

And Holtby, is well, Holtby, which has been especially helpful given Philipp Grubauer‘s struggles to return to last year’s form so far.

So the Caps, for the most part, are in a good spot.

The biggest question that will surround the Caps, assuming they hold serve, is if they can replicate it in the playoffs.

Despite winning a slew of regular season games, the Capitals just can’t figure out how to do the same in April and May.

In nine of the past ten seasons they’ve made the playoffs, they’ve failed to even sniff the Eastern Conference Final, never mind a Stanley Cup final berth.

But that’s another story for another day, as it were.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Washington Capitals

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

PROJECTED LINES

Blackhawks

Hartman – Toews – Hayden

Saad – Anisimov – Kane

Bouma – Schmaltz – DeBrincat

Sharp – Wingels – Panik

Keith – Franson

Murphy – Seabrook

Forsling – Rutta

Staring goalie: Anton Forsberg

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Hawks try to snap four-game losing skid against Capitals

Capitals

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Wilson

Vrana – Kuznetsov – Chiasson

Connolly – Eller – Boyd

Stephenson – Beagle – Smith-Pelly

Orlov – Niskanen

Orpik – Carlson

Djoos – Bowey

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

PHT Morning Skate: Evander Kane wins back girlfriend with billboard in L.A.

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Buffalo Sabres’ forward Evander Kane recently put up a billboard on the Sunset Strip to win back his model girlfriend Mara Teigen. (TMZ)

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby is going with an old school look on his mask this season. (Bar Down)

Seattle’s arena project took step forward recently as the design for potential building was approved. (The Hockey News)

This season’s NHL trade deadline will be moved to Feb. 29, 2016, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie. (theScore)

Life after hockey is an ‘abrupt reality check’. (The Canadian Press)

Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin showed off his football skills recently while doing some agility training. Have a look: