Saturday, January 17, 2009

Playoff Preview?

Caps 2, Bruins 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Globe

Both coaches for the Capitals and the Boston Bruins knew the atmosphere would have a playoff feel to it. The Bruins coming off a spectacular December in which their only loss came to the Capitals. The Caps would be intent on chasing down and catching the Bruins for top honors for the Eastern Conference. It would be a defensive battle, and a particular defensive play, that would decide this contest as the Caps hand the Bruins a loss 2 to 1.

Mike Green scored another power play tally off a nice pass from Micheal Nylander. Green continues to lead all defensemen with power play goals in the league with his tenth. Then Alex Semin iced the game in the third with a rare slap shot that beat Tim Thomas in the crook of his glove arm. Semin's goal was unassisted, but his goal came off of a diving defensive play by Milan Jurcina. Jose Theodore did let in the first goal of the game, but buttoned it down for the rest of the tilt making 23 saves.

The Capitals played one of their best defensive games of the season. John Erskine played a big part in that. Erskine's return added some more grit to the Caps blue line, and Erskine played his game. He was a presence on the ice, both physically and defensively. He delivered some big hits, mixed it up in front of the net and was all around a thorn in the side of the Bruins' forwards. It was enough of a performance that earned him a number two star on the night.

Milan Jurcina also played well defensively. When a turnover caught the Capitals off guard sending the Bruins on a two on one with Jurcina the only Capital back, Jurcina dove and poked the puck off the winger's stick. With the Bruins' offensive threat neutralized, Semin stripped the puck off the player that recovered the puck and streaked down the right wing side. He howled a slap shot (unusual since Semin prefers the wrist shot) past Thomas for his 5th point in the last four games.

The Capitals played a simple and patient system against the Bruins and it seem to pay off in both wins. And if this regular season match up continues to a post season one, it would be tantamount to a physical chess match. The Alex Ovechkin/Zdeno Chara match up is one of those closely watched. When Ovi was on the ice, so was Chara.

It seemed the Caps coaching staff was looking to wear down the tall defenseman throughout the game by keeping the puck deep in the Bruins' zone and quickly changing Ovechkin on and off the ice. They sometimes even played Ovi on the right wing side just to give him some space.

Whatever they tried to do seemed to work as Chara by game's end was uselessly tired, hardly able to lift the puck past a Capital defender in the waning seconds of the third. The Caps seemed to have an answer for every Bruin attack, frustrating and tiring the Boston squad, sending them home with no points on this night.

Nick Backstrom showed some grittiness of his own. After Bruin Marc Savard took out Viktor Kozlov against the boards, Backstrom gave a forearm shot in response. It was an uncharacteristic for him, but it is the same toughness he showed late in the Philadelphia series. For showing some toughness and standing up for his linemate, Backstrom earns the Puckhead Player of the game.

Caps' Dave Steckel also had a good night, playing well defensively and earning the night's red hard hat. Nylander also played his best overall game as a Capital this season. His assist on the game tying goal was the answer the Caps needed to the Bruins first tally.

The Caps did their part in catching the Bruins who now are only 9 points behind the Eastern Conference leader. They have also opened a 12 point lead in the Southeast Division. The next two games will be road games for the Capitals, Monday at Long Island and Tuesday at the Canadian Capital before the All Star break. The Caps need to be careful not to overlook either, as both teams will want to show up the Capitals in their buildings.

Photo AP, Nick Wass

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