Number of People Nice Enough to Stop By....

Monday, April 30, 2012

Recap Game 1 vs NY Rangers

Go ahead, say it with me....

I was afraid this would happen.

Yes, instead of riding the huge wave of momentum from eliminating the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals promptly jumped off and started acting like another mediocre hockey team. Now I didn't have the fortune (or misfortune) of actually seeing the game due to family obligations, but by all accounts the team that just defeated the defending Cup champs was on vacation for Game 1.

Note to Alexander Semin: if you get slashed by anyone in blue, make like your wife or significant other is communicating with you and DON'T RETALIATE!

And another thing, while keeping the opposition down to less than 20 shots is a good thing, you have to take more than that total in order to score.

Mr. Holtby, please do not forget who you were just a few days ago.  Or at least forget who you were on Saturday.

That is all.  This team knows what to do.  It's just a matter of doing it. Being down 2-0 isn't necessarily a disaster, but a split would be much better.  Just saying.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Recap 4/25 Game 7 vs Bruins

Capitals  2
Bruins     1  (OT)

Game and Series Winning goal:  Joel Ward  

Three Stars: Joel Ward (duh!), Tyler Seguin, Dennis Seidenberg

Seventh Heaven!!!!

Now that I've gotten what has to be the biggest cliche in all sports out of the way....

We all know by now what happened.  And now that what has been, literally, the closest playoff series in NHL history is over it's time to catch our collective breath.  But not before reflecting on what just happened, because it was yet another defining moment in a season for team still trying to find out who they are.

Let me first start by giving a nod to the former Japers Rink Radio show. Because they nailed this, only it was two years ago.  It was after the utter disaster that was the 2010 playoffs and they, Steven Pepper and Russell Waxman, discussed the need for the team to undergo something of a makeover.  They saw this as necessary because it was painfully obvious that skill alone was NEVER going to get them through the playoffs.  This lesson the Caps would learn, but only to a small extent the next year as they bowed out in a humiliating sweep after rolling through the first round.  But the whole time Pepper and Waxman stressed the need to have the ability to score the gritty goals that define the hard work that it takes to succeed come playoff time.  And a gritty goal is what won it last night.  Wherever you guys are, I hope you're smiling!  And come back soon, if you can!

About that gritty goal...I have to admit I was scared as hell when the game went to overtime.  History shows that the game would either end within the first few minutes of OT or go to a second period and beyond. That kind of a long grind tends to favor the home team and it didn't look like either team would yield anytime soon.  In other words, it was going to be a game of "next mistake loses."

But you know what?  The Caps didn't come out like they were playing not to lose.  There was a jump in their step, a spark in their play that made them look fresher than the Bruins.  When I noticed this, I was really hoping that they would go for the kill when they got the opportunity and not sit back.  The Bruins nearly beat them to the punch 35 seconds in when Patrice Bergeron almost won it with a half-open net in front of him. All he had to do was lift it over Braden Holtby's pad, but somehow he couldn't before the puck was swatted out of harm's way by Karl Alzner. You had to feel for him because if he was 100% healthy, there's no doubt he would have put that away.

Nail-biting, back and forth play ensued for another two minutes.  Then, a neutral zone turnover was picked up by Mike Knuble who led a two-on-one rush towards the Bruins' net.  Of all the unlikely scenarios for this series, this was probably one of the least likely.  It mattered not as the 39 year old Knuble suddenly looked like he had the legs of a man half his age and blazed toward the net.  Joel Ward was on his right wing, but Knuble had one thing on his mind--get it on net.  He did.  It was the perfect shot that didn't go in; a juicy rebound that came off of Thomas' pads.  It was collected by Ward, who by then had sidestepped defenseman Greg Zanon, leaving him just enough space for his game winning shot--a sweet backhander that slid through Thomas' pads at 2:57 of the extra session.  I don't think I've done that much jumping and screaming since kindergarten.

And now, it's time to give credit where credit is due.....even though we all know cash is better.

Credit--to Matt Hendricks for exemplifying what I mentioned in the last paragraph.  In a Game 7 situation, goals are often at a premium and need to be scored by any means necessary.  Hendricks was willing to go to the net and do whatever it took and it paid off.  No telling where this game would have gone had he not opened the scoring.

Credit--to Craig Laughlin for calling out the officials near the end of the game when they handed out that penalty to Jason Chimera for holding. Sure if you went by the book, it was a legit call, but they completely ignored Matt Hendricks being dumped by Dennis Seidenberg earlier.  Like Locker said, if you're going to put the whistles away, keep them away. By the way, one of the refs last night was Stephen Walkom, who has missed some very obvious calls in this first round, including the now infamous Raffi Torres hit on Marian Hossa.  If he makes an appearance in the second round, then there ought to be an investigation.  Sorry we won't hear your golden voices for play-by-play, Locker and Joe B, see you next season!

Credit--to Karl Alzner for being the soul of stability on the blueline corps. He did everything that was asked of him and he did it well.  And he got almost no credit for it, save for a second star in Game 2.  He'll never light up a scoresheet, but anyone watching knows that it would have been tough for the Caps to have kept their end clean without him.  Saved the series in OT by blocking away Bergeron's dangerous chance.

Credit--to John Carlson for coming alive at the best possible time.  He got his swagger back, putting shots towards the goal.  One of those led to Matt Hendricks' opener.  And in Game 7 he tied for the game high in blocked shots with five.  He's peaking at a good time and they will need him to continue into the next round.

Credit--to Jay Beagle for his outstanding play throughout the series. Looking over his numbers, one thing stands out--his faceoff percentage. He never finished a game below 53% and even won as many as 70% of his draws twice in the series. Add to that his overall solid play in the defensive zone whether it was along the boards or clearing rebounds and you have to put him up there as one of the Capitals move valuable players in this series.  This may have been Braden Holtby's coming-out party, but this series was also a showcase for Beagle's skills as he has now solidified his place as one of the Caps' top defensive forwards.

Credit--to Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman for at least not screwing up.

Credit--to Alexander Semin who hopefully has chased away his playoff demons.  Time will tell of course as his team enters the second round, but Good Sasha showed up enough times to make the difference in so many ways.  Let's hope it continues into the next round.

Credit--to the entire Boston Bruins team for being very worthy opponents.  I said at the beginning of the series that they're not the defending Cup champs for nothing.  Save for a few lucky bounces, they could have easily taken the series.  They definitely did not go down quietly and were proud champions to the end. Congratulations and good luck next season.

Credit--to Joel Ward and Mike Knuble for closing out the series.  Smokin' Al Koken said it right on the post game show--how fitting that these guys who had been relegated to pretty much being glorified benchwarmers get the job done at the most crucial moment.  It is their grit, experience, and knack for coming through at the right time that will be relied on from here on out.

Credit--to Alexander Ovechkin for perhaps finally doing what a captain needs to do by putting his team ahead of himself.  Sure he's still ticked about his ice time, but he knows now that it's what gets the wins.  I'm a bit disappointed in his OT play however, he threw his hands up in disgust when Dennis Seidenberg stood him up in front of the net.  I'm hoping that was disgust at no penalty being called as opposed to frustration or a "give-up" gesture.

Credit--to Braden Holtby for standing tall in net and believing in himself and his team when everybody (including me--but I've never been so happy to be wrong, except when Mrs. Blueliner is talking to me) had counted him out.  This kid was virtually unflappable and, except for his roughing penalty in Game 1, showed the poise of a hardened veteran during the whole series.  THIS is the type of goaltending that carries teams to championships and that's no exaggeration.

And finally.....

Credit to the Coach Dale Hunter.  Yes that's right, I'm saying it.  He's proving that his system is what the Caps needed to not only survive in the playoffs, but succeed as well.  His team may have been outplayed and overmatched at times, but never, ever was out of this series.  Every game was a tossup and Dale Hunter's squad had a chance to win all seven of these games.  Against the highly regarded and experienced Cup champs, that's no small feat.  Whether it was matching lines against Claude Julien or keeping the club loose before a tense Game 7, Hunter pushed all the right buttons in this series.  Yes it's true that Holtby bailed them out many times, but it was Hunter's gameplan that kept them in it the whole time.  It's a bit funny if you think about it--he showed little emotion, preached defense, and didn't waver in his overall scheme.  In other words he was the exact opposite of Bruce Boudreau.  Maybe that's what this team needed all along. Please, Coach, don't make a liar out of me next series because you've got the whole town believing again.

So it's on to Round 2.  Not to be a downer about all this, but after such a long, hard-fought series there's a danger of a letdown and the Caps have to avoid that.  In my opinion it's what set them up for failure last year. The Caps need to keep on thinking big picture while continuing to do all the little things right.  I'll say something else here, if it's the Flyers we're facing, I'm not sure I like our chances.

But then, we've already knocked out the defending champs, so anything's possible, right?

In the Stanley Cup playoffs it sure as hell is.  As long as you believe......

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Recap 4/22 Game 6 vs Bruins

Bruins  4
Capitals 3

GWG---Tyler Seguin   Three Stars:  Tyler Seguin, Nicklas Backstrom, Andrew Ference

I'm going to slide by the usual recapping of the last game.  I was so sickened by what happened that I actually had to take a step back and close my mind to hockey for a while.  But not for too long, of course. Things keep going regardless.  Looking back,  I knew as soon as Backstrom made that horrible pass that it was over.  I'm glad these players were able to put it out of their minds quickly because I sure as hell couldn't.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what it's like to be a Caps fan come Spring. It's like being in love only the potential highs and lows are more extreme. If any of you reading this listened to my latest podcast, you would know that I laid all this out in describing a game I saw 25 years ago.  And here we are again at another Game Seven, again after they had a chance to put their opponent away.

Despair?  Yeah, there's that.  Hand wringing?  Got plenty of that, too. But there's just as much cause for optimism as there is for gloom and doom. If you read Dan Daly's article, you will see why.  I'm going to be very cautious and approach this much like diffusing a bomb.  There's also a car wreck element to it--you can't look away because you have to see what happens.

This whole series I've made a new Facebook friend.  She's a fellow Caps fan named Denise Aitchison who I first heard about through the Puck Podcast.  She's actually the show's Fan Correspondent representing the Capitals.  On the most recent show, she pointed out that the long break between games led to hockey media types scratching for stories.  The alleged controversy over Alex Ovechkin's "reduced" ice time is a prime example of that.  So he's a bit pissed, so what?  He also said if it works for the team, he's fine with it.  Let it go, people.

