Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Malkin And Iginla Become Footnotes

That's right, I am calling it. Alex Ovechkin will win the Hart. Not because he is the NHL's top scorer with most goals and points. Not because he was an instrument in the biggest turnaround for any team ever going from dead last in the Division at the halfway point and coming back and winning their division and a playoff berth. Not because he would be only the second Russian to have the award on his resume that grows every time he takes the ice. It's because he is so smooth with the ladies (hey, he met a girl on the internet and she was actually who she said she was).

While it would have been nice to see them in Round 2, this is certainly a nice prize to reflect on a crazy season that had Ovechkin the composer of a hell of a comeback. Only Jerome Iginla could come close as he certianly helped carry his team into the playoffs. But he didn't have to do it from the basement of the conference.

Other News and Notes:
  • Ovie has also been cleared to play for team Russia in the World Championships having solved his insurance woes. The Russian Federation had to pay upwards of $800,000 to insure the $174 million contract it had been reported. Russia won their exhibition game against Canada 4-1 without the services of Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov or Alex Semin.
  • Don't forget about other Caps that are playing: Nick Backstrom for team Sweden, Mike Green will suit up for team Canada, Tomas Fleischmann for the Czech Republic, Sami Lepisto for team Finland and Cristobal Huet for team France.
  • Detroit, Pittsburgh and Dallas all have a commanding lead in their series 3-0. The second round is turning out to be a dud for Colorado, New York Rangers and San Jose. A big turnaround from a first round that had four game sevens. We could even be looking at a battle for Pennsylvania in the Eastern Conference Finals. Who are you going to cheer for now?
  • The NHL has put together a group to reexamine the size of goaltenter's pads. Included in the group are Martin Broduer (Mr. I-hate-tinted-Visors), Rick DePietro (bad hip and all), Ryan Miller ("yo momma" champion), Dany Heatley (who would like to score more goals) and Mike Cammalleri (who would like to win a game). One thing I think the should do away with are the big pants. I have seen slimmer diapers on a baby. Plus, they have these square fronts on the thighs making the pants look as if you have bricks in your pockets. Round those suckers out.

Friday, April 25, 2008

BBQs And Golf

This year has been nothing short of spectacular. Even as the players downplay their disappointments and Caps fans still argue what constitutes "interference," it's nice to see the Flyers lose a heartbreaker in overtime in Montreal. How does it feel now Flyer fans! I guess they will be arguing what constitutes "kneeing."

But since the weather is nice and the pollen isn't that bad, it's time for a little hiatus from hockey. For a little bit. The World Championships is coming up in May and I will be back in time for those as well as the rest of the playoffs. I just need to do a couple of Bar-B-Q's and hit the links while the weather is cooperating. I will still be watching the games and teasing my Pittsburgh and Philly friends.

As far as my predictions for round two, the teams I had picked for the Stanley Cup Finals are still there, so far so good. And we can talk about free agency, who should stay, who should go and which of the draft picks are ready to wear a Caps sweater. But for now it's time for firing up the grill and taking long afternoon walks.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kolzig The Baby

As much as I hate to bash the Capitals netminder of over a century (not that much though considering the title), Kolzig's absence at the end of year team meeting was less then classy. Even though his peers might show publicly otherwise, showing up early to clear his locker, leaving before the bulk of the team arrives, and skipping the mandatory meeting all sounds like the actions of a bitter person. But Olaf Kolzig never did hide his emotions very well.

He was never comfortable when Glen Hanlon left. He was called out by the new coach that never coached a day in the NHL, suddenly his workload was much more and the back up, Brent Johnson, was getting better numbers. Kolzig was caught in a situation where he wasn't "the man" anymore.

Kolzig was entitled to that starting position, after all that he did for the organization. But, to be honest, all he did was lose for the last 5 years. Everyone assumed is numbers dropped because of the what was in front of him, a young inexperienced defensive core. But with Johnson performing better, it made it hard to justify what was going on with him.

Then the biggest insult. On the last year of his contract, a contract he signed knowing full well they may not get to the playoffs for another two years beyond it, they traded a pick for a goaltender with better numbers. Three's Company.

Kolzig improved when the trade happened, he's no dummy, he had to. He knew he would be sharing time with Huet and if he didn't produce he would sit. He was doing alright, he raised his goals against average up almost a full percentage point. He was big in net, just like the old days. There was always a part of me though that saw him try too hard, his competitive spirit was getting in the way of getting the job done. When an opponent scored against him, his negative attitude radiated amongst the team.

That's when Chicago happened. 5-0. It was the nail in the coffin. He couldn't compete with Huet's goal a game. He just let 5 goals past, and 3 of them seemed soft. Kolzig never got another start in net. Not that the fans or the coaches or management wanted it to end that way.

Removing the nameplate, walking out of the building silent and just going home. That was his response to an incredible Capitals' season. I am sure if he had talk to reporters, what he had to say couldn't be repeated in civilized conversation. He's upset, hurt, and bitter.

But what he fails to realize is the fans still love him. There were more Kolzig jerseys at game seven than Huet. There was more sympathy for him in this town, Kolzig was still King. He earned 300 wins here. He still wears the C even if the league won't let him sew it on. His actions after the season were a bit self centered and immature. But, truthfully, would we want Kolzig to be any other way?

Some other news and notes:
  • Nicklas Backstrom was the only non-Blackhawk nominated for the Calder. He should get it, doesn't mean he will.
  • Ratings for Game 7 were through the roof. Even talk of the Caps fans having more of pulse than Wizards fans. I thought I would never see the day. Still pisses me off though that Redskins Radio is still taking up an hour on CSN when they have zero to talk about. One can only listen to talk of Chad Johnson so much. He's not leaving Cincy!
  • Bruce Boudreau was given a contract extension to be the Capitals' coach for a very long time. He is looking at houses in Maryland.
  • Uncle Ted was probably the most inconsolable following the Game 7 loss. I heard fans cheered for him as he made his way to the locker room following the end of the game, he looked "very emotional." Aw.
  • There was a very upset boy in our row following the game and all attempts to cheer him up were going south until one fan knelt to him and told him to cheer up. "If you are going to be a Caps fan, you are going to have a lot of days like these." Priceless.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

First Round Winners and Losers

As much as I want to pull the covers over my head and hide away from the world after the heartbreaking 7th game loss by the Capitals, it's better to going back to business as usual. Which means breaking down what I thought were first round winners and losers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Capitals and Flames - Both teams that didn't win their series, but sure gave the NHL a show. Each pushed their series to game sevens and both raised a few eyebrows doing it. The future looks pretty bright for each. Boston gets honorable mention here as well.

Pittsburgh Penguins - It is quite the accomplishment to sweep any team in the playoffs, injured and downtrodden or not. Maybe if they let Ottawa win a few, Evgeni Malkin and Sid Crosby could be the scoring leaders now.

NHL Network - Being the first post season with the channel on my tube (as well on many of yours) was a godsend. The analyst was pretty dead on, and the NHL on the Fly program kept me up to date with every series. They did a great job.

Versus - They keep getting better and better. They are still finding the right games to air nationally and lately the production is head and shoulders above last year. Their coverage has been really good.

Dallas Stars - They knocked off the Stanley Cup champs, and they did it by keeping a cool head. After having a somewhat shaky end to their season, they certainly showed up in the playoffs.

Jeremy Roenick - After being a scratch for Game 6, Roenick responded with a 4 point night in Game 7. That's clutch. During his interview with Versus on live television, he saluted the crowd raising his stick in the air and the San Jose faithful responded. You could see him drink it in. It was a legendary moment.


Sean Avery - Now we have the Sean Avery rule! Anytime the league has to clarify a ruling mid first round in the playoffs means you did a major boo boo.

Ottawa Senators - The goaltending issue, the injury issue, the heart issue. From first to worst the only team swept in the first round of the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks - They weren't even in the playoffs and axed their GM Dave Nonis just 3 years into what was his 5 year plan for the team. Talk about impatient. They just hired Mike Gillis today and as I am typing this he is talking to the Vancouver press at the moment.

Whoever threw the beer bottle from the 400 section in Game 7 - And hit the very nice lady in our row. I understand your frustration, but seriously.

ESPN Sports Center (or Centre for our neighbors toward the north) - For only covering two games out of 4 on one particular night. Honestly, I don't even watch ESPN for hockey highlights much anymore.

