Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin came out firing, the Carolina Hurricanes surged and the Washington Capitals showed why they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions when it mattered most.
“We didn’t panic,” Backstrom said after his third career two-goal game in the playoffs. “We stuck with it.”
One night after watching the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning blow a three-goal lead and lose 4-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Capitals went up 3-0 at 18:05 of the first period and had the sellout crowd decked out in red fired up for the first playoff game in Washington since the franchise won its first title in June. The Hurricanes took it to the Capitals, outshooting them 29-18 and got two goals in 2:19 from Svechnikov early in the third period to cut the deficit to one.
The Capitals, who led Columbus 2-0 in each of the first two games of last year’s playoffs before losing 4-3 and 5-4, had those experiences and the Lightning’s loss on Wednesday fresh in their minds.
“We knew it’s not over, even 15-nothing,” Ovechkin said. “You can see what happened last night in a different game. It’s the playoffs and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Svechnikov became the youngest player to score two-plus goals in a playoff game since Dainius Zubrus in 1997, but the Hurricanes failed to score on two late power plays and Eller sealed it with an empty-net goal with 36.6 seconds left. Despite the loss, the young Hurricanes go into Game 2 Saturday knowing they can go toe-to-toe with the playoff-seasoned Capitals.
“We’re here. We can play with them,” defenceman Jaccob Slavin said. “One of the biggest positives is that we’ve got a group in here that can play. Obviously they’re the defending champs, they’re a good team and they won last year for a reason and they know how to do it on that side. But I thought we stuck with them.”
Carolina, which had 10 players making their playoff debuts after ending the NHL’s longest post-season drought, didn’t go away. In the Hurricanes’ first playoff game since 2009, they showed a lot of the fight that allowed them to climb the standings and get in after some early-season scoring struggles.
“They’re aggressive all over the ice and didn’t give us a lot of time out there, but I think as a team we can play a little bit better,” Backstrom said. “We got lucky there.”