By Rodger M. Wood
The Caps play the Rangers in Game 3 of the semi final playoff series at the Verizon Center tonight after coming off a dramatic second game 3-2 win at the wildly partisan Madison Square Garden to even the series off at 1-1.
Ovie quieted the taunting NY fans, scoring the winning power play goal at 7:27 of the third period, while 22-year old Braden Holtby did the same, stopping 26 of 28 Rangers shots, many of them on break aways and point blank range.
While the Caps get credit for the win on the ice, Coach Hunter and the coaching staff deserve the credit for coming up with the strategy for bringing home the bacon.
When executed error free and supported by good goaltending, the team’s defensive system has been styfling. The Rangers had only 4 shots on net in the first period of the first game, 4 in the second period, and six in the third, and a total of 26 shots in the second game. The Rangers scored two of their 5 goals on Caps’ bad line shifts.
Ovie scored the second game winner after only 13 1/2 minutes ice time. Hunter has been limiting the superstar’s ice time because of his defensive limitations, and probably also to keep him fresher for those offensive bursts like the game-winner late in the game. This move is paying off dividends so far and Ovie likes the system as long as the team is winning.
Also, the hot goalie strategy is paying off. In the beginning against the Bruins, Holtby was the only available goaiie, but after the third game of the quarterfinals, which the Caps lost to the Bruins 4-3 and an admittedly average game for Holtby, Hunter, showing his confidence in the young goaltender, still chose to start Holtby over the now available “veteran” Michael Neuvirth in the nets.
The result has been a hot rookie goalie outmatching the 2011 Stanley Cup MVP goalie Bruins Tim Thomas in the 7 game quarter finals and holding his own against a 2012 season Vezina Trophy finalist Henrik Ludqvist in the first two games of the semi finals.
Hunter is also making moves to maximize his players’ strength. He likes the veteran players and has given defensemea Roman Hamrlik a lot of minutes in tight defensive situations in the waning moments of the game. He has put 40-year Mike Knuble back on the ice to score goals and block shots.
He likes team effort blocking shots and uses players like forwards Jay Beagle, Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks, Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, and defensemen Karl Alzner, John Erksine, Mike Green John Carlson and Hamrlick, who are willing to sacrifice their bodies.
The coach likes big bodied players to block or clear out the nets, and speed to get into the offensive zone quickly and has organized his lines to maximize that advantage.
The Mike Knuble/Joel Ward combo won the last game of the Bruins series with a goal in overtime, and scored the first goal of second Rangewrs game.
Speedy Marcus Johannson and Jason Chimera have performed on both ends of the ice, with Chimera scoring his third goal of the playoff in the Caps second game win.
The Caps penalty kill unit has been stingy, with the Bruins scoring only in twice in 26 man advantage opportunities, and the Rangers once in the second game in an odd man situation. Niklaus Backstrom, Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich, John Carlson, and Karl Azner have done the job killing penalties.
Under Hunter in the playoffs, the Caps have played the best hockey seen around Washington in 38 seasons. The team plays like the coach did in his heyday, stopping pucks, forechecking and backchecking, playing for the team and sacrificing the bodies.
Win or lose the fans know they’re getting 100 percent from their team, and maybe, just maybe, the Caps will get deeper in the Stanley Cup Playoffs than ever before.