I don't really feel like making any predictions for Round two, but will probably get something up for tomorrow. In the meantime read the latest at KCI from Tarik here. Looks like Kolzig will not be a Capital next year. And I might be able to wrangle an interview from someone in a few days. We will see.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Dem's Da Breaks

Game 7 - Capitals 2, Flyers/NHL Officiating 3 OT - PHI wins 4-3
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times -

It wasn't suppose to end like this. The Referees weren't supposed to be a factor in a pivotal game seven. A obvious goaltender interference missed. And, in the end the better team lost. The Flyers were on the ropes, both in the third and in overtime. The officiating just needed to keep it fair. To bad it wasn't.

Patrick Thoresen shoved Shaone Morrisonn into Cris Huet and Sami Kapanen threw the puck into an empty net, giving the Flyers the 2-1 lead. But no goaltender interference was called. The NHL explained: "Thoresen legally body checked Morrisonn and no Philadelphia player made contact with Huet."

Um, Ok. Isn't that the definition of interference when a player checks another into the goaltender? In a series that had 5 goaltender interference calls, why all of a sudden stop calling them? What is going on here? Then are you saying that Viktor Kozlov's is now not considered goaltender interference? Enter expletives here, because the Koharski and Devorski totally fouled up this call.

Now the trip by Tom Poti was a penalty, but called by the wrong official. The trailing official, in this case Devorski, called the penalty. He was the trailing referee and was behind the play. It was Koharski's call as lead official who had just happen to be looking right at the play and didn't call the penalty.

Funny how none of the Flyers were called for much of the same infractions that had the Caps sitting in the box. But hey, that is why I don't wear the stripes. After the game and the handshake Scott Hartnell skated over and waved cheerfully at the officials or at the fans. I wasn't sure if he was thanking the referees or antagonizing the crowd, either way it was a pretty classless thing to do.

All of that aside, the Caps just couldn't score in the third and the beginning of overtime. It was one of the most entertaining periods as the Caps pressed. Clearly the Capitals were in command, they were moving the puck, the Flyers looked tired and were standing around. But all of that hard work did not yield a goal.

Nick Backstrom scored his 4th playoff goal and Alex Ovechkin was able to tie the game on a wicked slapshot that Marty Biron never saw. Eric Fehr played one of the best hockey games I have seen him play in the NHL. He had a few opportunities to score. Boyd Gordon had a great series, so did John Erskine, Donald Brashear, Dave Steckel and of course Alex Semin.

Credit Marty Biron, he had to be good for the Flyers to even have a chance. And he kept them in it until the end. For a good part of the game the Philly squad were on their heels. Better to be lucky than good, I guess. They had turned over so many pucks in the third period off of an aggressive Capital forecheck, they could have opened a bakery (and sell turnovers). They should consider themselves very, very, very lucky they wrangled that rebound in overtime.

It's not the way this season should have ended for the Washington Capitals. But we, Caps fans, have nothing to be sad about. Alex Ovechkin lead the league in goals and points and will be the NHL's MVP. The Caps came from last place to finish first in the Southeast. When the series was down to 3-1, the Caps came roaring back. It should have been a story book ending, and in many ways it was. It could be argued that they had no business being in the playoffs or in game seven of the series. But they were there, and boy, they were spectacular.

Don't worry Caps fans, the sun will come up tomorrow. This summer will be quick. And I can't wait to see the encore of a season next year. Now they do have the experience. Now they will have some hunger to do more. Just like Ovie said, "It's not over."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Not So Fast Philly

Game 6 - Capitals 4, Flyers 2 - Series Tied 3-3
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times -

Four unanswered goals spanning the second and third periods. Four amazing goals forcing a crucial game seven back in Chinatown. After the Flyers got the start they wanted, the cardiac Capitals save their best game to force a deciding game. No handshakes tonight at the Wachovia Center, this series is back in DC. And was there any doubt?

You can only put Alex Ovechkin in a bottle for so long until he explodes for two of the biggest goals of the series. He scored the game winner and added some insurance both in the third period. Alex Semin also was instrumental in the Caps come from behind win with a goal and a big assist. Nick Backstrom also got a tally.

The Capitals seem to play their best hockey when they are against the inevitable. Philadelphia opened the scoring in the first with a power play goal and scored early in the second with another power play tally to get the start of a lifetime at home in what they considered a "must win" game. They had all the momentum and had a glorious opportunity to put the Caps away a power play.

But the Caps killed it off, and came storming back. First off of a pretty tape to tape to tape pass by Backstrom, Semin and Brooks Laich, concluding with Backstrom going top shelf to cut the Flyers lead in half. Then John Erskine threw a bomb at Marty Biron who misplayed it with his glove and Semin gobbled up the rebound to tie the game late in the second.

Then Ovechkin went to work. Philly definitly had the chances to go up 3-0 and even 3-2 but a couple of posters and some great saves by Cris Huet (who earned second star honors) kept the score even. Then off a shot from the Flyers' point blocked by Ovie. Viktor Kozlov picked up the rebound and hit the streaking Ovechkin in stride. And the left winger made no mistake, going upstairs on Biron for the eventual game winning goal.

It seemed fitting (downright poetic) that after the Flyers had kept Ovechkin in check for so long that it was a wide open breakaway that got the Caps right back into this series. After that the All Star forward was flying. He even drew a hooking penalty and scored on the following "too many men" Flyer penalty. Brooks Laich saw him streaking down the left side and passed it for the one timer.

Lights out, 4-2. The Flyers tried to get an attack going, but looked just a little less confident as they had in games 1 through 4. The once boisterous Flyer crowd found it more important to beat the traffic out of the building then cheering their team to the end. I guess there were no chants of "@%*! Ovechkin!" on the escalators this night.

Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Matt Bradley and John Erskine were at their best in this game. The foursome always seemed to keep the play moving and were strong on their skates (hitting, maneuvering and finding the open man). They were the ones that stood out the most down the stretch for me. Alex Semin also has flourished while Ovie has struggled. With Ovechkin getting all the attention, it has been easy for the skilled forward to find some room, and he is making the most of his opportunities.

This is exactly what the Flyers were hoping to avoid. They didn't want to travel back to DC, they wanted a couple of days of rest, they assumed that they could end it amongst their fans. But that wasn't to be for the orange and black. Now it's another trip back to the phone booth with questions in their mind.

The job is not done. The Caps still have to come back to Verizon Center on back to back nights to play the Flyers one last time. Unlike other wins in this series however, it finally seems the Caps have all the momentum. The schedule couldn't have been written up any better for them. While it's fun to relish in this win, the Caps are still looking to finish out the series. They can do it by winning their third straight playoff game.

Now It's Just Getting More Difficult

The Capitals' "never say die" demeanor has their fans a bit on edge. But then again we have been on edge since November. Bruce Boudreau maybe in charge of one of the most resilient teams in NHL history. Not only would did the Caps come from last to first in the Southeast Division in the last half of the season, but the series could go the distance. Key word: "could"

Don't think, by any stretch of the imagination, that the Caps have the momentum going into game 6. To win a playoff game on the road is not the easiest accomplishment, especially if your back is to a wall. Flyers head coach John Stevens makes no bones about it, the fact that the series shifts back to Philly works in their favor. "Our crowd has been terrific at home," Stevens lamented after game 5. "We have been a great team at home down the stretch. ...We are excited about the opportunity to go home and another chance to close this out."

The Caps would love to push a game seven, but Philly only has to win one. A luxury three straight wins can give a team. Boudreau knows that any mistakes the Capitals make are monumental. "We can’t let our foot off the gas because next thing you know it’ll be 2-1 for them and you’ll be depressed because you played so hard," Boudreau said. A lazy penalty, or a blown coverage and we are talking about tee times for the Capitals rather than a game seven.

The Caps have to also watch the back door plays that seem to plague them on the penalty kill. "They’ve beat us a couple of times on that backdoor," defenseman Tom Poti remarked. "They try to get three guys down low and try to outnumber us down there. They’ve been a little bit successful after the first couple of games. We made a conscious effort tonight to watch that." The Flyers are not wasting their opportunities with wide open net off of back door.

