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Caps/Bruins, Awesome Hockey!

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.

Niklaus Backstrom 600

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.

Jeff Schultz 600

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.

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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?

Caps Fight Into The Playoffs

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.

Wait Til Next Season

By Rodger M. Wood

The Caps choked last night losing a vital playoff race game to 9th place Buffalo 5-1.
They were in a prime position to take charge of the pennant race but fell on their faces against the hard skating, tough forechecking and outstanding goaltending of the rival Sabres.

In other important road challenges to Caps playoff hopes the past week and a half, they lost to the Black Hawks 5-2, beat an injury depleted Red Wings team 5-3, lost to the Flyers 2-1 in overtime, lost to Winnipeg 4-3, and at home, beat Minnesota 3-0.

Before the Buffalo game they were in 8th and the last Eastern Conference playoff position in control of their destiny with 6 games to go, one each against Buffalo, and Southeast Division leader Florida, who was only three points ahead of them in the standings.

It’s sad the 2011-2012 Caps didn’t measure up to the “good team” GM McPhee said they’d be at the trade deadline when he made no player acquisitions to help the Caps limp offensive attack.

It’s too bad the team didn’t measure up to the Stanley Cup winner, the Hockey News predicted at the beginning of the season.

With or without Niklaus Backstrom, it doesn’t appear the Caps will win a playoff position or should a miracle happen and they win a playoff berth, make any significant playoff mark.

Our only hope is for Caps management during the off season to make the necessary changes to the team’s toughness chemistry, let some of the talented non producers go, and look in the mirror themselves to see if they should follow the losers out on the road..

If those necessary changes occur, maybe Caps fans have something to look forward and pay big bucks to see. As those changes are made, they can wait and look forward more enthusiastically to next season.

Are the Caps The Good Team GM McPhee Predicted?

By Rodger M. Wood

Dmitri Orlov 2 Edit

While the Caps were coming off a three game losing streak with consecutive wins over the Canadiens and Maple Leafs, there was a lot of doubt GM McPhee was right when he predicted the Caps were a “good” team” that could beat any team in the league after he didn’t make any additions to the team by the February 27th trade deadline.

Currently on a four game win streak against Tampa, the defending Stanley Cup winning Boston, Toronto, and New York Islanders and since the trade deadline with an overall 5-2-1 W-L record, good for 11 vital points of 16 possible in a tight Stanley Cup Playoff position race, the Caps are surging toward a playoff berth again.

They are a point behind Florida for first place in the Southeast Division and an automatic 3rd seed berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs and 3 points ahead of Buffalo and 4 points ahead of Winnipeg in the race for the 8th and last seed in the Eastern Conference.

While they are still missing potent offensive center Niklaus Backstrom (he was back on the ice skating at the Kettler Center yesterday before the Caps practice), and defensemen Mike Green, who will return to the lineup at Winnipeg Friday after serving a three game suspension, they are playing enough fired up hockey to win their last four games against the Lightning, Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Islanders.

Alex Ovechkin 2 Edit

One of the spark plug for the Capitals winning ways is again Alex Ovechkin. Skating hard like only “Alex the Great” can when he is on his game, Ovie led the Caps back from a 4-1 deficit to the beat the Islanders 5-4 with his 28th and 29th goals of the season in regulation and a shootout goal in overtime, and in the first game of the winning streak against the Lightning with a dramatic 27th goal in overtime.

Center Brooks Laich is also hot, scoring the winning goals against Toronto and Boston and playing good two way hockey in regular and special team shifts. (I often wonder why the Caps don’t take the captain pressure away from Ovie and bestow it upon Laich, who I think may handle the pressure better)

LW Alexander Semin, C Marcus Johansson, C Mathieu Perreault, RW Jay Beagle and Hershey call up RW Keith Aucoin are making strong offensive contributions, each scoring a goal in the past four wins.

LW Jason Chimera, C Matt Hendricks, and RW Troy Brouwer are keeping the opposing first line forwards honest with their tough play. While Chimera and Brouwer have been shut out, Henricks chipped in a goal in the Bruins game and a shootout goal to beat the Islanders in the overtime shootout.

While Caps defensemen have been adjusting to Coach Hunter’s defensive schemes and playing better defense, rookie defenseman Dmitri Orlov has been getting better and better each game he’s played. When Mike Green was available, Caps coach Hunter sat out veteran defensemen John Erskine and Roman Hamrlik in deference to the 20-year rookie, who has repaid his coach’s confidence with hard hip checks on opposing forwards and savvy offensive play, scoring a goal against the Islanders, and assisting on Ovie’s winning goal in the Islanders games and two goals in the Bruins game.

The improved Caps will be sorely tested in tough road games next week against the Black Hawks, Red Wings, and Flyers, however, if they win a couple games, they may just be on their way to proving they are indeed the good team McPhee predicted.