By Rodger M. Wood
If the Caps/Rangers keeping playing the classically tough hockey they played in Games 3 and 4 of the semi final Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center last week for the rest of the series, the fans watching are going to have to keep an aspirin bottle by their sides to save them from heart failure from the lucky bounces that decide the game.
In the third game, Rangers Marian Gaborik’s goal beat the Caps at the 14:41 mark of triple overtime.
In the fourth game, Caps defenseman Mike Green scored the game winning 3-2 goal from the point with 5:48 to go in regulation to even their semi–finals series at two games a piece.
The overtime game reminded me a lot of the New York Islanders/Capitals triple overtime game my son Thom and I saw at the Old Capital Center on April 18, 1987, except in the Wednesday game, Caps defenseman Larry Murphy wasn’t on the ice to pass toe puck out from behind the net to Islanders Pat Lafontaine to cost the Caps the game and their 1987 season.
Playing all out offensively in overtime, Caps’ Ovie had two opportunities, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Mike Green, Matt Hendriks, and several other Caps players had great scoring opportunities, only to hit the post, bounce the puck off Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and not bury the pill to make the Caps victorious.
Getting two and a half days of rest before the fourth game, the Caps bounced back with a furious first period vengeance, outshooting the Rangers 14-3, with Ovie scoring his fourth goal of the playoffs to put the Caps ahead by a goal 1-0.
The Rangers came out in the second period loaded for bear. After getting a chewing out from Coach Tortorella for his lethargic play, Rangers forward Artem Anisimov scored the first goal, and Marian Gaborik got another big goal to tie the Caps at 2-2 at the end of the second period. Niklaus Backstrom had scored the go ahead go at the 11;54 mark.
The two teams battled in the third period until the 4:12 mark , when Green buried the winning goal to give three of the Caps “young gunners,” Ovie, Backstrom, and Green a goal each and the Caps encouragement that their top shooters were awakening offensively in the series.
Playing mostly with only four defensemen, who did double duty in the overtime game, Caps forwards Matt Hendrick, Troy Brouver, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, Mike Knuble, Joel Ward, and Brooks Laich may be wearing the Rangers down.
Hendricks had 11 hits in the overtime game, one of which almost put 6-1, 218 Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh up in the stands.
The Caps also beat the Rangers at their own game in the regulation game, blocking 24 shots to the Rangers 7. While most of the Caps players stopped their share, defenseman Jeff Schultz stood out with 9 blocked shots.
Goalies Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundvquist are having a classic battle between the pipes. In the overtime game, Lundvquist stopped 47/48 shots and the regulation game, 25/28 shots while young Holtby stopped 47/49 shots in overtime, and 18/20 in the regulation game. Holtby has allowed 9 goals in the four games, Lundvquist 8. While he is a goal better than the Caps 22-year old goaltender, the 30-year old Lundvquist may be showing signs of wear and tear as the series goes on.
Both teams are playing good old time hockey. The teams are close alike in their “clogging the neutral zone play,” blocking shots, making big hits, and battling to win the battles in the corners. Coming back from a possibly devastating loss in overtime to win, Caps veterans and youngsters showed a lot of mental toughness, which they have been criticized as not having in recent past years.
Neither team will be going down easy this playoffs, so Caps fans get your aspirin bottles out. Win or lose, you’ll need them to keep heart.
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.
By Rodger M. Wood
Fourth liner Joel Ward, assisted by Mike Knuble, scored the dramatic winning goal in overtime to beat Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins 2-1 in the seventh game of their quarterfinal playoffs series.
Capitals third and fourth lines dominated much of play with hard forechecking and backchecking all over the ice, with third liner Matt Hendricks scoring the first period goal to put the Caps ahead 1-0.
22- year old goalie Braden Holtby had another unbelievable 1-goal game, allowing only Tyler Seguin’s tying goal in the second period. Nose to nose against last year’s Stanley Cup playoff MVP Tim Thomas, Holtby allowed only14 goals in 7 games for a 2.00 goals against average, while stopping a phenomenal .967 percent of all shots.
