WASHINGTON (AP) — Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin combined to score three goals on the first eight shots, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals survived a surge from Andrei Svechnikov and the Carolina Hurricanes to win Game 1 of their first-round series 4-2 on Thursday night.
Backstrom scored twice and Ovechkin scored on the power play to fire up a raucous sellout crowd in the first playoff game in Washington since celebrating the franchise’s first title in June. It looked like the Capitals would roll toward a statement victory against an opponent lacking playoff experience, but the pesky Hurricanes turned up the heat.
Mrazek bounced back from a rough start to make four huge saves early in the third period, while Svechnikov scored twice in his playoff debut to put some fear into the Capitals, who were outshot 29-18 and outplayed for long stretches. Braden Holtby made 27 saves and the penalty kill came up big on two late Carolina power plays to allow Washington to take a 1-0 series lead.
Capitals players had plenty of recent lessons to know that a multigoal lead isn’t safe this time of year. They led Columbus 2-0 in each of the first two games of last year’s playoffs before losing 4-3 and 5-4, and watched the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning blow a 3-0 lead to those same Blue Jackets and lose in Game 1 of that series Wednesday night.
It almost happened in this one. Well after the “Back-to-back!” chants faded into nervous silence, Mrazek rebounded from allowing a soft opening goal to Backstrom by stopping Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin on breakaways and turned aside Brett Connolly and Lars Eller on rapid-fire chances early in the third before Svechnikov got the Hurricanes on the board. Mrazek finished with 14 saves.
Thanks to the goals by Backstrom and Ovechkin and defenseman John Carlson tying an NHL playoff record with three assists in one period, the Capitals built a large enough lead to survive an onslaught from the Hurricanes. Eller sealed it with an empty-netter with 36.6 seconds left.
The Hurricanes were playing their first playoff game since 2009 after ending the league’s longest drought. Carolina had 10 players making their playoff debuts, and its lineup had 342 games of playoff experience to Washington’s 1,282.
NOTES: With his 62nd career playoff goal, Ovechkin tied Bobby Hull for 27th on the all-time list. ... Backstrom picked up his 100th career playoff point. ... Carolina All-Star C Sebastian Aho was held without a goal for a 15th consecutive game. ... D Calvin de Haan missed his fourth in a row with an upper-body injury. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said de Haan skated but had no timetable for his return. ... The Capitals signed C Nic Dowd to a $2.25 million, three-year extension. ... The Capitals recalled top prospect Ilya Samsonov to be their third goaltender for at least the first two games of the series.
The Capitals host Game 2 Saturday afternoon looking to take a 2-0 lead in a series for just the third time in the past five playoffs.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno