Thursday, April 30, 2009

For NHL, Christmas Comes Early

Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins. Head to head. The NHL is so excited, they could just spit. But there is more to this rivalry than just 4 top players and over the next two days we are going to explore this post season match up between the Penguins and the Capitals.

Let's get to the whole Ovi vs. Sid thing out of the way. Whose better? Frankly, I am biased. I would rather have the dynamic, outgoing, energetic Ovechkin. He plays for a team I love too, so there are pluses there.

Crosby is good. There is no denying that. He is a creative playmaker and has the speed and skill to turn your lights out. The "kid" has good vision on the ice, is a fierce compitor and seems to feed off his teammates.

It is a team sport. The team with the better overall performance will win the series. Breaking down this series, you have to look past the Ovi vs. Sid rivalry and look at the facts going into this series. Offense is a good place to start.

These are two teams that live and die off of their offense. They both have strong forechecking abilities, plenty of talent and depth and both feed off of the goals they score. The Penguins bring some good talent to the table in the points department in Evgeni Malkin. The points winner for the season, Malkin has a uncanny ability to draw defenders in while dishing it to the open man. Combine that with Crosby's second place finish in points and you have a very potent offensive front.

The Penguins are not shy about getting pucks to the net and scoring goals. There biggest threat lies in their transition game where they can turn a play around on a dime and out man you before you even realize you even lost the puck. Neutral zone play will be key for both the Caps and Pens. Malkin lead the league in take aways with 94 and many of those lead directly to goals scored for the Penguins.

Since a big component from the Penguins moved cross conference, they have filled that hole with veteran leadership and some grit. Bill Guerin (who was rumored to be in a deal to come to Washington at the trade deadline) provides that leadership both on and off the ice. He is on Crosby's line and the pair soon struck up some chemistry together in the short time since Guerin's arrival.

Chris Kunitz brings the grit. A major contribitor for the Anaheim Ducks during their playoff run a couple of years back, Kunitz is a forechecker that doesn't mind mixing it up. He brings a lot of character to the line up along with Matt Cooke (former Cap). Kunitz is also a keen playmaker, using his forechecking and energy ability to create chances.

Don't for get other talent the Penguins possess up front. Jordan Staal uses his size to his advantage, a great defensive forward that has a nose for the net too. A definite threat on the penalty kill. Pascal Dupuis brings plenty of spark to his line too, a hard hitter with a scoring touch too.

The Caps need to contain Crosby's space in the neutral zone and protect the puck from Malkin. Turnovers will be deadly because of the Penguins' quick transition game. The Caps have to maintain good puck possesion while collapsing down on their goaltender when the Penguins start to sniff too close.

Don't lose hope though, the Pens only seem to make the Caps defense play better. Not to mention that the Penguins do get frustrated when a team aggressively forechecks them. As far as an advantage between the Caps and Penguins, I would have to call it a draw. Both can score, there is no doubt there.

More to come on the series. Next up, the Pens' defense.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First Round Winners and Losers

The sun is shining a bit brighter today, even if it's cloudy.

As I do every year here are your first round winners and losers. Let's start with the winners.

The Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames series - Man, was this a good series. It had everything, fights, great goals and outstanding goaltending. I thought the series would extend to seven games, but the Blackhawks played an inspired game six in Calgary to eliminate their first round foes. This series epitomizes what the playoffs are and should be.

Dan Bylsma - I think it is a hard job to take over a team more than half way through the season let alone make the kind of turn around to where you make a lethargic team a competitor again. It brought this team back from the brink and handled the Flyers like a pro in their first round series.

Jonas Hiller - Another young goaltender making a name for himself. Hiller faced down a very very good offensive team in San Jose and passed with flying colors.

Anaheim Ducks - It seemed a daunting task for a number 8 seed to take out a number one seed, but the Ducks were able to man handle the President Trophy winning San Jose Sharks.

Henrik Lundqvist - Look, going up against one of the most effecient offensive teams with a team that is struggling to score and to go up 3 games to one on them is a tremendous effort one behalf of Lundqvist. He was clearly the best Ranger player in that series. There were times he was just spectacular.

Sergei Fedorov - Or Mr. Clutch. The old man still has legs. Feds scores the series winning goal with five minutes left in the game.

Eric Staal - Another clutch player, Staal stunned the New Jersey faithful as he scored the series winning goal with just 30 seconds left in game seven. Staal's production has picked up since the return of Eric Cole to the Hurricanes.

Versus - Every year they get better and better. This year they handled the games right by doing triple headers. They did it the right way too, allowing the local markets to watch the game in their entirety. Good job.


Sean Avery's antics - The punching and late hits, Avery just needs to lower his dosage. His performance in game seven was fantastic, so we know he is capable of playing well. What was he thinking talking trash to a Russian goaltender that doesn't speak English?

Donald Brashear's game six antics - The shove during warm ups and the late hit in the game has left Brash sitting on the sidelines for 6 games. Well 5 now.

St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets - The Blues return to the playoffs only to put up a 4 and out. Same with Montreal and Columbus. Only the Blue Jackets really have an excuse as it is their first ever appearance in the postseason in franchise history. The other two don't have that luxury.

Martin Broduer going berserk in game 4 - That poor, poor stick.

Carey Price - Look kid, you are just not ready for the playoffs.

ESPN - For hiring Barry Melrose back.

Joe Thornton - After his team lost their series in game six, Thornton was the first person out of the locker room and on to the bus. He did not make himself available for comment following the game.

Honerable mention for winner and loser: John Tortorella - New York should be very happy to have the kind of coach they have in Torts. His bottle throwing was not very classy, but he was standing up for his players. His attitude at the end of the series shows you why he is a good coach, he was proud of his team and he got more out of his club than what most people expected.

Caps take the day off. Enjoy the short break. The series to watch will be the Capitals/Penguins series. This is big time now.

