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So it begins: the playoffs. It's been a long, strange rollercoaster ride of a season for the Caps and their fans, and for a few nerve-wracking weeks it seemed like they wouldn't even get here... but here they are, taking on the reigning champs in a best-of-seven series.
It's a series in which many have already written off the Caps, conceding the series to the Bruins before the puck has even dropped - and perhaps they'll end up being right. But if the Caps can get a few more performances from Braden Holtby like the one he rolled out at TD Bank Garden - even in a losing effort - they may just have a fighting chance.
Ten more notes on the game:
- All eyes were on Holtby heading into this game, yet another rookie goaltender making his playoff debut for the Caps with injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth. And after shaking some early nerves, the story at the end of the night would be how Holtby rose to the challenge and then some, making big save after big save to keep his team in a game that ultimately would come down to one goal. A goal he should've had? Perhaps. But sometimes that's how it goes, and it doesn't take that much away from what was a stellar debut for Holtby.
- Heading into this series, another major focus (and one which is likely to continue for the length of it) is the battle between Alex Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara - a clash of two titans who never seem to shy away from engaging in all-out physical warfare. There were plenty of hits but ultimately it seems round one goes to the freakishly tall Slovakian gentleman, as he and Dennis Seidenberg managed to limit Ovechkin to just one shot on goal. As we've seen, as their captain goes, so go the Caps - so that needs to change in Game 2.
- Ovechkin vs. Chara aside, the second line of Alexander Semin, Jason Chimera and Nicklas Backstrom seemed to be facing a steady diet of the Andrew Ference-Johnny Boychuk pairing early on, and took advantage at times with some good possession against the Boston duo. Thanks to the suffocating defense surrounding Ovechkin and friends, it seemed as if any offense the Caps' top six forwards were going to generate was going to come from that group. Unfortunately they were never quite able to get their cycle game going and (obviously) came up empty.
- Letting any team have multiple chances with the extra man is dangerous, even a team like Boston, whose struggles on the power play are almost as bad as the Caps' struggles. Thankfully they didn't cash in (and kudos to the penalty killers for the Caps, who did a tremendous job), but a parade to the penalty box by the Caps late in the first and well into the second period gave the Bruins some momentum and led to a tremendously lopsided shot total.
- There may be no player on the Caps who takes as many hits up high - from sticks, from pucks, from flying elbows - than Marcus Johansson. What's amazing about that is how he always seems to bounce right back, barely missing a step. Tonight was no exception, as he got rattled along the boards a few times while also taking a few pucks up high. Barely missed a shift. Tough kid.
- Bonus points to John Carlson, who had what was easily his best game of the season tonight. He was physical, he was positionally sound, he was smart with the puck and he was the first to jump to Holtby's aid when the Bruins did what everyone figured they would do and ran the goalie. Maybe that whole lackluster sophomore slump thing in the regular season was just a big prank, eh, John? Good one.
- Everything seemed to be tilting in Boston's favor through the first forty minutes, as shot totals and chances well outnumbered those of the Caps. But in the third period the Caps seemed to find their legs and generate some momentum of their own, shutting down the Boston attack long enough to find a bit of offense in their own right and at least making Tim Thomas work for that win.
- And many of those chances late in the game came from the third and fourth lines, who often outworked their Boston counterparts to get the cycle game going. Now if only we could mesh the hard work and never-quit mentality of those guys with someone who had good hands like Alexander Semin.
- Speaking of Semin, a bit of an uneven game to say the least for the guy who comes and goes in the playoffs, with just one shot on net and a couple more that were blocked or missed the target. And yet the one takeaway from his work in this game is the fact that Boston apparently thinks they need four guys to take him on, as was proven late in the game when it took that many to shove him to the ice and stand over him like the cool, tough kids they are. So brave. SO brave.
- Twenty scoreless minutes led to another twenty scoreless minutes followed by twenty more scoreless minutes...and then just a little over a minute into overtime it was all over. A chance by Johansson at one end turned into a rush the other way and a Chris Kelly shot that Holtby stops nine times out of ten.
With one game in the books, the Caps find themselves in a 1-0 series hole - not wholly unexpected, particularly if you ask any number of "experts", but disappointing nonetheless.
And yet it's not exactly an embarrassing start to a series in which they are seen as massive underdogs, either. The Caps hung around and stayed with the Bruins hit for hit, save for save, forcing the game into overtime - and they didn't look all that bad doing it. To say that they could improve in certain areas is an understatement, but they made it enough of a contest that might cause even the slightest hint of doubt to creep into the minds of the Bruins and their fans - and with another chance to steal home ice advantage away from the Bruins coming up on Saturday, this series is far from over.