The Capitals quickly went from series favorites to underdogs in the stretch of a week as they struggled in the first four games of the series. But in games 4 and 5 the Caps seemed to turn a corner. They are not motivated unless they are coming from behind. But hey, it certainly suits the team. "They counted us out after Game 2. They counted us out after Game 3," Boudreau remarked. "I'm sure they'll count us out now. When they had to win seven in a row, they did it so don't count us out."

While hope may win you an election (for you Obama-heads out there), results are needed for the Caps to push a game seven. That means Viktor Kozlov needs to produce, and Ovechkin and Mike Green have to find their scoring touches again. The Caps need to keep up the physical play, but stay out of the penalty box. And they have to score on the powerplay.

"Right now players know how to play in playoffs," Alex Ovechkin told reporters. "We know this (Game 6) will be hard, but we can do it. Nobody believes us. We believe (in) ourselves. We don’t care what media say about us. We knew we’re great team. We just have to win the game.

"Well, you never give up," said Ovechkin after Game 4. "So it's not over. That's all I can say: It's not over."

If you need more motivation:
3 Grumpy Caps Fans - Believe

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not Dead Yet

Game 5 - Capitals 3, Flyers 2 - PHI Leads 3-2
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times - - Game Quotes

Due to an earlier planned engagement, I was not able to see the game live. Afterwards I ran home, ears plugged, refusing to answer my phone, and sat in front of my Tivo to watch the Capitals try to stave off elimination and stay alive in their first round playoff series with the Flyers. Let's hope it didn't go to overtime, stupid Tivo timer!

To be honest, I had prepared myself for the worse (often what most Caps' fans seem so good at). What I got in return was finally a game where the Capitals played their game. It's about time to see the Caps finally get into the intensity of the NHL playoffs. The power play finally makes the Flyers pay.

Nicklas Backstrom scored on the first 5 on 3 powerplay with a nice feed from Alex Semin. Semin scored on the power play for the game winner, but I thought Sergei Fedorov's goal, a back hander early in the second was the back breaker. The Caps had forced the play to linger in the Flyers zone for a while and it paid off, with Viktor Kozlov getting the primary assist and finally getting on the scoresheet. Mike Green also had a pair of assists as well.

Alex Ovechkin's name may not be anywhere on the scoresheet, but he presence was felt on the ice. Ovie drew the hooking call early to give the Caps a 5 on 3 for Backstrom's goal, and he laid some pretty heavy hits through out the game. The Caps physical play has picked up from game 4, where in the first minute both Semin and John Erskine were called for roughing minors.

But unlike in game 4, the calls finally came against the Flyers. Hooks were finally called and the Flyers found themselves in the box a bit more that they wanted to be. Thankfully, the Caps powerplay was able to take advantage.

The Caps' defense is finally getting into some playoff intensity, with big hits by Shaone Morrisonn, Mike Green and John Erskine. The blueliners also kept their turnovers down, which is key playing against a team defense like the Flyers. The physical play took the Flyers off their game, even if they did have chances, Cris Huet seemed to have the answer.

Huet rebounded from a couple of rough starts, but the team in front of him were completely different than in the first three games. Shots for the Flyers were down to a minimum and Huet was able to gobble up any that did get through. The only concern I have is the Caps' nonchalant play after they score a goal. It seemed the Flyers were able to get some golden opportunities following goals.

Mike Knuble took a tumble in the second and now has a hamstring injury. He is most likely out for the rest of the series for the Flyers. The Capitals have one less weapon to worry about, but Danielle Briere and Vinny Prospal have to be held in check a bit better. The Caps did a good job of getting under Prospal's skin. It's the best way to knock him off his game since Prospal is such an emotional player. Matt Bradley played the pest role to a tee in game 5.

My only advice to this point is don't stop. The Caps have the pressure on the Flyers right now. The series shifts back to Wachovia Center, where the Flyers aren't an easy bunch to beat there lately. But that has been the mantra of the Capitals this season; with their backs against the wall, they have played their best hockey.

Caps Will Have To Break Their Spirit

What would it take for the Capitals to come back to win in seven games? That very question slipped through my brain as I am watching "Don't Stop Believing" on YouTube and telling friends to keep the faith. If I think long and hard about it a few things come to mind. But one most important point, the Caps have to win, and win a heart breaker.

Lately there has been a lot of talk about the Capitals' amazing 3-1 comeback in 1988 with Dale Hunter burying the game winner. It just so happened it came against the same Philadelphia Flyer team 20 years ago this month. The '87 - '88 Caps won 5-2 in game 5 and 7-2 in game 6 before winning game 7 5:57 into the overtime period.

The '07 - '08 Caps would have to do much the same, win the next two games by a wide margin and steel some of that Flyer confidence away. For that to happen, the Caps have to take advantage of their opportunities. Scoring on the power play, making their shots on net, battling in the corners for pucks, win the small battles. Now is when this team's resolve will be really be put to the test.

The Capitals have home ice advantage, which helps them greatly to make this run, but they will have to break the Flyers resolve to do that. If they wish to make this a long series they will have to play a brand of hockey that will frustrate the Flyers, punish them, and all around make it not much fun to play against at the Verizon Center.

This team must be focused too. The Flyers have done a good job at frustrating the Caps' top line. Now the Caps have to return the favor, keep the Flyer forwards frustrated. That means playing the Caps style of hockey, using their speed and aggressiveness.

And if it makes you feel better, the Caps lost game 4 in 1988 in overtime as well. History repeating itself?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Just Not Good Enough

Game 4 - Capitals 3, Flyers 4 F/2OT - PHI Leads 3-1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times -

The Capitals had chance after chance. But the problem they had all season continues to haunt them in the post season: The Caps can't score when they need to. A major defensive mistake by Mike Green leaves a wide open Mike Knuble to ice the game with a shot and a rebound chance to secure a two game lead on the upstart Capitals.

The Caps had the lead in the third, but when you play only for the lead it always come back to bite you in the ass. Hence the Caps have some serious bite marks on their rumps after dropping a third straight game to the Flyers. Nick Backstrom finally got on the scoresheet with a goal and an assist, looking much better playing the second line. Alex Semin scored on the powerplay and a deflected shot from Steve Eminger found the back of the net. Alex Ovechkin added a couple of assists. All in all it was a pretty entertaining game to watch if you were being objective about the whole thing (but when was the last time I was objective?).

It was Danielle Briere that force the game to overtime. A few weird calls and an overtime period later it was Mike Green who was for some unexplainable reason behind the net leaving a wide open Knuble in front of the net who not only got one whack at the puck, but two, the second one being the game winner. The play wasn't even going to the back of the net, there is no reason for him to be there.

It just marks a series of missteps and miscues on behalf of the Capitals defense that has this team on the ropes. The Caps badly needed this series and this was the first game I actually some battling. In games 2 and 3, it just looked like the Caps were too timid to go into the corners, to finish their checks. But in this game 4 they looked a little more into the game, standing up for one another and making plays when they needed.

But in the end the Caps couldn't put the puck in the net. I am not sure really what the problem is, it's like a magnet in the net that is keeping shots wide or right into Marty Biron's mitt. The Caps can't expect to get help from the officiating crew either, as there were some calls that were just horrible calls. Viktor Kozlov's interference call was a prime example of just bad officiating. And the Refs seem to have notblowthewhistleitus to the hooking and spearing going on behind the play on behalf of the Flyers. If you see the penalty, call it. That's all we are asking. None of this "It's the playoffs, you have to expect some of that to go on." Ridiculous.

Cris Huet played one of his best games ever, although I know there are a couple he would like to have back. But Huet kept the Caps in it. If only the Caps could play a bit stronger in front of him. Calls for his replacement are valid though. I wouldn't mind seeing Kolzig in the net once, see if any of that competitive edginess can work it's magic. I think, to this point, Boudreau has gone too far with Huet to sit him now.

I really do think the Caps have psyched themselves right out of this series. Ovie didn't/doesn't have to be extraordinary and be on the ice for minutes at a time, he is getting opportunities (great goal scorers usually do). They just needed to play like the did during the regular season. But now they feel that they have to do too much. Just play the game.

This loss is just a back breaker. Three straight losses in the post season is just too huge. The Caps have no momentum, no confidence and they are coming home. A perfect opportunity for them to let their guard down, and I can see that happening on Saturday. The Philly squad will not squander the next game just because they are up a couple of games.