Series Breakdown

The Washington Capitals are used to doing things no one has done before. This time they came back from a 3 games to one deficit to beat the New York Rangers. The Rangers have never lost a series when they have that kind of lead, until last night. They are now 12 and 1.

While things started shaky for the Capitals it turns out a rookie goaltender was there to save the day. Simeon Varlamov came in to relieve Jose Theodore who got beat for 4 goals in game one. Theo's play did not go over well with Bruce Boudreau. He considered pulling Theodore after he let in a couple of shots he needed to save, but Boudreau said he didn't want it to look like they "panicking."

"There's times when you sit there, you need the save, and he didn't make the save when we needed it," Boudreau said.

Enter Varlamov who had only started a total of 5 times for the Capitals in the regular season. Even though the Caps would lose the next game, Varly had a better save percentage than his counterpart Henrik Lundqvist. The Capitals seemed to feed off Varlamov's good play by winning game 3.

The cool and calm Varlamov would finish the series with a .952 save percentage and only allowed seven goals in six starts including two shut-outs. An amazing start for a young goaltender who just turned 21 on April 27. His save percentage ranks him third among all goaltenders in the playoffs.

With the drama in net solved, the Caps needed goals against the league's stingiest defenses. When the Caps needed the goals the most, they came from unlikely sources. In game five, a must win game, Matt Bradley was the hero scoring two quick goals in the first period. In game six, three Capitals' defensemen scored the first three goals. In game seven it was Sergei Fedorov who scored his biggest goal as a Capital.

The Rangers did not make it easy. After stealing away games one and two, New York pushed the Caps to the brink of elimination with three chances to put the series away. They even had the Caps on the ropes early in game seven scoring the first goal. But their failure to support their goaltender with the scoring ending up costing them the series.

Credit the Capitals' defensive core who showed up just in time. John Erskine had a great series run. He was tough and smart. He took a swipe from Sean Avery and made a couple of key defensive stops through out the series. While Erskine played a great series, Milan Jurcina had a fantastic game seven. Jurcina battled with the Rangers best line of the night and was able to make some outstanding plays on the blue line.

Other Capitals that had a great series were Dave Steckel and Boyd Gordon. Both were solid in the face off circle and helped the Caps PK. Viktor Kozlov picked up his game for the playoffs scoring his first ever playoff goal. He finished the series with two tallies. Alex Ovechkin had the highlight reel goal of the series in game five. MVP of this series has to go to Varlamov, he backstopped the Caps to a series win.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Seventh Heaven

Capitals 2, Rangers 1 - Capitals win series 4-3
Scoresheet - Post - Times

With the echos of game sevens past, the Washington Capitals looked to finish the New York Rangers in this final game. Last year's loss runs deep with Caps fans. The team resurrected from the brink of elimination only to lose a heart breaker in overtime. This season, it is a different team, different circumstances. Different outcome. The Caps stun the Rangers who had the 3-1 series lead to win at Verizon Center and move on to the Conference Semifinals with a 2-1 win.

Unlike games five and six, the Rangers played very well. In fact the game itself was an instant classic battle with both teams pressing the attack. New York came out early and seemed to push the Capitals back onto their heels. Just :42 seconds in the game, Nik Antripov broke away alone on Simeon Varlamov. Varly came up with the dynamite save.

The Rangers would strike first though. Sean Avery, who played a spectacular game (he is a good player when he isn't doing the dumb stuff), won the long battle along the boards before getting the puck to the front of the net to Brandon Dubinsky. Dubinsky tried to deke around the Caps' rookie goaltender but he lost control of the puck and it dribbled right to Antripov who made no mistake putting the biscuit upstairs. That line of Avery, Dubinsky and Antripov gave the Caps fits all night long.

The Caps would answer nearly ten minutes later when Nick Backstrom brought the puck out of their zone after a Mike Green penalty expired. The Caps had a odd man rush, 3 on 2 when Green stepped back onto the ice. Backstrom dropped the puck to Alex Semin and Semin shot it that hit Ryan Callahan and took a funny bounce around Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game at one.

For the next period and a half the teams played a passionate, hard nose, in your face hockey game. Both the Rangers and the Capitals exchanged long shifts in each other's zone with a slew of scoring chances attached. The Rangers defense looked to have kept the Caps offense at bay through the first two periods. The Rangers held the shot lead over the Capitals until the third period, even holding the high shooting Caps to just two shots in the first period.

While the Rangers held the Caps in their zone for long stretches, their defense kept everything to the outside. Not allowing the Rangers to exploit the slot or middle of the zone. When New York tried to move the puck into the middle, the Caps were there to swallow up the pass attempt.

But the dynamic of the game and the series changed late in the third period. The building was getting more and more intense as the period wore on. Almost as if the fans were trying to will the goal to happen. Then with 4:59 remaining in the game, that goal came.

The winning goal did not come off of Alex Ovechkin's stick or Semin's. Instead it was the "old guy," Sergei Fedorov. He shot a wrister over Lundqvist left shoulder to break the 1-1 tie in the third with 4:59 remaining in the game. When he scored the building erupted into the loudest cheer I have ever heard to date at Verizon Center. The decibel level didn't drop until the last Capital left the ice at game's end.

The Caps kept the pedal to the floor as they continued to press for a goal. That frustrated the Rangers and they started to scramble. They couldn't even pull Lundqvist due to the Capitals' strong forecheck. When the Rangers were able to get the puck in deep, it was far too late.

That chip on on the Caps' shoulder they have been holding from a year ago is now gone. The Capitals earn their owner, Ted Leonsis, his first ever playoff win since his ownership of the team.

Varlamov played spectacular and besides the first period goal he was flawless. When the Caps' defense broke down, he was there with the save. He controlled his rebounds and his cool calm demeanor propelled the Caps' confidence through out the series. He got a shaving cream pie in the face for his deeds in game seven. He also received the game's first star.

