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.