Viktor Kozlov needs to be more of a factor, which I just don't see him excelling his game to any other level than what it is right now. The Caps defense have to be more responsible (not floating behind the net). They need to stop taking retaliatory penalties, the power play will kill them every time they take a bad penalty. In short, it's do or die.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Out Of Gas

Game 3 - Capitals 3, Flyers 6 - PHI Leads 2-1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times -

Danielle Briere got under the skin of the Washington Capitals. It was the distraction the Flyers needed to get their opponents off kilter and take a series lead at home. The Caps just couldn't match Philly's intensity and surrender the series lead.

The Flyers' top line is outshining the Caps' top line. Alex Ovechkin was held to a single assist while Nick Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov have been melted into the woodwork. Eric Fehr scored his first ever NHL playoff goal as did Brooks Laich. Mike Green scored his 3rd playoff goal and leads the Capitals in scoring.

Cris Huet just can't solve Briere. He has been victimized by the smallest of the Flyers partly because of penalty trouble and partly of the jump the Broad Street Bullies seem to have on the Caps. Huet calm demeanor was a bit rattled by Flyers constantly in his living room and abusing the goaltender's glove.

The Caps are also playing hurt. Jeff Schultz didn't last too long and the Caps were down a man down on defense once again. Two of the Flyers goals came off of bad turnovers by the Caps' defenders. Playing shorthanded on the blueline seems to be taxing them as the game wears on. It's another wasted roster spot on a team that can ill afford to be down a man.

A more physical side of the Flyers also took an affect as the Caps found themselves sitting in the box after some bad retaliation penalties. However, the officials seem disinterested in calling any penalties against the constant barrage of stick fouls on Ovechkin. The leg check in the third period is just the tip of the iceberg of what Ovie has to deal with. Not that I am making any excuses for the All-Star forward (this is the playoffs, you have to expect a lot of this), but the Flyers are taking every opportunity to hook and spear the forward, with no calls from the zebras.

Now the Caps have to split the series and desperately need a road win in a very inhospitable Wachovia Center. Any momentum the Caps carried from the regular season is now gone. The Caps cannot just assume they will have a comeback in them every game. If they are relying on that, it will be a short series. The Caps need to solve their offensive woes in a quick way.

Maybe it's time to give Kolzig a look in net. The larger goaltender might force the Flyers to make that extra pass, and give the Caps' a chance to defend. While Huet has served the Caps well getting to the playoffs, he is being abused in them. This team has two top goaltenders, let's use them. It's unlikely Gabby will though.

Monday, April 14, 2008


The Washington Capitals have such a talented offensive core. It shouldn't be this hard to score a power play goal. The Caps have been gift wrapped a couple of early penalties in both game one and two in their playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers. The failed to score on either.

On the powerplay the Caps were just 1 for 3 in game one, and a dismal 0-6 in game two. The Flyers have one of the better penalty kills and their aggressive style seems to be giving them fits. But the Caps also have sort of shot themselves in the foot.

Watching game 2 again, the Caps look in slow motion with the man advantage. Their passes are not quick enough. The play has to develop much faster with an aggressive kill. The Caps can catch their players off guard with better passing. Let the Flyers beat themselves by over committing to the first outlet. Getting passes to the open man and the goaltender out of position, it should be a slam dunk.

They also need to start hitting the net. Most of the shots both on the power play and in general has hit more glass than a crash test dummy in a VW van. The Caps need to get those shots on Biron and allow the man in front a chance at a rebound. Some of their best chances came on bouncing pucks off of the Flyers' netminder. The Caps seem to trying to be too finite with their shots. Just get on net. It's obvious they are shooting high on Biron, but keeping the puck in the slot in front of him will yield more offensive chances than a puck wringing around the boards off a missed shot.

The power play is an excellent opportunity for the Caps to gain ground and it has to be a machine. If you can't get it done with a man advantage at this point of the season, then you might as well pack it in and hit the links early. With the Caps now on the road for two games, it's even more important.

Elsewhere in the League:

Ranger pest Sean Avery won't win any good manner awards anytime soon. The pesky forward stood in front of Marty Brodeur and waved his stick and hands in front of the all-star goaltender with his back to the play. It cause somewhat an uproar around the league including a rule clarification half way through the first Round of the playoffs. It prompted this response from the league:

"An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty (Rule 75) will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender's face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play."

While it's not illegal (at the time), Avery didn't really help his team much with the antics. When he did turn around and became a part of the play he scored a short time later. Credit Avery for at least having the gonads to do that and get under the skin of Brodeur. The guy you love to hate!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Shut Out!

Game 2 - Capitals 0, Flyers 2 - Series tied 1-1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times -

No Heroics here. Just some good old boring defense by the Flyers. A two goal lead is all that was needed to be the Capitals in game 2. The Cardiac Caps couldn't pull another late victory and the Flyers split the series in D.C.

Cristobal Huet didn't play badly, but the offense didn't get the job done in front of him. For the first time in however many games since Chicago that the Caps got out hustled and out worked. Alex Ovechkin just spent too much time on the ice trying to do too much on his own in the first and second. It would have better served his team to keep his shifts short and the lines together. A lesson learned.

Credit the Philadelphia Flyers for a better defensive effort than in game one. After jumping to a two goal lead in the first, the Flyers were content with keep away and defensive shut downs. Biron did a much better job stopping the Caps early and that momentum seemed to carry through out the game.

The Caps defense looked a little shell shocked in the first period. Missing key assignments, allowing stretch passes to beat them. They took a game off, weren't as gritty as I thought they were in the first period. At times the offense didn't fair much better. A couple of opportunities early and the Caps were being too cute with the puck. Just shoot it, get it on net.

The Caps just got out worked in their own building. The crowd mimicked the play on the ice, lethargic and disinterested at times. Clearly it's not the effort the Caps wanted to put out after their spectacular comeback a couple nights earlier.

This is a painful lesson in keeping your focus and your foot on the pedal at the same time. The Caps now have to go into Wachovia Center and get at the very least a game back. Right now the momentum is with Philly and their heading home to play in front of their crowd. You got bucked off, now jump right back on and out play them. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Game #83

Game 1 - Capitals 5, Flyers 4 - WSH leads 1-0
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times -

Were you worried? I wasn't worried. Not at all.

Okay, maybe I was. I was pulling my hair out jumping up and down about my house, upsetting the wife and reveling in one hell of a finish. The Capitals play one of their better first periods, then one of their worst second periods, only to finish with one of the most amazing third periods I have ever witnessed. This is not your father's NHL.

Alex Ovechkin scored his first NHL playoff goal, and it was a game winner to boot with 4 minutes left in the third. It capped a three goal rally to win Game 1. The Caps did give up three unanswered goals to the Flyers in the second. Mike Green was instrumental in the comeback netting a pair of goals, his first two of the playoffs and one on the power play. Dave Steckel added a rare tally from a grinding feed from Matt Bradley (who had two assists). And the Brash, Donald Brashear scores against his old team just three minutes into the game.

The Philadelphia Flyers have never lost a game this season taking a two goal lead into the third period. Ever. The Caps once again show their resiliency when all seemed lost when the Flyers.

The Capitals started strong with a rare goal from Donald Brashear who gathered a rebound shot from Tom Poti with his back hand and pulled it to his forehand to bury the puck high over an outstretched Marty Biron.

The checking line didn't stop there though as David Steckel scored his first NHL playoff goal after a dump and chase with Matt Bradley. As Brads was run into the boards by two Flyer defenders, he popped the puck behind him to a wide open Stecks who made no mistake putting a wrister past Biron's glove. Then the Caps just stop moving their feet as the second period wore on.

The Flyers took advantage of a team that looked a bit winded by the emotion of the opening period. Daniel "ice princess" Briere scored a pair and Vinny Prospal (remember him from the Lightning) both netted a pair and the Flyers suddenly found themselves with a two goal cushion by scoring three goals in less than 4 minutes, normally a game over situation for them this year. But this is the post season son, your funny numbers don't count for nuthin' here!

The Caps' legs seemed to have that jump back in them in the third and the building buzzed. You just knew something was going to give. Then Sergei Fedorov threw a nifty no look pass to a wide open Mike Green and he had his first NHL playoff goal and started the comeback. Then on the power play the Caps moved the puck expertly around and with a little more desperation. Ovie passed to Green on the point and he smoked a cannon of a shot past Biron to tie the score at 4. The Verizon Center was the loudest I have ever heard it, even when they secured the Southeast Division title a week before.

