RALEIGH, N.C. — Playoff hockey is a fickle thing, full of fortuitous bounces both metaphorical and literal in nature. Most of those bounces did not go the Washington Capitals’ way in Game 6.
Instead, the Carolina Hurricanes forced a Game 7 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by beating Washington 5-2 Monday night at PNC Arena.
Game 7 will be played Wednesday night at Capital One Arena. The winner will advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals to take on the New York Islanders.
The Hurricanes played the better game from the second period onward and broke open a 2-2 game early in the third. When the Capitals thought Alex Ovechkin had the tying goal, it was ruled a no-goal by the officials due to goaltender interference and confirmed by the league office.
Moments after that was settled, Justin Williams extended the Hurricanes’ lead — and effectively put the game to bed — when he redirected an incoming shot, forming it into a perfect bounce pass that traveled under Braden Holtby’s stick and through his legs.
Ovechkin and Brett Connolly scored for the Capitals. Holtby made 31 saves, compared to just 23 by Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek.
Ovechkin was assessed a game misconduct in the final two minutes of the game after sharing words with an official and mocking him with sarcastic applause. They had called a slashing penalty on him when the game was out of reach, but the frustration was most likely linked to the earlier no-goal.
“I saw the puck. He didn’t get it in control,” Ovechkin said. “He didn’t see that, so I don’t know what the referee saw or what the explanation was. It was kind of weird, but it’s okay. It’s over, move forward. Nothing we can do right now.”
The Capitals didn’t feel they did enough to build on Game 5, which they won handily, 6-0.
“No, not really,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “But I mean, we still had it tied there going into the third, so make better efforts. I thought when they scored, when they were up 4-2, that’s when the urgency started for us, but that was too late.”
Capitals coach Todd Reirden said the Hurricanes “earned their breaks tonight.”
“They carried the play for some portions of their game and that was basically self-inflicted for some of it, in terms of how we were executing with the pucks,” Reirden said. “Breakouts that weren’t as clean as they were a couple of nights ago or it was plays at the blueline that didn’t end up behind them. Those are things that we’ve got to get back to.”
The teams traded goals to start the game, and within about 22 minutes of action it was a 2-2 contest. Connolly opened scoring after Andre Burakovsky flung a pass off Carolina’s back wall to Lars Eller, who then fed Connolly at Mrazek’s right post for the score.
Warren Foegele tied it halfway through the frame with his fourth goal of the playoffs, which led the Hurricanes. Jordan Staal set a screen in front of Holtby and Foegele’s shot likely glanced off Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen before skipping past Holtby like a stone.
But Ovechkin put Washington back ahead when he forechecked into the left circle and snapped a shot under Mrazek’s arm. It was the Russian’s 65th career postseason goal, third-most among active players.
That was the last feel-good moment of the night for the Capitals. Teuvo Teravainen tied the game again, and Jordan Staal gave the Hurricanes the lead four minutes into the third period. He swept in a puck that had rebounded off Holtby and hung in the crease, giving the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead and setting up a period’s worth of crazy events.
Around halfway into the third, Evgeny Kuznetsov slipped a shot attempt under Mrazek’s body and Ovechkin powered in to move it over the goal line.
But officials ruled it was not a goal, citing interference with Mrazek’s pad being the cause of the goal. The league office in Toronto confirmed their decision quickly.
“We talked with our video staff and they felt like it was worth a challenge in that situation,” Reirden said. “That’s not how the league or the referees saw it and that’s a decision they made. But for us we thought the puck was loose. It was still a puck that was in play.”
Dougie Hamilton added an empty-net goal late to cement the final score.
The home team has won all six games of the series to this point, which the Capitals might consider the most welcome piece of information heading to their home ice for Game 7. For a team that likes to recite a mantra of leaving every game in the past, win or loss, Wednesday’s win-or-go-home scenario might benefit the Capitals.
“Any (playoff) experience helps but it’s a matter if you use it or not,” Holtby said. “When it comes down to one game you use everything that you have whether it’s experience throughout the year you put it all on the line for one game and make sure you have everyone on board. That’s going to be our focus going forward.”
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