It was a team effort throughout the series. The Caps bought into Coach Hunter’s defensive system and stopped a Bruins offense which had six players scoring 20 goals or more during the regular season, and monster defensemen, Zdeno Charra and Dennis Seidenberg manning the blue line.
Capital players blocked shots with abandon, hard checked the opposition and held their ground against a very tough Milan Lucic led team.
While forward Matt Hendrick, Mike Knuble, and Jay Beagle’s all out play sparked the team, 14 Capitals players scored at one goal, with Alexander Semin scoring three goals and Ovie two.
Defenseman John Carlson and Karl Alzner played outstanding hockey against the Bruins top scoring lines, and, with center Brook Laich killing penalties, including one at 2 minute mark of the third period which almost killed the Caps.
The Caps have to wait for the Rangers/Senators and Panthers/Devils 7th game outcomes before they know their opponents in the semi-final series which starts this Saturday.
By Rodger M. Wood
The first two games of the Caps/Bruin Playoff Series were both nail biting games, which you couldn’t leave for a beer or potty break for fear of missing the winning goal.
The first game Thursday was a 0-0 tie until the 1:18 mark of the first overtime period when Bruins forward Chris Kelly put a slap shot in the upper right hand corner of the net to beat goalie Braden Holtby and the Caps 1-0.
In the second game Saturday, the Caps evened up the series at one game each at the 2:56 mark of the second overtime period when Marcus Johanssen from behind the Bruins goal fed Nicklas Backstrom the puck which he immediately propelled past the paralysed Bruins goalie Tim Thomas for the winning goal.
Defensemen John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, Roman Hamlik, and Dennis Wideman played tough, errorless defense, blocking shots, clearing opponents from the front of the net, and steering Bruins passes to the outside.
High scoring Bruins forwards Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Tyler Sequin are gnawing at the bit trying to score on this defense.
It is particularly pleasing to see veteran defenseman Jeff Schultz play the kind of hockey he’s always been capable of.
In the second game, while goaltender Holtby was knocked out of the net, defenseman Mike Green held the ground to make a hand save that saved the day for the Caps.
Caps forwards played tough two way hockey. Alexander Semin made a fall down, reach out, puck swipe to stop a Bruins scoring chance in the third period of the second game. Ovie blocked a shot. Poor Marcus Johannssen stopped two pucks with his head. Troy Brouwer made his net presence a factor when he scored the first goal in the second game, assisted by Ovie.
Twenty – two year Bradean Holtby matched Bruins’ super star goalie Tim Thomas stop for stop, allowing only two goals on 74 shots in both games. He has ferociously attacked several Bruins to clear out his goal mouth but in contrast to his opposing goaltender, he has not choke collared Bruins forwards while a defenseman clobbered him from the front, like Thomas did Backstrom in the second game. It was ironical Backstrom paid Thomas back with the winning goal.
Bush league play does not pay, Mr. Thomas. You should have paid Mr. Obama a visit to the White House with the other Bruins last Fall.
The Caps seem to have finally managed to execute Coach Hunter’s “good defense and opportunistic offensive system” to a tee and the dividends are paying off. Hunter has also outcoached Bruins coach Claude Julien on a couple occasions when he double shifted Ovie on the ice when Charra and Seidenberg were sitting, and getting Johanssen on the ice to assist Backstrom on the winning goal.
All in all, the Bruins/Capitals playoff games have been hard fought, hard checking, good clean hockey. They have been a pleasure to watch, regardless of which team wins and should make Bruins and Caps fans proud of their teams. It is the best hockey I have seen our Capitals play in my 38 years of watching them. When playing like this, I don’t blame the Caps or the Bruins for cutting down on my beer consumption. You need a clear head anyhow to watch this good hockey.
Senators, Rangers, Penguins, and Flyers Are A Disgrace!
In contrast, the Ottawa/New York Rangers and Penguins/Flyers series have been travesties, terrible disgraces for the NHL, which they should rectify with suspensions, and heavy fines to the team management and the players involved in the mayhem that occurred in their games Saturday and Sunday.