But there was still a buzz, the Caps kept the pressure on, the Flyers defenders looked for the first time shaken. Ovechkin was boxed in, held in check for most of the night. Then a Flyer mistake. What seemed a harmless shovel pass to a teammate turned to horror with Ovie zeroed in on the loose puck and waited for Biron to fall into his butterfly to go high over the Philly goaltender and the comeback was complete. Ovie once again lead his team to another victory.

Cris Huet looked shaky at times, especially in the second. It might have been that end of the rink, because Biron looked solid in the second after looking shaky himself in the first and third. Huet was due for a few shots past him, he had been playing so well up to that point. Huet did make some very key saves and the boys bailed him out. The Flyer goals were usually easy stops or him. But it all seemed a distant memory to Ovechkin's game winner.

The physical part of the game ratcheted up as well. I felt that Caps took it to the Flyers before they could take it to the Caps. Not only did Ovie through his weight around every chance he could, Matt Cooke was also a hitting force every time he took the ice. If there was a scrum, he was in the middle of it. Matt Bradley also had a monster hit at the end of the second. While it didn't lead to a scoring chance it was a preview of what the Capitals were going to bring in the third period.

This game had more drama that you can shake a stick at. But the next game should be even harder for the Caps. The Flyers were on a mission to take a game in D.C. and I don't expect that plan to waiver in game two on Sunday. Whatever momentum the Caps had at the end of the season was suspended for the second period, but they must build upon the new momentum they have built up for themselves.

If this is game 1 is like, I can't wait for what's in store for game 2.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Starting Your Playoff Beard

It's been 5 years since the Caps were in the playoffs, but as you know it is tradition for not only the hockey players to grow a playoff beard, but for fans to as well (for women this might mean not shaving your legs). I thought it would be important to go through some of the rules of properly maintaining one playoff beard.

First there are usually two hurdles to get by for most men when they decide to grow said playoff beard. One is work. Let's face it, a scraggly beard at the board meeting or a sales call could be a put off, especially for those who refuse to shower during the play off run. It may be wise for you to email your fellow coworkers and warn them that not only will you be growing out that facial hair, but the reason behind it.

Second is the wife. You will get lots of moans and groans from some of them once you announce you will be growing a beard. She might say things like, "They won 11 out of 12 when you were clean shaven, why is this different?" Best way to avoid a fight is lay down the law by simply telling your significant other that it's not a question of doing it or not doing it. It is going to happen, and if you have to move in with your parent for the next couple of months, so be it. Or, to avoid divorce papers later, just come up with some sort of compromise. Like a spa treatment when the playoffs conclude. I trust you will know which kind of wooing works best with you and your loved one.

The rules are fuzzy about shaving on the day of the game or right before, but you can shave up until the drop of the puck. Once the first game has started, that's it. No razor. Let's hope we don't have to shave again until late May.

Now for some of you that can grow a Grizzly Adams at a drop of a hat, trimming is allowed under extreme cases (i.e. an important business meeting or family event such as a wedding [why someone schedules a wedding in the middle of Stanley Cup Playoffs, I will never know.]). But under no circumstances are you allowed to shave until the Caps have been eliminated or won the Cup.

For those of us that have peach fuzz faces or have splotchy grow ins, you can trim a little, but the full effect of the beard must be present. No goatees, soul patches or mutton chops!

For you lovely ladies, many of you might follow the non shaving of the legs and or under arms for the playoffs to show your support. Just remember it's pant suits for work and long talks with your significant other. But remember, if you commit, your committed until the Capitals are eliminated.

If you need some guidance or extra help check out my friends at Playoff or check out Fear the for some giggles.

Go Caps!

Breaking It Down - Philly and D.C.

Since this is the first time the Capitals have made the post season, I had to reach back to my Geocities days to find any kind of template for breaking down the Capitals/Flyers series. You remember having a site on Geocities don't you? My introduction and 101 to learning HTML.

Anyway, the last time I did this I broke it down by just about every aspect of the game.

#6 Philadelphia Flyers at #3 Washington Capitals
- Round 1 breakdown

Offense: Draw

Don't scoff at the Philadelphia Flyers offensive core. They can score. Mike Richards is the heart of the Flyer line up, he can score, he can hit and he can fight. The Flyers have 6 players that have 20 goals or better on the season: Richards, Jeff Carter, Mike Knuble, Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell and Joffery Lupul. Only Briere is in question with a knee injury.

As far as the Capitals, they are enjoying one of the most potent offenses in team history. All lead by Alex Ovechkin. Alex Semin and Nick Backstrom add to that mixture for a young talented forwards that are making names for themselves in the hockey world.

The Flyers and Caps are pretty even in terms of goals for per game. 3.09 goals for Philly, 2.90 for the Caps.

Defense: Capitals

If there is one area the Flyers lack, it's their defensive core. While they updated their forward line, their blue liners are slow and inept often leading to penalties. They don't lack in character though, Darien Hatcher and Jason Smith are some hard nosed defenders, so the hits are coming and they are going to hurt.

For the Capitals they do have some veteran leadership in Tom Poti. But for the most part they are a young group with little to no playoff experience. But what they lack in experience, they make up for in positioning and speed. Not to mention Mike Green, the Caps' best offensive defensemen makes up for the mistakes.

The Capitals and Flyers are knotted at 2.77 goals against for the season.

Power Play: Flyers

The Flyers have some pretty heavy duty weapons on the power play. With 6 players who know how to score, they can make you pay if you take unnecessary penalties. Basically if Philly can play all offense, they would.

The Caps power play is nothing to write home about. The Caps 5 on 3 power play has failed to produce consistently. In the playoffs where every thing is magnified, they will have to find a way to find the back of the net when opportunity arises.

The Flyers are ranked 4th in the NHL on the power play, the Caps are a tenth.

Penalty Kill: Flyers

The Fly Boys certainly have had a lot of practice on the penalty kill this year. They have been shorthanded 388 times this season, tying them for second in the league. But they have also have only been scored on 65 times.

For the Caps, they haven't faired as well. They have had stretches of shutting out team on the power play. But it's usually been the stupid or unnecessary penalty that has hurt the Caps the most. Their kill is been much better with Quintin Laing and David Steckel in the lineup.

The Flyers are ranked 10th in the league a man down, the Caps are 25th.

Goaltending: Capitals

Marty Biron was the Flyers savior following the horrendous season they had last year. Picked up from the Sabres and signed before the season got old to a long term contract, Biron was their number one. But he is unproven in the post season, and has been so-so this season.

Cristobal Huet was picked up at the trade deadline and did it ever make an impact on this Capital team. The calm 30 year old has been the rock the Caps have leaned on for their amazing run to get a playoff spot at the end of the season winning his last 8 straight starts.

Biron's stats are 30 wins, 2.59 goals against and a .918 save%, Huet's tenure in Washington has yielded 11 wins, 1.63 goals agianst and a .936 save%.

Coaching: Capitals

It could be a draw. Neither Bruce Boudreau nor John Stevens have much Stanley Cup playoff experience, both do have Calder Cup experience. Since coming on board though, Bruce Boudreau has had a much better winning percentage since taking over the team.

Intangibles: Capitals

The Caps had to over come adversity to win the Southeast Division. The Flyers were in trouble of losing their playoff spot late in the season to Buffalo, Washington and Florida. But the Flyers didn't have to do it on a 6 game road trip like the Caps did. Momentum is definitely in the Caps favor.

Capitals win in 6 games.

Special teams mean something here for both teams. Neither team can afford to take dumb penalties. This series will not be short on goals since both teams rely on their offense. That means goaltending and defense will be key. And I gave that advantage to the Capitals. But the Caps need some secondary scoring. Ovechkin will not be able to do it on his own.

Both teams have been hot down the stretch, the Flyers winning 7 of their last nine and the Caps winning 11 of their last 12. The Caps are 2-2-0 against the Flyers during the regular season.

If Philly takes the first game at the phone booth, that might shake the Capitals confidence, but if we have learned anything about the Capitals it is they are a resilient team. A loss will just make this team work harder. Both teams will have to be at the top of their game for any chance at making round 2.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Your Burning Questions (Mine Too)

The NHL Playoffs start tonight with 4 series under way tonight. Rangers/Devils, Senators/Penguins, Avalanche/Wild and Flames/Sharks. The Capitals face off with the Flyers on Friday at the Verizon Center. I am going to break down the series between the two shortly but I know there are some lingering questions for some of you out there, and here are a few.

