May 17 vs. Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena, Game 2
Time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: NBCSW, NBCSN
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 99.1 FM
Caps lead series, 1-0
Two nights after they hooked up in an entertaining overtime affair in Game 1, the Caps and the Boston Bruins continue their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series on Monday night at Capital One Arena.
Washington took Game 1 in somewhat improbable fashion, winning 3-2 on Nic Dowd's overtime goal. The improbable part involved the Caps' goaltending situation; rookie Vitek Vanecek had to leave the game after surrendering the first Boston goal in the first period. Vanecek suffered a lower body injury while trying to make the save on that Jake Debrusk shot, thrusting veteran NHL netminder Craig Anderson out of the shadows and into the spotlight, six days ahead of his 40th birthday. Anderson stopped 21 of 22 shots he faced to earn his first Stanley Cup Playoff victory in nearly four years.
Initially signed to a professional tryout agreement at the beginning of training camp, Anderson officially signed with the Caps on Jan. 14. For most of the season, he has worked with the taxi squad, seeing sporadic action when Ilya Samsonov was unavailable for duty at various times. After spending the better part of the last decade as Ottawa's undisputed No. 1 netminder, Anderson adjusted to the life of a practice goalie and mentor to the two young goaltenders. He saw duty in only four of the team's 56 games, starting two of them.
In the first period of Saturday's Game 1 against the Bruins, Anderson stepped into a playoff game for the first time in nearly four years, since he backstopped Ottawa to within a goal of the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. During the Senators' 2017 playoff run, they ran into the Bruins in the first round. Anderson helped the Sens dispatch the B's in six games in that series.
"Yeah, I think so," says Anderson, when asked if the familiarity of facing the Bruins was helpful in Saturday's relief appearance. "There are a lot of similar players on that team over there. And obviously their core players are still the same. They've got some great talent and they've played together a long time. Just seeing them brings back some memories, but this is fresh and we're starting our own memories here in Washington. And it starts tonight with a big win on a goal by Osh there."
Most of the folks in the building believed it was T.J. Oshie who had scored the overtime game-winner; it was Oshie's goal song that was played twice, once immediately after the goal and again after an NHL Situation Room review confirmed the legitimacy of the goal after a second look to make sure Washington was onside on the play. But Dowd went to the net and got a piece of Oshie's center point drive, and it trickled through the pads of Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask to give Washington the win and a 1-0 series lead.
With Vanecek's status still uncertain moving forward - he was not on the ice for Sunday's optional practice and is day-to-day with a lower body injury - Anderson's time in the crease and the spotlight might not be over.
"Well, you could say I'm well rested from not playing so much," deadpans Anderson when asked if he's ready to take the reins if necessary. "It's one of those things where coming into the year, I knew the situation and I knew the role that I was asked to do, and I think when opportunity knocks, you make the most of your opportunity. I've been here before, so I can share my experiences with Vitek and Sammy. To now get the opportunity to live what I've been telling them, it's a great feeling to be involved and be a part of it.
"Obviously we are going to miss [Vanecek] with him coming out like that, but at the same time the guys are all looking to each other to bond together and pull together on this rope and I'm right there with those guys to do everything I possibly can to do my share."
Washington's Sunday optional practice was a sparsely attended affair, as you'd expect the day after an overtime playoff game. But among those on ice for Sunday's session were goaltender Ilya Samsonov and center Evgeny Kuznetsov. Both were on the ice with teammates for the first time in nearly two weeks, since they missed a May 3 game against the Rangers in New York for disciplinary reasons. Both wound up on the COVID-19 protocol list soon afterwards and neither has played since.
Kuznetsov won't suit up for Monday's Game 2, and Samsonov seems unlikely to so either, even with Vanecek ailing. Pheonix Copley finished Saturday night as Anderson's backup, and the Caps also recalled goaltender Zach Fucale from AHL Hershey on Sunday.
"Samsonov is off the list, and he is available," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette. "Kuznetsov still remains not available to us for a few more days. However, he is available to start a process of getting back with our group and working out, by the rules. And so both players join us on the ice for the first time today, and we're going to evaluate and see where they're at.
"I have no timetables. They've been off for two weeks - or pushing close onto two weeks - with regard to being on the ice and working out and conditioning. We're going to evaluate them over the next couple of days and try to get a read on where they're at."
Although Samsonov is off the list and available to play, it's been over two weeks since he has faced live game action, so the Caps don't feel the need to rush him back.
"We're really happy with the way that Anderson has played for us in the games he has played," says Laviolette. "You're talking about an experienced goaltender how's been there and done that, and he has excellent numbers in the regular season and the postseason. And when called upon with our organization has answered the bell.
"We are going to focus on what's directly in front of us and available and not where we'll be in three days or seven days or 14 days, if at all. We'll see where these guys are at and see how they make their way back."
While the Caps try to navigate their netminding conundrum and aim to take a 2-0 series lead in Monday's Game 2, the Bruins are obviously looking to even up the series. Boston wasn't happy with its offensive game in Saturday's series opener.
"I just thought as a whole, we didn't get to our game and sustain it well enough," says Boston coach Bruce Cassidy. "We had it in pockets. But you're in overtime, so you have a chance. You've got to hopefully find it then. And basically the same goal they scored on, we had the same chance right before that. [Defenseman Jeremy Lauzon] had a shot, it got through to the goalie with a bit of a screen, and he made a save. They came down with a similar look, and the puck just had eyes."
From the trade deadline to the end of the season, Boston's total of 43 goals for at 5-on-5 was second in the league only to Vegas (44). But the Bruins lone 5-on-5 goal in Saturday's game came from their fourth line, the Debrusk tally that ended Vanecek's night. Nick Ritchie netted the other Boston goal on as power play in the second period.
"We can definitely play off the shot a little bit more," says Boston winger Craig Smith. "That's probably going to be an emphasis [in Game 2]. Maybe we're looking for too much in certain areas, but I thought our game was good. Obviously there are some things we want to do better. We've seen quite a bit of playoff hockey, and knowing that just a tip or a funny shot through traffic can go in sometimes, so we'll try to play off the shot a little bit more."