The Washington Capitals got a goal from Nicklas Backstrom mid-way through the second period of Game 6 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers, and goalie Braden Holtby made it stand up as the Caps eliminated the Flyers, four games to two, with a 1-0 win in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
The game’s lone scoring play started in unremarkable fashion with John Carlson controlling the puck behind his own net, circling out, and walling off Chris VandeVelde form the puck as he started up ice. Clear of VandeVelde, Carlson moved the puck up to Alex Ovechkin just outside the Flyer blue line. Ovechkin muscled his way past Radko Gudas and cut to the middle, where he found Marcus Johansson cutting down the middle. Johansson settled the puck, froze goalie Michal Neuvirth, and then slid the puck off to Backstrom on the right wing. Backstrom one-timed the puck high over Neuvirth’s glove and into the back of the net for what would be the only goal of the contest.
-- Braden Holtby started and ended the series with shutouts. It was the first time a Capitals goaltender pitched two or more shutouts in a single series since Semyon Varlamov recorded a pair of shutouts in Games 3 and 5 (both by 4-0 scores) in the Caps’ first-round series against the New York Rangers in 2009.
-- The goal by Nicklas Backstrom was his fourth game-winning postseason goal. Since he came into the league in 2007-2008, only Alex Ovechkin and Jason Chimera have more game-winners for the Caps (six apiece).
-- The shutout was the first time the Caps clinched a series with a shutout win since they beat the Ottawa Senators, 3-0, in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semi-final series in 1998. It was the first time in franchise history that the Caps clinched a series on the road with a shutout.
-- It’s nice to have your goalie locked in, but the Caps were playing with fire late. The Flyers recorded the last seven shots on goal of the game, and the Caps did not record one over the last 8:35.
-- The Caps killed off all three power plays they faced, including a double-minor charged to Nicklas Backstrom early in the second period (the old "phantom high-sticking" penalty). That made it 23 of 24 kills for the Caps (95.8 percent) in the series.
-- Mike Richards took it in the teeth in the faceoff circle. He was 0-for-10 for the game. At the other end, Jay Beagle was 7-for-10 in defensive zone faceoffs, 10-for-17 overall.
-- The Caps rearranged their second and third lines, moving Marcus Johansson up a line and moving Andre Burakovsky down one. The second line of Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Justin Williams did manage five shots on goal, but Kuznetsov had none of them. The third line of Burakovsky, Richards, and Jason Chimera managed three shots on goal, Chimera being held without a shot on goal for the fourth straight game.
-- Mike Weber saw his first playoff action since he skated for the Buffalo Sabres in 2011. He recorded less than nine minutes in ice time but did have three blocked shots, and the Flyers did no damage with him on the ice.
-- Weird stat… Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth combined for a goals against average of 1.51, Neuvirth with 0.67 and Holtby at 0.84. Only two of 20 other goalies appearing in the playoffs so far have a better goals against average on their own. Through the first round of the playoffs, they rank 1-2 in goals against average. They also rank 1-2 in save percentage (Neuvirth at .981 and Holtby at .968).
-- The Caps had a slight edge in shot attempts at 5-on-5 overall (44-43), but they did have a more pronounced advantage in scoring chances (27-22) and in high-danger scoring chances (7-4; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
In the end...
It would be tempting to write this sentence and mean it… “The Caps might have won, but they will have to play much better in the second round if they hope to advance to the conference final.” That might be true, but we have a somewhat different take on the matter. Sometimes a team struggles mightily in the first round before going deep into the playoffs. Last year, Chicago went six games against the Nashville Predators before winning it all. The year before, the Los Angeles Kings lost the first three games of their opening round series against the San Jose Sharks before winning the Cup.
That first round series can be a test of resolve. The Caps passed that test. Now they will face a team in the Pittsburgh Penguins that will challenge them with their speed and skill. It will not be easy. But then again, who expected it to be?