Just before four AM this morning, I pulled myself from bed, took my medication, and crawled back upstairs. But I never went back to sleep. Playoff hockey is here. Time to grab the wine. Things are about to get real.
After a sluggish start, John Carlson opened the scoring with a blast from the point. Naturally, there were 38 minutes of penalties, but skill won out in the end — especially after Jay Beagle’s late third-period insurance goal. Caps blank Flyers 2-0! One-nil series lead.
Covering practices and morning skates at Kettler Capitals Iceplex is always an adventure. You want to provide your readers with good coverage, but you also want to make it out of there within three hours so you only have to pay a dollar to park.
Today, I made it by just a few minutes. As I was entering the on ramp to Route 66 West, there was a discreet vehicle in front of me. It was a white Mercedes S65 AMG with vanity plates. Everyone knows that car belongs to Alex Ovechkin.
With everything locked up and only days to wait until their first round playoff matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Capitals experienced injury scares at the worst time of the season.
First, Jay Beagle went down after blocking a shot with his left ankle during Saturday’s win over St. Louis. Beagle was scratched for Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, necessitating an emergency recall of Hershey forward Zach Sill. Beagle, however, is set to play Thursday night. Jason Chimera is expected be in the lineup as well after leaving practice for a few minutes the day before because his “mom called.”
Braden Holtbylay on his back with his eyes glazed over looking at the rafters of Madison Square Garden. Derek Stepan celebrated in the corner as the New York Rangers headed to the Eastern Conference Final. Holtby had posted one of the best postseasons performances in National Hockey League history with a save percentage of .944 and a goals against average of 1.71 over 13 games. He had kept the Capitals afloat all playoffs, but he finally cracked.
A year later, Holtby comes into the postseason on a team with one of the best assemblages of talent we’ve seen in recent memory. Holtby is still the Washington Capitals’ rock, but he no longer has to do everything himself. Last year, Holtby played in 73 games, the most of any goalie in the league. As usual, Holtby handled the pressure well, but there was a lot of it. This season, the Caps were able to play Braden less. With a strong backup in Philipp Grubauer, Washington didn’t need Holtby to win every single night. In return, he delivered a Vezina-caliber performance, matching Martin Brodeur for the most victories in a single season. But come Thursday night, Playoff Braden will return.
“There’s something about Holts,” Nate Schmidt said. “Even just watching the last two days of practice. He’s incredibly dialed in. He kicked it into another gear.”
As some of you know, I have a rare autoimmune condition. Earlier this month, I went up to the Mayo Clinic to Rochester, Minnesota to get some of that crazy stuff sorted out. As someone who’s never been west of Chicago, I was uniquely well-positioned positioned to ask vaguely informed, stereotypical questions about the State of Hockey. I directed them at former Minnesota Golden Gopher Nate Schmidt, who hails from St. Cloud. Here’s our conversation from last week.
First impressions make a difference. In December of his rookie season, Tom Wilson made himself known to fans of the Philadelphia Flyers with a savage charge on forward Brayden Schenn. Since then, Wilson has been a marked man.
“We don’t want to be liked by them,” Wilson said of the Flyers Tuesday, two days before the Capitals face Philadelphia in Game One the opening round of the playoffs. “Hopefully, we can keep it that way, that they hate our guts.” Continue Reading
Bruce Boudreau began the 2011-12 season with his team as a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. In his last two seasons, he followed up a Presidents’ Trophy with an Eastern Conference regular-season title. Now, he had seven straight wins to start the year. A little over a month later, Boudreau, the fastest coach in NHL history to 200 wins, was gone. The man who resurrected hockey in Washington was replaced by two coaches who slowly bled the greatness out of the Capitals.
Just under four years later, Boudreau has found himself in a similar spot. Now the coach of the Anaheim Ducks, he had led his team to within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals the year before. But the start of the 2015-16 season was a catastrophe. His team scored 10 goals in the entire month of October. They finished the month with a single victory. Boudreau didn’t have any answers.
“I don’t know,” he said after his team threw away another game on October 27. “I’m sort of at a loss right now.”
This game meant nothing to the Washington Capitals, but for their opponent a Pacific Division title was on the line. Former Capitals bench boss Bruce Boudreau came back to Verizon Center for the first and only time this season, except for when somebody thought it was a good idea to send the Anaheim Ducks to the phone booth during a blizzard that kept me trapped on my street for four days.
The Mites on Ice played a better game than the Washington Capitals. They were probably playing for popsicles or something.
Anyway, the Caps didn’t score while Corey Perry tallied his 34th goal of the season and Nick Ritchie — rejected Jersey Shore character — tipped in his second of the year. Ducks blank Caps 2-0.
After Braden Holtby tied Martin Brodeur for single-season wins record at 48 last night, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said “we’ll see” when asked multiple times by reporters if Holtby would get the start Sunday against the Anaheim Ducks. Trotz had spent days indicating Holtby almost certainly not play, with the Capitals sticking to their usual Holtby then Philipp Grubauer plan when the team plays back-to-back games. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.