Line shuf­fle gets Caps to Game 6

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - IS­ABELLE KHURSHUDYAN The Wash­ing­ton Post

Over­shad­owed in what ap­peared to be a de­mo­tion for cap­tain Alex Ovechkin was the cor­re­spond­ing move. As Cap­i­tals coach Barry Trotz shifted Ovechkin to a third line be­fore Wash­ing­ton’s Game 5 against Pittsburgh, An­dre Bu­rakovsky was bumped up the lineup to play along­side cen­tre Nick­las Back­strom and T.J. Oshie.

On the sur­face, Bu­rakovsky had done lit­tle to earn such a pro­mo­tion, with just two as­sists in the 10 play­off games en­ter­ing Satur­day night. But Bu­rakovsky had con­stantly looked on the precipice of scor­ing, ar­guably hav­ing the best chances of any Cap­i­tals for­ward with­out get­ting re­warded. With the old for­ward com­bi­na­tions grow­ing stale, Trotz fig­ured Bu­rakovsky’s speed would com­ple­ment Back­strom and Oshie well while Ovechkin’s pres­ence on a third line would cre­ate a trick­ier matchup for the Pen­guins.

At least for one night, it worked, and Bu­rakovsky’s strong play on a top line is an en­cour­ag­ing sign it could work again in Game 6 on Monday night. He’s the Cap­i­tals’ streaki­est goal scorer, and his suc­cess with Back­strom and Oshie could al­low the team to roll three scor­ing lines against Pittsburgh, some­thing Wash­ing­ton was un­able to do at the start of this se­ries.

On one shift back be­side third-line cen­tre Lars Eller, Bu­rakovsky was able to fi­nally cap­i­tal­ize on one of his chances, scor­ing Wash­ing­ton’s first goal of the game. In the third pe­riod, Bu­rakovsky set up Back­strom’s game-ty­ing goal en route to the 4-2 Cap­i­tals win. He’s just the fourth for­ward to score a goal for the team in this se­ries.

“I’ve been cre­at­ing a lot of chances so it was nice to fi­nally get one,” Bu­rakovsky said. “I’ve been work­ing hard to help the team and to pro­duce. I’m a player that should pro­duce and I haven’t done that this se­ries. So it was nice to get a goal to­day and an as­sist for Nicky. Now we’re just go­ing to take it from here.”

With Wash­ing­ton scor­ing four goals on Pittsburgh’s Marc-An­dre Fleury for the first time all se­ries, it seems likely that Trotz will stick with the line com­bi­na­tions he de­buted on Satur­day night. Ovechkin strug­gled through the first 40 min­utes of the game with new line­mates, record­ing just two shots on goal in two pe­ri­ods — and both came dur­ing a power play in the first pe­riod. But just 27 sec­onds af­ter Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the game-win­ning goal, Ovechkin pro­vided in­sur­ance with his sec­ond goal of the se­ries.

“Be hon­est with you, for us I don’t think it mat­ter who go­ing to play with [who] and who go­ing to play against each other,” Ovechkin said. “Right now it’s not a good time to talk about, ‘well, I’m go­ing to play less or I’m go­ing to play more.’ We’re here to get re­sult and we’re here to get suc­cess­ful as a team, not in­di­vid­ual. That’s a big part of our suc­cess.”

While a third line of Bu­rakovsky, Eller and winger Tom Wil­son had been play­ing well in this se­ries, the zone time and shot at­tempts the three were gen­er­at­ing weren’t trans­lat­ing into goal pro­duc­tion. De­spite em­pha­siz­ing sec­ondary scor­ing in off-sea­son moves, Wash­ing­ton didn’t have a sin­gle goal from the bot­tom six in this se­ries be­fore Game 5. Bu­rakovsky’s goal in the first pe­riod and Ovechkin’s goal in the third now count as two.

But first, Trotz had to sell the ad­just­ment to Ovechkin.

“I talked to him, just say­ing that we need to change it up,” Trotz said. “Top play­ers make peo­ple bet­ter, and I said, you know, it’s no dif­fer­ent than [Phil] Kes­sel be­ing on [Pittsburgh’s] third line last year. That had a lot of im­pact for the Pen­guins.”


Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals goalie Braden Holtby dives on the puck with Matt Niska­nen and Pittsburgh Pen­guins’ Jake Guentzel clos­ing in dur­ing the third pe­riod of Game 5.

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