Caps crush Canes 6-0 for 3-2 series lead

Alex Ovechkin appeared to be all but hyperventilating on the Washington Capitals bench before the game, when the national anthem was being played, taking deep breaths, twitching with pent-up energy.

During pregame warmups, the Caps’ Tom Wilson had been down on one knee, casting a baleful stare toward the Carolina Hurricanes’ end of the ice, as if sizing up how many he wanted to hit.

After losing two games to the Canes at PNC Arena, after seeing the best-of-seven playoff series tied 2-2, the Caps were all business Saturday at Capital One Arena in Game 5. Physical and effective, the Caps hammered the Canes 6-0.

“We were bad from start to finish, really,” Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “It was tough to pick out a guy I thought had a good game. This time of year you need everybody on-board and for whatever reason we were all just a step behind and the score was indicative of the game.

“In every aspect of the game we were outplayed. Their best players were their best players and ours were not. We weren’t beating anybody tonight.”

Nicklas Backstrom was his cooly efficient self for the Caps, scoring twice and adding two assists. In a series in which the team scoring first has won each game, Backstrom again scored first, banging in the rebound of his own shot on a first-period power play.

Ovechkin was Ovechkin. He had two assists as the Caps built the lead, then ripped in a shot on a power play in the third period for a 6-0 lead that made for an easy night for goalie Braden Holtby, who earned his seventh career playoff shutout, and a rough one for Canes goalie Petr Mrazek, who had allowed one goal in the past two games.

Ovechkin was all over the ice, credited with 11 of the Caps’ 48 hits. No one, it seemed, was more incensed by the injury to forward T.J. Oshie in Game 4 than Ovechkin, the Caps captain and leader.

Washington Capitals’ Brooks Orpik (44) checks Carolina Hurricanes’ Warren Foegele (13) to the ice during the first period during game five of their first round Stanley Cup series game on Saturday, April 20, 2018 at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Robert Willett

Backstrom scored again in the second period -- his fifth of the series -- as Caps took advantage of a Canes turnover, taking a pass from Ovechkin off the rush. He assisted on Brett Connolly’s goal later in the third after Ovechkin beat defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the puck behind the Canes net and set up Connolly coming hard to the net.

Wilson, who had the game face on early, scored in the third. So did Nic Dowd, who successfully converted a penalty shot after being slashed by Hamilton.

It’s not over yet. Not for the Canes. There will be Game 6 and it will be at PNC Arena on Monday at 7 p.m.

The Caps, determined to win a second straight Stanley Cup, will look to take the first big step toward that goal by finishing off the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with a win. The Canes, a different team at home in winning Games 3 and 4, will be expecting another energizing lift from its home crowd to stay alive in the playoffs.

A better power play would help the Canes immensely. The Canes were 0-for-5 on Saturday -- center Jordan Staal called it “garbage” -- including three punchless power plays in the second period when they trailed 1-0.

“That to me, was kind of the tipping point,” Brind’Amour said “They just took it from there.”

Why so woeful? The Canes were outworked by the Caps, whose penalty killers aggressively challenged every pass and got sticks on pucks. The Caps, in turn, scored three times on the power play -- Backstrom, Wilson and Ovechkin.

“They scored a couple of power-play goals and we stunk it up on ours,” Canes captain Justin Williams said.

The Caps were playing with added fire Saturday after losing Oshie to an upper-body injury in Game 4 -- Oshie hit by Warren Foegele and crashing into the boards. The crowd broke into a loud “T.J. Oshie” chant in the third period.

The Caps called up forward Devante Smith-Pelly from Hershey of the AHL and Smith-Pelly, who had some big moments last year in the Caps’ Cup run, revved up the crowd and gave his team another boost Saturday.

The Canes also were shorthanded, with forwards Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Martinook and Micheal Ferland again missing because of injuries. Svechnikov did go through the morning skate and said he hoped to play Game 6.

Forward Aleksi Saarela made his NHL debut for the Canes after being recalled Friday from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, playing on a line with Greg McKegg and Patrick Brown.

“To a man, I think everyone in the room needed a little more fight and just a little bit more edge to our game,” Staal said. “We didn’t have that and it showed.”

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In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.