By Rodger M. WoodEven after they lost 1-0 to their new Southeast Division rival Tampa Bay Lighting in overtime this past Tuesday and fell out of first place, Versus commentator Brian Engblom said, “I like the Caps chances in the playoffs now that they havelearned to play defense.”Indeed, defense has been the name of the Caps game lately. Since ending their 8-game losing streak with a win at Ottawa 3-2, the Caps shut down the Devils 5-1, lost to Penguins 3-2 in an overtime shootout, shut out the Canadiens 3-0, beat the Penguins 3-1 in the Winter Classic, and lost to the Lightning 1-0 in overtime. They’ve allowed 8 goals in 6 games, an outstanding average of 1.33 per game.Although Lightning GM Steve Yzerman may have pulled off a coup getting the veteran goalie, Dwayne Rolonson from the Islanders, the Caps have been getting Stanley Cup goal tending from its rookie goalies tandem of Michael Neuvirth (2.58 average and .911 save %) and Semyon Varlamov (2.09 ave and .925 save %) during its 5-0-2 streak the past 7 games.Jeff Schultz is back on the blue line teaming with Mike Green, Scott Hannan is taking hold, and John Erskine is playing the best defense of his career. Rookie defensive pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner is hyped by Washington press as the Caps stop combination on Crosby, Stamkos, and other top opposition lines. The defense has been doing so well, Coach Boudreau made defenseman John Erskine, whose toughness, scoring, and heart as of late have ignited the Caps, a healthy scratch against Tampa.The Winter Classic was a win and a half for the Caps. Before the game, Mike Milbury slammed Alex O as “Peck’s Bad Boy” and made the Caps out to be bad guys, while making Crosby and the Penguins look like the good guys.They went on to compare the Winter Classic contest to the blood baths the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings played in the 1950s and the contest between Crosby and Alex O. to the battle that went on between Gordie Howe and the Rocket Richard every time they played against each other.
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