Nic Dowd

Capitals blow out Hurricanes in Game 5

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Much like earlier in this series, the Washington Capitals got off to a quick lead at home in Game 5. This time around, they never really let the Carolina Hurricanes back into the contest, and eventually turned the game into a blowout.

Washington won Game 5 by a lopsided score of 6-0, giving themselves a 3-2 series lead, and thus pushing the Hurricanes to the brink of elimination.

Nicklas Backstrom is best known for being one of the premier passers in the NHL, yet he continues to be one of the hottest shooters of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Backstrom scored the first two goals of Game 5, pushing his postseason total to five goals. Backstrom finished with five goals in 20 games (but also 18 assists for 23 points) during the Capitals’ 2018 Stanley Cup run, and has never scored more than six goals during any single postseason run during his career … so yeah, this is an unusual sniping run for a Selke-level playmaker. Overall, Backstrom finished Game 5 with two goals and two assists.

Backstrom wasn’t the only big-name Capitals player who enjoyed a strong Game 5. Alex Ovechkin was a force, but physically and offensively, throwing his body around in a way that was reminiscent to his most boisterous, younger NHL days.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Ovechkin’s alertness and physicality factored into the 3-0 goal, which resulted in Ovechkin setting up a dagger Brett Connolly goal. Was Dougie Hamilton shying away from a potential Ovechkin hit before Ovechkin retrieved the puck? Was Hamilton just confused/pondering abstract art?

Whatever the case may be, that 3-0 goal sapped a lot of energy from the Hurricanes, as it made a third-period comeback go from difficult to nigh-impossible.

Tom Wilson‘s power-play goal 1:04 into the third moved the goalposts back even further, and then the Capitals really ran away with Game 5 thanks to additional goals by Alex Ovechkin and Nic Dowd, the latter scoring on a penalty shot.

Ovechkin ended up with a goal and two assists, while Braden Holtby pitched a 30-save shutout.

Overall, the defending champions looked very much like defending champions on Saturday. The Hurricanes have an opportunity to regain their composure when the series shifts back to Carolina for Game 6, but if Carolina wants to be the latest underdog to come through during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they’ll have to win two in a row — which means beating this Capitals team at home, where Washington seems to find yet another level. If Saturday is any indication, that won’t be an easy task, at all.

The Capitals aim to move on, while the Hurricanes hope to survive in Game 6 at PNC Arena on Monday at 7 p.m. ET. The game’s airing on NBCSN. (livestream)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Hurricanes’ Ferland handed match penalty for debatable head shot

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The Carolina Hurricanes can hardly afford to lose Micheal Ferland, but that might be the reality they’re living after a bad hit got him ejected from Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Saturday.

Trailing 2-1 to the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in the second period — and down 1-0 in the best-of-7 series — the Hurricanes forward made his way across the ice to deliver a thundering hit on Capitals forward Nic Dowd, who was reaching for a puck with Ferland tried to obliterate him.

This is where the debate will begin.

Ferland was assessed a match penalty after he appeared to catch Dowd in the head after taking the predatory route to find him entering the Hurricanes zone. That’s how it looked in real time and the basis for the decision to punt Ferland form the game.

Dowd, in turn, left the game to enter concussion protocol but returned before the period ended.

The other half of the debate comes when you slow down the video. Was the initial point of contact to the head? That comes into question upon replay. Dowd was in a vulnerable spot reaching for the puck that had got away from him. He was defenseless on the play and Ferland blew him up anyway but the match penalty for the headshot may be rescinded based on the replay showing that the principle point of contact may not have been the head at all.

The Capitals failed to find the back of the net on their extended power play, which ended early thanks to a T.J. Oshie hooking call.

Ferland scored 17 goals and had 40 points this season, good for a fourth place on the team but hadn’t recorded a point in two and a bit playoff games so far. Dowd doesn’t play many minutes (he played just 6:40 in Game 1) but depth is key in the playoffs. In any case, it was good to see he wasn’t concussed on the play.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, too.

In a head shot that was clearly not debatable, Dougie Hamilton extended his elbow into the noggin of Kuznetsov’s in the same frame. Hamilton was assesed a two-minute minor for elbowing on the play, but given how he threw that elbow into the head, there might be some supplemental discipline waiting for him, too.


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

Capitals clinch Metro title; Canadiens’ playoff hopes look dim

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Apparently a Stanley Cup hangover won’t always stop you from winning your division.

The Washington Capitals locked up the Metropolitan Division title on Thursday after slipping by the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 2-1.