Milan Jurcina had a good game too as he battled all game long with Avery. He made good defensive plays with the puck and even got a few shots off. Green had an okay game. He was often a little too cavalier with the puck and that led to turnovers. In the second period Mike Green took a hard tumble into the boards after he missed a check on Nik Zherdev. I am sure his head was ringing for a while after that collision.

Captain Chris Clark made a return to the line up and nearly scored just 3 minutes into the game. It was his first game back since January. He certainly picked a swell time to come back. He played well, handled the puck adequately. There were a few times he was a little out of sync, but not bad for his first time back.

The Caps complete the comeback with a game seven win and take the series. Now they face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins as the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the New Jersey Devils. The series starts on Thursday.

Do or Die

The Washington Capitals are in familiar territory. For the second straight season, the Capitals have forced a game seven after trailing in the series three games to one. They are relying on their past experience when they lost their last series in overtime. This time they are hoping that history will not repeat.

Two teams will go into tonight's action and only one team will move on. The beauty and anguish of a game seven. However for this game seven, the story has not been about Alex Ovechkin scoring in 3 straight games to get to this point or Simeon Varlamov's stingy goaltending or even the Rangers blowing a 3 to 1 series lead. Instead it has been about a hit, security concerns and an alleged bite.

Donald Brashear got a pretty hefty suspension for his pre-game shove of Colton Orr and his late hit on Blair Betts during the game. Brash will have to sit out 6 games starting with game seven tonight. If that was not enough drama for you, then there is the letter about the Verizon Center security.

In game five things got a little out of hand behind the Ranger bench. John Tortorella pitched a water bottle at a Caps fan after they were yelling profanities at the Ranger bench. He was suspended for game six, and the Rangers General Manager Glen Sather shot back with his letter about the inept security staff at Verizon Center.

Then there is Bite-Gate 2009. Brandon Dubinsky claimed he was bitten by Shaone Morrisonn who was coming to Mike Green's defense after Dubinsky hit him from behind. But after looking at a replay from the NBC broadcast, Morrisonn's mouth was never near Dubinsky's arm. Also a shot after the incident showed Dubinsky with no scratches or bite marks on either of his arms when he was escorted off the ice. A mystery for sure. The league did not investigate the allegation.

The Ranger strategy could be the world against us mentality. They are using the off ice distractions to try to break this sudden loss in momentum. But the fact of the series is this, the Rangers had a three games to one lead and they blew it. That is leading to some frustrated Rangers.

Their scoring struggles have starting to haunt them, while the Capitals' scoring touch has returned. The Caps have outscored the Rangers 17 to 10. When the Rangers have won, it has been Henrik Lundqvist to show the way. When he plays well, the Rangers do well. When King Henry struggles, the Rangers follow suit.

Tortorella insists the pressure is on the Capitals to win in their building, but the Rangers need to some sort of urgency they haven't showed in games five and six. The Caps have been here before, the Rangers haven't. That is the core of the situation, and Torts may be trying to keep his boys spirits up as they try to solve their scoring problems.

The Caps will have to rely on Varlamov's strong goaltending and secondary scoring to put the Rangers away. The secret to games five and six has been someone else other than the Caps big snipers in Ovi and Alex Semin had scored. Matt Bradley's two goals in game five and three defensemen scoring in game six left the Rangers scrambling to answer the goals while still trying to play their stingy defense style.

Getting over all this off ice distraction may be the deciding factor in game seven. Two teams go in, one team moves on. You gotta love the post season.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Brash Gets 6 Games

NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell makes an example out of Donald Brashear suspending the Capital forward for 6 games. One game for the contact he made with Colton Orr during the pre-game warm ups and 5 additional games for the hit on Blair Betts that was "delivered late and targeted the head of his opponent, causing significant injury."

Brash's time will start with tomorrow night's game 7 and the next 5 playoff games and/or 5 regular season games next season as circumstances warrant.

Too harsh?

Updates On Brash And Mo

More than likely Donald Brashear will be suspended and sit out Game 7. Not for his hit during the game, but for his altercation with Colton Orr during warm ups. Ever since Sean Avery mixed things up with Maple Leaf Jason Blake before the game even started, the league has taken a harsher stand against any player that causes a commotion before the game even begins.

As for the Shaone Morrisonn's alleged biting incident, I looked at the replay and at no time is Mo's mouth anywhere near Brandon Dubinsky's arm so much as the NBC broadcast showed. Assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld made the comment late in his press conference about Dubinsky getting a tetanus shot after being bitten by Mo. But reporters couldn't confirm the attack with players as most of them had already left.

Instead, Dubinsky's arm does look to get pinched between Mo and Ryan Callahan as he jumped into the fray to help out his teammate. Mo denied biting the Ranger forward.

Chris Clark could be available for Game 7. If Brash is sitting out, Clark could be a good replacement. Micheal Nylander could also come into the line up as well.

Update: Brash is set for a disciplinary hearing at 1pm today to decide if any suspension should be given for the pre-game altercation and/or the late hit on Blair Betts. Betts suffered a broken orbital bone and is finished for the rest of the playoffs.

A Nastier Side

The Capitals have been accused of many things. Diving, hooking, slashing. But biting? In Game 6, Bradon Dubinsky was given a tetanus shot because Shaone Morrisonn bit him. He should probably get a rabies shot while he is at it.

Jim Schoenfeld made the comment at the end of his press conference. By that time, most players were already gone. No one could really confirm or deny the story through the players, but I am sure that will change today at Caps practice at Kettler.

The incident happened at 4:57 in the second period when Dubinsky hit Mike Green from behind that gave him 14 minutes in penalties. After Dubinsky's hit, Mo pushed him into the boards but it didn't look like his arm was attached to Mo's mouth at any time. It was just one instance where the Caps came to battle and the Rangers were grasping for excuses.