Can Micheal Nylander return to the line up now the Caps have made the postseason?

Nylander is still 2 to 3 weeks from full recovery. Plus he has been away from the ice for a couple of months, missing the speed of the game. It's not like there are going to be much of a full speed or full contact practice for the Caps in the post season and that makes it harder for a come back. If the Caps make the Eastern Conf. finals, maybe.

Will Chris Clark or Brian Potheir ever be back?

Clark's injury is a lingering one. The fact he hasn't cracked the line up in the past 2 months is not a good sign. Although there have been some positives about his come back, but it's likely he will not see much action in the first round. As far as Potheir goes, every conversation he has had with media have been doubtful the defensemen will ever play again for the season.

Would the Caps benefit with both back in the line up?

Absolutely, any time you can put in some proven veteran talent, you should. Plus these two are hard working and smart players. Their only negatives are their injuries. If either crack the line up and get reinjured, it's a wasted spot on the roster.

How serious are Jeff Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn's injuries?

The only people that know that are the teams trainers and they are pretty tight lipped about it. With good reason too, if their injuries are made public, some opposing players might take some cheap shots at those injury areas. Both however are listed day to day which is a good sign that they are none too serious. The Caps have recalled Sami Lepisto just in case. Morrisonn has told the media he would be ready for game 1 on Friday. And if your wondering about David Steckel, he is also aiming to be back sooner rather than later. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the first game.

Will Olie Kolzig ever get a start in the post season?

The way Cris Huet is playing it would take an injury or his game going to pot for Kolzig to get any starts. I am sure the personal feelings of Olie are mixed. He is probably pissed he is not in the pipes, but his team is in the playoffs. Professionally, Kolzig has been behind Huet and the team 100%.

What has happened to Brent Johnson?

He is still here. Spending most of his time in the press box during games and gobbling up ice time where he can find it at practices. Obviously this has been a hard time for the goaltender, but he is still apart of the team.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Bring On The Cup '08 - Fearless Predictions Pt. 2

This one is especially hard for me. I want to look at this in a fair way and not have too much bias. Since this is the first time the Caps have reached the post season on my fearless predictions posts, I suddenly feel a strong conflict of interest.

It's also that the East is wide open. There is a mix of struggling teams and hot ones coming into the post season, it's hard to really pick a favorite, unless you're a homer like me (Go Caps!). These are just my gut predictions for the wide open East.

Round 1

#8 Boston Bruins at #1 Montreal Canadiens - If you looked up the word domination in the dictionary, there would be the regular season record the Canadiens had on the Bruins this year. 8 games, 8 wins. But that was regular season. Goaltending might be the key and since neither Carey Price or Tim Thomas really have any playoff experience. This might be a shooters affair and may the best goaltender survive. While the Habs have had the Bruins' number this year, we are talking history here between these two clubs. Boston, Montreal, an original six series. It should be a hard fought, very long series. If it does come down to offense, Boston is just a step behind.

Montreal wins in 6 games.

#7 Ottawa Senators at #2 Pittsburgh Penguins - Two teams in opposite directions. The Senators started the season so strong that many were doubting that the Sens could be caught in the east. Not only were they caught, they darn near missed the whole post season. To add insult, they have injuries. Daniel Alfredsson, the heart of the Senators, most likely will be sidelined. On the flip side, the Penguins are looking at some goaltending issues. They still have two net minders that seem to run hot and cold and it looks like Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start. The Penguins had a choice in the last game of the season, play a physical series with cross state rivals the Flyers or play the already beat up Senators. Hmm, sit Crosby and sit on your hands for three periods boys, lets go in against the lesser of two evils. Afterall, first place is first place.

Pittsburgh wins in 5 games.

#6 Philadelphia Flyers at #3 Washington Capitals - Good vs. Evil. That is what some are calling this series. A physical hard nosed team versus the feel good story of the season. The Flyers have come a long way since their lowly finish dead last the year before. The Capitals weren't that far off. This should be a battle, very physical and I wouldn't be surprised to see a few fights per game. While the Caps have seemed to solve their goaltending problems, Philly's status is still in the air. Marty Biron has played spectacular at times, and poor for the rest. Offense is pretty even and if the Flyers start taking stupid penalties, lights out.

Washington wins in 6 games.

#5 New York Rangers at #4 New Jersey Devils - The metro series. Talk about an easy commute. The Rangers look to avenge their quick exit from 2 seasons ago when the Devils swept them in the first round. The Devils will once again ride the coat tails of one Mr. Marty Brodeur for as long as they can. Like two years ago, I expect this to be a hard fought series, meriting a seventh game to decide. Rather than what really happened when the Rangers tanked and were out in four. For any hope of the Rangers to move on is if Jaromir Jagr is playing to his potential. If Jagr isn't into it, then the Rangers will struggle at the Rock.

New Jersey wins in 7 games.

Round 2 - probable match ups based on 1st round predictions.

Washington Capitals at Montreal Canadiens - If the Hurricanes hadn't tanked the last game, this could have been a first round match up. Now that the Caps have tasted post season, just how far their winning momentum will take them is in question. They will be pretty beaten up surviving a series with the Flyers, and that could slow down any hopes for a Cinderella story here. It should be a goaltending duel between former teammates. How's that for drama. My heart says the Caps, but my rational side says the Habs.

Montreal wins in 6 games. (But I wouldn't mind being wrong, Go Caps!)

New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins - An Atlantic Division battle. These two teams just couldn't win in their own buildings against one another during the regular season. Maybe home ice advantage doesn't mean a whole lot here. The Penguins got a first round pass playing a demoralized Senators team. The Devils are coming off an emotional 7 game metro series. If the Penguins can't shake the rust, Sid "the Kid" Crosby will be finding tee times a bit earlier than planned. Maybe they should have skated against the Flyers, toughen them up a bit.

New Jersey wins in 5 games.

Eastern Conference Championship

New Jersey Devils at Montreal Canadiens - If the Canadiens came this far beating an age old rival and an upstart talent, what makes you think that Broudeur will scare the breezers off of them. The Devils made a run, but their scoring is key. They can play defense with the best of them, but they are going up against a team that knows how to score. I am actually quite surprised that the Devils did get this far. But think of that red New Jersey sweater as the carpeting for the coronation of the Canadiens winning the Eastern Conference championship.

Montreal wins in 5 games.

The Devils are just a different team in the playoffs and I can see them making quick work of both the Rangers and Penguins. As for Montreal, this might be all or bust for them. They will be playing like it. When you have that kind of desperation, it's hard to beat a team that has committed like that.

Stanley Cup Final

Montreal Canadiens at San Jose Sharks - This should be fun to watch. Both teams will be on a mission, both will have been tested to this point. But how do you pick a winner?

Let's start with goaltending, Carey Price may have won in the minors but will that help him in the finals. Evgeni Nabokov has been down this road a time or two, you can bet he isn't intimidated. Advantage: Sharks.

The defense for the Canadiens continues to impress, even with the loss of Sheldon Souray. For the Sharks there is just Brian Campbell, a trade deadline pickup. While the Sharks defense may have some bite offensively, they still rely on Nabokov a bit too much. Advantage: Canadiens.

With names like Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheecho and Patrick Marleau, you would think that would be an All Star line. But the Candiens know how to put the puck in the back of the net too, even against the toughest of goaltenders. Advantage: Draw.

Special teams are important to any series, in the Finals they are essential. Penalty kills and power plays for both teams are important, and the Canadiens are masters of the extra man. Advantage: Canadiens.

Coaching is a position sometimes not discussed in predictions, but it is important to each team. Ron Wilson will have his troops ready, and he does have a bit more coaching experience in the post season than his counterpart Guy Carbonneau. Advantage: Sharks.

While both teams can play the tough role and the scoring role, it will be a battle of endurance. It will come down to who wants it more.

San Jose are Stanley Cup Champions in 6 games.

