Disney's 2004 movie, Miracle, wasn't exactly Oscar-winning material, but it had its moments. Among them was Herb Brooks challenging his team with the line, "You think you can win on talent alone? Gentlemen, you don't have enough talent to win on talent alone." What served as a way to establish the coach's philosophy (and the team's severe underdog status) for viewers unfamiliar with the story of the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team resonated as something more with those who have played the game. Everyone who grew up playing hockey has either been on that team or played against (and lost to) that team, and understands exactly why, in hockey, smarts and work ethic can compensate for an awful lot.
What a lot of people might not realize is that Brooks' assessment of his team also applies to every team in the NHL, even ones that win 54 times in a single season and outscore their opponents by more than a goal per game.
Every team in the NHL playoffs has skill, every team is going to be willing to work, and no one, no one, is talented enough to win on talent alone. No one's going to win by putting their wings on the far blue line when their defensemen need to move the puck before they can exit their own zone. No one can afford to take frequent offensive zone penalties. No one can avoid the uncomfortable reality that you're going to have to be willing to fight for every opportunity and every goal in the NHL postseason. And once the Capitals realized that fact, they were able to take this game back.
Let's just hope it doesn't take them two periods to figure it out next time.
Ten additional thoughts on tonight's game:
- First things first. Bruce Boudreau's decision to pull Jose Theodore after just two shots and eight minutes of ice time was a good one, for two reasons. First, it's awfully hard to have faith in a goalie with a track record of inconsistency when he allows a goal on a shot that would normally garner a "if they want to take those shots, let 'em have 'em" reaction, especially when it's the first shot of the game. Second, pulling the goalie almost always serves as a way to light a fire under your team, and that's exactly what the Caps needed to ensure they didn't unravel after their rocky start.
- That ringing in your ears? That's the sound of Ted Leonsis emptying every cash register he can find in preparation for the checks he's going to be writing Nicklas Backstrom next season. The funny thing is, the kid's going to be worth every penny. Every. Single. Penny.
- Backstrom was obviously the star of this game, but the defining moment might have come with Alex Ovechkin's goal, an ugly, grinding, front-of-the-net tally notched by a veritable human highlight reel capable of scoring in ways even other NHLers could never dream of. If anything was going to send and cement the message that the Caps needed to start playing gritty to win, it was seeing the best player in the world willing to take his licks and whack at a nearly-covered puck incessantly until it made its way across the goal line.
- Ovechkin obviously bounced back in a big way, but Alexander Semin and Mike Green still remain missing in action in the offensive zone and on the scoresheet. The Capitals have excellent depth, and the dynamic duo of Ovie and Mean Lars can put up a lot of points, but it'd be great if one more playoff game could mean one more Young Gun getting back to form.
- I love Jason Chimera as a third line player. The speed, the physicality, the attitude, it's exactly what you want in a guy who's going to play that role. But perhaps the best thing about Chimera's game is that you know you're going to get the grit and tenacity that make him effective every shift, game in and game out - which is why Chimera ought to start every game, if not every period, for the Caps for the time being. All that said, his turnover that led to the Canadiens' second goal was exactly the kind of play the Capitals should have known to avoid in tonight's game.
- Montreal was able to score their third goal for one reason - a communication breakdown between Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. What led to it, and who the fault lies with aren't aspects I don't want to speculate about, but I know this much: your two defensemen should never be five feet away from one another on the boards and parallel with the faceoff dot.
- If you're a parent and have a son or daughter who plays hockey, I have a really simple way to teach them how to forecheck effectively: have them watch Eric Fehr for a game.
- He may not have stood out on the scoresheet, but without Mike Knuble the Capitals aren't competitive enough to take this game to overtime and pick up the win. The disruption and distraction he created around the net directly led to Nicklas Backstrom's first two goals, and served as perfect examples of how a forward can ensure he's helping his team out even when he isn't racking up goals or assists.
- His pass to set up Eric Fehr's goal notwithstanding, I'm becoming increasingly concerned that Tomas Fleischmann is going to play out as a left-handed, Czech version of Viktor Kozlov, a wing capable of filling in at center who brings solid production at a reasonable price during the regular season and isn't much suited for postseason play. Prove me wrong, Flash, prove me wrong.
- Tom Poti's fight with Scott Gomez was fantastic for a number of reasons. He clearly won, he a took a player who was more important to the Canadiens than Poti is to the Capitals off the ice for five minutes, he showed he can back up his sometimes chippy after-the-whistle play, and he kept the momentum going in the Caps favor. That anyone who has watched Scott Gomez more than a handful of times know he had it coming, and that the fight probably created a great deal of cognitive dissonance amongst a bunch of New Yorkers don't hurt either. But the best part? Poti sitting in the box on the crucial third-period penalty kill that came as a result of Alexander Semin's tripping minor.
The confidence can't help but be a little rattled (and if your nerves aren't more than a little frayed, you're not human), but the mission remains the same. Win one game. Do it
sixteen fifteen times.