The Capitals obviously weren't in full playoff mode this afternoon: several regulars sat the game out, the hitting was not as hard and the forechecking was not as intense as it is when the team's playing all out, all game long. Still, there was more of a spark, more energy, and more excitement to the Caps than there has been for most post-Olympic games, something that speaks to how hungry this team is for the postseason - and helped to demonstrate the kind of play this team is capable of.
I'm sure there will be some nerves and some stilted play at the outset of the team's first playoff game, but I'm also sure I'm not the only one who's dying to see what these guys will pull out when the chips are down.
Ten additional thoughts on this afternoon's game:
- For those who don't know, the Capitals' first round opponent will be determined by the three o'clock game between the Flyers and Rangers (On the NHL Network, for those that have it). If the Rangers win, they'll be the Capitals first round opponent; if the Flyers win, the Caps will face the Canadiens. Who would you rather see?
- It feels weird to say this, but it was kind of nice to have the last game of the regular season go to a shootout. The players joking around with one another and their coaches, and Bruce Boudreau's decision to give the shootout attempts to Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley were rare opportunities to watch some of the best hockey players in the world just have fun. With all the pressure players are under every night, replays being broken down over and over again, and the amount of discussion we fans devote to even the tiniest minutiae of every outing, sometimes it's easy to forget that hockey is, in fact, a game.
- I loved the way Jason Chimera crashed the next hard in the first period, especially since it drew the Caps a powerplay (and because Tim Thomas is exactly the guy you want to crash the net hard against). I can't say I was too thrilled with his ten-minute misconduct later in the first, though. Nonetheless, there shouldn't be any argument that a guy who brings that kind of intensity and energy to a game that meant as little as today's is a guy you want on your side come playoff time.
- Jeff Schultz has finished the season with a plus-50 rating, had a plus-12 rating and three assists in six April games, hasn't been a minus player since St. Patrick's Day, and has been on the ice for only one even-strength goal against since Washington's March 28th loss to Calgary. Just having him healthy for the playoffs this year (knock on wood) should be a huge improvement over last year's squad.
- Eric Belanger hasn't exactly been an offensive dynamo since he was dealt to the Capitals, but his goal this afternoon was a perfect of example of why he doesn't need to be one in order to make the team better. Simply put, David Steckel doesn't make offensive plays like that, and the fact that the Caps now have a guy who can playing on the third line and have been able to move Steckel to the fourth line makes them a better team.
- Pretty good outing for Semyon Varlamov, both statistically and to the eye. You have to figure that Jose Theodore's still going to be the number one guy when the team's first playoff series opens, but it's nice to know Varly's back in form and there as a safety net should Theo struggle or get hurt.
- Some time between now and Thursday night, I'm going to need to go out and buy some Nerf footballs, baseballs, frisbees, what have you. You know,
just in caseso when Tom Poti inevitably makes the kind of weak, ill-advised, up-the-middle clearing attempt that led to Michael Ryder's powerplay goal in a playoff game I don't break anything.
- Speaking of which, the Caps' penalty kill ice time for defensemen? 2:32 for Shaone Morrisonn, 2:15 for Poti and 1:56 each for Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. That's a much better allocation of PK ice time than we've seen for a lot of the season.
- On Mike Green dropping down to block a shot in overtime in a meaningless game with the playoffs getting under way in just a few days: love the effort; would not have been sad to see the puck miss him altogether. Even if it'd gone in the Capitals' net.
- I have to admit it made me a little sad to hear Pierre McGuire say Jeff Schultz is the "best defenseman in the NHL no one talks about." I mean, you always figure that the guys who work for the big mainstream media outlets aren't reading Japers' Rink, but to have it thrown in your face like that. . .
So the regular season has finally come to a close, the second season's ready to start, and you really couldn't have asked for anything more out of the Caps. The President's Trophy is locked up; with it the number one overall seed in the postseason tournament. Depth has been added, upgrades have been made, and chemistry has formed. Now it's time to take advantage of all that hard work the guys put in and get out there and do one thing:
Win one game. Do it sixteen times.