Photo credit: Greg Fiume
After Mike Green rifled a shot past Henrik Lundqvist in the third period, the Capitals had to hold a one-goal lead for almost six minutes to win Game Four. With that in mind, Dale Hunter sent out the Wagons. Washington held the Rangers to only two shots on goal during that stretch — six blocked — and would hold on to win 3-2 and tie the series at 2.
“The Wagons got the job done with the blocked shots at the end,” Mike Green told reporters after the game. “Great team effort.”
So who are these Wagons that Green’s referring to, and what does that even mean? Glad you asked.
“We’re more the role players, the guys who take pride in their niche on their team that doesn’t really revolve around scoring and putting up points,” Matt Hendricks, a self-described Wagon, explained to me after Caps practice Sunday. “But we love our job, we love to be the guys in the trenches, blocking shots, paying the price at those times of the games to win.”
And pay the price he has. Hendricks, who was sporting stitches across a nasty gash above his left eye (which is nothing new by the way), blocked one shot and went 3 for 3 in the face-off dot during that final five-minute frenzy (9 for 9 overall). Hendy also doled out two hits.
When I told Hendricks about a picture that Sami Lepisto tweeted out where black and blue bruises covered his legs, he nodded. Five of the Capitals 11 playoff games have gone to overtime. This playoff run has been brutal.
“It’s physically draining, it’s mentally draining,” said Hendricks. “I think when you combine those two, it really takes a toll on your body. The mental fatigue is one of the hardest things to overcome. The physical stuff, we’ve got great trainers that are able to take care of us, but the mental fatigue when it comes down to taking care of yourself — rest, good diet. When it comes down to the bumps and bruises, we have a lot of equipment on, but there’s a lot of soft areas in that equipment. Pucks do hit there a lot when you’re blocking them, sticks and slashes — it leaves you pretty banged up.”
Despite having a strong relationship with Bruce Boudreau, Hendricks has also flourished under Dale Hunter this season, seeing his ice time increase and his role expand, averaging four more minutes per game in the playoffs than the regular season.
“I think he looked at us as a line that can play well defensively against other teams’ top lines, for the most part. We’ve been given more opportunity to do that through the course of the regular season and I think we had success at it, so it’s just continuing through the playoffs now where we’re getting those opportunities. We’re not necessarily going to score goals and do a whole lot of that, but we’re going to try to be as physical as we can and shut those guys down, make it harder for them to go to the scoring areas.”
Hunter also allowed Hendricks to continue his dominance in the shootout, going 5 for 6 this year for a stunning 83.3%, earning — in his words — a “pretty neat” nickname from Craig Laughlin: “The Paralyzer.” He had the highest success rate of any shooter in the NHL who had more than two shootout attempts this year, and several of his successes were quite dramatic, embarrassing the reigning Conn Smythe winner and the highest-paid goalie in the league along the way. Of his shootout move, Hendricks said, “you never think it’s going to be working at this level in the NHL. As long as the goalies don’t know it’s coming, it’s pretty great.”
So who else is in this exclusive Wagon club? “I look at our line specifically, Beags and Brouwer and myself, and I put Carlson and Karl Alzner in that group as well,” Hendricks continued. “Chimera, I put him in there as well.”
So which nickname does the Blaine, Minnesota native prefer?
Laughing, Hendricks replied,”I don’t know. Probably a wagon.”