By Rodger M. WoodRemembering last year’s first game loss against 8th seeded Montreal, the Caps came out strong, hitting everything in sight, and doing all the little things necessary to beat the New York Rangers 2-1 in overtime of the first game of the 2011 quarterfinals Stanley Cup playoffs.They played good defense, blocked opponent shots and waited for the right opportunity tocome back from a 1-0 deficit late in the third period.Ovie set the tone, crunching Rangers all over the ice, and his teammates soon followed suit with 17 hits in the first period and a total 35 hits for the game.Although the Rangers are notorious for keeping their offensive zone clean, Caps were the better of the two teams, blocking 32 shots to the Rangers’ game total of 28.The game was scoreless until Rangers Matt Gilroy scored on a slap shot from the slot at 1:56 mark of the third period.Sticking to the game plan, Alex Ovechkin crashed the nets to even the score up 1-1 with his first goal against the Rangers this season at the 13.44 mark of the third period.Both teams played cautiously until Alexander Semin broke into the open in front of the Rangers net to take a perfect pass from line mate, Jason Arnott and score the game winner at 18.53 of overtime.Throughout the game, Rangers veteran goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist dueled Capitals rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who in his first NHL playoff game, matched the old pro stopping 24 of 25 shots, many of which were taken from point blank range. The Caps 23-year old net minder made several unbelievable stops.Coming back from a concussion, defenseman Mike Green played 24:45 minutes and assisted on Alex O’s goal in the third period.The Caps take on the Rangers in the second game in 7:30 PM game at the Verizon Center Friday night.See you there!
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By Rodger M. WoodWith the playoffs this week, the acid test is about to begin for the Washington Capitals.Embarrassed by a first round loss to the Canadians last season after finishing #1 overall In league standings, they have to win the Cup or face a rough summer.Going 15-3-1 since March 1st, they showed they have the tools.Bruce Boudreau is a good coach who taught them defense and how to win again after a horrendous 8 – game losing streak in December.They have strong goaltending in Michal Neuvirth (2.49 GAA, 27-11-4) and Semyon Varlamov (2.23 GAA, 11-9-5), and a sensational backup in rookie goalie Braden Holtby (1.79, 10-2-2), waiting in reserve at Hershey, if either falters or is injured.They’re blessed with healthy 30 – goal scorer in Alex Ovechkin, who could turn into a 50-goal scorer in the playoffs, 28 –goal scorer Alexander Semin, and a clutch 24 goal scorer in rejuvenated 38-year old Mike Knuble.They have 18-goal scorer Niklaus Backstrom, 16 goal scorer Brooks Laich, 17 goal scorer Jason Arnott, 13 goal scorer Marcus Johanssen, and 10 goal scorers in Jason Chimera, Dennis Widemann, and Eric Fehr.They have a new leader, Jason Arnott, who has won a Stanley Cup.They have two high scoring lines, a speed line that can score, a checking line, and tough guy line in Matt Bradley, Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon.While Tom Poti and Dennis Widemann are still on the injured list, they’ll have seven healthy defenseman available for the playoffs when Mike Green returns to the lineup.They’ve learned to play good defense, dump the puck in the opposing offensive zone and won many low scoring games with an late opportunistic goal.Rookie defensemen, Karl Alzner and John Carlson are shutting down opposing scorers, and Scott Hannan is the stay at home defenseman they’ve always needed.The power play scored five goals in the last three games and was working without Mike Green or newly acquired Dennis Wideman, who will be out the first playoff round with a leg injury.Having won eight of nine in overtime in March, including wins against Philadelphia, Tampa, and last year’s cup winning Chicago Black Hawks, they can withstand heavy duty pressure, similar to that experienced in the playoffs.The penalty killers, Boyd Gordon, John Carlson, Scott Hannan, and others have been superb all season.The Caps have the talent, but it takes more to win a Stanley Cup. If we could only inject Matt Hendricks or Matt Bradley or John Erskine’s mental and physical toughness into our star players, we’d have sure winners.All our guys would play tough, block shots, give and take bone crushing checks shots, win the battles in the corners, and do the little thing needed to win hockey games. And then, with a little luck and some dirty goals, we’d be sure winners.The Caps have all the pieces to the puzzle, but need heart to bring home the Stanley Cup.
By Rodger M. WoodWhether they realize it or not, the Capitals are blessed with an unusual goalie dilemma.They have three good young goalies but still need to decide which, Braden Holtby or Semyon Varlamov, they will keep up with the big club to share goaltending with Michal Neuvirth in the playoffs?Called up to the Bell Centre in emergency last Sunday, rookie goalie Braden Holtby, looking like a pit bull guarding his turf, stopped 18 shots to shutout Montreal 2-0.At the Verizon Center Tuesday, with veteran superstars Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott back in the lineup, Semyon Varlamov stopped 24 of 26 shots in regulation and overtime, but missing Hurricanes Jeff Skinner and Tuomu Ruutu’s shots lost 3-2 to Carolina in the overtime shootout.He looked bad on Jeff Skinner’s goal which tied the game 2-2 at the 1:46 mark of the third period.A free agent at the end at the end this season, Varlamov has indicated he is open to both Kontinental League and Caps offers this Summer.In his first 14 NHL games this season, Holtby has a goal against average of 1.79, 10 wins, 2 losses, 2 shutouts, and 934 save %.He was named the NHL First Star of the Week ending March 13th for his 4-0-0 W-L record, 1.05 GAA, 965 SV %, and shutout against Edmonton.In 26 GPI, Varlamov has a GAA of 2.24, 10 wins, 9 losses, 2 shutouts, and a 923 Save %.Injury prone, Varlie missed 15 games between October 21st and November 24th, and 14 games, between February 20 to March 25th.Holtby is durable, playing in 23 games at Hershey and 14 for the Caps, a total of 37 this season.So far the Caps are sticking with Varlamov, having sent Holtby back to Hershey March 27th, but if Varlamov falters, the jury’s still out. Hershey is only about two hours from Washington. DC, and the rookie goaltender can always be called back.
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By Rodger M. WoodWatching the way veteran Mike Knuble has played hockey the past ten games makes you think the 39-year old forward is drinking from the proverbial fountain of youth.With Alex Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, and Mike Green out of the lineup, he’s picked up additional ice time and made a strong mark on offense.Against the Flyers Tuesday at the hostile Wells Fargo Center, he and rookie line mate, Marcus Johanssen engineered two goals and three assists between them.In the fight for Eastern Conference first place, Knuble scored a goal in the first period, set up Dennis Wideman’s power play goal in the second, and Marcus Johanssen’s tying goal late in the third to help the Capitals comeback to tie the Flyers 4-4 and meet their arch enemy in overtime.The goal in the first was his 20th of the season, and his 8th consecutive 20 goalseason.The Caps went ahead 3-0 at the 1:12 mark of the second period, but then forgot how to clear the puck from their zone.Playing great hockey down low, and creating several turnovers, the Flyers scored four unanswered goals to go ahead 4-3 and certainly looked like sure winners in regulation.But then Knuble again saved the day, streaking down the ice to set up line mate Marcus Johanssen for the tying goal at the 16:41 mark of the third period.Both teams played a stalemate in overtime.It came down to a shootout in which Caps shooters, Matt Hendricks, Niklaus Backstrom, and Alexander Semin put three straight shots past goalie Brian Boucher to make the Caps 5-4 winners.The win marked the fourth consecutive season the Caps has clinched a playoff position.Capitals rookie defense pair, Karl Alzner and John Carlson, continued to eatup monstrous 26:15 and 27:19 ice time.