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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Behind two power-play strikes sandwiching perhaps the worst goal these 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs will see, the Washington Capitals dispatched the Philadelphia Flyers, 4–1, and took a 2–0 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Saturday night.
Here are three thoughts from Verizon Center heading into Monday’s Game 3 in Philadelphia:
Holtby huge again
The chants roared from the rafters, as they do often these days. HOLT-BY. HOLT-BY. HOLT-BY. And for good reason. Largely thanks to their anchor in the crease, who made three saves in a 14-second span, the Capitals had just survived more than one minute of a 5-on-3 Flyers power play late in the first period, ensuring their 1–0 lead held entering intermission.
Though should anyone really be surprised? Holtby entered Game 2 as the NHL’s active leader in postseason save percentage (.937) and goals against average (1.86), after topping the entire 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs in both categories. Absent second-line center Sean Couturier, who will miss the remainder of the series with an upper-body injury, the Flyers still managed 42 shots on goal against Holtby, more than the contender for the Vezina Trophy had faced in a regulation postseason game since April 14, 2012. Of those, Holtby turned away all but winger Jakub Voracek’s second-period goal, which slid underneath his right pad from close range and resulted from patchwork defensive coverage in front of him.
Fittingly, as the final seconds ticked away, the chants returned.
Late in the first period, defenseman John Carlson opened the scoring for Washington much like he had in Game 1 on Thursday night: on the power play, with Flyers forward defenseman Brandon Manning shelved inside the box, from the point and, most importantly, through thick layers of traffic.
This is by design: When the Capitals have the man advantage and the puck works to Carlson, their goal-line skater moves into the near slot for an extra body in the middle. In this case, forward Marcus Johansson circled around and parked himself in the grill of Flyers goaltender Steve Mason, while T.J. Oshie manned his usual spot parallel with the face-off dots. Philadelphia defenseman Nick Schultz’s lost stick bought Carlson some extra time, so he waited until a sliver of space opened on his strong-hand side. Unlike Carlson’s Game 1 goal, which deflected off a Philadelphia player before skipping past Mason, Carlson’s wrist shot whistled unobstructed past two Flyers and two Capitals, beating Mason clean over his blocker pad.
Washington scored again on the man advantage late in the second period, when center Nicklas Backstrom’s sublime cross-ice feed, which even skittered between the legs of teammate Oshie, found Alex Ovechkin for a blistering one-timer. It marked the Capitals’ third power-play goal of the series, as many as they scored total in 14 games last postseason, and their first playoff game with multiple power-play goals since April 26, 2009.
In honor of Mason’s colossal second-period blunder, when Jason Chimera’s backhanded deflection from the red line somehow slipped through his five-hole, thereby entering the official record as a 101-foot tip-in, this final section will contain no thoughts.