Through the first three games of the playoffs, the Capitals’ fourth line has scored four of the team’s six even-strength goals. Nic Dowd scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game One – the only victory the Capitals have had in the series so far.
Meanwhile, Garnet Hathaway, known more for his fists than his finesse, struck twice in Game Two – his first career postseason goals. The Capitals’ Lady Byng nominee is tied for the team lead in points (3) with Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson.
The fourth line’s offensive success comes despite Dowd having a team-high 30 starts in the defensive zone per Natural Stat Trick. So what’s the deal?
“I think we’ve just been trying to do the same thing we’ve been doing all season,” Dowd said after Friday’s morning skate. “The biggest thing is staying consistent and continuing to build on what we do in the offensive zone. Obviously, we start quite a bit in the defensive zone so it’s important to win those faceoffs. As a line, we’ve done a good job along with the defensemen of getting out and getting down the ice. It’s nothing in particular. We’ve just done a good job of making space for each other and getting the net. We’ve had some fortunate bounces as well.”
For a part of the series, the Capitals’ fourth line has also been matched against the Bruins’ perfection line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.
“We want it to be a long run so we’re going to do our best to help out,” Hathaway said.
The biggest mistake the line has made thus far was a third-period hooking penalty Dowd took on Charlie McAvoy in Game Three (which Dowd seemed to indicate in his press conference on Friday was diving). The Bruins’ tied the game on the resulting power play and won it in OT.
Nic Dowd goes fishing for Charlie McAvoy well behind the play: pic.twitter.com/BYORPDaZQs
— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) May 20, 2021
Teams that routinely go deep in the postseason, however, usually see outsized contributions from usually offensively challenged players. For instance, when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, the team got big goals from Devante Smith-Pelly, Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Jay Beagle. Dowd, a student of the game, believes those playoff performances come from keeping things simple.
“There is something to be said about, there are a lot of elite players in the NHL and we have a lot of elite players on our team,” Dowd said. “I’m just going to speak for myself. Making those plays in the neutral zone and making creative plays to get into the zone in rushes, is challenging. There’s a risk factor to it and top-line guys are able to do it, not only because they can perform and can execute those plays, but also because they probably have a little bit more leash than fourth-line players. What has made our line so good throughout the year is that we don’t mess around with the puck. We don’t take risks with the puck. The puck is always getting into the offensive zone which is our goal. Some nights we don’t do that and we do turn pucks over.
“You guys will look back at the game and we were probably pretty invisible that night because we didn’t get into the offensive zone to make those plays and create those chances. Our biggest strong suit is that we stay connected, we don’t mess around with the puck, our puck management is good, and then we get into the offensive zone and continue to do that all night. If you do that over and over and over, you’re allowed to get those results which is what we’ve tried to all year.”
FOOT ON THE GAS pic.twitter.com/LfHm4IzPXy
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) May 18, 2021
Headline photo: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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