Sasha Scoars
SASHA SCOARS! (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)

No team has given the Washington Capitals more trouble this season than the New York Rangers. Those 6-0 and 7-0 shutouts pushed some Caps fans into spiritual desolation, broke up several marriages, and probably killed a house cat or two. Fitting then that the Caps and Rags should meet in this first round of the playoffs. You know that old Klingon proverb, right? Revenge is a dish best served by two guys from Russia named Alex.

We were scoreless through two periods when Rangers newbie Matt Gilroy caught a pass from Brandon Prust and beat Michal Neuvirth. With only six minutes and change left in regulation, Alex Ovechkin’s repeated swats forced the puck past Henrik Lundqvist’s pads. And then, after nearly nineteen minutes of overtime hockey and with fatigue setting in, Jason Arnott intercepted a bad clear from Marc Staal and set up Alex Semin for the game-winner. It took damn near eighty minutes, but the good guys pulled it out: the Caps beat the Rangers 2-1 (OT) and take a 1-0 lead in the series.

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Ovechpunch! Ovechpunch! (Photo credit: Jim McIsaac)

On Wednesday, the Washington Capitals will take on the New York Rangers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Caps haven’t faired well against New York this season, losing three out of four regular season games including 6-0 and 7-0 shutouts. In fact, the 7-0 shutout was so bad, Alex Ovechkin found it necessary to fight. However, that was then. This is now. Let’s take a look at the numbers to preview what should be an interesting matchup.

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Alex Ovechkin takes a shot against the Panthers

Just another ho-hum night for Ovechkin: 1 goal, 2 assists. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

Semyon Varlamov: Your game's number one star. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

Semyon Varlamov: Your game's number one star. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

In a matchup between the Eastern Conference’s best and worst teams, Bruce Boudreau opted to scratch three of his regulars — Jason Arnott, Scott Hannan and Alexander Semin — in the Capitals final home game of the regular season. After seeing his team play a tough 65 minutes in Toronto, Boudreau saw no compelling reason to field his best roster, especially considering the Capitals had already clinched their fourth straight Southeast division title.

Despite there being some signs pointing to Mike Green returning to the line-up tonight, Boudreau opted to sit the two-time Norris Trophy finalist as well. Boudreau told the Washington Post’s Greg Schimmel after today’s morning skate that, “No [Green won’t play tonight], but you know what, he’s ready to play and, I mean, he’s been symptom-free for three weeks plus. It’s just we’re trying to be as cautious as we can with things, just as other people are with guys that they have as concussions and could probably play, but they want to make 100 percent sure. We feel he’ll be good to go on Saturday.”

The Capitals “B” team, however, didn’t miss a beat. Before the game was a minute old, Marcus Johansson – he of the ever-burgeoning confidence — inside outted Mike Weaver with an extra-crispy move. Helpless and out of position, Weaver took a tripping penalty, sending the Capitals power play immediately onto the ice. Mike Knuble, the beneficiary of a Brooks Laich power move to the net, scored 23 seconds into the man-advantage. Jason Chimera, brilliantly set-up by Nicklas Backstrom, then scored via a tap-in on Washington’s second powerplay of the night to close the opening stanza.

The Capitals would never look back. Sean Collins would score his second career NHL goal on a rarely-seen four-on-two odd man break during the second period, Matt Hendricks would pot a goal in front of the net after some hard forechecking in the corners and Alex Ovechkin would add an empty-net goal, his 32nd of the season. Caps maul Panthers, 5-2.

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Mike Knuble scores in the shootout

Neuvy celebrates with his teammates after coming up victorious in the shootout. (Photo credit: Graig Abel)

Neuvy celebrates with his teammates after coming up victorious in the shootout. (Photo credit: Graig Abel)

What can’t Knuble do? (Photo credit: Graig Abel)

In their first game of the final back-to-back of the season, the Capitals found themselves in Air Canada Centre to face the surging Toronto Maple Leafs. Since the All-Star break, the Leafs have gone a ridiculous and improbable 18-7-5, riding mid-season call-up James Reimer’s (Oops, sorry!) Optimus Reim‘s incredible goaltending back into playoff contention.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, their chances of still making the playoffs were about as likely as Jason Chimera having a 50 goal season: less than one percent. To stave off mathematical elimination for one more night, they had to have either a regulation or overtime win against DC and a loss from Buffalo.

“They have to have every point,” winger Brooks Laich explained to the media after the Capitals pre-game skate. “They have to have every point in regulation the next three games and then hope for the best. This is an elimination game for the Leafs and they’re going to show us their absolute best.

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Before practice today, Capitals left wing Brooks Laich conducted a 16 minute phone interview with DC101′s Elliot in the Morning show. Among the topics Elliot and Brooks discussed include Laich’s lack of a preference on which team the Capitals play in the first round of the playoffs, Dennis Wideman’s injury and what he heard on the bench when it happened, and an insightful look into the leadership Jason Arnott brings to the team. The money quote: “He’s really united the whole group.”