Donald Brashear was also involved in some controversy with his hit on Blair Betts. Betts had just thrown the puck into the Caps zone and turned to head toward the bench. Brashear hit him high with the shoulder. Each coach had a different opinion on the hit, Schoenfeld thought it was "vicious" while Boudreau called it a shoulder shot.

The hit laid out Betts who did not return and is questionable for Game 7. The hit did look a little late as Betts dumped the puck in, admired his good work and then turn right into Brashear's shoulder. Brash was finishing a check Betts had no idea he was apart of. We will see if the league takes any action on the incident.

Brash's antics started early as he shoved Colton Orr in warmups. Orr was a scratch for Game 6 so Brashear had to find a new dancing partner.

Unlike the first four games of the series the Caps have come out with a little more vinegar. It's pushed the momentum in the Capitals favor and the Rangers are trying to stop the bleeding. Sean Avery has sort of been that buffer between tough play and the Rangers' top performers, but with his benching in Game 5 and confused play in Game 6 it looks as if they were just not in sync.

If you want to add the incident at Verizon between Ranger head coach John Tortorella and a fan, that just goes to how nasty the Caps have gotten in this series. The Caps who rank lowest in the league for unsportsmanlike infractions through out the regular season. But this is the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's a whole new level of nasty.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Per Tarik, Ranger GM Glen Sather and the Rangers sent a nasty little letter to the league about the incident behind the bench involving John Tortorella pitching a water bottle at a fan. Here is the letter:

Dear Gary:

In addition to your suspension of Coach Tortorella for his actions during last night's game, we respectfully request that you consider appropriate discipline in light of Washington's gross negligence in ensuring the safety of the personnel on the Rangers' bench, including Coach Tortorella, in the face of the Rangers' repeated requests for intervention against egregious fan misconduct during Game 5. As importantly, we would like the League's intervention to ensure that there are adequate security measures in place to protect our personnel in the event there is a Game 7 in Washington.

Neither the NHL nor either team has had the opportunity to conduct a full investigation or to interview all witnesses but the television coverage and the statements made by Rangers bench personnel make clear that Washington utterly failed in its security obligations to the Rangers, not to mention its own fans. The tension was evident from before the opening face-off. Throughout the game, several people seated immediately behind the visitors' bench took advantage of the looseness of the glass panels and the unusually wide gaps between the panels to assault the Rangers with some of the most obscene language imaginable. Because of the way the glass is installed, the patron sitting behind Coach Tortorella (the gray-haired, bearded man in the white T-Shirt) could literally scream into the coach's ear. According to Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay, one patron was screaming at the team, in graphic language, about whether Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have a sexual relationship. This was within earshot of several children seated nearby. Several other fans also made repeated homophobic remarks. Moreover, Mr. Ramsay reported that he and other bench personnel were spit on by one or more "fans" as they yelled through the gaps in the glass.

Your statement tonight referred to alerting security. In the first period, Mr. Ramsay warned the security guard stationed on the nearest stairwell (a large African-American man) that the situation was unacceptable and was likely to get ugly. No action was taken. The misconduct continued. In the second period, Mr. Ramsay warned a female security supervisor that some fans were out of control and that he was concerned that something unfortunate was going to happen. Although this supervisor was equipped with a radio, she apparently took no action, because the same fans were in their seats when the team returned to the bench for the third period. According to press accounts, no fans were ever ejected or permanently removed from their seats.

Washington's failure to respond to what its personnel knew -- and were specifically warned -- was a potentially dangerous situation contributed significantly to this unfortunate incident. Accordingly, we respectfully request that you consider imposing appropriate discipline on Washington for its knowing failure to protect the Rangers and prevent the situation from deteriorating into an incident that reflects badly on all of us. In addition, we must immediately discuss how Washington is going to handle security for any Game 7. Neither the Rangers nor the well-behaved Capitals fans should be forced to endure the extraordinary level of fan misconduct that Washington failed to prevent in Game 5.

Thank you for your consideration.



Seriously? This is what they are worried about.

In all actually, things that were screamed at the Ranger bench in Game 5 were totally unacceptable. The Caps were in control 4-0 at the time so there was no need for that vulgarity. Some Capitals' fans need to keep themselves in check when it comes to what they scream with families and children around.

That being said, was it appropriate for Tortorella to throw water at the fan? No.

Can't everyone just get along for Game 7?

History Repeats

Capitals 5, Rangers 3
Scoresheet - Times - Post

The Washington Capitals have tied up the series with the New York Rangers with a 5-3 win at MSG. The Caps force a game seven for a second straight year. They came out with the same kind of intensity as in Game 5 and it is the defensive core that breaks through in Game 6.

Milan Jurcina got the first goal as the Caps score off of a Ranger give away just inside their zone. The Rangers were able to tie it up on a ensuing power play and Mike Green answered with his first goal in the series on the power play to pull the Caps into the lead again. Tom Poti finished off a beautiful 3 on 1 and the Caps' defense scored the first three goals of the game.

Viktor Kozlov added a great goal that he worked through two other Ranger players then rushed the net and put the puck perfectly up over Henrik Lundqvist for his second goal of the series. Alex Ovechkin finished up the scoring for the Caps as he deflected in a Poti shot to make it 5-1. The Rangers were able to score a couple down the stretch, but by then it was far too late.

Poti played the best game as a Capital ever. Not only was he playing well defensively, he connected three assists to finish with a 4 point night. Poti made a great defensive play on the last Ranger 5 on 3 has he dove to take the puck off the Ranger stick. The move also looked to hurt him a little as he winced in pain after the play. He received the game's first star.

While the Caps looked to be in total domination for most of the game, they did lose their focus late. They took a couple of bad penalties that lead to two 5 on 3 chances for the Rangers. It was a beautiful beginning, but a messy end. The Caps have to finish games off much better than this.

The Caps were called for called for eleven minors in Game 6. They had been averaging about 5 minors in their last four games. They must stay focused and stay disciplined. Other than those problems, it was hard to find fault in the Capitals during this game.

