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.