WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: The Washington Capitals celebrate after Jason Chimera #25 scored a goal against the New York Rangers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on May 9, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
After letting Game 5 slip painfully through their fingers in a matter of minutes, the question facing the Caps was one which has faced them a number of times throughout the playoffs: how would they respond? Down 3-2 in the series, the only way they could respond - the only way they could prolong their postseason at least a little longer - was to show that resilience we've grown accustomed to seeing over the past month.
And thankfully for Caps fans, it was on full display tonight, as the hometown boys made sure to send the raucous Verizon Center crowd home happy - and to book their tickets for one last trip to New York.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Getting on the board first may not guarantee a win - in fact in this series the winner has more frequently been determined by who scores last - but the fact remains that every game has been won by the team that's scored first. So it was something of a relief to see Alex Ovechkin put the Caps on top not only first but early, firing one past Henrik Lundqvist just 1:28 into the first period to give the good guys that all-important first strike.
- Ovechkin's goal came about thanks to an early power play that looked sharp and quick-moving (all fifteen seconds of it). The puck movement was precise, the passes crisp and the shot by #8 a laser that left his stick almost as soon as it arrived, while the cycling and work done by Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green was enough to make you nostalgic for Caps teams of days gone by.
- If that first goal was important, it was the second one that would prove huge for the Caps - both mentally, giving them some breathing room for once in this series (and one of the few times in the playoffs overall). Excellent job by Jason Chimera to drive the net and tap in a rebound for his fourth of the postseason. Move over, Matt Bradley... Chimera would like a spot in Lundqvist's nightmares.
- Noteworthy on that Chimera goal: it all started from some strong work along the boards by his linemate, Alexander Semin. He wouldn't earn a point on the play, but it was Semin winning the battle on the wall that freed up the puck for John Carlson, who found Backstrom going to the net, whose foot was masterful at creating a juicy rebound. That line was active all night long, with Backstrom picking up two assists while the trio created some good chances that ultimately went awry.
- Given that he reportedly could barely walk, it wasn't the biggest surprise to hear that Jay Beagle would sit out Game 6 - even as his coach insisted the opposite was true. And while the loss of Beagle, who has had a remarkable playoff run to this point, is a big one, it also meant that Jeff Halpern would make his long-awaited return to postseason play in a Caps' uniform. It wasn't the smoothest of returns for Halpern, with a double-minor and a last-minute faceoff loss leading to the Rangers' only goal, but he did seem to have an extra jump to his step tonight and won seven of his thirteen draws on the night.
- Too often this postseason we've found ourselves wondering where the Mike Green of old had gone, and whether we'd see him at all this spring (if ever again). Tonight, at last, we did. He was making smart plays in his own zone but he also had a little extra oomph (that's the technical term) offensively and there were times - particularly on the power play, cycling with Backstrom - where he was almost mesmerizing to watch.
- Only a few days ago, it was the Caps' inability to kill a double-minor late in Game 5 that cost them the lead and ultimately the game, surrendering two goals to fall into a 3-2 series hole. So if seeing a Cap go to the box for another four minutes tonight made your heart beat a little faster, you likely weren't alone. This time, however, the Caps made no mistake, killing first one and then the other penalty in dutiful fashion, bringing the Verizon Center crowd to its feet in appreciation of a job well done.
- New York may have foiled Holtby's shutout bid in the last minute, a lost faceoff leading to a shot from the point that tipped off a stick in front, but other than that the young netminder was solid once more, turning aside 30 of 31 shots he faced and earning first star honors on the night. And oh yeah, the streak continues...
- You might say that this has been something of an eventful postseason for Joel Ward. With high expectations already heaped on his shoulders, he's gone from playoff hero to playoff goat in a matter of days, experiencing the highest of highs and then the lowest of lows perhaps more than any of us. But like his team, Ward has shown resilience in the face of adversity (and at times stupidity from the outside world), and tonight he came out looking determined. The result? A strong physical game that showed no fear or hesitation - and no penalty minutes. Way to bounce back, sir.
- Continuing their steady, consistent work on the blue line, John Carlson and Karl Alzner have been a calming presence that doesn't seem to mesh with their youth and inexperience. That you hardly notice them at all anymore is a sure sign that they're doing their job, and the two continue to be quietly effective while not being afraid to jump into the play (as Carlson did while shorthanded, generating a great scoring chance in his own right).
So once again it all comes down to one game, on the road, a single game to decide a series that has been as even as any series could be. And after bouncing back from what could have been a horrific stumbling block in Game 5, the Caps have shown a quiet confidence and a workmanlike determination to not let the lows get too low. To finish the job, they'll need to avoid getting too high with the highs, as well, and hope that this series of coin-flip games comes down in their favor.
Back to MSG we go.