With Jeremy Roenick in the fold and some hot goaltending, I like the Sharks chances here. Plus they had a good record against Eastern Conference teams during the regular season. I think this whole notion of the west being a cut above the east is bull, but what ever keeps them happy. The Capitals always seem to have success against Western Conference teams when they go on their little road swings. But I do think that the Sharks have better personnel in this match up with the Habs. Canada is so close to bringing the Cup back, yet so far away.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Bring On The Cup '08 - Fearless Predictions Pt. 1

Welcome to the third annual Bring On The Cup predictions on P.H.T. I just have to say that I am more than excited to get this ball rolling with the Caps securing a playoff spot of their own. Unfortunately, Gary Bettman isn't just going to hand the Stanley Cup to the Capitals, there are 16 other teams in contention for this silver bowl (hard to believe, I know).

Just some administrative duties to attend to first. The Capitals playoff schedule is now in stone and can be found here on the right column >>> under the Pic of the Week. The Caps get Philly instead of Ottawa in the first round after the Flyers beat the Penguins on Sunday 2-0.

Okay, back to the predictions. There are some surprises and some new faces, especially in the Eastern Conference. But as always, I will start in the wild, wild West.

Round 1

#8 Nashville Predators at #1 Detroit Red Wings - I think it's easy to pick Detroit here, and I think that's also a mistake. Nashville definitely didn't look like a team that was going to make it, especially after a loss to the Capitals a few weeks ago. But with the Northwest Division being a battle, the Preds sneak in the back door and get some playoff life. It's just that they have to face down big bad Detroit in the first round. Just how healthy the Wings are could determine if it's a one and done for the President's Trophy winners. I can see the Predators giving the Red Wings more than they can handle. But we are talking about Hockeytown.

Detroit wins in 6 games.

#7 Calgary Flames at #2 San Jose Sharks - Oh lord, let's hope that the San Jose fans mind their manners and not boo at the Canadian Anthem. Besides that, I am expecting a very physical affair between these two. San Jose has finally started hitting on all cylinders, after a ho hum start to nearly going undefeated in March. For the Flames, Jerome Iginla probably would have won the Hart for MVP if it weren't for that Ovechkin guy, he has basically carried this team into the playoffs himself. But he needs some help if they want to solve Evgeni Nabokov. Both teams are relatively healthy so this should be a hard fought series. If only the Flames goaltending was as solid as the Sharks this year.

San Jose wins in 5 games.

#6 Colorado Avalanche at #3 Minnesota Wild - Ah, my seven game series match up. The Wild have had a quiet but effective season while the Avalanche have struggled to make the playoffs. Minnesota has the skill, but their state of emotion will be the deciding factor. Sure the Wild has bulked up with the addition of Chris Simon, but the rule of thumb playing the Wild is be physical and they will lay down. The Aves are just looking for some old time magic to spark their once proud playoff tradition by bringing back Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg. It should be a great goaltending duel with Jose Theodore and Niklas Backstrom both manning the net for their teams. Will the Avalanche's experience be enough to out battle Wild's speed and talent? Short answer, no.

Minnesota wins in 7 games.

#5 Dallas Stars at #4 Anaheim Ducks - The Stars are coming off a relatively successfully season. I say relative, because their record since the trade deadline is nothing to write home about. Since acquiring Brad Richards their once winning record in February became a losing one in March. They will also be with out Sergei Zubov on the blue line as he is out with foot surgery. While the Ducks found some late legs with Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer back in the fold, they still need some dependable goaltending and good secondary scoring. One could draw a conclusion that the Ducks have an easy opponent in the Stars, but often when one overlooks any team, that is when they are the most dangerous. The Stars might be limping, but they still have some fight.

Dallas upsets the Stanley Cup Champs in 6 games.

Round 2 - probable match ups based on 1st round predictions.

Dallas Stars at Detroit Red Wings - This is stirring up to be an all out shoot out, two very talented teams. The Stars have to be pretty beat up walking through the Ducks, so I don't expect they have very much fight left in them. Thankfully, Detroit is known more for their puck possession rather than the Ducks' beat-you-down method. If the Stars still have the legs, they could take Detroit to the brink. If.

Detroit wins in 5 games.

Minnesota Wild at San Jose Sharks - If the Wild's first series wasn't a battle royale it better be against the Sharks. It should be another great goaltender head to head with Backstrom and Nabokov with the waffle irons and mitts on. This is were Minnesota's toughness will have a chance to prove it's worth and San Jose should be wary of this quiet unassuming team.

San Jose wins in 6 games.

Western Conference Championship

San Jose Sharks at Detroit Red Wings - I actually predicted this two season ago, and it seems this might be the year we see these two giants settle it out in the conference championship. Detroit has come this far pretty unscathed, but this will be no cake walk for them. If there was ever a time to question the Red Wings' goaltending, it would be here and now in the Conference finals. The Sharks come into this contest battle tested and hungry. When these two teams face each other, I wouldn't be surprised to feel the ground quake and the skies quiver. Can Hasek/Osgood keep this Wings in it?

San Jose wins in 7 games.

The Sharks, I think, have learned their lesson from playoff series past. The previous two post seasons they faced Nashville and beat them 4 games to one, only to lose the next series 2-4 to both Edmonton and Detroit. But if the linage runs much as I have laid out here, they have had wonderful success against Northwest Division teams. Facing them in the first and second rounds is a good indicator that leads me to believe they are a Conference bound team. Since losing last year to the Red Wings I would expect Ron Wilson to use that as some inspiration in the Shark locker room.

As for the Red Wings, I think they will enjoy the spoils of winning the President's Trophy and will make quick work of their first two opponents. But if the goaltending is tested by a playoff veteran team like the Sharks, it may crack. The only bright spot may be home ice advantage.

Stay tuned for some Eastern knowledge I will be throwing your way next as I will start in on the Eastern Conference tomorrow. Feel free to comment. I will also have my prediction on who will be taking home the hardware, hockey's top prize: the Stanley Cup.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

'07-'08 Washington Capitals - Southeast Division Champions!

Capitals 3, Panthers 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times - News Ob (Raleigh)

Absolutely unbelievable! The Verizon Center top blew out as the Washington Capitals not only squeaked into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they took the Southeast Division title on the last game of the season. Screw 8th place, the Caps find themselves with home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. And guess who might finish in 6th place, Ottawa.

Tomas Fleischmann started the scoring with a whiff then a deke to beat Anderson midway through the first period. The Panthers didn't lay down though, they came right back with a powerplay tally that had to go to review. Sergei Fedorov slapped a second period cannon past Craig Anderson for the game winner and then got the game's first star honors. Alex Semin added some insurance on the power play and the Caps finish off the Southeast Division as champions and catapulted to 3rd in the Eastern Conference. More importantly it's a playoff berth they were pushing for.

The Capitals find themselves in the playoffs for the first time in 5 years, and clinch the Division title for just the 4th time in team history. Alex Ovechkin may not have scored, but that didn't dampen the cheers for "M-V-P!"

Ovie finishes the season with 65 goals and 112 points that includes 22 power play goals (leads team), 11 game winning goals (leads team) and a staggering 441 shots on net (leads league). More than enough to snag some hardware for the left winger.

Cris Huet matched a Capital record of nine wins in a row set by Pete Peeters in '87 and finished the season with an impressive 11 wins in 13 starts, a 1.69 GAA and .934 save % since becoming a Capital. Plus he has his own cheer of "Hip, hip, Hu-et!"

Nick Backstrom finishes his opening year as rookie with a team best 55 assists (surpassing Ovechkin's rookie record) and a serious contender for Calder Trophy honors. Donald Brashear was the penalty leader for the Caps and ruined another bid for the Lady Byng award, better luck next year Brash. Brooks Laich finished a career season with 21 goals and 36 points. He also lead the team in short handed tallies with 2. Both Viktor Kozlov and Ovechkin lead the team in +/- with a +28.

This season has been one amazing ride for those of us that were there on the first day of training camp to this moment. The Caps have seen their season in the balance and written off (I include myself in that group that had written off this team early). But a new coach and a new attitude and some new faces and the Caps are right were we all thought they should be, in the playoffs. From worst to 3rd.

It's a comeback of epic proportions. Sure some will say the Southeast Division wasn't the strongest, or that Carolina's injuries just finally caught up with them, or any number of other excuses. But the Capitals' record doesn't lie. 11 wins in their last 12. That is almost legendary.