At this point I'm tired of all the talking and I wish they'd just play the game.  So I'll be anxiously awaiting the 7:30 PM puck drop and hope for the best.  For those of you who go back at least 15 years, this one's for you:  It could end up like the collapse against the Penguins in 2009, but I'm hoping not.  I have a feeling it will be more like the Eastern Conference final in 1998 against Buffalo.

Let's hope that history doesn't matter at all and this year's Capitals forge their own successful path.

PS--no offense to Jeff Schultz, but if the rumors prove true and he will be in the lineup, he better step up his game, because the Bruins will be bringing it.  If he doesn't, the game could be lost.  As long he plays mistake free and is willing to play the body (good luck with that) he can be effective.  Otherwise, we will just have to hope he doesn't play in enough situations to affect the outcome.  Awful of me to say, yet true. By the way, that goes DOUBLE for Dennis Wideman!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Recap 4/21 Game 5 vs Bruins

Capitals  4
Bruins    3

GWG---Troy Brouwer

Three Stars:  Troy Brouwer, Dennis Seidenberg,  Brad Marchand

A chance to either seize control of the series, or the beginning of the end.  That's what was staring the Caps in the face upon their return to TD Banknorth Gahhhh-den, er, Garden.  With a such an up-and-down season, you had to wonder which Caps team would show up, one that came to play or the one that folds like a nervous poker player.

The game started with John Carlson taking a run at Bruins goalie Tim Thomas.  Naturally he got two minutes in the old sin bin for it.  Maybe John didn't care for his recent antics.  I had to admit I was questioning the wisdom of giving a hungry Bruins power play a chance right off the bat. However, if you think about it, Carlson's charge paid dividends for the rest of the game.  More on this later.  But one thing was for sure--they came to play.

Despite a dangerous shot by Zdeno Chara that clanged off the post, the Bruins power play came away looking like this yet again.  Disaster averted.  As it turned out there wouldn't be anything in the way of scoring for the whole period.  Both teams ended up firing 21 shots total, but with no denting of the twine as both Tim Thomas and Braden Holtby were forced to make several strong saves. The chippiness continued however with several penalties being handed out including a roughing call the Zdeno Chara on Alex Ovechkin.

The second period looked to be a continuation of the first, lots of shots and tough play (although what Johnny Boychuk was trying to do with Troy Brouwer in the corner is beyond me). Until about 11 minutes in when Alex Semin took advantage of a scrum in front of the net and deftly lifted the puck over a fallen Tim Thomas. Three minutes later, Jay Beagle, who had been somewhat snakebitten this whole series, finally put one away after a great individual effort.  He corralled a clearing attempt at the point , then skated in and lifted a wrister over the blocker pad of Tim Thomas.

And yet what is it they say about a two-goal lead?  Yeah, still true.

Barely three minutes after Jay Beagle's goal, Dennis Seidenberg and Brad Marchand scored 28 seconds apart to tie the *&#@!@& game.  I've seen pizzas in frat houses didn't disappear as quickly as that lead did.  So the game was tied going into the third....sound familiar?

And then Mike Knuble....MIKE KNUBLE?  WHO THE HECK IS MIKE, er, oh yeah...he DOES play for the Caps, doesn't he?  He scored off a rebound from another player who had been all but invisible, Joel Ward.  The rest of the game, although I enjoyed all the goals, turned into a game of "next goal wins" where you got the feeling it was going to come down to either a mistake or a brilliant play, or both.

Several minutes later, that mistake was made.  Dennis Wideman took a cross checking call against Brad Marchand. (What's the going rate for cross checking a human fire hydant?) Johnny Boychuk capitalized with a rocket from the left point that Holtby just didn't get to.  Tie game....again.  And worse, it was Boston's first power play goal in the series, so there went that streak.

And the game sure looked to be headed for OT yet again.  Except for another mistake, this time by the Bruins.  Benoit Pouliot slashed Nicklas Backstrom late in the period to give the Washington power play one last chance. This time it was the Caps' chance to make good with the extra man and they did.  Although it didn't look like they were going to at first. But then, John Carlson (where was THIS guy all year?) started the rush and handed off to Brouwer, who whistled one just over Thomas' glove with about a minute and a half left in the game.  Thomas was pulled with a minute left, but it did no good as the Caps hung on for the win.

Could it be that this team that so many pundits left for dead just a few weeks ago has the Cup champs on the ropes?  While it's so easy to count the Bruins out, I would be wary of doing so.  They are still the Bruins and can win two games and have the personnel to do it handily, Nathan Horton or no.  That said, maybe the grind really is finally catching up to them.  Or it could be that they believed too much of their own PR and really did think that they would win this in a walk.  Whatever the reason, clearly this team is frustrated and has lost their focus and discipline. Otherwise why does one of your shutdown guys take a slashing penalty late in the game?

And while I can't believe I'm saying this, you've got to give credit where credit is due--Coach Hunter seems to be pushing all the right buttons lately.  Here's the most obvious example of that--Alex Ovechkin only got 15:34 of ice time.  That's nowhere near what he usually gets, certainly not in a playoff game. But in those 15 minutes he led the team with five hits. Clearly, the strategy seems to be, OK Alex, get us the lead and/or wear down the opposition.  Once you do, let the defense take over.  And it seems to be working.

