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POSTGAME NOTEBOOK: Caps 4, Canes 2

Caps win Game 1 with less than their best, Backstrom and Ovechkin reach milestones, Dowd signs extension, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps / washingtoncaps.com

Number One - Washington's defense of its first ever Stanley Cup title got off to a positive start on Thursday night in the District as the Caps skated off with a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

 

In relative terms, Thursday's win is a better outcome than the Caps have managed in similar situations of late; the Caps had lost Game 1 in three of the last four series in which they've had home ice advantage, needing overtime to get that one win, on April 13, 2017 against Toronto.

While the Caps are pleased with Thursday's result - and winning is all that matters at this time of year - they're going to spend some time working on the process.

Special teams and top players were largely responsible for delivering Washington's opening night win. The Caps scored twice on the power play in the first period, and they took a 3-0 lead to the first intermission on two Nicklas Backstrom goals and one from Alex Ovechkin. John Carlson assisted on all three strikes, and Evgeny Kuznetsov issued a perfect primary assist on Backstrom's second goal. For the 51st time in 82 postseason starts, Braden Holtby limited the opposition to two or fewer goals, improving to 38-13 in those starts.

"We got the first one," says Backstrom, "and that's a good thing. We got a good start there; we got some energy off our goals in the first. But overall, I think we got fortunate a little bit. They're a good team, they're aggressive all over the ice and they don't give us a lot of time out there, but I think as a team, we can play a little bit better. We got lucky there."

Video: Postgame Locker Room | April 11

Washington's five-on-five play left much to be desired in the series opener. The Caps spend more time than they would have liked defending in their own end, and while they did so fairly well, they know it's not the best recipe for ongoing success.

At the other end of the rink, the Capitals were less impressive. From the time they forged that 3-0 lead to early in the third period, the Caps managed only four shots on goal - just one of which came from a forward - in a span of 24 minutes and 24 seconds.

In addition to power-play goals from Backstrom and Ovechkin, the Caps got a five-on-five tally from Backstrom on a shot from above the circles, and they got a Lars Eller empty-netter in the game's final minute.

Tasting postseason action for the first time in a decade and with a lineup laced with first-timers, Carolina showed no signs of jitters or nervousness. The Canes were assertive and physical, and as advertised, they pumped pucks toward the net from all angles. Washington protected the house well, but the Caps know they need to spend more time with the puck in the Carolina end as this series moves forward.

Hey, Nineteen - In notching two goals in Thursday's series opener, Backstrom reached 100 points (33 goals, 67 assists) for his Stanley Cup playoff career. He joins Ovechkin (118 points) as the second player in Caps franchise history to reach that milestone, and he becomes the ninth active player to achieve the feat.

In addition to his two goals in the first period, Backstrom executed a pair of critical shot blocks while Washington was shorthanded in the game's penultimate minute. Carolina had pulled goalie Petr Mrazek at that point for a two-skater advantage with the vacant net.

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | April 11

"A tremendous game from Nick," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "His consistency is off the charts in terms of the consistency that he brings night after night. And then when it comes time to elevate your game, he is right there. He doesn't get nearly enough credit for the way he plays - his two-way game. When it comes right down to it and you need someone out there at the end of the game, going into a [four-on-six] situation, Nick Backstrom is out there.

Golden Jet Set - Ovechkin's first-period goal came on the power play, and it was the 62nd goal of his NHL playoff career, tying him with Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull for 27th place on the league's all-time playoff goals list. Ovechkin is one behind fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin (63) and two behind a quartet of players at 64 - Yvon Cournyoer, Peter Forsberg, Brian Propp and Bobby Smith.

Ovechkin now has 22 career power-play goals in the postseason, and nine game-winning goals. This is his 20th career playoff series with the Capitals, and he has scored a Game 1 goal in nine of the 20, including three of the last four.

You Gonna Need My Help - Carlson's three assists in the first period of Thursday's game tied an NHL record for most assists in a period. Many players share the record; Carlson is the 105th player in league history to notch three helpers in the same frame.

With those three assists, Carlson now has 58 career points (18 goals, 40 assists) in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and he moves past Peter Bondra into fifth place on the Caps' all-time playoff scoring list, two points behind Mike Ridley (60).

Video: Caps Locker Room | April 12

New Deal - In addition to getting his first taste of Stanley Cup playoff action, Caps center Nic Dowd inked a three-year contract extension on Thursday, a pact that carries an annual salary cap hit of $750,000.

"It's good," says Dowd of the new contract. "Obviously you're always thinking about your family, and it's good to feel wanted. It's good to feel like you're locked in and they want you for a role. That's what every player wants; they want to feel needed, and want to feel like they have a job to do. So my family and I are super excited."

Dowd joins a growing list of players the Caps have brought in from other organizations via trade or on speculative one-year deals in free agency, and have then signed to multi-year contract extensions. That group includes Dowd, T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly, Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen.

Even in signing a deal for the next three seasons here in D.C., Dowd knows he can't afford to sit back and be complacent, which isn't in his nature anyway.

"No, I don't think so," he says. "I think it's a fight for my job every single day and that's how my career is going to be. I'm happy with it, I've gotten used to doing it and I think it pushes me in the right direction."

By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 25:32 in ice time, spread evenly over three periods in which he skated eight and change in each one … Washington had nearly as many missed shots (16) as shots on goal (18), and although Ovechkin led the Caps with 11 shot attempts, he also led with seven misses … Backstrom, Eller and Carlson led the Caps with three shots on net each, and the trio combined to account for half of the Caps' SOG total for the game … Brooks Orpik led Washington with seven hits … The Caps blocked 17 Carolina shots, doing so by committee; no player had more than two, but 11 Caps had at least one … Carolina laid 22 of its 37 hits in the first period, and 15 of its 18 skaters recorded at least one hit in the game … The Hurricanes relied heavily on top two centers Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal, particularly on the dot. Those two combined to take 50 of the game's 67 face-offs, winning 29 of them (58 percent) … Aho led all forwards on both teams with 26:10 in ice time.

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