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Friday, March 9, 2012

Recap 3/8 vs Tampa Bay: Ovechkin Strikes in OT Again

One point out of two against Carolina sucked.  But two OT wins out of three chances is good.  Call these the Cardiac Caps.  And that might just be what defines them once and for all this season.  More on that in a bit.
If only they hadn't sandwiched two additional regulation losses in the midst of all this...but first things first......

To start with, kudos to Tomas Vokoun for coming in off his longest layoff of the season and delivering several great saves, most of which came in the first period.  Although my heart could have done without that flurry late in the third. The one where was out of position and the Lightning had 24 square feet of yawning net to shoot at for a few seconds.  He would finish with 24 saves.

Keith Aucoin got things going with another in-close net deflection.  That gives the mighty-mite four points in five games as the bottom two lines continue to step up their game.  Aucoin, as he always does when given a chance with the big club, is making a solid case to stay.  Perhaps Mike Knuble's benching might be somewhat justified after all.  I still say Knuble would be best served as a power play specialist, but at this point in the season it's almost a moot point.  Especially when you consider the Caps get nowhere near the power play chances to justify any such move.  One thing is for certain--the little guy's net presence is the tonic for an offense gone dry at times.  It will be interesting to see if he can hold up to the intensity of a harsh playoff run, not to mention the playoffs themselves should they get that far.

Washington wound up surrendering 15 shots on goal in the first period alone.  Vokoun stopped them all.  But  one word still springs to mind--garbage.  If one of those shots squeaks through--different hockey game.

Mike Green's hit on Brett Connolly in the second will draw some attention. He clearly targeted the head on that play, no question.  So what will be his punishment?  I would wager that he gets no more than a one-game vacation from the Shanahammer.  It could possibly be just a fine as Connolly did return later in the game and Green has no priors on his record.  But given the Sheriff's recent penchant for putting the hammer of justice away given the lateness of the season, it will be no more than one game and no less than the max fine of $2,500.

As they are wont to do, the Caps eventually squandered their early lead with some dumb mistakes.  Sure enough, it began to fall apart in the second period.  Dennis Wideman, whose play has been questionable at best lately, plowed into JT Wyman for a boarding call.  It didn't even take 30 seconds for Tampa's power play to convert as Ryan Malone knocked it home to tie it.

Towards the end of the second, there was yet another call.  This was actually better in that it was a restraining call for holding on Jay Beagle. Nonetheless, the result was the same--power play goal, this time potted by Teddy Purcell.

And then it came.  The much needed chewing out, rallying cry, locker room speech or whatever you want to call it.  Hell, whatever it was Dale Hunter said it woke the team up, obviously.  Coach Hunter downplayed his speech and its effects in the post game presser, but you could see in his eyes it had the desired effect and he knew it.

From then on the Lightning were clearly out worked and out-hustled by an inspired Capitals team.  Tampa didn't even register a shot on goal until 16:26 when Steven Stamkos broke through for quick wrister.  But not before Marcus Johansson pulled them even.  He slipped in a nice five-holer after he took a feed from Dennis Wideman.  Wideman had collected the puck after winning a battle along the boards with Tampa center Nate Thompson.  It was the first of two climaxes to a tense game.  All the result of hard work and team play.

And of course, it was once again some hard work that allowed for the game winner.  It all began where all great hard working plays begin--in the offensive zone corner.  With about a miunte remaining before the dreaded skills competition, Jason Chimera won a race to the puck, beating out a Lightning defender.  He found Dmitry Orlov waiting in the high slot and zoomed into onto the tape of his stick.  In one fluid motion, Orlov made for the net as if to take a shot, but instead passed it to Ovechkin who had streaked in on the right wing.  Orlov had both the defender and the goalie fooled and the Captain had a near-empty netter, although it should be said that the Lightning goalie, Dustin Tokarski nearly got back in time.

The one gigantic scream!  Happy 18,000 plus at the Verizon Center, including 20 guys in red on the ice.

Much has been made recently about how this team has lost its way, that it has no identity.  I will say that, while they still have an uphill climb ahead of them, that they just might have found themselves in this win.  Yes it took a coach to verbally kick them in the rear to get them going.  But once they did, they started playing for each other--like all successful teams do.  Trust me, we've all been looking and looking for this team to finally figure it out.  So many times when it looked like they had, we would live out the disappointment of witnessing old habits creep back in, like stinkbugs in early spring.

Perhaps finally, this is the time they have figured out that they are the team that can take the blows and outlast anyone else.  Once before they would use their talent to sprint to a big lead then coast.  Those days, however we may have enjoyed them, are no more.  Now, they are the team that will continue to out work you and eventually wear you down. And at the most opportune time, they still have the firepower to go for the knockout blow.  The most relevant piece of evidence I have to offer for those seeking optimism is their third period play.  On his recent podcast, Bobby Holik said that you get tired when you're behind and chasing the puck.  Well, not only did they not get tired, they kept the league's most potent goal scorer, Steven Stamkos, down to two shots and the Lightning as a whole without a shot for most of the third period. That kind of energy and result comes from only one thing--belief in one another as a team.

The Capitals are finally beginning to gel as one solid unit--is it too late for them to use it to get into playoffs and do some damage?

We'll find out in 15 games or less.  I just wish it didn't take this long for them to find themselves.

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