If you go alllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll the way back to training camp, wasn't this the type of hockey a lot of Caps fans were hoping they'd play?  Their timing couldn't be more bang-on.  Of course it's not just the Alexes that are getting involved.  We're now hearing names like Brouwer, Ward, Knuble, Carlson and Johansson.  And you certainly can't forget lesser lights like Beagle, Erskine, and Hendricks doing their jobs reliably.

It's awesome to see this team come together.  But for the sake of this year's run, hopefully they haven't peaked yet. And it would be nice to see them keep it up, because as much as we'd like it to be, this series isn't over yet.  There's still that last game to go, and it's on home ice.  Rock the red, my brother and sister Caps fans.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Recap 4/19 Game 4 vs. Bruins

Capitals 2
Bruins    1

GWG--Alexander Semin

Three Stars:  Braden Holtby, Alexander Semin, Dennis Seidenberg

This game, I hope, is one that defines the series.  Or at least defines the Caps' fortunes this year.  Because the Stanley Cup playoffs are a two-month plus lesson in overcoming adversity.  Was it a must win?  Sure it was.  But was anybody talking about it that way?  Not that I heard. Although there were some things that may have been better left unsaid.

So what was the adversity they had to face?  Most dauntingly it was the loss of Nicklas Backstrom, who has been one of their best players down the stretch and into this series.  In addition it was the specter of the Game 3 where the Caps seemed unnerved by Boston's constant physical play.  Braden Holtby seemed a bit less spectacular and even downright ordinary at times. It was looking like things were falling apart for our men in Red, perhaps the beginning of the end of this series.

But as is the cliche, that's why they play the games.  And it didn't take long for the Caps to set the tone as  they got a two-on-one break after the first minute of play.  Brooks Laich penetrated the zone after recovering a loose puck in the neutral zone.  Marcus Johansson was waiting in the high slot and when he got the pass from Laich and made no mistake in burying it past Tim Thomas.

The Caps would hold on to the lead for almost exactly twelve minutes. The Bruins would be the beneficiary of an ill-timed offensive zone pinch by Dennis Wideman.  This allowed for a three on one led by Rich Peverley, who promptly put the puck past Braden Holtby for his second of the playoffs.  The lone defenseman left back?  John Erskine, who had gotten a chance based partially on his toughness factor and partially because of Jeff Schultz' ineffectiveness against Boston's forwards.  He would acquit himself admirably in his 11 minutes of ice time.

Most of the game seemed to feature the Bruins trying (and for the most part, failing) to crack Braden Holtby and the Caps' version of the rope-a-dope strategy.  What do I mean?  Consider the shot counter.  And, as I seem to need to remind certain folks in the hockey world, it is indeed a shot counter, it is not a clock.  The shot count indicated that the Caps were horribly outshot for the entire game. Period by period, it looked like this: 14-3. 18-15, and 13-3.   So far, this has actually worked out for the team in that they have actually managed to win most of their games this way.

The winning goal was scored by Alex Semin late in the second period on a power play.  Yes, a power play.  I don't know if there are any words in any language to properly describe the shot he took, its impossible flight into the net, and the resulting eruption of the crowd.  The best I can do is say that we Caps fans have been treated to that shot so many times over the career of the man wearing the Number 28 sweater.  And it never loses its luster.  I will say something else--for those who would have you believe that Semin has not shown up for the playoffs, do not believe it. From scoring goals like this to that defensive slide in Game 2, he's done it all and then some.  As long as he continues to contribute....

After the goal it was another nail-biting ride through the rest of the second and all of the third period...and beyond.  No, there wasn't any overtime, but there was "extra" time.  As in the freaking clock didn't move for at least three seconds after the last faceoff!   I can still hear Joe B roaring, "THE CLOCK HASN'T MOVED!"  I swear, between all the ridiculous disciplinary decisions, the missed calls, and now two arenas having clock malfunctions, this will forever be remembered as the season of the facepalm.

So fortunately the Caps stuck to their game plan (if you can call it that) and didn't get suckered into their irritating strategy of forcing retaliation. Let's hope they can keep this up.

Rich Peverley is a bastard.  Somebody please run him over if he gets past the blueline.  How his stick-in-the-face call went ignored is beyond me. Maybe Mr. Leonsis has a beef after all.

This is a team that is looking more and more like a cohesive unit that believes in one another and what they are trying to accomplish.  Much has been made of Alex Ovechkin getting very little ice time during the third period.  Is it a problem? Not so, says the Captain.   Now that's leadership.

And once again, Braden Holtby was equal to the task.  There are still those out there (mainly wearing Bruins colors) that aren't convinced that Holtby's heroics aren't real and that the Beantowners are actually beating themselves.  That's one thing.  But to dismiss 44 saves as a mediocre performance simply because the Bruins couldn't be bothered to try shots from in close more during the game.  Please.  If you're a real hockey fan you should know better.  Besides, by saying things like that you disrespect the work your own goalie is doing.  Tim Thomas has also performed very well this series; the truth of the matter is that both goalies have seen more rubber than all the adult shops in Baltimore.  They are the reason why no game this series has been won by no more than one goal.

Game Five is on the horizon...back to Boston we go.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Recap 4/16 Game 3 vs Bruins

Bruins 4
Capitals 3

GWG--Zdeno Chara

Three stars: Brooks Laich, Zdeno Chara, Alex Ovechkin

Another heartbreaking many times can you have your heart broken and survive?  Not for me to answer, I don't even know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop.  This one was even harder to figure out as it was a whole different game that was played.  The main evidence of which can be seen in both the amount of goals scored as well as the number of penalties called.  I've already been offered condolences that it could have gone either way, but it still rings hollow.

