Saturday night, Richmond International Raceway hosted NASCAR’s 26th race of the year, the final contest before the 2011 Chase field or “playoff” is set. Naturally with such a big race on hand, there needed to be some A-List talent to wave the green flag. So NASCAR trudged out the Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi to be the Honorary Starter of the Wonderful Pistachios 400. Really? You can’t make this stuff up.
Russ Thaler had a report for CSN Washington from Kettler Capitals IcePlex Saturday. The video is above. The best quote of the day came from Bruce Boudreau. “When you’re up 2-0 on a really good team, everybody is playing good,” Boudreau said. “The defense is playing good. The forwards are playing good. The question is: can you sustain it? And that’s our question. Hopefully, we can.”
The last two series the Capitals have played in the playoffs, the Capitals have had 2-0 and 3-1 series leads, only to see both the Penguins and the Canadiens come back and win. When asked about losing those seven-game match-ups in the past, Alex Ovechkin had this to say. “Right now we stay focused and right now this team is different. Again that kind of experience from the last couple of years will help us.” Can the Capitals ride out the early momentum that the New York crowd will supply to the Rangers? Will the Capitals take what could be an insurmountable 3-0 series lead headed into Wednesday’s Game Four at Madison Square Gardens? We’ll see tomorrow at 3pm.
Is Arnott happy or angry he scored? (Photo credit: AP)
Thanks to tallies authored by the two Alexes Wednesday, the Capitals opened up their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Rangers with a 2-1 overtime victory. Who would pot the goals in game two? Um, obviously the Jasons.
After a scoreless first period, Brooks Laich decided to hold a forechecking clinic at 2:11 of the second period, taking on towering Rangers’ defenseman Matt Gilroy. After being knocked to his keister not once — but twice — Laich pushed the biscuit with only one hand on his stick to Marcus Johansson. Mojo — acutely aware of all of his surroundings — immediately sent a tape-to-tape pass to Jason Chimera, who roofed the puck high and glove side past a stunned Henrik Lundqvist.
1:57 later while on the power play, Jason Arnott would win a face-off. Alex Semin then passed it back to Alex Ovechkin at the point. Ovechkin, when pressured by a Ranger penalty-killer, skated across the blue line with the puck and fed Mike Green who was rotating down to the slot. Green then wound up to the sky with all his fury and released a slap shot. Gilroy blocked the attempt both with his skate and stick. Unfortunately for him, the muffed puck then deflected across the ice directly onto the blade of Jason Arnott’s twig, who was skating towards the net already looking for a rebound. As Lundqvist panicked and made a quick move to block the right corner of the net, Arnott made a veteran move and waited as he fell down and then shot the puck past. ANGRY SCOAR FACE.
That would be all she wrote. Michal Neuvirth would get his first career playoff shutout. Caps beat Rangers, 2-0!
Risking dropping their second straight game to a sub-par team, the Washington Capitals were rescued by none other than Jason Chimera, a healthy scratch just a game ago.
For Chimera it was sweet redemption and “especially nice” that it came against his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Despite the win, victory wasn’t easy for Washington with sloppy play plaguing the Caps throughout the night.
“We did not do a very good job tonight,” veteran center Jason Arnott said. “There were a lot of bouncing pucks, a lot of nonchalant plays that we don’t normally make … We have to clean up our own zone, it starts tomorrow with the video, and try to correct it and come up with a better effort to back our goaltender up.”
Head Coach Bruce Boudreau seemed to agree Arnott’s view that the Capitals must play better in front of young netminder Michal Neuvirth.
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?
Jason Chimera brings the intensity in a second period fight with Brent Seabrook. (Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin)
In dramatic fashion, in front of a national television audience and a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, the Cardiac Caps were once again back at work as Washington pushed their winning streak to eight. Less than one month ago it would have been hard to imagine any of this happening. Nevertheless, the Caps are now just a single point out of first-place in the Eastern Conference.
“Guys have a bit of a swagger right now, back to the way things were,” said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
The Blackhawks opened the scoring less than five minutes into the contest. After receiving a feed from Marian Hossa, Nick Leddy put the puck past Holtby. Just under two and a half minutes later, however, Boyd Gordon would knot the game at one. After picking up an errant pass by the ‘Hawks power play, Gordon raced down the wing before firing a slapper past Chicago netminder Corey Crawford for the shortie. Late in the first frame, after John Erskine drew a holding penalty, Washington headed to their recently anemic power play. This time, however, it would be different. New Cap Jason Arnott fired a bullet from the point that found twine, giving Washington their first lead of the game.
Three minutes into the second period, Chicago would tie the game at two when Holtby gave Tomas Kopecky a little too much daylight. Kopecky seized the opportunity, banking the puck off ‘keeper’s back from behind the goal-line. In the waining moments of the stanza, things got physical when Chicago’s Brent Seabrook delivered a hard check behind the net to Jason Chimera. Everyone favorite fire-footed, stone-handed forward took exception to Seabrook, challenging him to a duel. Seabrook appeared to come out with the win in the bout but it was Chimera got the take-down.
“Chimmer, I thought, he was a factor. He did not get a star or anything, but I thought he was a real big factor in the game,” said Chimera’s teammate Brooks Laich. “He was the one that sort of instigated that little rhubarb there. I think he does a good job and takes one of their top defenders off. So I think he had a very good night.”
Six and half in to the final frame, the aforementioned Laich put home Matt Hendricks’ (or more accurately Eric Fehr’s) feed from the corner to put the Caps on top. Washington appeared to be in control until Marcus Johansson was called for hooking at 18:10. “I thought it was a pretty chintzy call,” said Boudreau. On the ensuing Blackhawks power play, Jonathan Toews converted on a mad scrum in front of the net, as the puck bounced in off Holtby’s skate.
