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Capitals rediscover playoff identity in Game 5 win against Hurricanes

Ovechkin, Backstrom lead way with physical presence, power-play success

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- On a night when the Washington Capitals reminded everyone, including themselves and the Carolina Hurricanes, of the team that won the Stanley Cup last season, it was no surprise it all began with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Backstrom had four points (two goals, two assists) and Ovechkin had three points (one goal, two assists) in a 6-0 win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Capital One Arena on Saturday. But their contributions went beyond the scoresheet in helping the Capitals take 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series.

After being plagued by inconsistency through the first four games against the Hurricanes, the Capitals reestablished their identity as a physical, hard-working, forechecking team that did not let up from the drop of the puck to the final horn. All they needed to do was follow Ovechkin's and Backstrom's lead.

 

[WATCH: Hurricanes vs. Capitals Game 5 highlights | Complete series coverage]

 

"In all areas, too," said goalie Braden Holtby, who made 30 saves and set a Capitals record with his seventh Stanley Cup Playoff shutout. "Obviously, they got on the point sheet, but their play away from the puck, on the forecheck, supporting each other, they're real tough to play against when they play like that, and I thought they've been doing a great job all playoffs, too. 

"You can tell that they want to win, and the rest of the team will follow."

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm5: Backstrom cleans up own rebound for PPG

The Capitals can advance to a second-round date with the New York Islanders with another win in Game 6 at Carolina on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, FS-CR, NBCSWA). They have some work to do, however, before they can start thinking about that series, and facing their former coach, Barry Trotz.

Having lost Games 3 and 4 at Carolina by a combined 7-1, the Capitals know the Hurricanes will be a tough out. But now they've rediscovered their winning formula, one they hope will push them past the Hurricanes and on to another long postseason run.

"That should be a pretty clear blueprint of how our game needs to look," coach Todd Reirden said. "And if we want to have continued success, that's the standard of how it has to be."

This was a much-needed response for Washington after its 2-1 loss in Game 4 on Thursday that also cost it forward T.J. Oshie, who sustained an upper-body injury on a boarding hit by Carolina's Warren Foegele. With Oshie, a heart-and soul leader on and off the ice, out indefinitely, the Capitals pulled together and used his absence as inspiration.

The result was their most complete effort of this postseason. 

"First of all, it [stinks] that he's out," Backstrom said. "But at the same time, I think when you come together like that as a team, it's a good feeling. Obviously, this one was for him."

The Capitals received an emotional and physical boost from the return of forward Devante Smith-Pelly, a fan and locker room favorite who had seven goals during last season's Cup run. Recalled from Hershey of the American Hockey League after Oshie was injured, Smith-Pelly helped set the early physical tone with a big hit on Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter that brought a standing ovation from the crowd.

But Ovechkin was the biggest contributor in the Capitals' recommitment to physicality with a game-high 11 hits. Washington outhit Carolina 48-32.

"We just want to set the tone right away," Ovechkin said. "Put the puck deep, hit their D and leave the mark."

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm5: Ovechkin blasts one-timer for PPG

The Capitals dominated the first period and grabbed a 1-0 lead on Backstrom's power-play goal at 7:33 but didn't pull away until late in the second period.

First, Ovechkin fed Backstrom moving in on the left side on a 2-on-1 rush for a shot over goalie Petr Mrazek's right shoulder to make it 2-0 at 14:21. That was Backstrom's fifth goal of the playoffs, matching his total from the Capitals Cup run last season.

Then, Ovechkin set up Brett Connolly in the slot for a goal that made it 3-0 at 16:11.

"Obviously, he's the best goal-scorer arguably of all-time, for sure in the modern era," Connolly said of Ovechkin, who led the NHL with 51 goals during the regular season and has three in this series. "I think his passing gets overlooked. He's obviously a phenomenal player, and he's playing really well right now for us and he's leading by example."

Backstrom leads the Capitals with eight points in the playoffs (five goals, three assists). Ovechkin is right behind him with seven points (three goals, four assists). 
Ovechkin joked after he had two assists in the Capitals' 4-3 overtime win in Game 2 that he and Backstrom, who is usually the playmaker, had switched roles.

"I heard about that," Backstrom said. "That's probably not the case. But for now, it's worked out, so let's keep it going."

As if to remind everyone of his goal-scoring prowess, Ovechkin scored on a power-play one-timer at 10:14 of the third period to make it 6-0. But Ovechkin was more interested in the win than the goals.

"I think it doesn't matter who scores," Ovechkin said. "We just have to play our game and kind of put their team in a tough position and get a result."

Another performance like this one on Monday will put the Capitals in the second round for the fifth straight season. They aspire to go much further than that but seemed to remember Saturday what kind of effort it will require to get there. 

"It was great," Backstrom said. "I feel like when we play this way, you get confidence. Guys are buzzing, and guys are giving each other energy on the bench, too. We just keep pushing and pushing, and that's what we like to do."

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