As there were seven goals scored between the two teams, I'll only do a quick rundown as I saw it.  Suffice to say that both goalies seemed to be having a bit of an off night.

First goal---transition play, Semin with a turnaround shot after a crisscross move with OVI at the point and Laich setting a screen

2nd goal  Holtby handcuffed, got a piece of it with his glove, but it was at something of an awkward angle

3rd goal  Ovi answers right back off a floater pitch pass from Laich

4th  Caps forget about defense, Bruin's Daniel Paille was virtually left untouched in front of the net.  And the defense pair?  Schultz and Wideman, big surprise.

5th goal--more sloppy play in front of net, Rolston gets it in as a result. The Caps seemed flatfooted and caught off guard

6th goal--was game tyer from Brooks Laich which was a fantastic play set up by Nick Backstrom's stretch pass

Game winner--Chara takes slapshot and it deflects off Roman Hamrlik's stick with just 1:53 left.  The only way this was a good thing as we were spared yet another, nail-biting, sleep-depriving, jaw-clenching overtime session.  Yeah I know...pretty bad when you're glad it doesn't go to OT.  I must be getting OLD.

Milan Lucic was kept out of the box score except for his eight PIM, one for each of his eight hits in the game. Or so it seemed.  But as I said in the podcast for those of you nice enough to listen, the Bruins have a balanced enough attack so that if any one or two of their big guns are shut down, they have others that can pick up the slack.  Which is exactly what happened.

I know Mike Green had that one assist, but on that last power play it was painfully obvious he still is nowhere near his old self as far as his puckhandling and shooting skills.  He bobbled the puck several times and his shots were hellaciously off target.  We need more out of him at least on the PP unit.

This series had been chippy, but the most dangerous moment in this series up until this point involved a player up against a pane of glass--and the opposing team was nowhere near him.  But it was taken to a new level of nastiness with several players reaching 5 or 6 hits total.  See below for more evidence of that.

Forty minutes in penalties were handed out last night, 16 of which were given to Nicklas Backstrom. Note to NHL:  THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LET A SERIES GETS OUT OF HAND, THEN TRY TO GET CONTROL OF IT! Unfortunately, Backstrom landed himself a match penalty at the end of the game, which is subject to automatic review unless the league decides to rescind it.  Seems he tried to make Rich Peverley eat his stick, though some would say Backstrom was just defending himself.  Given the  Office on Player Safety's changing moods, it's hard to say whether or not he will be suspended or just fined.  Keep your fingers crossed, Caps fans.

To close, I would like to make the observation that, while the game was close, the Caps at times seemed put off of their game. This seemed especially apparent during crucial moments in the final period.  While it is good to see them stand up for themselves they cannot, repeat, cannot afford to get suckered into the type of game they wound up playing last night.  To do so would be a slow death by suicide.  And they MUST remember to stick to their exasperating game of patience that had to some extent frustrated the Bruins so far.

Game 4 is Thursday night.  The extra day to heal some bruises will help. Do we have to say this is a "must win game"?  I think not.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Recap 4/14 Game 2 vs. Bruins

Capitals  2
Bruins     1  (2 OT)

GWG--Nicklas Backstrom   Three Stars:  Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner, Benoit Pouliot

And after two games (really three if you consider all the OT), we are tied. Back to the sweet confines of Verizon Center we go for the next two. Now I never thought that I would say this, because I've always been a proponent of offensive hockey.  After all, I am a child of the 80's and was weaned on Wayne Gretzky and the we he played the game.  But if you add the element of the nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat mindset that is playoff hockey, a defensive/goalie duel is pretty good hockey to watch. The bottom line being that chances to score are always exciting no matter what the end result is. Of course the game going into Sudden Death OT with no possibility of a ridiculous shootout going back makes it that much more exciting.

Analysis and observations:

The goal--as was discussed, it was scored by doing what you're supposed to come tax, er, playoff time.  Which is get the puck on the net and have traffic in front. Alex Ovechkin put a wrister on net that dipped at just the right time.  Then Troy Brouwer used a bit of finesse and a lot of muscle (not to mention some leg work) to be the first to solve Tim Thomas in this series.  Now that they had the lead, you would think they would hold onto it for dear life.  And they did.  Until..............

Twelve minutes in the Bruins get a rush and of course it's the lightly regarded, but ever-dangerous Chris Kelly line.  With a loose puck barely within reach, Braden Holby, slid out and made for the classic Johnny Bower poke check.  The only problem was that he missed and the beneficiary was Benoit Pouliot, who promptly ran over Holtby and put it in to tie the game.  Oops.  I think they said it best here.  You're making us a bit nervous, Braden.... in a few different ways.

Speaking of nervous, does anyone else besides me get that edgy feeling every time Roman Hamrlik rags the puck back into his own zone?  After all it wasn't too long ago that Hamrlik inspired this tirade after one of his gaffes.

I want referees Dan O'Halloran  and Tom Kowal to never work another playoff game this year.  AT ALL.  Send them to Aca-freaking-pulco if you have to, Commissioner Bettman.  How, please, please, tell me how it is that one penalty committed by one member of a certain team is called and the exact same penalty committed by the opposing team is not a penalty just one game later?  Did the rulebook just magically change?  I'm of course talking about Tim Thomas' mugging of Nicklas Backstrom in front of the crease.  It's got to be as John Walton said, there must be a totally different standard if you've won a Conn Smythe trophy.  And that's bullcrap.