Lundqvist looks human suddenly. If Lundqvist struggles Tuesday night, than the Rangers are in trouble. His counterpart, Simeon Varlamov has continued to play well, making the save when his team needed it. That has been the difference right now between these two teams, goaltenders going in different directions.

Sean Avery returned to the Ranger lineup only to be a non factor. While Avery was trying to play the good son, other Rangers tried to play it tough for the home faithful. Bradon Dubinsky threw his weight around and Ryan Callahan took a couple shots at Ovi.

The biggest hit came in the first period when Donald Brashear made a heavy hit against Blair Betts. The hit I am sure will go to the league for review as the hit was a tad bit high. Betts didn't return to the game and Brashear was only penalized for roughing after the play.

The Caps force a Game 7. They did the exact same thing last year against the Flyers only to lose at home in overtime. The Caps look to play on their experience to pull them through another Game 7. It is a brand new series for the Capitals and Rangers. And if it comes to only one game, I favor the Capitals over the Rangers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Win At Home, Finally

Capitals 4, Rangers 0
Scoresheet - Post - Times

When the Capitals were at practice yesterday at Kettler, the group looked a bit shocked. They were down 3 games to one. Once again, the Capitals find themselves in a do or die situation. They needed a jump, a spark to grow off of, and it came in Game 5 from an unlikely source. Matt Bradley scored his first and second career NHL playoff goals with in seven minutes of one another and the Caps force a Game 6 with a 4-0 win over the NY Rangers.

Bradley earned the game's first star after scoring shorthanded on his first goal and even had the crowd chanting his name after his second. Add goals from the Alexes, Alex Semin with a wicked wrister that beat Henrik Lundqvist right off the face off draw. And Alex Ovechkin who added to his highlight reel with a couple of moves to beat a couple of Ranger defenders when he finally cut through to Lundqvist to put it behind him for only his second goal of the series.

Where Brads and the Alexes gave the Caps the goals, Simeon Varlamov shut the door behind him. Varly gets his second career playoff shut out in just his fourth start in net. The Rangers have only scored three goals against the rookie goaltender. Let me repeat that, in four games only 3 goals have beaten Varly in the Stanley Cup playoffs. We already know Varly has been nothing short of miraculous for the Caps, and somewhat of a magician. His goals against average leads all goaltenders in the playoffs.

Varlamov had his magic wand out again as he made another unbelievable stop in the first. John Erskine broke is stick on a point shot and the Rangers were on the counter attack. Bradon Dubinsky had a jump on the Caps' defense and made a move to get the puck around the rookie goaltender. But again Varlamov, out of nowhere, reached behind him and made the stop as Dubinsky was trying to get the puck around him.

The Capitals did a much better job of getting the puck to the net. It helped that Lundqvist let in a couple of softies and maybe his confidence is shaken a bit. The Caps really haven't changed how they have played. They have turned up the intensity knob though, and the Rangers seemed to crack under the pressure. They just needed a couple of breaks and the Caps got them in Game 5.

The Rangers just couldn't get much going for themselves on their power plays or killing off seven Capital power play chances. They sat their catalyst Sean Avery which may have been a bit of a mistake as the Rangers seemed to lose their grit. Without Avery as a distraction, the Caps seemed to thrive and they dominated the Rangers throughout the first two periods. The Capitals chased Lundqvist from net in the third period and Stephen Valiquette saw his first action in the series.

Not all of the action was on the ice. Midway through the third period a fan gave Ranger head coach John Tortorella a beer shower. Very uncool. That lead to a slew of dismissals of fans both Caps and a few Ranger faithfull too. Most Caps fans know better than that, it was a punk move. After the game, Ray Ferraro (TSN analyst that was between the benches) said they should have taken the glass down and let some of the Rangers show that fan what being tough really means (paraphrasing because he dropped a few choice words that were a bit strong).

After that incident, it got a little chippy on the ice. The Rangers seemed to lose it a little. The meltdown led to two Rangers getting 10 minute misconducts for unsportsmanlike conduct. Dubinsky took a run at Semin and a short time later Colton Orr clothes lined Semin and that created a bit of a stir. From that point it just looked like the Rangers conceded the game.

Mike Green thought he had the Caps' third goal in the first, but he hit the puck with a high stick and it was correctly waved off. Dave Steckel had a great game both in the face off circle where he won 73% of his draws. Both Steckel and Ovechkin had the team high of 5 hits for each. Erskine played another excellent game, not only stepping in when things were getting rough, his defensive game has improved. He finished the night with a plus 3.

The game now transfers back to New York and the Capitals work is not done. They can take a lot of positives from this win, but the score goes back to 0-0 on Sunday. The Rangers are not sweating too much as they still have the series lead. The Caps will have to bring their very best to MSG.

Welcome To Game 5; Will They or Won't They?

Just got to Verizon Center and the Capitals' fans seem upbeat. A cautious upbeat.

The band is rocking out front and the green turtle is packed to capacity, the streets are running red with Caps' t-shirts and jerseys. The Caps were able to bring it back home to battle it out with their fans in their barn, but the feel is different than a year ago.

Even though down 3 games to 1 against Philadelphia, the Caps' faithful were certain it was going to seven games no doubt about it. But today there is just a different feel. Worried that the Ranger goaltender is just too hot for the Caps to cool down. Worried that the Ranger defense has bested the Capitals' aggressive forecheck. There are plenty to worry about for Caps fans who just want to see the boys go a bit farther.

Will Sean Avery even make the Ranger roster? Will the Caps make any changes to their lineup? I will be in the media booth for this one, and updating on Twitter. If you are so inclined to follow.

The affair should be a nasty one with Brooks Laich talking about flying bodies and hinting at more congestion in front of the net. The hungrier team should win tonight.

Rock the Red! Let's Go Caps!

