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.