As the Washington Capitals head back to D.C. with the first-round series against the Florida Panthers knotted at 1, the team is back where it started before the postseason with regard to its goaltending situation.
After splitting the season down the middle, Vitek Vanecek ultimately won the starting job for the playoffs over Ilya Samsonov. And following a stellar Game 1, doubt between the pipes began to fade. However, Vanecek had a rather tough go-of-it in Game 2, surrendering five goals on 18 shots and back-to-back goals late in the second period. While he didn’t have a chance on some of those goals against, there were also some he may want to have back as Washington trailed 5-1 after 40.
Ultimately, head coach Peter Laviolette decided to pull Vanecek in favor of Samsonov to turn the tide in the third period. And though the deflated Capitals couldn’t get much going in the final 20 minutes of regulation, Samsonov was stellar in relief as he stopped all 17 shots faced.
“I thought he came in and played well because I don’t think we played very well in the third at all. So I thought he came in and made some saves,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “They had a lot of shots from outside. He got to feel the puck so that was good but he had to make a couple of saves as well.”
Looking ahead to Game 3, Laviolette said on Friday that the team will evaluate its lineup and goalies ahead of Saturday’s matinee in The District with the series lead on the line.
“We’re going to evaluate everything. The way the game was played and what we need in the lineup and what we’ll do,” Laviolette said. “Certainly, goaltending’s a part of that.”
READ MORE ON WHN: Ovechkin Shares Thoughts On Capitals’ Game 2 Loss To Florida
Right now with the series even and one fluky game, it may not be wise to press the panic button right away and switch goalies. Although Samsonov put on a show in relief, would mean a change in tone for the series, which is still even and not out of reach yet. Also, giving up on Vanecek this early may prove costly and take away confidence. And if Samsonov has a tough go-of-it against Florida in Game 3, it will be difficult to switch back.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin also cited that there were mistakes that the team made as a whole, and it doesn’t all fall back on the goaltending. In fact, there were a lot of things the team did right on Thursday, and the start wasn’t bad. Ultimately, it was a rough few minutes and a deflated third that made the game one to forget.
“How I said, one minute kind of like, hard minute. We give up two goals right away, but the most important thing for us is we don’t give up,” Ovechkin said. “We try to bounce back in the game 2-1 and another mistake. How I said, shit happen. We move on. 1-1, how I said, it’s a good scenario for us.”
Nicklas Backstrom agreed and noted that Washington needs to do a better job of puck management and play in the defensive zone, while also capitalizing on scoring opportunities.
“I think we all need to realize that everything matters in the playoffs, we got to be a little bit sharper I think and make sure we take care of that puck. I think overall our execution wasn’t there,” Backstrom said.