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NHL Stadium Series

Capitals hope to build momentum off Stadium Series win

Enter three-game California trip leading Metropolitan Division following impressive victory against Maple Leafs

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Playing outdoors in the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series on Saturday brought out the Washington Capitals' best game.

Now, they have to take it with them on their three-game California road trip that begins against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NBCSWA, NHL.TV).

The Capitals hope their 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is something they can build on.


[RELATED: Complete Stadium Series coverage]


"It's the way we want to go into the road trip, for sure," goaltender Braden Holtby said. "The California trip is always hard. You're always playing three good teams, going out to California with the weather, it's nice. One of those things you have to do out there to have success is push that little extra to focus on the games, focus on the hockey. Road trips are great to build your team, build your camaraderie, but when it comes to the games you have to focus because those teams don't let you off the hook."

The Capitals had struggled to put together complete games for more than a month, going 6-6-2 since a 5-3 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 31. Before their win against the Maple Leafs on Saturday, they hadn't defeated a team holding a spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs since a 5-2 win at the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 15, going 3-4-0 over that stretch with the victories coming against the Buffalo Sabres (twice) and Ottawa Senators.

Video: Caps beat Maple Leafs in Stadium Series, 5-2

Feeding off the energy of the crowd of 29,516 and the emotion of the pregame festivities involving the U.S. Naval Academy's midshipmen, the Capitals jumped on the Maple Leafs, who were 13-2-2 in their previous 17 games, from the drop of the puck. After drawing an early power play, they converted with a goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov to take a 1-0 lead 3:50 into the game.

When Toronto's Zach Hyman scored at 5:20 to make it 1-1, Alex Ovechkin answered 59 seconds later with his League-leading 40th goal to put the Capitals ahead 2-1. Another power-play goal from Nicklas Backstrom made it 3-1 with 3:40 remaining in the first period.

"It was a big game, big stage, obviously, against a very good team that's probably the hottest team since probably the all-star break," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "And I thought we did the right things. We were skating. We were putting pressure on the puck. We had people in the right areas and we were committed in the right area.

"So it was a good performance, because we had a couple that we probably could say wouldn't be our best."

There were plenty of positives for the Capitals. Each time the Maple Leafs scored, the Capitals responded less than a minute later. Defenseman John Carlson's rebound goal at 8:05 of the second period that made it 4-2 came 43 seconds after Nazem Kadri pulled the Maple Leafs within 3-2.

Kuznetsov, Backstrom and Carlson each had three points (one goal and two assists each) to tie the record for the most points in an NHL outdoor game. Ovechkin scored his sixth goal in his past seven games to move within two of becoming the 20th player in League history to score 600 in his career.

Rookie forward Jakub Vrana scored on a breakaway 10:49 into the second period to end a 25-game goal drought that dated to Dec. 14. And Holtby made 27 saves to end his personal six-game losing streak (0-4-2).

Video: TOR@WSH: Vrana beats Andersen five-hole on breakaway

"I think we navigated the game," Carlson said. "We've been a little off in terms of that and when to push, when to maybe be a little more safe, when to be real aggressive and I think [Saturday] with the conditions we had our mindset in a good place for that sort of thing. It seemed like we were on the right side of the puck all night."

The Capitals (37-21-7) have some work to do over their final 17 regular-season games to get ready for the playoffs and secure home-ice advantage for the Eastern Conference First Round. They are in first place in the Metropolitan Division with 81 points, but lead the second-place Philadelphia Flyers by two points and the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins by three. 

They hope their win Saturday will give them some momentum heading into the final five weeks of the season.

"You get confidence off this," Backstrom said. "I feel like the last couple games we've been playing a little bit better as a team and we're talking about it every day. We want to get better and better. We should never be satisfied."

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