The Washington Capitals entered the afternoon looking to rebound from an emotionally difficult overtime loss to the Boston Bruins. It always hurts to lose in sudden death, but there were some positives to take away from game 1. The Caps didn't get blown out, and for periods of time showed they could play with the Bruins. The Caps also still had a chance to lock up the ever-coveted road-split to open a playoff series. Braden Holtby turned in another great performance, and the Caps skaters played a solid game all around tonight. Once again, the Caps proved they can skate with the Bruins, and once again the teams needed overtime to settle things. This time, however, the Caps left the building happy, and Holtby and the boys were justly rewarded with a hard-earned victory.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Obviously, Holtby was once again the story for the Caps. Going in to the series it was tough to ask him to be great, but for the most part he has been great; he's certainly given the Caps a chance to win both games. He has made big save after big save and he seems to get more composed and confident with each passing minute in the crease. The skaters in front of him were much better today, but he was a big reason the Caps were able to hang with the Bruins long enough to secure the win. We do have one ask, though: Please, put that poke check back on the shelf for a while.
- Nicklas Backstrom has to be the second guy mentioned. That's a rule when you score the OT GWG, right? Nick's game winning shot was perfectly placed, but he deserves credit for how he played all game. His line was relatively quiet for most of the night, but Backstrom was solid in his own end. In such close games, it's crucial to see your best players committed in their own end. Small lapses have been the difference in both games of this series, and that doesn't look to change.
- Earlier in the week we talked about the importance of the second line winning their match-up, and the need for the Caps to exploit Andrew Ference. Well, the second line scored the game winning goal against the Ferrence/Johnny Boychuk pair. Now someone hand me a sling, I think I just threw my shoulder out.
- Remember back in 2008 when Holtby was disappointed to be drafted in the fourth round? At the time he said, "I guess the fourth round isn’t exactly where I wanted to go, but it is fuel to the fire. I am out to prove everyone wrong and to prove the Capitals right for selecting me." Well, it's still early... but he's on his way.
- On paper, a match-up between the defending champians and a high-scoring, perennial favorite, would seem to be a great game for NBC to highlight. Of course, the Caps aren't that team anymore, so fans that tuned in to the nationally televised matinee were treated to one of the more boring playoff games in recent memory. I'm sure there were some fans that enjoyed the game, because wins trump entertainment value at this time of year, but the fans that enjoyed today's game were all located in Washington, or Jacques Lemaire's house.
- All series Zdeno Chara has been on the ice for the vast majority of Alex Ovechkin's shifts. Today, the Caps got their first goal of the series when Ovechkin's line was on the ice against Greg Zanon and Johnny Boychuk. Weird how that works. Hopefully that bodes well for the Caps when they return to Verizon Center, as Dale Hunter will have the ability to get Ovechkin away from Chara, should he choose to take advantage of the last change.
- During Hunter's tenure as the Caps bench boss, Caps fans have had many complaints about Hunter's line-matching and player usage, he deserves a lot of credit for being able to get Ovechkin away from Chara. Hunter put Ovechkin on the ice briefly, then pulled him off to get the Bruins to take Chara off the ice, then put Ovechkin right back on the ice. The quick, oddly-timed, changes got the Bruins off their normal match-ups and opened up enough space for the Caps top line to create a goal.
- We all know about the Bruins reputation, there's no point complaining about it or highlighting specific examples. At this point, though, it seems clear that the Caps need more of "those kind of players" on their team. Refs will never call "those kind of players" for all the penalties they deserve, so even when "those kind of players" go to the penalty box, you can be sure they got away with far more than they were called for because human nature dictates that refs don't want to "force" a team to be shorthanded all game. Compounding that problem, refs just love to even up the penalties to maintain an appearance of impartiality, even if a balanced penalty distribution is not warranted. Witness the Roman Hamrlik penalty early in the second period. Mike Rowe and the groundskeepers from the Cow Palace (and Mike Milbury) were physically revolted when they saw that call.
- If this recap had been written after 60 minutes, it would have called out Alexander Semin for being invisible. But the game went for another 20+, so Semin gets a strong shout-out from us. He didn't get on the scoreboard, but his diving poke check on Milan Lucic may have prevented the Caps from another quick overtime loss, and throughout the first overtime period he easily had the most impact of any Caps top-6 player. He was backchecking, and laid out to block a Chara shot. For a guy that is routinely judged by his box score numbers, it's nice to see him buying in and doing those little things.
- Nobody really expects offense from Karl Alzner, they just expect great defense. The question on his pair leading up to this series (all season, really) has been which Caps defender could handle the tough assignments that Alzner is tasked with. We assumed it would be John Carlson, but Carlson was mired in a sophomore slump for most of the year. It seems as though Carlson has figured things out, and not a moment too soon. That pair was in beast mode again tonight, and an assist from Alzner is just gravy.
The old cliche says "the series doesn't start until a team loses at home." Ignoring the logic of the statement, the point still stands: if you lose at home in the playoffs, you're in some trouble. Well, the Caps put the Bruins on their heels by grabbing the overtime victory tonight. However you slice it, the Capitals have to feel good. This team has seen .500 on the road as a success for months now, and tonight they made sure they had a successful 2-game stretch in Boston. If they can hold serve at home... well, things will be good. It's not going to get any easier, but the Caps know they can beat the Bruins, and now they get to come back to Verizon Center, where they're an even better team.