The Washington Capitals sure knew how to get their home crowd juiced up.
For Game 1 Thursday night against the Carolin Hurricanes — the first playoff defense of Washington’s Stanley Cup championship — fans were treated to a pregame highlight reel reliving all the great memories of last season’s victories and celebrations.
By the time the puck dropped at the Capital One Arena, the crowd was pumped up.
Then the Capitals dropped the mic and did the video one better — turning in a 10-minute replay of the good times, live on the ice, by scoring three times in the final half of the first period.
With two goals by Nicklas Backstrom and one by Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals stormed to a 3-0 lead, and it was party time all over again on the way to a 4-2 win and a 1-0 edge in this best-of-seven.
There was the stretch where Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov scored twice early in the third period and reminded everyone in the building that this title defense isn’t preordained, and certainly susceptible to the whims of Stanley Cup madness.
But the Capitals weren’t done yet with creating some new highlights.
They gave fans an ending worthy of celebration with a tough defensive stand in the final 12 minutes. They blocked shots, killed penalties and withstood a 6-on-4 attack when the Hurricanes pulled goalie Peter Mrazek with about two minutes left while T.J. Oshie was serving the final 30 seconds of a penalty for high sticking.
Washington finished up by holding off the 6-on-5 barrage in the final 90 seconds, lighting the party light once more with an empty net score by Lars Eller to seal the 4-2 victory.
What you saw in the final half of the third period were the answers that John Carlson, who had three assists, talked about in the Capitals locker room on Monday, the answers they found in their Stanley Cup run.
What you saw was the response Braden Holtby talked about that day when he said they now have the knowledge to respond to those moments when it seemed like a 3-0 lead was about to disappear in a Capitals collapse.
This time, the collapse never came.
“In the third some really big kills, outstanding commitment, blocking shots, some good saves by Braden,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “Strong effort from those guys in the third.”
The answers. The response.
If you listened to Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour after the game, his words sounded so familiar. “We played hard … the execution we had on some things wasn’t great. We had a couple of guys that need to be better.”
It sounded like Capitals coaches past. There weren’t any answers then.
Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.