Playoff Playbook: WSH's NZ Trap
Do you believe in Miracles?
Going into the WSH-FLA series, not many hockey fans give the underdogs much of a shot.
Panthers-Capitals in 2022 or Soviet Union-Team USA at the 1980 Olympics?
The polling data presumably look similar.
And yet, WSH overcomes a 2-1 third-period deficit to win Game 1.
Against an explosive Panthers’ attack, the Capitals’ forecheck is the wildcard team’s biggest asset.
Instead of a typical, predictable 1-2-2 offensive-zone forecheck, Washington sends two forwards deep in the zone while F3 read the play above the circles, near his defensemen.
Florida’s players never know when they have time to retrieve a puck cleanly, or whether WSH’s F2 is rounding the net and loading up for a big hit. If FLA gets rid of the puck early, WSH’s D1 would pinch down the far side to keep the puck in the zone.
Whenever FLA gains the neutral zone, all five WSH skaters track back hard to get into a 1-3-1 neutral-zone trap, the same scheme used by the 1980 Miracle on Ice team coached by Herb Brooks.
This NZ forecheck is somewhat different than the 1-1-3 Washington used in the regular season. All five skaters are above the puck (between the carrier and the WSH net), with D2 sags back and pivots early to retrieve dump-ins.
This defensive adjustment creates WSH’s equalizing goal early in the third period.
MacKenzie Weegar, FLA’s most reliable transitional defenseman, carries into the trap.
Alex Ovechkin, the F1, pokes the puck with an extended stick.
Evgeni Kuznetsov, the F2, is off to the races.
Unlike their opponents, FLA does not go to a trap and instead look to get players up-ice in a 1-2-2 NZ FC.
On a regroup, defenseman Brandon Montour sprints into the play, leaving Weegar and forward Claude Giroux as the last two players back in the 1-2-2.
T.J. Oshie recognizes the opportunity and hustles past Giroux, who is less comfortable defending the rush than Montour or Weegar.
3-2 Washington, who’ll add an empty-net goal with seconds remaining in the game.