WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 24: Mathieu Perreault #85 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammates after scoring his third goal of the game against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center on January 24, 2012 in Washington, DC. Washington won the game 5-3. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Since they were drafted (Ovechkin and Green in 2004, Backstrom in 2006), the Caps haven't played a single game without at least one of their "three best players" in the lineup. Needless to say, the storyline for Tuesday night's game against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins (and quite probably the next two games as well) was going to be about whether or not the trio's teammates in the lineup would step up in their absence. And, with a few minor exceptions - and one huge (but at the same time pint-sized) exclamation point - they did just that en route to a somewhat improbable 5-3 win.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Stepping up: The whole team, for the most part, in the latter half of the first period. Double-digit shots on goal for the stanza (five of which came off the sticks of nominal third-liners Jason Chimera, Jeff Halpern and Mike Knuble), a handful of quality scoring chances, and more than a few big saves (a trend which Tomas Vokoun would continue all night).
- Not stepping up: That said, one bad breakdown found the team trailing after one period after Alexander Semin was softer than a Damien Rice song along the boards, Dennis Wideman lost his man, Mathieu Perreault was spinning like a top, and Karl Alzner ultimately put the puck in his own net. The only thing that was missing was Yakety Sax.
- Stepping up: The fourth line, early in the second, as a Cody Eakin shot trickled through Tuukka Rask somehow and across the goal line to tie the game. It was Eakin's first goal since December 5, Joel Ward's second assist since December 13, and Jay Beagle's first point of the season. Put pucks on net - you never know what's going to happen. Novel concept, that.
- Stepping up: The "first" line, just 41 seconds later, as Perreault drove the center lane, Semin found him, and Perreault beat Rask for his second goal in four games (and second since October 22).
- Stepping up: Chimera, taking two Bruins defenders (Chara and McQuaid, no less) off the ice at once with a trio of coincidental roughings. It was one of the rougher three-ways I'd seen since... nevermind.
- Not stepping up: John Carlson, who had an easy clear up the boards around midway through the second, but instead went to the middle of the ice with his pass, which was thieved and soon thereafter deposited in the Caps' net by Tyler Seguin. That said, he did have the team's top Corsi rating on the night, so there's that.
- Stepping up: Perreault. Again. This time, picking off a Johnny Boychuk pass and beating Rask on a breakaway (though we need ding this "stepping up" a bit for the offensive-zone hooking penalty he took that preceded the Bruins' third goal, scored on the ensuing power play, and the offensive-zone high-sticking penalty he took in the third).
- Stepping up: Perreault. Yet again. A nice keep-in by Roman Hamrlik (who had two assists on the night), followed by a get-it-on-net floater from the blueline rebounded off of Rask to Perreault, who made no mistake on the rebound for his first career hat trick. Huge night for the little man, who now has five points in his last two games as the team's top center.
- Stepping up: Dale Hunter. Not that this game was necessarily a referendum on the Caps' bench boss, but if a guy's going to get blamed when his team comes out flat and fails, he deserves some praise when they put forth an honest effort and succeed. So good on coach for rallying the troops.
- Not stepping up: Joe Corvo. Big surprise.
There's a temptation to label this win with all sorts superlatives, many or even most of which are probably well-deserved. But, ultimately, it's two more points in the standings, a bit of a confidence boost... and an awfully nice way to head into the All-Star break.