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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.

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