Nicholas Backstrom didn’t have much to say after Wednesday’s 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers.
The Washington Capitals center sat quietly next to teammate TJ Oshie, furious at the fact that Washington gave up five unanswered goals after a 3-0 lead. The defeat brought the Capitals to the brink of elimination, and the anger on Beckstrom’s face was palpable.
Backstrom was succinct when asked about his perspective.
“Yeah, I think we gave up on that game,” Backstrom said.
Wednesday’s game marked the Capitals’ second straight collapse: On Monday, Washington held a 2-1 lead late in the third quarter until Florida scored with 2:04 left, then in overtime win. If the game wins — and if the Capitals can hold on — Washington will already be in the second round. But now, the Capitals will avoid their fourth straight first-round exit when they return to the zone in Game 6 on Friday.
The Capitals entered the series at a disadvantage, so it’s no surprise that they are behind the team that maintains the NHL’s best regular-season record. Still, Washington’s core — which includes Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom and Osh — isn’t a group known for such debacles. Not after winning the Stanley Cup in 2018, anyway.
The Capitals have touted their experience in the first round — but that didn’t translate to late in their back-to-back losses.
“There should be confidence in the things we do well in this series, the games we win, when we play well,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “But you really have to work for a clean game, against a team like Florida, they’re full of energy for what they’re doing.
“These will be the focus moving forward. We will be on the ice (Friday) ready for a big game.”
The Capitals have made one goalie change in this series, swapping out Vitec Vaneček for Ilya Samsonov in Game 2.
Laviolette, however, sounds like he has no plans to make another change – he told reporters that the five goals in a row in the recent defeat were not on Samsonov. “We put him in a difficult situation,” Laviolette said, adding that he didn’t think the goal “let us down”.
Instead, Laviolette pointed to the Capitals’ defense as a major problem in Game 5.
The Panthers were able to run up and down the ice, and Washington couldn’t help with careless turnovers. Protecting the puck has always been a top priority for the Capitals, even though the Panthers recently punished Washington after a freak sprint that created breakthroughs and takeaways. Florida State’s Carterville Haag, who had five goals in the series, let his guard down after stripping defenseman Dmitry Orlov, passing and rushing off the ice to sneak past Samsonov. The team takes the lead.
“We have to deal with a strong team that has scored a lot of goals this year,” Laviolette said. “When we do that, we’ll do better in the game. When we’re not there, they’ll be Get their looks and get their chances. … It’s a constant reminder that we always have to think about the defensive side of things.”
On offense, Washington is largely able to hold its own. Ovechkin had just one goal in the playoffs, though he created chances for others with five assists. Oshie leads the Capitals with five goals, two of which came on Wednesday. Others like Yevgeny Kuznetsov (two goals, two assists), John Carlsen (one goal, four assists) and Baxstrom (one goal, our assists) also stood come out.
The wild swings of each game leave players and coaches having to figure out how Washington is so good in some areas and so bad in others. The Capitals have had to adapt without winger Tom Wilson, who has not played in the past four games with a lower extremity injury and has been in shape every day.
“We have to reset here,” Oshie said. “Obviously you don’t want to go 3-2 down, especially when we feel like we had a chance to go 3-1 in the last game. You just have to regroup. We’ve got a veteran there, a bunch of good character. We’ll be here for a little bit (tick) and then… go home and get to work.”