Nicklas Backstrom celebrates with John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin (Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Washington Capitals held off a late surge by the Philadelphia Flyers and are heading to the second round of the post-season thanks to a 1-0 victory in Game 6. When Washington needed it most, their stars provided the game’s only goal, as was the case all series long.
The Philadelphia Flyers put a scare into the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals, but Washington is moving on to the second round for the second consecutive season thanks to a 1-0 win in Game 6.
In a series that was lopsided, no matter what the scoreboard might tell you, the Capitals simply overpowered the Flyers much like they had nearly every opponent during the regular season. Washington’s top players looked like their top players, and it was fitting that when the Capitals desperately needed a goal, it was the two undeniable faces of the franchise — Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom — that teamed up to make it happen.
Backstrom’s goal, which was the lone marker of the contest, came midway through the second frame after Ovechkin made an impressive play to hold the puck inside the Flyers’ zone. Ovechkin fought off a check from Philadelphia blueliner Radko Gudas, moved the puck to Marcus Johansson, who then made a quick move to shift the puck over to Backstrom. His one-timer found the back of the net behind Michal Neuvirth, and that’s all Washington needed:
Backstrom’s goal didn’t result in the Capitals sitting back or simply fending off the Flyers, though. For the remainder of the second period and into the third frame, Washington pushed the play, defended well and took the opportunities when they presented themselves. A desperate Flyers team only managed to outshoot the Capitals 11-6 in the final period, and that’s thanks in large part to the contributions of Washington’s impressive depth.
Tom Wilson, Jay Beagle and Daniel Winnik played a large part in the Capitals’ ability to defend the one goal lead. The same can be said of Mike Richards, who played 1:24 of his 10:14 the final two minutes of the game. The Ovechkin-led Capitals have always been a star-laden team, but the defensive focus under coach Barry Trotz seems to have given Washington the edge they may need to push this playoff run deeper than ever before.
For the Flyers, the season ends because Neuvirth could only do so much. After taking over from Steve Mason to start Game 4 of the series, Neuvirth stopped 103 of 105 shots that came his way in the past three games. However, the Flyers’ offense simply couldn’t offer even the slightest bit of support. Ryan White’s goal in Game 5 was the result of a bizarre bounce and Chris VandeVelde scored into an empty net. The Flyers failed to score again in the series.
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds disappointed most, combining for only six points in the series. No matter how well Neuvirth played, the absence of production from Philadelphia’s top-four scorers made it incredibly difficult for the Flyers to even truly pressure the Capitals. And that really hurt when it was the Capitals’ stars who came up with a goal at the right time in Game 6.
The Capitals now move on and face an incredibly tough task in slowing down the red-hot Penguins. Washington and Pittsburgh squared off three times from March onward with the Penguins taking two of the three games, but possibly the one thing the Capitals boast that their longtime rivals won’t be able to match is a solid blueline top-to-bottom. Pittsburgh’s top scorers ran roughshod over a mediocre New York Rangers defense, but that won’t be as easy against Washington.
While the series will certainly be billed as Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby — two of the game’s greatest going head-to-head — the series could come down to defense and goaltending. And with what Washington showed against Philadelphia, don’t be surprised if the Capitals focus on performing at both ends of the ice makes them the team to finally put the breaks on the streaking Penguins.