Speaking of Backstrom, yes we all know by now that he scored that beautiful goal to win it.  But the magic of the play was Marcus Johansson scooping up the loose puck in the corner just after the faceoff, fending off two Bruin defenders, setting up shop behind the net, and finding Backstrom in front.  I've given MJ90 grief for his inability to finish, but he is still a gifted playmaker and one of the best skaters on the team.

Of course it was still a beautiful thing watching Backstrom's shot.  He tucked it just under Andrew Ference's stick check and in between Thomas' pads for the win.  And Johnny Boychuk was nice enough to stand there and make sure it was in.

No what you read above is not a typo. Neither Nicklas Backtrom, nor Braden Holtby, nor Tim Thomas made the Three Star list for the game. Which means they had the three stars picked during regulation.  The Conn Smythe trophy voting does that too.  Why is it that?  Do these people have some big dinner to go later or something?  Not that I have a huge problem with any of the three they did select, but you have to wonder if they were even watching the game.

Because with the low score of course the goalies were once again going to be center stage.  Tim Thomas made 35 saves and Holtby stopped 40 shots.  Now, there are some fans masquerading as journalism experts and radio idiots pretending to be hockey fans who will try to convince you that Holtby's performance is nothing to celebrate.  Really now?  That's interesting considering last I looked he's stopped 69 out of 71 shots thrown at him in two games of work.  These folks will try to tell you that the Bruins have "made it easy" for him by not collecting their own rebound, or by poor shot selection.  Don't you believe a word of it. Seriously?  So these people are saying just ANYBODY can step in to an unfamiliar role of playoff starter with all the so-called "experts" counting you out---the loudest being the dunderheads up at Hockey Night in Canada, and not only get the job done, but WIN.  Yes I'm talking at you, Dean Brown.

Fact is, ladies and gentlemen, no matter how the shots come at you, they still have to be stopped.  And not just anybody can do it.  And no, they haven't all been missed rebounds or shots into the chest, as they would have you believe.  So the Bruins and their fans can take their psychobabble and shove it.  Because they're not convincing anyone. Fortunately, there are those willing to recognize that both goalies are doing an incredible job.

But on the flip side of things, one must keep it all in perspective.  Just as Game One was just one game that wasn't won, so too was Game Two except it was won.  Pun partially intended.  All those verbally challenged, please seek speech therapy.

Point being this is still going to be a long, grinding, punishing series. So it's very far from over.  It'll be very interesting to see what happens for the next two games with Dale Hunter being able to get the matchups that he wants.  We as fans must do our part--get loud, get rowdy, turn rabid. ROCK THE RED!

Oh, and a few Obama masks wouldn't hurt. You know, just to make Tim Thomas feel welcome.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Recap 4/12 Game 1 vs Bruins

Boston  1
Capitals 0   (OT)

GWG--Chris Kelly   Three Stars: Chris Kelly, Braden Holtby, Tim Thomas

A heartbreaker...but not a dagger.  That's how I would describe last night's loss.  But we need to keep things in perspective and that applies in looking at the bad things and the good things.  As much as you want to go to the extreme and go on a really big high or be down in the dumps about it, you can't do either.  It's only game one.

All that said, let's strip down the game to nuts and bolts:

First the bad.....I don't want to say the Caps were badly outplayed for most of the game. But I'd be lying if I said otherwise.  They simply lost too many races to the puck and those they did win, they were knocked off the puck all too easily by the Bruins physical play.  That's not to say they didn't make the effort, however.  Unlike what happened for long stretches in the regular season, the intensity was definitely there.

Shot disparity has pretty much been the Caps' M.O. for a lot of the season.  But only putting out barely half your opponent's shot total will not win you many games.  In fact the Bruins put as many shots on goal (17) in the second period alone as the Caps did for the entire 61+ minutes of play.  If they have any hope of winning this series, the Caps must step up their production.

Washington may have gotten a boost from killing off six straight minutes in penalties, but it may have drained them too much.  While it is encouraging that they managed to hold off the dangerous Boston power play all night, they can't afford to put themselves in that position too many times.  It certainly kept the top two lines off the ice, robbing them of precious scoring chances.

More about the physicality of the series:  by the numbers, the Caps were out hit 40 to 29.  But that's not nearly as telling as both Marcus Johansson (twice) and Matthieu Perreault being shaken up during the game.  Both would be able to continue, but you have to wonder how much pounding this lineup can take especially if this series goes the distance.

Ovechkin vs. Chara:  Both of these gladiators gave as good as they got, with Ovechkin being credited with 7 hits and Chara with four.  But obviously you must give the advantage to Chara for last night as Ovi was held to just a single shot on net.  If this trend continues, there may not be many more games left in this series.  And the one time the Caps had the advantage when Chara was penalized for cross-checking Brooks Laich, they failed to convert, though they came rather close as I'll mention later.

And finally there was Braden Holtby, who played an outstanding game that will be certainly be discussed later.  But he doomed himself with just a momentary loss of focus in the game's most crucial moment.  And it wasn't the only time in the game where he seemed to let the pressure get to him.  There was a bad decision with the puck behind the net in the second period that nearly led to a goal.  And of course there was that roughing minor that gave the Bruins a scary 4-on-3 power play. Overtime goals have a tendency to swing or end series, and while there is still more hockey left, you have to wonder how Holtby will bounce back, if he does at all.

