John Walton: ‘Hits Are Key To Caps Success’

From the beginning, Scott Ferrall felt that the Capitals/Islanders playoff showdown had all the makings of a seven-game series.

He was not alone in that sentiment.

“I think six or seven games from the beginning was always in the cards,” Capitals play-by-play voice John Walton said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “I think everyone thought that and no one’s surprised that we’re here.”

The Capitals won Game 5, 5-1, on Thursday to take a 3-2 series lead. The previous three games had been decided by one goal, including two straight in overtime.

Overtime wasn’t needed Thursday. Caps rookie Evgeny Kuznetsov had two goals and an assist, as a 1-1 first-period stalemate turned into a 5-1 rout.

Game 6 is Saturday in New York at 3 p.m. ET.

“I think the thing that surprised me the most (Thursday) was that the Caps won by the margin that they did,” Walton said. “It was pretty close into the third period, but for the Caps to blow them away like they did, it was pretty surprising.”

Washington took over Game 5 physically. The Caps were checking and hitting everyone in sight and kept the puck in New york’s end for the majority of the game. The Islanders looked thin and, well, a little outmatched.

“I would agree with that,” Walton said. “And it’s the physical tone that the Capitals have had in this series – and its not something that happens all at once in Game 1 or 2. But the accumulation over four, five – now going into six games (Saturday) afternoon – they’ve taken a bit of a beating.”

The Islanders’ defense has hung tough for most of the series but is undermanned, having lost Lubomir Visnovsky and Calvin de Haan to injury.

“They didn’t have Travis Hamonic at the beginning of the series,” Walton said. “What was a pretty good Islanders defensive corps, right now they’re pretty beat up. Although the Islanders themselves are a very good team and a very physical team, the Caps really weren’t that way even a year ago.”

Brooks Orpik and Tom Wilson, however, have really changed the tone in Washington.

“There’s a lot of heavy hitting that goes on with this team,” Walton said. “I think that’s probably one of their keys to success.”

So is the fan base. As frustrated and as disgruntled as Caps fans have been in recent years, there’s no denying that the Verizon Center was rocking Thursday. It was electric.

“Good for Washington hockey for sure,” Walton said. “What the Verizon Center has been really since Bruce Boudreau coached the team in the Presidents’ Trophy season in ’09-10 – last year was a rarity over the last decade. They didn’t make the playoffs. Fans were kind of upset. I think it says a lot about Washington as a hockey town that they have sustained (their passion when) the last couple of seasons really weren’t that great. A first-round exit and a blowout in Game 7 two years ago when they got smoked by the Rangers under Adam Oates. Last year, (they) missed (the playoffs) altogether. Big shakeup in the offseason.

“But now with Brian MacLellan as general manager and certainly with Barry Trotz as head coach and what he’s been able to do here – that veteran gravitas that he’s brought to the position that the Capitals haven’t had in the better part of two decades – it’s a new team. It’s a new organization. It’s a new culture. I think the fans realized that. I think it’s fantastic the way they came out and supported them last night.”

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