The Pre-Game: Oh Lordy, we hate being right. Especially if it involves Canada. Not as in: their single-payer health care system is far more efficient than our insurance company-laden poop pie. More like: there’s no more dangerous team than an underestimated one with shelves of talent and an insane fan base. (Either way, it’s a poop pie, frankly.)
So here we are, game 3 of 3 of the road trip, landing us square in Squaresville: Toronto. (Wagging finger in old maid mode:) We warned you about those teams! We cautioned against squads whose numbers didn’t quite look right, yet had piles of skill ready to dump on the ice! What, you didn’t listen? You think you know better? Are you listening to me?
Uh, no, chances are, you’re not. At least not based on the last few Caps’ book in Vegas. We think that changes Saturday.
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.
When talking about the KHL player Leo Komarov, you have many different things you can describe him as: fan favorite, agitator, hitter or secondary scorer. Knowing that he was raised in Finland you understand Komarov is like Jarkko Ruutu or Sean Bergenheim. He is the type of guy you hate to play against.
Komarov, who was born in Estonia but is a duel citizen of Russia and Finland, is one of the Russian league’s brightest young stars. He racked up 26 points (including 14 goals) while registering 70 penalty minutes over 52 games in the 2010-11 KHL regular season, and also played in the Kontinental Hockey League’s All-Star Game. In the playoffs, which ended, well, earlier than expected for Dynamo, Komarov posted a remarkable four goals in just six games.
Eighty-four days and thirty-eight NHL games later, that streak would finally end for Ovechkin against a team he consistently has success against: the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tonight, the Capitals managed to get on the board first for the second consecutive game. Jeff Schultz unleashed a howitzer from the point, and a hard-charging Russian Machine tipped Sarge’s shot past Maple Leafs’ goaltender, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Despite both teams combining for forty shots through the games first two periods, scoring would not resume until the third.
One minute into the games final’s frame, Ovechkin would strike again, as he set up shop in his new home in front of the net. Unfortunately, the two-goal lead would only last a minute and a half. Leafs’ fourth-liner Tim Brent ended Braden Holtby’s shutout bid, going five-hole after Jay Rosehill’s shot from the point was muffled. The Leafs then astutely seized the momentum and came at the Caps in waves for the next several minutes. That is until Bruce Boudreau wisely called time-out after an icing call.
On December 6, 2010, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
Mathieu Perreault is the bright spot in this tough loss. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)
Colton Orr helps D.J. King with some facial redecoration. (Photo credit: Mitchell Layton)
Former Caps coach Ron Wilson brought his Toronto Maple Leafs to town looking for some redemption in their beleaguered season. The Washington Capitals meanwhile searched for the first win in their so-far unsuccessful extended home stand and switched up their roster to handle injuries from Sloan, Erskine, Steckel. With Hershey hotshot Mathieu Perreault (hereafter Matthew Perot) pinching in, it looked for a while like the goal-crazy Caps of seasons past had returned. But they leaned back in the third period, and… well, I don’t really have the heart to tell you.
Matty got on the big board on his first shift– less than three minutes into the game, deflecting a wrister off Tom Poti from the paint. Clarke MacArthur responded by shaking off John Carlson and teasing Neuvirth with a pause. It took two swings for Mike Knuble to earn a powerplay goal, the 249th of his career, and regain the lead. Perry struck back from the circles after waiting for a screen. Alex Ovechkin scored a whizzer of a wristshot to give the Caps an insurmountable 4-1 lead. Well, sorta. Mikhail Grabovksi, Tim Brent, and Clarke MacArthur each found their chances to exploit the snoozing home team, evening it up in the final 90 seconds. Overtime came and went. The shootout proved to be Mikhail Grabovski’s shining moment– as a spinarama escaped Michael Neuvirth’s pads. Leafs beat Caps 5-4 (SO).
The upshot: The Caps squeak by an uneven bout with the trouble Toronto team to win in the shootout. But man, there’s a lot more than that. The Red Army has yet to play solid games back to back. The defensive end had lots of trouble, especially in the third, but the oh-fense was spectacular. The first period was sleepy, the second period electric, the third period a near disaster.
If that last paragraph reads disjointed, it’s only because the game was too (that and I’m not using conjunctions).
For the nth game this season, the Capitals were polite enough to let the other team score first. Nikolai Kulemin takes the puck, gets John Erskine to dive, and lures Michal Neuvirth a bit wide before shooting. MG52 answered with a PPG (now that’s what we’ve been missing!). Jason Chimera showed determination in the slot, accepting a deft pass from Boyd Gordon in the corner and then repeatedly swatting the puck until it snuck under Jonas Gustavsson‘s loins for the go-ahead. Either John Carlson (slapper) or Tomas Fleischmann (tip-in) scored the third goal, and the jury may be out on that one for a long time.
The third period was a bloodbath, filled with a troika of Leafs goals from Kaberle, Versteeg, and Bovak. Toronto claimed the lead, and it seemed the Caps were headed for a loss. And then Alex Semin, whom Boudreau almost scratched due to illness, converted an unlikely power play chance. Overtime came and went. The shootout found Ovechkin and Semin scoring wizardly goals and Michal Neuvirth stopping two attempts. Even though the Canadian bastards escaped with a point, at least we can say Caps beat Leafs 5-4 (Shootout).
On January 16, 2010, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
The last two Caps games have had us reeling. We suffered a wild beatdown from the Lightning on Tuesday, replete with spats and brawls, and then a soaring come-from-behind win over the Panthers, also punctuated with fights. Returning back to the Verizon Center for a game against Maple Leafs, you’d think the Caps would offer us a reserved performance of surgical offense and careful defense. Instead we got a bronco-busting, goal-splattered free-for-all. We’re not complaining. Before the third period could end, The Caps and Leafs showed us a series of spats that could tide us over for weeks. The final frame of this heavyweight bout devolved into a fight of Greene Turtlian proportions. If our boys weren’t ahead by five goals, we might have been a bit sour on how it played out.