Over the course of this season, we've seen it time and again - the Caps play hard for two periods and it's enough for a victory. But showing up for two periods and getting two victories out of it? That might be a first, and it's exactly what the Caps have done in these past two games against Atlanta, piecing together a solid third period on Sunday and a good first on Tuesday.
Couple last night's win with New Jersey's home, regulation loss to Toronto (takes a bit of the sting out of the Caps' shootout loss to the Leafs two weeks ago, doesn't it?), and the Caps are a single point gained or lost by the Devils from clinching the second seed in the East, with two games remaining.
Some thoughts on the game:
- Simeon Varlamov was "the story," as he stopped 29 of 31 shots in perhaps his final start of the regular season, and held a lead through an abysmal second period that saw the Thrashers have three full power plays and outshoot the Caps 10-5. His athleticism is remarkable, and he was steering rebounds into corners at will. If I was someone who cared about the "three stars," I'd wonder aloud why he didn't get one.
- Not breaking news: any line with Nicklas Backstrom on it is a good line (and good on Tomas Fleischmann and Viktor Kozlov for taking advantage).
- Sergei Fedorov had a hat trick... of minor penalties, which isn't going to help a guy who, heading into the game, was third among all forwards in penalties taken per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. Feds now has taken six minors (insert Anna Kournikova joke here) in his last four games, and was also uncharacteristically poor in the faceoff dot as well, going 4-for-13 (31%), including losing the draw that led directly to the Rich Peverley goal. Perhaps the guy could use a week off before the playoffs, eh?
- Also not breaking news: go to the net and good things happen. Fedorov's goal was a good example, as was the only penalty the Caps drew all game.
- Did I say only penalty? Yep. That's as clear an indication as any of the overall intensity level with which the Caps played.
- The penalty killers did a great job against a decent power play, allowing just six shots (and, more importantly, zero goals) in 10:47 of shorthanded time, of which David Steckel played a whopping 6:52.
Mike Green would likely have led the blueliners in shorthanded time, had he not been in the box for two minutes after trying to play the puck without a blade on his stick. Green's 4:55 on the kill was the most he's had in a game since a February game against Philly, and while it was due in large part to Tom Poti's absence from the lineup, it's something he should be doing more often, as - attention: Norris voters - his goals against on ice per 60 minutes of 4-on-5 time (minimum two minutes per game) was third-best among 132 NHL defensemen before last night's game.
- Brian Pothier and John Erskine made for a strong duo (Pothierskine?) on the backline, combining to go plus-four.
- Milan Jurcina and Jeff Schultz on the other hand... (and Schultz's footwork one-on-one against Ilya Kovalchuk met with near-tragic results).
- Alex Ovechkin kept pace with Evgeni Malkin in the scoring race, with each registering a pair of helpers. Two games left, two point margin.
- Alex Semin's curl-and-drag-int-wrong-footed-wrister (when it works) may be the most beautiful thing in hockey. Seriously.
- The Thrashers were credited with 31 takeaways, which is an absolute ton even if their home scorer tends to greatly inflate that stat. Given that the Caps were dinged with just two giveaways, I'm thinking someone needs to get a better understanding of the difference between the two.
And then there were two.
Take what you will from last night, but the two points (perhaps a pair of "two points") are what matter, and with the playoffs potentially just a week away, the real anxiety is about to begin. Brace yourself.