As hard as the Canadiens fought on Thursday, they likely feel deflated from losing in regulation. With 94 points in 81 games played, the Habs would now max out at 96 if they won their last game. They can only grab the second and final wild-card spot, as current top wild-card team Carolina ended its lengthy playoff drought by reaching 97 points. The only team the Canadiens can leapfrog is now the Columbus Blue Jackets, and that feels like a longshot, as Columbus would need to lose both of its remaining games (against the lowly Rangers and Senators).

Both goalies and defenses were sharp in this tight-checking game, so it came down to who could capitalize on more mistakes. That ended up being the Capitals, as Andre Burakovsky created some havoc before setting up Nic Dowd for the game-winner a little less than three minutes into the second period.

Dowd isn’t the type of player you think of when you consider one of the Capitals’ strengths: making the most of their shots. They have the sort of shooting talent that can overcome sometimes-middling possession stats, and that’s something you couldn’t always say for the Canadiens. Montreal did a lot more right than expected this season, but if this run is coming to an end — and it sure looks like it’s coming to an end — then it might be about their firepower just being a little less potent. That was certainly the case against the Capitals, at least.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Canadiens on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday night’s matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Montreal scored a huge win on Tuesday with a 4-2 victory over the Presidents’ Trophy winning Lightning. The Habs rebounded from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits before outscoring Tampa 2-0 in the third. Their previous win came against the Central-leading Jets. They face their third straight division leader tonight.

The Canadiens enter Thursday one point behind the Hurricanes for the first Wild Card and tied with the Blue Jackets in points for the second Wild Card, but still on the outside looking in due to the ROW tiebreaker. After their game against Washington, they’ll end the season at home against Toronto.

With two games to play, the Capitals lead the Metro by three points over the Islanders. Washington is vying for its fourth consecutive division title.

Three-time MVP and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin is aiming to break a tie with Bobby Hull (7x) to become the first player in NHL history to finish atop the goal-scoring race eight times. Ovechkin (33 years old) can also become the first player since Phil Esposito in 1975 to lead the league in goals at age 33 or older.

On Saturday against Tampa, Ovechkin found the net twice, registering his 50th and 51st goals of the season. Those 51 goals are the most in the league, four ahead of Toronto’s John Tavares and Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who both have 47. Ovechkin joined Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players to record eight or more 50-plus goal seasons.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Thursday, April 4, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Canadiens-Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhillip Danault –  Brendan Gallagher
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiAndrew Shaw
Jonathan DrouinJordan WealJoel Armia
Jesperi KotkaniemiNate ThompsonPaul Byron

Victor MeteShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Jordie BennChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerBrett Connolly
Andre BurakovskyNic DowdTravis Boyd

John CarlsonNick Jensen
Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikChristian Djoos

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

John Walton (play-by-play) and Joe Micheletti (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Pre-game coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

Capitals clinch playoff spot, spoil Hurricanes’ final Storm Surge

AP

The defending Stanley Cup champions have officially punched their tickets for the playoffs.

Nic Dowd‘s late third period goal on Thursday night lifted the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes –their second win over the Hurricanes in three days — sending them to the playoffs and getting them one step closer to another Metropolitan Division title.

While the win is significant for the Capitals, the big story out of this game might be what the result does to the Hurricanes as they now find themselves in what will be a three-team scramble to the finish for two wild card spots.

Their loss on Thursday, combined with the Columbus Blue Jackets’ big win over the Montreal Canadiens, means the Hurricanes now sit just one point ahead of both teams in the race for a Wild Card spot with five games remaining in the season.

There are definitely worse positions to be in, but they are not anywhere near as comfortable as they seemed to be earlier in the week after their big overtime win against the Canadiens.

Thursday’s loss also spoiled the Hurricanes’ plans for one final storm surge celebration as team captain Justin Williams announced earlier in the day that this game, regardless of the outcome, would be the final post-game Storm Surge celebration of the season.

There was no Storm Surge following the game.

This has been an exciting season for a young Hurricanes team that has taken a huge step forward and helped re-energize a fanbase that hadn’t had much reason to be optimistic over the past decade.

But how much will that matter if the team can’t finish the job and end what is currently the league’s longest playoff drought? They are still in a playoff position as of now, while three of their final five games are against teams currently outside of a playoff spot (two against the Philadelphia Flyers, one against the New Jersey Devils), but the pressure is almost certainly going to increase after Thursday’s results in the Eastern Conference.

Related: Hurricanes’ Storm Surge is sadly coming to an end

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.