Now the good......while the Caps didn't exactly look like a Cup contender, they did manage to stay with the Bruins for the entire length of regulation time.  I'll admit watching them take so much punishment made me cringe, but nobody was backing down from the challenge.  If the Bruins failed at one thing last night, it was their plan to intimidate the Capitals.

They had precious few scoring chances, but made the most of them, coming ever so close on a handful of them.  They proved that Tim Thomas can be beaten if they put themselves in a position to put it away, which they would have if not for some fortunate bounces.  Of course there was that brilliant toe save off Ovechkin's lone shot that was discouraging to say the least.  This happened conveniently while Chara was in the box.

Yes it drained them, but being able to hold off a potent Bruins power play for six straight minutes plus  a 4-on-3 later on in the game was no small task.  The PK units will definitely need to keep it up for whatever remains in this series.

And then there was Holtby.... he of the 30 saves, most of which were spectacular.  Whatever nerves he may have felt early on, he shook off after the first flurry of shots.  He certainly was on all his angles and even if he may not have been, his teammates ably cleared away most of the rebounds.  As mentioned earlier, he certainly wasn't without his shaky moments, however.  And he would most certainly like to have the game winning goal back.  But as shown by his teammates' reaction afterward, he clearly has their confidence and this should in turn give him confidence.  If he can keep up this effort, the series may well turn around provided he can get some goal support.

So once again, there are both positives to hold on to and negatives to learn from.  The trick is to not delve too much into either side of things, but to learn from them.  The Caps have work to do to be sure.  More shots and more traffic in front of the net would be a good start.  Less puckhandling mistakes in your own zone is another thing to consider.  But they held one of the more potent attacks in the league to just one goal in their own building.  And more importantly, they did not shy away from the bruising handed out by the defending champs.  They can still get out of Beantown with a split and then anything can happen at that point when the series comes home.  So even though Game One might not have ended the way we wanted, this series isn't over.

Because the games are played on the ice, not in the press box.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Powerplay Point Podcast Show #6

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Playoffs, playoffs, and more playoffs.  It's all about the silver chalice we call Lord Stanley's Cup.  Here is my latest show regarding all eight matchups plus an in-depth preview of the Caps' series against the Bruins which starts tonight.  We end with the story of the game that defines what it is to be a Caps fan--the Easter Epic.  Don't get it?  You will when you listen.

One final note as I didn't mention this in the show, but shame on you Charles Wang for what you did.  I know what I saw that night I watched the Easter Epic and you can't tell me that Pat Lafontaine never existed. Because I saw what happened and even as a fan of the opposing team I know good hockey, not to mention class when I see it.  Pat Lafontaine exemplifies both.  You sir on the other hand have neither.  It is a crime that you are dragging the Islanders' good name into the muck with your idiocy.

Running time is just over an hour, so enjoy!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Recap 4/7 Vs. N.Y. Rangers: Finale

Wow.  Where was THAT all season?  Better late than never, I suppose...but it sure would have saved a lot of nights taking Pepto Bismol after watching this team sometimes.

The game opened up well enough with Alex Ovechkin scoring from the left side off of a Brooks Laich faceoff win.  It only took 32 seconds from the first puck drop for the Caps to jump ahead.  Not even a full two minutes later, Matthieu Perreault would make it 2-0 by tipping in a Roman Hamrlik point shot past goalie Henrik Lundquist.

The Rangers began turning up the pressure soon after that and began storming through the Caps defense and peppering Braden Holtby with shots.  Fortunately, he was more than up for this test.  More on this later. Also fortunate was the fact that the Caps' offense wasn't done yet. Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh shot the puck over the glass to give the Capitals a power play.  They converted a minute and a half later off a power play point shot from John Carlson.  Good to see him get one of those.

In the second period, the Caps got an odd man rush led out of the zone by Hamrlik.  He found Semin in the neutral zone who in turn threaded the needle to a charging Nicklas Backstrom who slammed it home past his countryman.  Welcome back #19.

Speaking of Backstrom, it was also good to see him fighting his own battles again, literally.  He got into a dust-up with Ryan Callahan that resulted in matching minors for roughing.  As Mrs. Blueliner noted when she saw the in-game stat--he was really into it out there.  Indeed he was. And that's a great sign for the Caps.

The Rangers' Brian Boyle notched a late period goal.  The rest of the game featured a handful of breakaways all stopped by Holtby.  These included a pair of chances each by sniper Marian Gaborik and rookie speed demon Carl Hagelin. Two things disturbing about some of these chances: several of these came as a result of bobbles in the offensive zone near the point while on the power play.  The Caps need to get out of that habit and fast.  Second, one such breakaway chance from Brandon Prust had us all praying for a good seven seconds or so.  Why?  Because Holtby had come out to challenge him and poke the puck away, but ended up getting turned around awkwardly.  How he didn't tweak his knee is beyond me, but I don't think I was the only Caps fan thinking: "Oh no, not another injured goalie!!!"

