With the double gut punch of losing Game 3 at home in the final two minutes, off a deflection from a defenseman's stick in a manner that seems all too familiar in Capitals post-season history, followed by the news that Nicklas Backstrom's automatic suspension for this contest was upheld, you wouldn't be blamed for sitting down to this one expecting to see a second defeat in a row.
It's been difficult enough for the Caps to score at fives in this series with Backstrom in the lineup -- just two goals through Game 3 where #19 tallied and earned the primary assist, respectively. The only worse news coming out of Game 3 would've been another concussion for the 1C (which, given the unmitigated abuse to the head that Nick's taken in this series, wouldn't be all that surprising).
However, it's these games of overcoming the odds as they were, stepping up and bringing the pure joy of an inspiring win -- so rare in the annals of Caps playoff hockey -- that keep us watching.
Further, going into the third period with a one-goal advantage, we saw a critical test of Coach Dale Hunter-style playoff hockey, the ability to nail down a victory with the slimmest of margins, not too unlike the way that captain Dale led the Caps all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998.
Ten more notes on the game:
- On ice for Rich Peverley's even-strength goal tonight was one Dennis Wideman, paired for the first time in these playoffs with John Erskine, the seventh-most frequent D pairing during the regular season. Wideman's been on the ice for all five of the B's goals at fives in this series to date. He also missed a near-empty net on the first PP unit. But let's focus on the positive.
- No one stole the show like Braden Holtby tonight. Aside from an odd-man rush (see above), Holts was tracking the puck like the best of 'em, and allowed precious few rebounds or advantageous re-directions. Caps fans watching most all of his professional games knew he had this ability, but to see the consistency through four games is absolutely stunning.
- This affair was surprisingly disciplined, wasn't it? Four penalties, all of the minor variety (to be sure, a few missed calls) and virtually no after-the-whistle mayhem. A tense and fairly clean contest, considering what's come before.
- However, we couldn't expect the B's not to get a chance late in the game, and Mike Knuble, though playing a decent physical game and ramping up that effort in the third, provided them the opportunity with an guilt-free call for holding along the boards. Thankfully, the PK allowed virtually nothing beyond a Tyler Seguin shot missed wide.
- Excellence, of course, is not only found in boxcar stats, and Jay Beagle deserves praise again for doing so many of the little (and big, for his role) things right tonight. Winning a majority of his D-zone draws, blocking shots, cycling and keeping the puck alive around the B's net.
- Victory tonight seemed predicated precisely on special teams play. And while the Caps first PP opportunity in the first frame drove one to drink, the Caps' second opportunity featured fantastic movement of the puck, though still precious little finish. (Wideman?) Ultimately, though, it was the extra man opportunity, a third time, that made the difference. For all of the faults we can find -- as can GM George McPhee and Coach Hunter and the rest of the Caps staff -- with Alexander Semin, it's precisely that shot that's the reason he keeps getting paid big money by the franchise. Tonight, I'm totally cool with that.
- Everyone earned a negative Corsi rating tonight, seven skaters in double digit negatives, including five forwards.
- Reckless disregard for one's body, be it blocking shots, throwing hits, or charging hard at the end boards to avoid an icing call, is often what determines a playoff series winner. Matt Hendricks did a bit of all of that tonight.
- Great as was tonight's result, however, the Caps can't afford to allow the Bruins to fire away from the points and crowd Holtby the way they were able to do mostly at will for roughly the first half of the contest. Take that confidence in Holtby with you to Boston on Saturday, but don't test him (or any goalie) like that for a second game in a row.
- Even "bonus time" via a frozen clock at le Centre Verizón didn't help the Bruins tonight. Holtby grabbed the biscuit one last time, well after the final horn should have sounded.
Again, an inspiring win, and the deafening D.C. crowd in the waning minutes truly stirred the soul, so it's on to game five with Nicky back in the fold and the forward lines back to their more offensively-intimidating potential.