Ovechkin celebration

Just another night at the office for Ovechkin: a goal, two assists and the invention of a new dance. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

NHL referee Bill McCreary is honored with his wife Mary Ann and daughter Melissa, along with Vice President and Caps General Manger George McPhee of the Washington Capitals before officiating his final NHL game

Referee Bill McCreary is honored with his wife Mary Ann and daughter Melissa, along with Vice President and Caps General Manger George McPhee before officiating his final NHL game. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

On Fan Appreciation Day, the Capitals certainly rewarded their supporters. In front of 18,398 deafening fans — good for the Caps’ 100th consecutive sellout — Washington pulled out a thrilling overtime victory, moving into the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Caps struck first and early when just 37 seconds in John Carlson fired a wrist shot that Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth failed to collect. The red-hot Mike Knuble then did his usual dirty work in the crease to net the opening tally.

Washington jumped out to a two goal lead at 4:41 when Alexander Semin — who was on the ice for eight chances for and three against — scored a similar goal to Knuble’s, tapping in Nicklas Backstrom’s rebound behind Enroth. PANIC!!!1 Timeout Buffalo.

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Jason Arnott’s 400th Career Goal

Alex Semin and Alex Ovechkin pose with Jason Arnott after he scores milestone career goal #400.

The shirtless Russians who both assisted on the milestone goal pose with Jason Arnott in the lockerroom. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)

As the Capitals trailed the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 with 52 seconds left, Jason Arnott scored his 400th career goal on the power play, calmly taking a rebound off of an Alex Ovechkin point shot and backhanding it home past Jhonas Enroth. Boy was that exciting! Once the milestone was announced, Arnott received a huge standing ovation from the capacity crowd at Verizon Center. He responded by standing up on the bench and waving back. As this unfolded, Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin smiled with glee and joined his teammates by banging his stick hard against the boards. What a moment! Below the jump, check out video of the milestone goal which pushed the game to OV-Time.

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Caps Get Ruutu’d By Hurricanes, 3-2 (SO)

Dennis Wideman lays on the ice after being laid out by Tuomo Ruutu.

Wideman grimaces in pain after being laid out by Tuomo Ruutu. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon!)

Cam Ward celebrates the victory. Click to enlarge. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)

Cam Ward celebrates the victory. Click to enlarge. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)

After an extended 10 day break to rest an undisclosed injury, the Capitals welcomed their kapitan back to the lineup Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. During the three game stretch in which Ovechkin sat out, the Caps went 2-1-0, their most dominant win coming Saturday night in Montreal when Braden Holtby shutout the Canadiens.

Alex Semin’s Canadian Ice Dad, Jason Arnott, also returned from injury, forcing Jason Chimera to the press box. Pre-game, head coach Bruce Boudreau told CSN that while it was great that two of his top six forwards were returning, he also had a fear that there would be a letdown. “You know, the guys have been working so hard while [Ovechkin and Arnott] have been out. I’m scared they’ll look at them returning and go ‘they should carry the load now.’”

In the first period, however, Boudreau would have nothing to worry about. Led by a determined Russian Machine, the Capitals as a team hit everything that moved and rifled 16 shots at Cam Ward, feeding off the energy of a Verizon Center crowd they hadn’t played in front of for sixteen long days. The Caps would not see their hard work be rewarded, and the game would remain scoreless until early on in the second period. After Nick Backstrom took a tripping penalty at 1:06, Joe Corvo brilliantly found Jussi Jokinen wide-open in the slot for a one-timer. Jokinen converted and the Hurricanes would take a 1-0 lead.

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Eric Fehr, Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich celebrate goal

Photo credit: Rob Carr

Not all goals are created equal. A team scoring first has almost twice the win percentage of a team that trails first, while scoring an empty net goal almost always means the game was out of reach. But what about all the goals scored in between? Of all those goals that a player scores, how many contribute to victories and how vitally do they contribute?

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Colin Greening scores on Semyon Varlamov

Colin Greening celebrates his goal; Varly is not pleased. (Photo credit: Phillip MacCallum)

Well, where do even begin? Poor effort, non-existent offense, a goalie playing in his first game since the 20th of February and some, let’s just say, interesting officiating. Those four things combined make the blueprint for how you find a way to lose to the worst team in the Eastern Conference.

Nothing of interest happened in the first period, but there was another meaningless D.J. King fight just under three minutes into the game.

The Senators’ Colin Greening opening the scoring at 13:25 in the second frame. After a scramble in front of the net, Greening appeared to kick not only the puck, but Capitals ‘keeper Semyon Varlamov’s whole pad past the goal-line. The big wigs in Toronto took a look at it, but the play stood. 1-0 Sens.

Both teams registered eight shots on goal in the second period — with the Capitals having the best chance on an Alexander Semin breakaway — yet no one would tally.

Just over two minutes into the third stanza, Erik Condra pushed the Senators’ lead to two. After a Karl Alzner giveaway, Condra picked up Milan Michalek’s backhand no-look feed and wristed it pass Varlamov.

The real action, however, would happen just under 13 minutes into the period when Matt Bradley laid-out Patrick Wiercioch at the goal-line. Though the hit appeared to be a legal shoulder to chest hit, the Sens and referees took exception. First Ottawa’s Zach Smith jumped Bradley, forcing him to duel. Smith got the win in the ’bout, but correctly received an instigator penalty for his instigating. However, the refs called Bradley boarding, one thing the hit almost certainly was not as Bradley and Wiercioch were 12 feet from the dashers when the hit occurred. That would be it. Ho-hum. Sens blank Caps, 2-0.

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