Zero Margin For Error

The Capitals trail in their series with the New York Rangers three games to one. The Capitals have never recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win the series, the Rangers have never blown a 3-1 lead to lose a series. For the Caps to make history, which they are not ashamed to do, they will have to pull together three perfect games.

But let's not concentrate on winning all three games for tonight's tilt. The Caps should just be concentrating on winning Game 5. And there are three keys to the game for them to pull off a win.

1. Take advantage of home ice - It sounds so simple, but the Capitals have blown both games one and two at home. They have to take advantage of the last change and feed off of the raucous crowd. The Verizon Center has to be a much more uncomfortable place for Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. An early goal will energize the crowd and put the pressure on the Rangers.

2. Everything to the net - The puck, the forwards, their sticks, the kitchen sink, Aunt Molly's mole; everything. The Caps have to crowd Lundqvist and make it harder for the Ranger defenders to cut off shooting lanes and passing lanes. In their Game 3 win, the Capitals scored all four goals with in 5 feet of the goal line. Passes originated from at or behind the goal line. That trend must continue.

3. Somebody has to score not named Alex - Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Fleischmann? Fehr? Fedorov? Boudreau? Anyone? The power play has to preform better too.

The good news, the Rangers are still struggling to score, thanks to one Simeon Varlamov (not VAR-la-mov, var-LA-mov thank you very much). The Caps' defense has played much better than Game 1 and parts of Game 2. However, with the way their goaltender is playing, one or two goals is all they need.

The bad news, the odds. They are not in the Caps favor right now. But this is a team that always seems to play better when the odds are stacked against them. Just take it one game at a time boys, staring with tonight.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Hole Gets Deeper

Capitals 1, Rangers 2
Scoresheet - Times - Post

Just when the Capitals think they have figured things out, they get caught in their own self confidence and nearly get shutout the very next game. The Rangers came out with a bit more vigor in Game 4 and the Caps were not able to keep everything at bay. Even with Alex Ovechkin scoring his first goal of the series, they are now on the brink of elimination losing to the Rangers 2-1.

Ovechkin scored his first goal of the series in the third period. It cut the Ranger lead in half, but in the end it just wasn't enough. The Rangers came out and scored goals in the first and second periods putting the Caps against a mountainous two goal lead. The Caps answered with a barrage of shots at Henrik Lundqvist, but the lead was just too much for them to overcome.

The Caps power play was a dud. No worst than a dud, nonexistent. It was predictable and slow, the Rangers' defense picked off just about every cross ice pass. When the Caps needed it the most, the power play failed them. The Rangers gave them every opportunity to score but the Caps just could not convert.

Coming off of one of the team's best performances, the Capitals now face the threat of elimination and down once again 2 games. Coming home will not be as welcoming as if they could have pulled another win at MSG. And their play of late at Verizon Center has some concern that this will only be a five game series.

Simean Varlamov played another spectacular game. He couldn't do much about the first goal, which was deflected in off of John Erskine's stick. The second goal was his mistake after he couldn't glove down the point shot and Chris Drury (of all people) put away the sharp angle rebound to give the Rangers the 2-0 advantage.

Once the Rangers had the lead, it seemed no matter what the Capitals could do it was futile. Lundqvist seems to feed off of leads and he faced down a multitude of shots while the Rangers returned to their defensive ways and protected the lead. Clearly of the Capitals wish to beat the Rangers they will have to be the first to score.

The Caps can no longer be cavalier about being down two games. They have to be perfect from here on out and try to force a Game 7. A position they shouldn't be in if they had taken care of business at home. But for some unexplained reason, playing at home has been a travesty.

Alex Ovechkin just does not have the support he needs right now. Mike Green has been held from the scoresheet for the entire series. The Caps can't seem to get lines 2 and 3 on the scoresheet or to create some kind of pressure. Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Sergei Fedorov and even Nick Backstrom have to starting scoring goals.

Credit the Rangers defense. It is a tough nut to crack. But it is doable. The Caps have to find ways to score. Their power play has to start producing or agitator Sean Avery will just do what ever he feels, getting under the skin of the Caps.

Fehr and Laich were both a minus two. Ovechkin fired eleven shots at Lundqvist, only one beat him. The Caps were dismal in the face off circle only winning 33% of the draws. The Rangers outhit the Caps 27 to 24 and they also had 16 blocked shots.

The Capitals have to now do the extraordinary to even make it past the first round. Or they will fail to meet their expectations and leave only questions as they drift off to the off season. There is nothing beyond Game 5 for the Capitals. They must win, and they must win now. Anything other will be a disappointment.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Varlamov, The Magician

The Circus was just in town at Madison Square Garden. They forgot their magician. Simeon Varlamov was spectacular in only his second playoff start getting both the win and a shutout. He did it with a bit of slight of hand, misdirection, and pure quickness. No smoke, no mirrors. Now you see an open net, now you don't.

"We had great goaltending by Varly, it starts there," Caps' defenseman John Erskine said. "(It) gives us confidence, our forwards are coming back and helping us out. We're getting the breaks."

The two early goals also helped out. The Rangers had the lead or tie for nearly 5 periods of play before last night's tilt. By scoring a pair in the first period, the Capitals finally put the pressure on the Rangers in Game 3.

"(Varlamov) played well last game, we just didn't score any goals for him," Caps' forward Brooks Laich said. "We get the first goal, which was nice; but then we get the second one, which now makes them press a little bit more. Then we play sound defensively."

Sounds simple. Everyone seemed to enjoy Varlamov's show, except the New York Rangers and their fans. That frustration boiled over to the scoresheet as the Rangers took eight minor penalties and Sean Avery received a game misconduct and escorted off the ice. The Rangers had a hard time keeping their composure, but with shots disappearing into Varlamov's glove, it was easy to see why.

"I'm not going to whine about penalties," Torts replied. "We stunk. Simple."

