“That was pretty much a perfect game,” Devante Smith-Pelly said after the Capitals’ convincing 3-0 win to take the Lightning to a Game 7, and, yup. The offense was relentless, the defense was suffocating, and Braden Holtby was impenetrable when tested. (Smith-Pelly had a hell of a game himself, scoring a goal and smushing two guys—one a teammate, but what are you gonna do?—with one hit.) Basically, Washington was desperate, and played like it, and Tampa did not.
But if you want to see perfection boiled down to a single play, watch—over and over—Nicklas Backstrom’s impossible timing to set up a T.J. Oshie PP one-timer for the game’s first goal.
Backstrom returned for Game 4 after missing four games with a right hand injury, and it’s clearly not 100 percent. But there are still things he can do unhampered, and some of those are things he’s just about the only player who can do. Like feed the puck to Oshie through a sea of defenders at the precise right moment where he was the only one who could get a stick on it.
It becomes hypnotic to watch on repeat. Seriously, Oshie is surrounded. But that doesn’t matter so much. “It’s just a matter of a couple feet here and there to try to find that soft area,” Oshie said of waiting for a Backstrom feed.
Backstrom waits, and waits, and waits some more, until he sees something that mortals can’t, and slides over a not-even-particularly-fast pass that is just beyond the reach of every Lightning stick.
There’s a lot of subtle work going on here in order to give Oshie the “couple feet” of room Backstrom needs:
Ovechkin, in the left circle, doesn’t have to do anything but exist in order to seriously distract Anthony Cirelli, defending in the high slot—look how many times Cirelli looks back over his shoulder. Evgeny Kuznetsov, down low, darts in front of net, not only getting Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh to lean the wrong way for split second, but screening Andrei Vasilevskiy. Even Backstrom is looking off Alex Killorn. “It’s all about, try to look somewhere else,” Backstrom said, “and pass it the other way.”
So, when Cirelli was hanging back, and Stralman and McDonagh were slightly off-balance, and Killorn lifted his stick, then—and not a split second before, or after—did Backstrom make the pass.
That opened the scoring, and proved the game-winner, and now we’re heading back to Tampa. The Ovechkin-Backstrom Capitals are 10-2 when facing elimination before Game 7, and 3-7 in Game 7. So, I have zero idea what’s going to happen on Wednesday, or even what I think might happen. Everything is in play, and any outcome would make perfect logical sense for a team that seemed like it had thrown off the chains of its recent history, yet could still squander a two-game lead. Whatever happens, we get yet another Capitals Game 7, with all that implies, and I couldn’t be more excited to be dumbfounded.