In overtime, the Capitals missed numerous chances until, finally, Mike Knuble — with a little help from Johansson — came to the rescue. Ballgame over. Caps top ‘Hawks, 4-3.
Hendy tells Sasha what we can only assume is “I freakin’ love you” after Semin scores the OTGWG.
Marcus Johansson writhes in pain after blocking a shot on the PK. (Photos by: Joel Auerbach)
Entering tonight’s game with the Florida Panthers, the Capitals only trailed the first-place Tampa Bay Lightning by one standings point for the Southeast Division lead. Karl Alzner told CSN before the game, “It’s nice to have that battle going on at the end of the season. In the end, I think it’s going to help us gear up for that playoff push.” After several years of dominating the division, coasting into the playoffs, and then losing in the early rounds, Alzner’s words are certainly reassuring from a fan’s perspective. Could this division battle down the stretch be everything that the Capitals need?
One thing that still needs to be corrected by the Capitals, however, if they have dreams of playing in June is their poor play in the first period. While they’ve noticeably ramped up their intensity in the game’s opening minutes, they still have had problems scoring the game’s first goal. Tonight, was no different.
Florida got off to an early 1-0 lead after taking advantage of a Dennis Wideman turnover in the offensive zone. After several attempts to get the puck deep and failing, Bill Thomas took the puck from Wideman, passed the puck up to teammate Michal Repik, and the two raced in alone on John Erskine and Michal Neuvirth. Erskine, who failed to take away the pass on the two-on-one, watched helplessly as Repik hit Thomas in stride and deposited the puck into the back of the net. The Capitals however, quickly responded a minute and 13 seconds later. After some powerful forechecking by Alex Ovechkin in the corners, Ovi found Nicklas Backstrom unguarded in the middle of the circles. Backstrom’s one-timer eluded Scott Clemmensen and the game was tied.
Scoring would not pick up until midway through the second period. At 10:02, John Carlson unleashed a slap shot that Clemmensen could not corral. The puck squirted out to Boyd Gordon in the slot, who suavely backhanded home his second goal of the year.
Things would then get dicey in the final minutes of the third period, as the Capitals would not be able to hold onto their one goal lead. After Erskine and Wideman took penalties, David Booth forced overtime by scoring in front of the net on the proceeding five-on-three powerplay. But that’s okay. Alex Semin is a stone cold pimp and ended it in overtime 28 48 seconds in. Caps top Cats, 3-2.
While on the power play at 16:38 in the frame, Marcus Johansson fed the puck to a waiting Alex Ovechkin. Ovi then unleashed an unreal, laser beam of a one-timer. BOOM! Caps: 1, Pens: 0
And that would be it. Pittsburgh put 14 shots on Washington netminder Michal Neuvirth in the third period but Neuvy remained as solid as a brick wall. Shutout. World Peace. Something funny here. Caps beat Penguins, 1-0.
On February 17, 2011, In Game Recap, By Brandon Oland
Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill
Let there be hats! (Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill)
[Ed note: This post is by the Carroll County Times’ Brandon Oland, Ian’s very own flesh and blood. Since he’s accustomed to staying up until 4am, we figured he could fill in for us tonight. Take it away, Brandon.]
Doubts were creeping in. Could the Washington Capitals score enough goals to keep up with Anaheim’s freakishly talented top line? Could the Caps steal a pivotal road win against one of the NHL’s top teams? Could the underperforming Alexander Semin regain his finishing touch?
Yes, yes and yes.
Semin scored three goals, including the game-tying and game-winning tallies to lift the Capitals to a thrilling 7-6 victory in one of the most captivating back-and-forth battles in recent team history. That is, unless you are a fan of defense.
Semin notched his fourth hat trick of the season and seventh of his career. He also finished with a tidy plus four, officially breaking out of the longest goal-scoring slump of his career (17 games) in explosive fashion.
The goals came fast and furious in this defense-purely-optional imitation of the NHL All-Star game. Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf got the scoring started with a way-too-easy power play tally set up by a brutal interference penalty on Tyler Sloan. Getzlaf’s goal came with 15:50 to go in the first. Alexander Ovechkin responded six minutes later on a breakaway sparked by a tremendous outlet pass by Nicklas Backstrom. Brooks Laich gave the Caps a brief 2-1 lead with 3:53 left in the first frame, capitalizing on a horrible turnover by Teemu Selanne. After Saku Koivu worked past two waving Capitals defenders, Selanne redeemed himself with a nifty redirect just a few minutes after his lazy pass to tie the contest up. Toni Lydman gave the Ducks a 3-2 lead with 30.7 seconds left in the first, thereby ensuring Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t let Semyon Varlamov see the ice in the second.
On February 6, 2011, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
Matt Cooke and Alex Ovechkin in happier times. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)
Once again the Super Bowl Sunday rendezvous between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins was a rousing success. Through three periods of hockey, the Caps laid siege to the Penguins’ net and their depleted forces.
Mathieu Perreault won a battle below the goal line to feed Brooks Laich, who was waiting eagerly in Fleury’s paint. His greasy backhander put the Caps up 1-0. On the penalty kill in the second, Marcus Johansson scored perhaps his prettiest goal yet, a no-look backhander. 2-0. Desperate in the third, the Penguins’ offense relented and allowed Mike Knuble the empty netter. Shutouts don’t feel so bad from the other side. Caps beat Pens 3-0.