A dominating performance in a 4-1 win against a President's Trophy candidate is a pretty good way to end the season. The best news of all is the fact that Holtby was in a groove for the entire 60 minutes.  He stopped 35 of the the 36 shots that came his way.  For his efforts, he was named the game's first star.  He did it all, getting out in front of long range shots, covering post-to-post on wraparounds, and most importantly, being solidly calm when his defense let him down on breakaways.  If he can keep this up in a seven game series and beyond, the Washington Capitals just might have something here.

So it's on to the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Sixteen teams, one 119 year old silver chalice.  And the Capitals just happen to be going up against the team that won it last year in the first round.  I'll say this much...their goalie, Tim Thomas, obviously has an aversion to certain parts of D.C.  So if the Caps can come away with a least a split in the first two games, they will definitely have the home ice advantage like no team has ever had before.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Recap 4/5 vs Florida: Playoffs, Here We....Stumble

And Brooks Laich said it, so it shall be....

The Caps clinched no worse than the eighth seed last night with a solid overall performance and were helped by a Philadelphia Flyers victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

And the man that delivered the winning goal?  That's right, Brooks Laich. The man who "guaranteed" (though as he put it, he never actually said guaranteed) the Caps would make the playoffs.  Perhaps Sabres goalie Ryan Miller's snit provided some extra inspiration.  It matters not as they'll be golfing a couple of days.  Enjoy your tee times, Ryan.

But the win may well have been a costly one.  Michal Neuvirth was forced to leaved the game in the second period after Panthers' forward Marco Sturm conveniently fell on his leg.  Many were quick to call it an accident. I saw the replay and it doesn't look like any accident to me.  What it looks like is a reckless attempt to embellish incidental contact that just went bad.  Sturm fell as if he'd been shot by a sniper after very light contact in front of the crease.  The resulting fall caused him to land on Neuvy's knee and when he tried to get back up, it twisted awkwardly. Neuvy was unable to put any weight on his left leg when he was helped off the ice. In the meantime he is only being listed as "day-to-day" so who know what the extent of the injury really is at this point.  I sure as hell don't.   In my humble opinion, Sturm should be punished but ultimately will not be and that's not right.

What else was not right was the way this game was officiated.  Both men with the orange armband just about swallowed their whistles for the whole game.  This allowed some ridiculous shenanigans to take  place on both sides with no calls.

Now while the Caps went up 3-0 by the halfway point of the second, they seemed to back off from the attack, but only slightly.  They quickly woke back up when Mikael Samuelsson scored six minutes later.
Much hand wringing began 42 seconds after the third period started when Ed Jovanovski scored on a stupid knucklepucker that had eyes.  Thank God there was Semin to ice it towards the end with a sweet backhand for the pizza goal.

But as much as there was to be upset about, there is still the relief that the playoffs are no longer in doubt.  What is in doubt is how long they will last in those playoffs.  Will they get blown out in 4-5 games by whoever it is they're playing? Or will it be much more competitive?  On top of that, there's still a chance the Caps can have home ice at least in the first round if you can believe that.

If last night was any indication, then this team has finally found its ability to rally back from adversity.  Not only did they take over the game in the second period, they rolled with the punches and shook off Florida's comeback attempt later in the game.  That right there is cause for optimism, but as we've seen this whole season, momentum for this team is very hard to hold on to.

But if there was even more cause for hope, it's the fact that both Alexes seem to be in a groove and couldn't have picked a better time to do so. And while Mike Green doesn't quite seem to be the offensive force he once was, did you notice he was on the ice for two of the goals for and only one against?  It may be that's he's finally learned to use his mobility and puck handling skills to help prevent goals.  And don't forget that diving save he made on a near breakaway in the third period.

Jay Beagle continues to impress.  He got the game opener and continues to score the important goals.  He's also being entrusted with bigger assignments, logging 18:35 of ice time and winning 10 out of 16 faceoffs. It's that type of contribution that will be key once the playoffs open. He's playing a far more confident game than in past years and that can only help.

So it's on to the season finale against the Eastern Conference champs the Rangers.  This could be a preview of the first round, but I'm hoping not. Something tells me this year's Rangers are nowhere near the pushovers they were in previous playoffs.  As with all things, we'll see.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Recap 4/2 vs Tampa Bay: Blowing it Again

The Washington Capitals had a chance to pound a nail in the coffin of the Buffalo Sabres' playoff hopes last night...all they had to do was win.  Let's just say that the Caps definitely dropped the hammer last night.....

On their collective foot.

We've been down this road quite a few times this season, so we might as well get to the point where it all fell apart, again.

Another chance to get ahead and opportunity wasted.  Why they're not tired of this is rapidly becoming the great mysteries of all time.  It's almost as if they're not even sure they even want to make the playoffs. Did they not think that Steven Stamkos would continue his drive to score 60 goals?  He did just that, scoring not once but twice to bring his total to 58 for this season.  They managed to keep him off the scoresheet in other games this year, why not in the one that matters most?

All looked well late in the game when Jason Chimera tied it with 3:17 left to go in the third.  Somehow, that's when they forgot about Stamkos and the fact that he leads the NHL in goals by a country mile.  He not only got the game winner, he got the icer at the end into an empty net.

The Caps got 33 shots on net...I'm happy to say that Alex Semin got one of them...and hopefully it won't be his last as a Cap.  But this continues a disturbing trend where they outshoot their opponent and still manage to lose the game by two goals or more.

Well, there's two games left, and the season can still be salvaged.  But if there's another game like last night, the Washington Capitals can forget about the playoffs.