While the Rangers were not composed, Varlamov was. Just like a magician setting up the act; he was calm, cool and collect between the pipes for the Capitals. The Caps rallied around their young goaltender who has the Caps' farm team on one half of his mask and the Caps logo on the other. With the type of composure the young goaltender showed, maybe it is time to lose the bear.

"I was more nervous starting in Montreal," Varlamov said through an interpreter when he was asked if he was nervous about starting at MSG. "Today was not as bad."

The rookie goaltender stopped all 33 shots his way. Varlamov made some dynamite saves, a few of them at point blank range. When Nik Zherdev seemed to have an open net when a arrant pass landed on his stick, there was Varlamov in position. He tried to deke around him and Varly shot out his left pad to make the save. Now you see a goal, now you don't.

Varlamov also got a lot of help from his lovely assistants (eh-em, teammates). Alex Ovechkin had to hot foot it back to swipe away a break away chance by the Rangers. Besides a rebound that came to an open Ryan Callahan who hit the post (some sort of telekinetic power to keep the puck out), most rebounds came right to a Capitals' stick, magically. That usually means that the team is playing well in front of their goaltender.

"I thought they played very well defensively, and I thought we stunk defensively. That was the key to the game," Tortorella said. "They defended really well in front of their net. We were chasing our tail all night long, spinning and watching the puck."

Varly's act drew plenty of attention from the Rangers' heckler (agitator) in Game 3. Avery, doing what he does best, tried to get into Varly's grill and chirp. It is kind of hard when the goaltender does not know English all that well. But when asked about the encounter after the game, Varlamov just shook it off.

"My main job is to catch the puck," Varly replied. "I was trying to focus on the game."

"I have no idea," a coy Erskine replied when asked what Avery was saying to Varlamov before he cheap shot him. "He was just yipping and being Sean Avery." Erskine was also asked about the punch Avery gave him early in the second period. "It wasn't the hardest punch by Sean Avery," Erskine deadpanned.

Varlamov earned the red hard hat following the game and the game's number one star. We can't wait to see the second show, Varlamov the Magnificent.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Varlamov Answers For Caps

Capitals 4, Rangers 0
Scoresheet - Times - Post

Henirk Lundqvist shut the Capitals out at Verizon Center in front of the Capital faithful in Game 2. In Game 3, Simeon Varlamov answered right back in Madison Square Garden. Varlamov gets his first NHL playoff win with his first NHL playoff shut out. The Caps finally put a few past the Ranger netminder and put together a picture perfect road game to beat the Rangers in their house, 4-0.

Finally, the Capitals put the pressure on, being much more aggressive on the forecheck and getting their scoring back on track. Thanks to a pair of early goals by Alex Semin, the Caps seemed to gain momentum and the Rangers just got more and more frustrated as the game wore on. Brooks Laich cashed in his opportunity on the power play and Tom Poti added some insurance late on a pretty set up play by Nick Backstrom.

Alex Ovechkin tried to play head games with the Rangers when he sat through their warm ups earlier in the day. A team trainer asked him to leave. Ovechkin may have been playing games with the Rangers heads, but all the Rangers could see tonight was Varlamov making yet another save.

"He made some big saves -- no doubt about it, he played well," Ranger forward Brandon Dubinsky told reporters following the game.

But the first goal was all the Caps needed as Varlamov stopped every shot his way. He came up with some good saves throughout the game, but his best save was late when a broken play sent a puck to a wide open Nik Zherdev who tried to cut the puck back to the slot with Varly sliding in the other direction. But some how, some way Varlamov came up with the save. He was simply a magician tonight, coming up with saves that he just had no business saving. It clearly upset the Rangers.

Donald Brashear made a return to the line up. Caps' coach Bruce Boudreau put him in as a late addition and it added some grit and spark to the Caps. It did not take long before Brash mixed things up right on Lundqvist front mat taking on two Rangers at once. Brash seemed to create that spark that the Caps seemed to lack in Game 2. It also seemed to keep most of the Rangers honest. His presence made for a better Capital team.

The Rangers' agitator, Sean Avery, hurt more than he helped in Game 3. First he flat out punched John Erskine trying to get the big guy to drop the gloves, but Erskine didn't bite. Then in the third period, Avery tried to mix it up with Varlamov, as he tried to talk trash to a kid who knows very little English.

"(Avery) was just trying to stir it up, trying to do his job," Boudreau recalled the incident. "But he was doing it with a guy (Varlamov) who doesn't know what he's talking about."

Avery was sent to the sin bin three times before taking a cheap shot at Varlamov. The shot cost him 2 and 10 and he was shown the door. Erskine was nearby again and did an excellent job of not getting goaded into another dumb penalty.

The sad thing is for the Rangers, Avery had the most shots on net than any other (5), defenseman Micheal Rosival had the second most with four shots. The Caps did an excellent job keeping the Ranger snipers at bay. Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund and Nik Antripov were all held to 3 shots, and Varly stopped them all.

Ovechkin had two assists as he took a backseat in this game, passing rather than shooting. But Ovi would rather win the game than rack up the goals. Backstrom had the playmaker with three assists himself, including a play where he took out Ryan Callahan against the boards and getting the puck to a waiting Ovechkin who found Semin for the Caps' second goal. It is prime example of how the Caps did a better job of finding the open player and their early jump had the Rangers playing catch up.

This is the type of performance Capital fans have been waiting for. A team that look much like it did in December and January. The Caps played their best team game and Varlamov's shut out was the cherry on top. But they are not out of the woods just yet.

"It was an important game, but it's over," said Ovechkin. "It's done. It's history. And we have to battle next game."

Clearing Some Blockage

The New York Rangers are holding strong to the old saying that offense wins you games, defense wins you championships. Their 29 blocked shots frustrated the Capitals and earned their goaltender Henrik Lundqvist with a shut out, his third of his career. The Caps are down in a 2 game hole, but you wouldn't know it by their attitude.

