EditorsNote: adds quotes from Tortorella and Trotz
Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th and 51st career playoff goals as the Washington Capitals finished off the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 6-3 victory in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference first-round series Monday night in Columbus, Ohio.
The Capitals won the series 4-2 despite dropping the first two games at home — both in overtime.
“We watched the first two games, and we watched the chances we were giving up,” Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly said in a postgame TV interview. “Everyone was committed to (playing better). Everyone bought in. It’s a group of guys who wants to win.”
Washington advances to play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. The Capitals have lost nine of the 10 times they have taken on the Penguins in the playoffs, including the last seven.
Ovechkin’s milestone goal was a tiebreaker, giving the Caps the lead for good at 2-1 with 7:10 left in the second period. He scored on a backhander, putting away the rebound of a shot from Brooks Orpik (two assists).
Ovechkin stretched it to 3-1 on a power-play goal with 1:37 remaining in the middle period on a one-timer off a John Carlson pass.
Ovechkin finished the series with five goals, and Carlson ended up with eight assists. Jay Beagle added two assists Monday.
Washington goalie Braden Holtby started for the fourth straight game after Philipp Grubauer got the nod in the first two. Holtby has been strong since then, and he made 35 saves in the clincher.
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said of the Capitals, “They were pretty stingy. I give Washington credit for, through the series, how well they defended. We thought we might be able to get something going against them. They defended hard.”
The Capitals scored first for the fifth time in the series thanks to a bullet from Dmitry Orlov. He took a pass from Matt Niskanen, skated between the circles and fired a high shot past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky with 7:48 left in the first period.
Columbus killed off overlapping penalties in the second period and tied the game shortly thereafter when Nick Foligno fired a shot from the right side past Holtby at 8:40.
Ovechkin then put the Caps in front with his two second-period goals.
Pierre-Luc Dubois cut the lead to one for Columbus early in the third period before Smith-Pelly and Chandler Stephenson (one goal, one assist) scored 94 seconds apart for a 5-2 Washington lead with 14:30 left in the game.
Foligno added a second goal later in the period before Lars Eller gave the Caps an empty-netter in the final minute as Washington notched three in the third.
“It stings. I’m not really sure what to say right now,” Foligno said. “I’m still dissecting everything. It was a good series. I think we learned a lot about ourselves. This is a team we have in here that’s a hell of a team. We had a real good opportunity being up 2-0 and didn’t make the most of it.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said, “The Columbus Blue Jackets ... (it’s) a real resilient, good young team that they have. The future is bright here. They have some great pieces, so it was a war out there. It was a really strong series by them. They forced us to the limit for sure.”
—Field Level Media