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Capitals defense steps up in win against Flyers

Washington clamps down in final two periods; has 23 blocks in game against Philadelphia

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals were trying to find their game early in the second period Thursday when the Philadelphia Flyers pressured them in their end and threw pucks toward the net.

None of them got through to goaltender Braden Holtby; Nicklas Backstrom blocked two shots during one sequence of sustained Flyers pressure and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov blocked consecutive shots from Shayne Gostisbehere during another.

After Holtby finally covered the puck to stop play, Kuznetsov hobbled toward the Capitals bench, fighting through the pain of taking Gostisbehere's shot off his right leg.

"Not even pain," Kuznetsov claimed after the Capitals' 2-0 victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round Series. "I fake it."

The bruises don't seem to hurt as much after a win, so maybe there was a little bit of truth to Kuznetsov's apparent fib, but the Capitals had a lot to feel good about their Game 1 effort. After surviving a first period when they were shorthanded three times in the opening 16:14 and got 11 saves from Holtby, they limited the Flyers to eight shots on goal in the final two periods.

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm1: Carlson sneaks puck past Mason for lead

Of their 23 blocks, 17 came in the second and third periods.

"The puck just hit me, but our defensemen, especially on the PK, they block a lot of shots all year and have that commitment," Kuznetsov said. "I always give lots of respect to the guys who block shots. That's a dirty job. Guys can shoot pretty hard."

The Capitals also spent a lot more time in the Flyers' end in the second and third periods after struggling to get out of the defensive zone in the first. As a result, the Flyers were the team caught taking penalties when they tried to survive persistent pressure.

"We were able to get through the first and I thought we sort of took over after that and we just found our game a little bit more," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "I was real happy with the penalty killers. In the last 40 minutes, I thought we did a really good job defensively in terms of giving up scoring chances, I think maybe eight shots (against) in the last two periods So, I was really happy about the way we had a commitment on a 200-foot game, which you need in the playoffs."

While they were running away with the Presidents' Trophy with the best record during the regular season, the Capitals built a reputation as an offensive-minded, high-scoring team, finishing second in the NHL averaging 3.02 goals per game. They were also a stingy team defensively, allowing 2.33 goals per game and missing out by one goal on the Jennings Trophy, awarded to the team which allows the fewest goals, to the Anaheim Ducks after a 2-0 loss to them in their regular season finale on Sunday.

The Flyers got a taste of how they did it Thursday.

Video: PHI@WSH, Gm1: Orpik stands up VandeVelde in the 2nd

"We played to our strength," Holtby said after his third postseason shutout. "We got the puck deep. We got it below their goal line. That's our strength where teams have a tough time playing with us because of our chemistry, our speed, our skill combination down there. It's when we get fancy at the blue lines that it kills us and tonight we didn't do that. I think everyone here has used the 82 games before this to realize that and it won't be expected going forward that we'll be making those (fancy) plays. We'll be getting it deep every game and earning our wins."

After the Flyers worked their defensemen by getting pucks behind them in the first period, the Capitals were much cleaner coming out of their zone with the puck in the second. They was partly because they clogged up the Flyers through the neutral zone, preventing skilled players Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek from entering the attack zone with speed.

"We stuck to our structure," said Washington defenseman John Carlson, whose power-play goal with 3:39 left in the second period stood up as the game-winner. "In the second and third especially, we were able to just keep them to the outside and slow them down through the neutral (zone) and that's important against a team with a guy like Voracek and Giroux that come with a full head of steam. If we can make them reroute, get them frustrated, that's going to be helpful to us."

The Flyers will no doubt make adjustments before Game 2 here on Saturday (7 p.m., ET; CNBC, CBC, CSN-PH, CSN-DC, TVA Sports), so the Capitals will have to adjust again, like they did after their slow start Thursday.

"In general in the playoffs there's not a lot of space, not that much at least as the regular season," Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "So, I thought we adjusted well and we managed the puck when we had to and when we did have space, we were able to generate some speed and create a few things. A good overall effort."

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