Capitals’ unsung heroes pave the way for series lead

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Caps’ unsung heroes pave the way for series lead originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Each opponent focuses on Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov before facing the Capitals. But Washington’s depth pieces have time and again proven to be just as lethal in determining the outcomes of games lately as the potential Hall of Famers.

Saturday’s Game 3 vs. the Florida Panthers was no different. It was the ‘other guys’ for the Capitals who forced the issue and made life tough on their opponents. Three names, in particular, stood out as the skaters who had the biggest impact on the colossal 6-1 victory for the home side: Marcus Johansson, Anthony Mantha, and Trevor van Riemsdyk.

Johansson made the team’s front office look great in Game 3. Washington traded Daniel Sprong for the forward at the trade deadline this season to provide an added depth piece. Johansson jumped on the puck from a play set up by Mantha, picked up the pieces off a rebound and scored arguably the most important goal of the day, putting the Caps up 2-1.

“I think it was Nick [Backstrom] and [Mantha]. They made a great play, Nick got the puck to Mo and Mo made an unbelievable play cutting through the middle,” Johansson said postgame. “I was trying to get open for a pass but luckily the bounce got to me and it felt good to see that one go in.”

Mantha spent the entire game muscling his way to the puck, often dispossessing Panthers and forcing the issue in the offensive zone. He was named by NBC Sports Washington as one of the Capitals’ skaters who would have the biggest impact on postseason success.

Mantha proved just that on Saturday, hounding Mackenzie Weegar before stealing the puck and springing Washington’s third goal, connecting with both Johansson and van Riemsdyk.

Van Riemsdyk, a 30-year-old veteran, made few errors throughout the contest and often won puck battles below the net. His snipe in the second period provided enough momentum to the point when Washington wouldn’t conceded much else for the rest of the game.

“I think we did a good job of playing the right way,” van Riemsdyk said postgame. “[Oshie] said it perfectly: it’s not like we were up 6-1 the whole game. We worked hard to get there…I think we did a good job of when we got the lead to keep playing hard and keep doing the right things.”

All told, the trio of Johansson-Mantha-van Riemsdyk swung the game in Washington’s favor, combining for seven shots on goal, five points and were +6. Their depth pieces could indeed be key to snagging the two wins necessary to advance to conference semifinals.

“I think last game kinda pissed us off a little bit,” Johansson said. “We played a good 60 minutes tonight. We had to work for it in the beginning and I think we earned the win and we earned the goals we got as well. It was overall a good team effort.”