The games sickened most fans. The likes of Boyle, Carkner, Giroux, Crosby, long haired Scott Hartnell, Aaron Ascham, and Wayne Simonds, who looked like he was told by Flyers coach Craig Berube to go out on the ice to make Penguins James Neal pay the price for his sins, should be banished from the game for awhile.
The NHL better get their act together without hesitation. Fans want to see the hard clean hockey played in the Boston/Washington series rather than those goons in New York and Philadelphia. Do you want your ten year old to watch this kind of hockey?
By Rodger M. Wood
After a 5-1 dubbing by the Sabres with four games to go in the regular season, the Caps playoff future looked bleak. Led by the whitewash goaltending of Ryan Miller, the Sabres looked like a team of destiny headed for a late season playoff position comeback win and Caps fans would be looking to join the Caps players for an early summer golf outing foursome.
But then the Caps players came out of their slumber to decide to go down fighting rather than resign themselves to a long hot summer. Led by captain Alex Ovechin, who scored 11 goals in the last 16 games of the season, they beat the 2011 Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins and last place Montreal Canadiens in overtime 3-2 shootouts, SE Division leading Florida Panthers 4-2, and President Trophy runners ups New York Rangers, 4-1, in the last game of the regular season.
In the home stretch, Ovie was a big force on both ends of the ice. His hard checks motivated teammates to follow suit. He got back on defense to save the game against the Panthers, and Canadiens. In the Rangers game, he rocked monster man Dan Giardi with a check so hard the big guy had to open his glove hand to see if he spit any teeth out.
Raising their play a couple octaves, other Caps players took charge of their season’s final destiny too.
Brooks Laich refused to concede and predicted a playoff berth for the Caps in an interview the last week of the season. He crunched opponents with abandon game in and game out, scored critical goals against the Rangers and Florida, and netted five goals in the last 16 games of the regular season.
With his animated play, forward Jay Beagle became a game winning factor, scoring 4 goals in March/April and hard forechecking each and every game.
Forward Matt Hendricks played his heart out every game and delivered critical shootout goals in successive games against the Canadiens and Bruins.
In the home stretch, forward Alexander Semin played hard two way hockey, delivering four critical goals and hard checks during the March stretch.
Forwards Keith Aucoin, Mike Knuble, Jay Chimera, Mathieu Perreault were factors, giving the Caps four balanced lines who could score a goal when needed.
A big spark to Caps playoff fortunes came when center Niklaus Backstrom returned to the ice against the Canadiens, and showed signs of recovery from his concussion with a big goal and an assist against the Rangers in the last game of the season.
After losing Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth to injuries, Caps’ goaltending hopes were buoyed by 22-year old Braden Holtby 35-stopped shots and one goal performance against the mighty Rangers in Madison Square Gardens.
While lopsided underdogs against the defending champion Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs starting Thursday in Boston, the Caps have some hope.
Mike Green and Niklaus Backstrom are on the ice again and getting their games back.
They have four balanced lines, who can all put the puck in the net. Their captain is playing hard and providing them the inspiration needed to be winner.
John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Dennis Wideman, and Roman Hamlik and four other talented defensemen are ready to suit up, block shots, check hard and play mistake free hockey blocking shots and score an occasional goal..
Veteran goalies Thomas Vokoun and Michael Neuvirth are back on the ice, but questionable for play yet. It looks like young Holtby will be in the nets, but don’t sell this kid short. Coach Dale Hunter and the Caps players say they like his aggressiveness in the nets and he did a spectacular job against the Rangers last game. Although 15 years younger, he reminds me of a young Bruins goalie Tim Thomas who he’ll face Thursday.
All in all, the Caps may be peaking just in time for the playoffs. They’ve had to fight hard to get there, and maybe they’ve found a team identity. Maybe it’s a team who won’t give up until they win. That’s a whole better than what they were mid season, and now as underdogs, we have some hope our guys will play hard the whole game and maybe, just maybe, they’ll come out winners against the Bruins.