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Improved defense big reason Capitals lead series

by David Satriano /

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The Washington Capitals allowed seven goals through two games in their Eastern Conference First round series with the New York Islanders. Since then, the Capitals defense has stepped up, and Washington has surrendered four goals in the past three games.

"We got back to what has made us successful in the defensive zone [in a 5-1 win in Game 5 on Thursday] with keeping our third man," Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. "I thought we made a nice adjustment part way through the first period."

In part because of its improved defensive play, Washington leads the Stanley Cup Playoffs best-of-7 series 3-2 and can advance to the second round with a win in Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday (3 p.m.; NBC, SN, TVA Sports).

The Capitals have used six defensemen (Karl Alzner, Matt Niskanen, Mike Green, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Tim Gleason) in the series. Five of them played in at least 72 games for Washington this season.

"We have a lot of big guys back there," Holtby said. "You don't see very many of our guys get outmuscled, and that's big when it comes to health. They seem to be able to perform very well."

Orpik doesn't think the Capitals changed their overall defensive strategy, but he said they were able to fix what was wrong early on in the series by playing with a patient approach.

"The approach has been the exact same," Orpik said. "I think limiting odd-man rushes and turnovers against [the Islanders] is huge. You've got to be willing to play a simple game against them. They can go 200 feet to get their chances."

Washington has also killed off all 12 shorthanded situations in the series.

"I think it was similar to our Game 1 and Game 5 for them [Thursday]," Carlson said. "You just have to get that little bit of an edge and force a team to play the way they don't necessary want to. It's been a tight series. We just have to protect the inside of the ice."

If the defense plays like it has recently, Washington could advance to the second round for the first time since 2012, but they aren't thinking ahead.

"We still have a long way to go in this series," Orpik said.


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