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NHL Stadium Series

Top players carry Capitals to Stadium Series win against Maple Leafs

Backstrom, Carlson, Kuznetsov each has three points; Ovechkin gets 40th goal

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- On the morning of the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom joked that he just wanted to make friends with the puck when he finally got on the ice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

After a practice scheduled for Friday was canceled because of bad weather and it was decided to not have a morning skate ahead of the game Saturday, the Capitals had no idea what the ice and the rink would hold for them; hence, Backstrom's need to establish a relationship with the puck as soon as possible.

It took less than four minutes for Backstrom to feel right at home with the puck on his stick. He had an assist on the game's first goal, by Evgeny Kuznetsov at 3:50 of the first period. He also had an assist on a goal by Alex Ovechkin at 6:19 before scoring one of his own, the game-winner, at 16:20 of the first in a 5-2 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

 

[RELATED: Ovechkin scores 40th for Capitals in Stadium Series, eyes more | Complete NHL Stadium Series coverage]

 

"We obviously came out energized," Backstrom said. "We came out hot, I think."

Backstrom was not the only Capitals player on good terms with the puck in the outdoor game.

"I thought we had some joy in our game," coach Barry Trotz said.

Ovechkin's goal was his 40th of the season, the ninth time he has reached that number in his NHL career. Kuznetsov and defenseman John Carlson each had a goal and two assists to join Backstrom with a three-point night.

"They are the leaders on the team and we rely on them the most, and when they come out hot like that, then everyone else just follows suit," Trotz said. "You follow your top guys. That [Backstrom] line led, [Kuznetsov] followed that. Every team follows [its] leaders. I thought they were dialed in and they pulled the team tonight."

Video: TOR@WSH: Backstrom buries Kuznetsov's feed for PPG

It was the second time in the 25-game history of NHL outdoor games that three teammates each has had three points. Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler, Brian Rafalski and Henrik Zetterberg did it for the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 NHL Winter Classic.

On the first goal, on the first power play, Backstrom carried the puck toward the net from the side boards, and then shot, forcing a rebound from Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen that Kuznetsov slammed home.

After the Maple Leafs tied the game on a goal by Zach Hyman, Ovechkin restored the lead with Tom Wilson and Backstrom earning the assists.

At 15:28, Toronto took its second penalty when forward Dominic Moore shot a clearing attempt over the glass.

This time, it was Kuznetsov driving on defenseman Ron Hainsey before backhanding a pass into the slot and onto Backstrom's stick for a stuff attempt.

Video: TOR@WSH: Kuznetsov buries loose puck for PPG

"I was just trying to go wide, and then I saw him, all alone, and that was the trigger point for me," Kuznetsov said.

Backstrom was not surprised by what seemed like an unlikely pass.

"I knew it was coming, I've seen that too many times from Kuz," Backstrom said.

On each of the power-play goals, Carlson made the pass that started the scoring sequence.

Then, at 8:05 of the second period, Carlson scored after intercepting a pass at the Washington blue line, rushing up the ice to take a shot and then pinching in to claim a second rebound and slam the puck home for his 12th goal of the season, tying his NHL career high. He has 53 points, two off his NHL best of 55, in 2014-15.

Video: TOR@WSH: Carlson hammers home loose puck in the slot

Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen saw good things from Carlson early Saturday and had one thought.

"Get him out there more," Niskanen said. "He has the ability to supplement the offense. He took command of the game at certain points. It's good to see him get rewarded [on offense] because he does a lot of other things as well."

While many were focusing on the points put up by Washington's top players, one of them was more concerned with what the performance meant in the standings.

With the victory, the Capitals (37-21-7) regained first place in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers and three ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I don't care about [individual] records and points, we just need those two [standings] points, especially this time of the year," Kuznetsov said. "For me personally, and the coaches, I believe we are going to be happy for the next couple days that we got those two points and everyone is going to stay positive."

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