Carolina staved off elimination with a strong performance, forcing a decisive Game 7 with a 5-2 victory. Offensively dormant for much of the series, Carolina's top players came through in Game 6 to ensure that their team remains alive to play another day.
"That's the recipe," says Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour. "Obviously it's not that easy. But we've said all along, your best players have to be your best players all year, but in the playoffs especially. Those guys obviously contributed, and had big games."
That Game 7 will take place in Washington on Wednesday night.
Washington was miffed midway through the third period when Alex Ovechkin's apparent tying goal was waved off for goaltender interference. Officials ruled "no goal" immediately on the ice after Ovechkin got to a loose puck in the paint and chipped it through Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek. The Capitals issued a coach's challenge, but the call on the ice was upheld after a video review in Toronto.
According to an email explanation from the NHL, " … Alex Ovechkin interfered with Petr Mrazek by pushing his pad, which caused the puck to enter the net …"
"I saw the puck," says Ovechkin, "He didn't gain control; he didn't see it. So I don't know what the referees saw, and what the explanation was. It's kind of weird, but it's okay. It's over. Move forward. Nothing you can do right now."
"I'm sure that's the right call," says Mrazek. "He didn't play the puck. He hit me in the legs and pushed my pad into the net."
Less than 90 seconds later, Carolina seized on the momentum from that call to expand its lead to two goals at 4-2. The Canes added an empty-netter in the final minutes, and made travel plans to return to D.C. for Game 7.
"I think we needed a little more from all of our players tonight," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "For us, with losing a key player like [T.J.] Oshie a couple of games ago, we needed everyone's game to be at a higher level. I think we had that in Game 5 at home. We didn't have that tonight from enough people."
Asked whether he believed his team played well enough to win up to the point of the disallowed goal, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom replied, "No, not really."
"But we still had it tied there, going into the third," he continues. "I thought when they scored to go up 4-2, that's when the urgency started for us, but that was too late."
Washington got some needed secondary scoring in taking the first lead by a road team in this series, early in the first period of Game 6. Andre Burakovsky and linemates tore out of Washington ice on a virtual 3-on-2 rush; Carolina center Sebastian Aho was trailing the play, but not by much. Burakovsky pulled up at the half wall and put the puck below the goal line for Lars Eller, who dished to Brett Connolly, also below the goal line on the opposite side of the net. Aho took a wrong turn in coverage, giving Connolly the time and space he needed to pull the puck to the front, line up a shot, and bury the puck over Mrazek's glove hand.
Connolly's goal put the Caps up 1-0 at 5:06.
Carolina evened the score just over five minutes later. The Caps killed off a Canes power play, but spent the entire last half of it in the defensive zone, and with one defender lacking a stick. But five seconds after Nic Dowd was sprung from the box, a Warren Foegele shot from the slot got behind Braden Holtby, making it a 1-1 game at 10:35.
Washington retook the lead late in the first. Justin Williams got into a little tiff with Holtby and was late getting out of the Washington end, and Canes defender Dougie Hamilton missed an all-or-nothing pokecheck bid at the Carolina line. The result of those two events was Ovechkin barreling down the left wing with the puck, a mini 2-on-1 down low, and with more time or space than Carolina would have liked. The Caps captain got Jaccob Slavin to commit, then wired a shot past Mrazek on the short side to make it a 2-1 game at 15:12.
Carolina dominated the Caps in the second, as the Caps struggled once again to deal with the Hurricanes forecheck, and they were unable to establish a consistent one of their own. The Canes got even on a forechecking goal in the second minute of the period.
Jonas Siegenthaler went back to play the puck behind the Caps net, but Aho stripped him and fed a late-arriving Teuvo Teravainen in the slot. Teravainen beat Holtby high on the glove side to make it 2-2 at 1:56.
Holtby kept the Caps in it with strong saves on Brock McGinn and Hamilton in the second, and the Caps were utterly lackluster with four minutes worth of power play time in the second, and two chances to take another lead. That was all the extra-man time Washington would have on this night.
In the final seconds of the second, Mrazek made an excellent save on John Carlson in a 1-on-1 situation, keeping the game all even heading to the third.
Early in the final frame, Canes engineered the first lead change of the series when Jordan Staal scored on a goalmouth scramble to push Carolina ahead, 3-2, at 3:51. The Caps killed off a Chandler Stephenson minor penalty - his first penalty of any kind since the 2018 playoffs - a couple minutes later, and set out to get the equalizer.
After a couple of good shifts in Carolina ice, they appeared to have done so, but the powers that be disagreed. At 11:58, Williams went to the net and redirected a Brett Pesce point shot through Holtby's pads to make it 4-2, and Hamilton's empty-netter at 16:54 sealed the deal.
"Best out of one game," says Backstrom of the upcoming Game 7. "We've just got to regroup and look ahead here, and make sure we come out ready.
"They're a good team. They're aggressive, they're playing good hockey. We've got to regroup here, and take advantage of home ice."