April 20 vs. Carolina Hurricanes at Capital One Arena
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, FAN 106.7
Game 5, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Series even, 2-2.
Home, home again. The Caps are back in Washington after a couple of rough nights in Raleigh, where their 2-0 series lead evaporated, shrinking the set to a best-of-three affair. The Caps host the Hurricanes in Game 5 on Saturday night in D.C., and for the fifth time in their last six playoff series, the Caps are even after four games.
After losing consecutive road games in the playoffs for the first time in nearly three years, the home ice advantage is the only equity the Caps hold in a 2-2 series with Carolina. And Washington will be playing Game 5 without T.J. Oshie, who suffered an upper body injury on the receiving end of a Warren Foegele boarding minor late in Game 4.
"He is meeting with our team doctors [Friday]," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "and we'll have a little bit more of a timetable as the day goes on and [Saturday]. But as of right now, he is out indefinitely."
Oshie was the Caps' leading scorer during the regular season, but he brings much more to the table in intangibles both on and off the ice. His tenacity and ability to hound pucks, and his buoyance aren't easily replaced.
"You can go on a lot of different ways about the type of person that T.J. Oshie is," says Reirden, after doing so. "And not having him around your players is not great. So that loss will be felt. But that being said, we went without him this year - earlier in the year - and we had other players that stepped up, and that's what we're going to need to have.
"We went without Nick Backstrom in the playoffs last year, and we had other players step up. This is part of playoff hockey. There is a void there, for sure. I'm not going to downplay that. To me, it's who steps up and takes advantage of that opportunity."
Video: Todd Reirden | April 19
With Oshie on the sidelines, the Caps are turning to a familiar face in his absence. The Caps recalled winger Devante Smith-Pelly from AHL Hershey late Friday morning, just ahead of Friday's practice at the team's MedStar Iceplex. Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 24 playoff games and was a thorny forechecking presence for the Cup champs last spring. He supplied the forecheck and the tying goal in the third period of Game 5 of the Cup Final on June 7, setting the table for Lars Eller's game-winner minutes later.
Two months to the day that he was placed on waivers, Smith-Pelly will suit up for Game 5 on Saturday night, his first playoff action since Game 5 of the Cup Final. In a salary cap bind less than a week ahead of the trade deadline, the Caps put Smith-Pelly on waivers to gain the cap space needed to add Carl Hagelin in a deal with Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Smith-Pelly recorded six goals and 14 points in 20 games with the Bears, who start the 2019 Calder Cup playoffs in Bridgeport on Friday night.
"Yeah, I actually do expect him to go right in the lineup," says Reirden. "How we've kind of always operated with him is that with the situation - to get his game back to where it was last year around this time - it was important for him to play a lot of minutes.
"He went down to Hershey and he played a lot of minutes, he helped them have success, helped them get into the playoffs. And when an injury and a chance for him to step right into our lineup was available, then we were going to recall him. So that's been our plan all along, and now he'll get that opportunity."
There will be an opportunity for someone on the right side in Washington's top six, but Friday's practice session was optional and offered no clarity as to possible Game 5 line combinations.
The Caps went to Raleigh with some swagger, owning a 2-0 series lead and a lusty 14-5 record in their previous 19 playoff road games. They went to Carolina looking to get one win, and instead the Caps got one goal - an Alex Ovechkin power-play goal in Game 4 - in dropping Games 3 and 4.
Washington was listless in a 5-0 Game 3 loss in which the Carolina rolled over the Caps with a forechecking wave. The Capitals made adjustments to beat that forecheck, and as Game 4 wore on their breakouts were better and they were able to string together a couple of passes and enter Carolina territory with more regularity.
But once there, they're not accomplishing much. Their own forecheck remains dormant, and most of their forays into Hurricanes ice were of the one-and-done variety.
Video: Caps 365 | April 19
"Yeah, we beat their pressure more often tonight with our breakouts," said Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen after the Game 4 loss. "We didn't get hemmed in as much. We put a little more heat on their team offensively, and had a little bit better push, but [we were] a little bit too perimeter yet. We played way better [Thursday night]. That's a lot better. We were more intense, had more compete, and we executed better. But we all think and know that we've got another level, but it was a step in the right direction."
With the series now shriveled to a best-of-three set, the Caps know they need to get to "another level" soon. By this time next week, one of these teams' seasons will be over.
"It's a wake-up call for all of us," says Ovechkin. "We can't be one guy who is going to make a save or score a goal. You have to go out there and play your game. If you don't want to do it, don't play."
"Yeah, we can't wait too long," says Niskanen. "So we responded tonight; we didn't get a win. We need to get more desperate. So let's bring a little bit more next game, and try to find a win on home ice."
Carolina has some injury issues, too. They played without wingers Andre Svechnikov (concussion protocol) and Micheal Ferland (upper body) in Game 4, and they lost Jordan Martinook to a lower body injury during the contest.
The Canes did get defenseman Calvin de Haan back from injury on Thursday, easing him back in with a reasonable workload of 12:21, which is a fair bit more than they trusted his fill-in, Haydn Fleury. Fleury dressed for the first three games, but was sheltered to the tune of an average of 6:48 per night.
Svechnikov skated prior to Thursday's game, and may not be as far from a return as he looked to be after taking Ovechkin's right fist to the chin in a first-period fight in Game 3. The Canes recalled Patrick Brown from AHL Charlotte before Game 4, and he skated 4:34 over eight shifts in his Stanley Cup playoff debut on Thursday. Carolina has dipped down to Charlotte for another recall ahead of its return trip to the District, summoning Aleksi Saarela from the Checkers.
The 22-year-old Saarela had 30 goals and 54 points in 69 games for Charlotte, and he would be the first player in Hartford/Carolina franchise history to make his playoff debut prior to his regular season debut. Saarela was originally a third-round choice (89th overall) of the New York Rangers in the 2015 NHL Draft. He came to Carolina in the deal that sent Eric Staal to the Blueshirts on Feb. 28, 2016.