Even at 2-2 for the fifth time in their last six playoff series, the Caps took control of Game 5 early and never let up. Their best players came to the fore and had significant impact on the contest, but the Caps won with a full team effort and a strong physical display in what was easily their best game of the series.
"I thought we made some strides in some areas in Game 4," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "and we were starting to make some adjustments that we feel can give us a chance to have success. [Saturday] was the next level of that. It was a fairly good plan of some spots we thought we could still improve on. Obviously our special teams was outstanding and our goaltender was tremendous."
Thrice previously in their postseason history, the Caps won games by a margin of four goals. Two of those three came in the last two rounds of the playoffs last spring; the Caps won Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final against Tampa Bay and Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against Vegas by identical 6-2 scores.
The Caps' six-goal eruption in Game 5 against Carolina also marks the fifth straight series in which Washington has had a six-goal game. The Caps are the fifth team in league history - and the first in a quarter of a century - to notch at least one six-goal game in five straight postseason series.
Video: Capitals grab series lead with 6-0 win in Game 5
Special Delivery - After scoring in each of their first two power play chances of the series in the first period of Game 1, the Caps went 1-for-13 with the extra man through the end of Game 4. Washington's power play unit erupted for three goals on four chances in Saturday's game, using the extra-man unit to score the game's first goal, and to put the Canes away for good with a pair of goals in the third period.
Penalty killing was just as critical in Game 5. The Caps were a perfect 5-for-5 on the kill in Game 5, and they were particularly solid during the second period when they successfully snuffed out three straight Carolina power plays in a span of less than 10 minutes to protect what was only a 1-0 lead at that point.
Washington seemed to get momentum from those kills, as it went on to score three times in the next seven minutes of playing time to blow the game open.
"I thought that was the game changer," says Nicklas Backstrom. "How many power plays did they have, three? Yeah, three in a row. So that was a game-changer for us, and we killed them off, and then we got going after that."
Indeed they did. Nineteen seconds after completing the third of those kills, No. 19 scored the Caps' first five-on-five goal since Brooks Orpik's overtime game-winner in Game 2, a stretch of 154 minutes and 21 seconds.
Washington had its next five-on-five goal less than two minutes later, and the rout was on.
Hey, Nineteen - Backstrom had two goals and two assists in the game for the second four-point game of his Stanley Cup playoff career. He also had four points (three goals, one assist) in Game 2 of the Capitals' first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens on April 17, 2010.
The Magnificent Seven - Braden Holtby stopped all 30 shots sent his way to record his seventh career playoff shutout, surpassing Olie Kolzig (six) for the Washington franchise record in the postseason.
Holtby was the Caps' best player in their dismal 5-0 Game 3 loss, and he has surrendered two goals on 54 shots since.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | April 20
Sometime To Return - Devante Smith-Pelly made a triumphant return to the Caps' lineup on Saturday, two months to the day after he was placed on waivers and ultimately reassigned to AHL Hershey while Washington was in the midst of its longest road trip of the season in February.
Caps winger T.J. Oshie suffered a broken clavicle after taking a shove from behind from Carolina's Warren Foegele late in Game 4, and he is out indefinitely. Needing another winger and in dire need of a physical presence in their lineup and on the forecheck, the Caps turned to Smith-Pelly, and he delivered.
Smith-Pelly skated 10:43 in his first NHL action since Feb. 17, recording a shot on net and five hits. Smith-Pelly skated with Chandler Stephenson and Nic Dowd on Washington's fourth line, and the group was more effective than a Caps fourth line has been in the series to date.
"When you go through a situation like we went through the last couple of days in terms of losing one of our top players and leaders," says Reirden, "you use that as an opportunity that someone has got to take advantage of.
"For what Devante has gone through this year - a very well liked player in our locker room - it was a nice distraction from us losing a top, top player and top leader on our team. So everyone was excited about getting him back into the mix. We felt excited about not just having him around as a person, but the style of game he was going to play was something we've been lacking in the series, and that's physicality and being able to have puck possession in the zone. Definitely he gave us a boost, both with how his game was on the ice, but also having him back in our locker room."
The guys were extremely happy to see Smith-Pelly, and he was thrilled to be back. That excitement seemed to carry over from the morning skate into the first period, and for the rest of the game. Caps fans were happy to have Smith-Pelly back, too, breaking into a "DSP!" chant at one point.
"It felt great," says Smith-Pelly. "It would be hard not to have the adrenaline going, coming back and playing the first game."
Being able to call upon a player with Smith-Pelly's résumé, his postseason experience and his pedigree after losing a player like Oshie is a good luxury for the Caps to have. Washington needed its depth at various times last spring, too, en route to the first Cup championship in franchise history.
"We went through the same thing last year, playing with key guys out," says Smith-Pelly. "So I wasn't surprised by the response at all. Like I said, we saw it last year. It was expected, really."
Video: Todd Reirden | April 21
Straight Shooter - Dowd scored on a penalty shot in the third period, becoming the first player in Washington's franchise history to score on a penalty shot, and notching his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal in the process.
"I think five," responds Dowd, asked how many penalty shots he has taken, "and I missed all five of them. I took a couple of them in college, maybe two in the NHL and zero percent. I'm not a big fan of those things, but I guess it helped a little bit. We were up 4-0 at the time, and I was just fortunate it went in."
Late Thunder - Three of the Caps' last four power-play goals have come with less than 10 seconds remaining on the man advantage, and the other one came when Alex Ovechkin scored two seconds into a Washington power play.
It Wasn't Me - Caps winger Brett Connolly was sent to the penalty box for a crime he didn't commit in the first period of Game 5. Off a faceoff in Washington ice, Lars Eller hauled down Carolina's Saku Maenalanen. But instead of sending the Caps' No. 20 to the box, the officials erred, and fingered No. 10, Connolly, the wrong guy.
That mistake worked out well for Washington. Connolly doesn't kill penalties, but Eller is one of the Caps' most prominent penalty killing forwards. The error left Eller available for duty, and he won the defensive zone draw to start the kill and was instrumental in killing off the first 30 seconds or so of that penalty.
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears earned a road shutout win while playing on the second night of back-to-backs in Game 2 of their opening round, best-of-five playoff series with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Vitek Vanecek stopped all 39 shots sent in his direction on Saturday to lead the Bears to victory on the road. A night after suffering a difficult 3-2 loss on a power-play goal in double overtime in Game 1, and losing stalwart defenseman Aaron Ness to a frightening injury, Hershey stiffened and earned a 2-0 win to even the series in Saturday's Game 2.
With help from Lucas Johansen and Riley Barber, Mike Sgarbossa staked Hershey to a 1-0 lead at 11:15 of the first. That would be all the offense Vanecek would require, but Barber added a second tally at 4:07 of the second, Sgarbossa collecting the single assist.
Hershey now heads home to host the Sound Tigers in Game 3 of the series on Tuesday night at Giant Center.
By The Numbers - Matt Niskanen led the Caps with 22:20 in ice time … Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov led the Caps with four shots on net each … Ovechkin, John Carlson and Carl Hagelin led Washington with six shot attempts each … Ovechkin led the Caps with 11 hits, recording nearly a quarter of the team total of 48. Sixteen of the Caps' 18 skaters had at least one hit … Niskanen, Ovechkin and Brooks Orpik each blocked two shots to lead the Capitals … Dowd won 11 of 15 face-offs (73 percent) and Lars Eller won six of 10 (60 percent).