Now the Caps enter the playoffs with plenty of momentum, and could be facing a team that has very little in Ottawa. This could mark the first time the two Capital cities will play in the post season. While it may seem like an easy task for the Caps since they have owned the Senators in regular season play sweeping them in their 4 encounters, the playoffs are a different beast. It will all depend on a what a Philly win means in their last game of the regular season against Pittsburgh Sunday.

Playoff tickets are already on sale for the Caps first two games at the phone booth.

The Capitals would have clinched a playoff spot regardless if Carolina were beaten by the Panthers or not. However, they would have been a much lower seed and either Philadelphia or Boston would have had to sit out.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Door Opens

Panthers 4, Hurricanes 3
Scoresheet - News Ob - Miami Herald

Of course, all of this means nothing if the Caps can't win or tie in regulation against the Florida Panthers. The biggest game of the season for the Capitals happens to be their last game of the season. Clearly if the Panthers can walk into RBC Center and steal a win, they can do it at Verizon Center as well.

Update: Boston, Ottawa, and Philadelphia have all clinched a playoff spot. The only possible way for Carolina to make the playoffs is with a Capitals regulation loss to the Panthers.

An Open Letter To Florida

Dear Florida Panthers,

I know our relationship has been tenuous at best, but I felt the need to write you this letter to share with you how important a win would be against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight. We know how good of a team you are. We saw flashes of that amazing run you had late in the year, matching the Caps and the 'Canes game for game. We know you can do it again, one more big win.

I want to say I have always loved your logo since you were inducted in to the NHL, I used to have a Panther t-shirt I used to wear (to clean the bathroom in, but hey, it had purpose). You guys had that tremendous run in the playoffs back in '96 and who could forget the rats pouring down from the rafters after every goal at home. Channel the John Vanbiesbrouck and Scott Mellanby inside of you. You may be out of the playoffs, but this is for pride and you want to send a message to the 'Canes for next year.

I want you to know that I have the utmost faith that you can take a game from Carolina. Don't be intimidated by the "'Caniacs" or distracted by their cheerleader girls (who aren't the best dancers). And who wants to watch a playoff series at Carolina and hear Rick Flare's "Whooooo!" after every 'Canes goal, I might have gouge my left eye out. So please, use every tool at your disposal to screw that last nail in the coffin and keep the 'Canes from tasting the post season.

Not only would you be helping the Capitals by giving them home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but think of the NHL in general. Do we really need to hear all this silly stuff about the Staal brothers in the playoffs? No, I don't think so. Or think of team USA, who really needs Peter Laviollette to be coaching team USA at the World Championships rather than Torts who has a bug up his butt.

Let's face it, the Hurricanes just coasted this year to a division title. If it weren't for you and the Capitals knocking on the door late this season, I doubt they would have had enough points to even qualify for the playoffs if they weren't division leaders. Don't let them coast on this. Don't let them just have it. Make them earn it. Let them sweat it out like you had to in March.

Do it for yourselves, do it for Miami, for the state of Florida, for the rest of the Southeast Division, for the eastern seaboard, for the United States of America (enter patriotic music here and a hearty salute), and do it for the western hemisphere. You can do it, I believe in you. This is your night, be heard. Keep the pressure on. Go, Panthers, Go!


P.S. And if you could lay down the following night against the Caps that would be great. Happy hunting!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Leaving No Doubt

Capitals 4, Lightning 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - St. Pete Times

What the Washington Capitals maybe accomplishing maybe be history in the making. And, for tonight, they did it, 8th place in the Eastern Conference. Now tied with Boston, the Caps are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if the playoffs started tomorrow. They jump Philly for that last spot. And for tonight, all looks right.

Alex Ovechkin made it pretty impossible for anyone to doubt his MVP status. Ovie scored two of the biggest goals of his young career and once again getting "M-V-P" cheers from the phone booth faithful (64 and 65 on the year). Add goals by Boyd Gordon and an empty netter from Tom Poti and the Caps keep the pressure on for the playoffs in the east. Cris Huet had another outstanding game, coming up with some killer saves and keeping the Caps in it.

I was actually pretty nervous about this game, the Caps just coming off of an emotional win and Tampa just got embarrassed in Carolina. It was a perfect storm for the Lightning (pun intended) to upset the Caps and keep them on the outside, looking in. The early goal by the Bolts was a bit gut wrenching to take. But, once again Ovie came up with another big game by scoring the tying and eventual game winner goals to keep the Caps hopes alive.

As much fun as it was to see the Caps beat up on the Lightning, it did get a bit too hairy at the end. John Tortorella is a good coach, and I think it's awesome he will be coaching team USA upcoming in the Worlds, but he was totally classless sending out his goons with seconds left in the game. Their tough guy took on a skilled player in Tomas Fleischmann (definitely not a fighter) all for standing up for Vinny Lecavalier who honestly was in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Matt Cooke's hit on Lecavalier wasn't a dirty one, just an unfortunate one. It made for some interesting drama in the end, with Donald Brashear waving on the entire Lightning bench. But it was just a sad sight to see the Bolts stoop that low.

The Capitals special teams seem to be steaming right along. They were perfect on the penalty kill (4 for 4) and were 1 for 5 on the powerplay. They were disallowed a goal just 90 seconds after the Bolts opened the scoring because of "second hand" goaltending interference (Tomas Fleischmann pushed a defender into Ramo). I thought Karri Ramo was too far out of crease for that be called, but the Caps got the benefit of the same call in the last game against Carolina, so I can't complain too much.

Caps need some help in a big way, they aren't going to get much from Ottawa as they creamed the Maple Leafs and keep themselves in the playoff picture by just their fingernails. However they do have to play Boston, and that will be an interesting game that could decide the Caps fate. Then there is Philly to watch and Carolina could still lose against Florida. It's enough to make your head spin.

But first and for most, the Caps need a win against Florida if they want any chance of making the big dance. That would give them 94 points. If Boston, Philadelphia, and Carolina lose their remaining games in regulation, the Caps are in. Ovechkin surpassed Luc Robitaille's single season record of goals. The Caps have won six games in a row, the most since January, 2001.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Hurricanes Downgraded To A Stiff Wind

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times - News Ob (Raleigh)

What a night indeed! The Washington Capitals could not compromise on this night, no three point game here. They needed the win. More than just winning, they needed to send a message: "We are not out of this yet!" The Hurricanes couldn't match the intensity and they started to crack. And the Capitals capitalized.

Matt Cooke opened the scoring with a rebound sweep that just crept inside the post. Then powerplay goals by Brooks Laich and Alex Semin. On a broken play, Alex Ovechkin scored his 63rd goal matching Luc Robitaille for most goals by a left winger in a season. And Cris Huet shut the door only allowing a single goal (and even that was a bit flukey). Huet ends up with the first star and his seventh straight win. Mike Green and Sergei Fedorov both had a pair of assists.

But the win came at a cost. Shaone Morrisonn made a quick exit with an "upper body" injury. With his head down he was checked hard by a 'Cane player toward the end of the first period. The Caps had to finish the game with only 5 defensemen, and that was stretched when both Milan Jurcina and John Erskine were in the box. But the remaining players stepped up and Huet stopped whatever came his way.

Semin played one of his best games in a Caps sweater. He set the tone early by catching Eric Staal with his head down and put the big forward down on his butt. He added a powerplay goal and seemed to dominate play whenever he was on the ice. It was by far the most physical game I have seen him play ever. His play mimic the Caps' attack that was relentless often pressing the 'Canes deep in their zone for minutes at a time.

The 'Canes also took some bad penalties since they couldn't match the Caps intensity and aggressiveness. Peter Laviolette even lost his cool a little bit after the Caps crept up to 3-1 lead on a Semin powerplay goal. But Carolina was just outworked in this one. And the Red Out had a lot to do with that as well.

The Verizon Center crowd were loud and crazy. Imposing indeed. After Cooke scored the first goal, you would have thought the roof was going to cave in. They gave their home team a standing ovation at the end of the first period, and shouted "M-V-P" when Ovie picked up his 63rd and giving Bruce Boudreau his due with a standing ovation for him too when his image flashed on the big jumbotron.

While this win is HUGE, with a capital H-U-G-E, the Caps work is not done. Two more games, and hoping, praying, wishing that someone falters in the waning days of the season. The next two will be no walking the park either. Tampa on Thursday and Florida on Saturday. And these won't be easy games. The Caps have to continue their little run to make no doubt that they have done everything they could do to clinch a playoff berth.