Alex Ovechkin has been here before. In fact, this Capital team was looking at a two game disadvantage to a team the looked like they had the Caps well in hand just last year. But the Capitals won the next one at home and the next one on the road to force a game seven. It took a lucky bounce off of a shot from the point that beat the Capitals.

This team does its best when its back is to the wall. This time they won't be facing down elimination. "Last year we lost three in a row and we bounced back," Ovechkin said. "We're going to play the same way."

Meanwhile, Bruce Boudreau is looking to take some of the pressure off of Ovi. "The people that have been around here all year know that Ovie wants to win as bad as anybody and sometimes he takes too much pressure upon himself to do it," Boudreau said. "Individually he's probably worried so much that everything relies on him and it shouldn't. We should be taking pressure off of him. It's not a one-man team."

The Caps will have to solve the blocking machine that is the Rangers. Following the lead of head coach John Tortorella whose teams are synonymous with blocking shots. If the Caps can not find a way to get shots to the net, they will suffer the same fate they did in Game 2.

One way to break that is to shot off net or make that one extra pass. The Capitals also need to some how get more traffic in front of Lundqvist who of late has looked pretty comfortable in net so far. The Caps have made the effort, but the Rangers have been doing a good job of boxing out their opponents.

"Miss 'em, quite frankly," Boudreau said after the optional practice yesterday. "Shoot it where they ain't."

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Some interesting quotes from yesterday's game.

"Obviously we couldn't get anything by him (Henrik Lunqvist), and the one we got by him hit the crossbar. It was probably the only one that beat him. Lundqvist had to make more saves than our guy, but it was a disappointing end to a great game for us." -Bruce Boudreau

"It's huge to have a lot of guys to block shots and sacrifice their bodies in a series like this, especially when you face so many good players that can shoot the puck. We had a lot of blocks in the first game, especially after faceoffs, and again they came up big on a couple that they had a pretty good shot opportunity. We did a lot of good things." -Henrik Lundqvist

"That commitment and ability to get down there and get in the way of an Ovechkin one-timer like Freddy (Sjostrom) did in the second; that shows how badly he wants it." -Chris Drury

"We make one mistake and they use it." -Alex Ovechkin

"The guy who shot the puck played it very well. I didn't really have a lot of chance to get it. It was right in the upper corner." -Simeon Varlamov (through an interpreter)

"We have to regroup and go on the road for two games. It's going to be a little uphill, but we still have chances. It's a best-of-seven, so we still have chances." -Nick Backstrom

"Anything can happen. We didn't lose the series here. Like our coach said, Carolina won the Stanley Cup and they lost two in a row before bouncing back. You never know what is going to happen. You never give up." -Alex Ovechkin talking about Carolina in 2006 who lost both of their home games before winning the series and later the Cup.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bye-Bye Home Ice Advantage

Capitals 0, Rangers 1
Scoresheet - Post - Times

The Capitals found a horrible time to struggle to find their scoring. Out shooting the New York Rangers 35-24 and playing another dominate first period, the Caps could not solve Henrik Lundqvist and the Ranger defense. The Caps lose both home games and limp to New York down 2 games to none with a Ranger 1-0 win.

Simeon Varlamov was the surprise starter in net for the Caps. The Rookie goaltender played well but Lundqvist played better. He was the only bright spot for the Capitals in this afternoon tilt. He stopped 23 shots including a few close in encounters with Sean Avery.

Unlike in Game 1, the Capitals seemed to come out flat. More afraid of making mistakes on the defensive end than pushing the Rangers in their zone, their lackluster performance turned to frustration as the game wore on. the Capitals took 5 penalties including a rare roughing call against Alex Semin late in the game.

The Rangers' forwards did a fantastic job of getting into those Capitals' shooting lanes on the point and the Caps had a hard time getting pucks to the net. The Rangers did not need a lot of scoring, they just had to frustrate the Caps enought and Lundqvist did the rest, stopping all 35 shots his way.

Alex Ovechkin had a prime scoring chance in front of the net late, wide open he shot it high right over the shoulder of Lundqvist and over the net. The Caps had some other prime opportunites that were either stifled by the Ranger defense, or the passes were not crisp or off mark.

Ovi finished with six shots on net and five give-aways, not his best performance. Mike Green was no better with seven give-aways.

Instead of tying up the series at home, the Capitals now fall behind two games. They lacked a certain punch late in the game when the Rangers seemed to be getting in tacky little punches and some face washes. The Capitals missed thier bruiser Donald Brashear who was available for the game, but sat out. There just needed to be a fight or something to build on in this game. Instead the Capitals just kept getting caught head long into the Rangers' D.

There is just no excuse for the scoring though, the Caps have struggled at times to play through their wins, but scoring has never been the issue. If they do not start getting pucks in the net, it will be a very short playoff season.

Good news for the Capitals, they have been a better road team of late. They have simplified their game when in the opposing arena and that might help the Caps come back. They have made a mountian of a mole hill for not taking advantage of their standings.

They also have to start getting pressure on Ranger goaltender Lundqvist. He just looks to comfortable there. He is not scrambling for position or making quick descisions. He has had the time to see every shot. There has to be more spark from this now frustrated team.

The Caps will stay in town for a practice on Sunday before heading to the Big Apple for Game 3.

Varlamov To Start?

Simeon Varlamov is taking shots right now in warmups as if he is the starting goaltender tonight. A turn around from what Bruce Boudreau alluded to at yesterday's practice. Although, Boudreau never said out right Jose Theodore would start. it seems he is letting Varlamov in on the fun for this afternoon's tilt.

Welcome to the NHL Playoffs Simeon.

Pressure On Caps For Game 2

With a game one loss, the Washington Capitals admitted it was a tough loss. But not the end of the world. The Rangers 4 - 3 win shocked the Verizon Center faithful and left some questions on who was going to start in net for game two. But that question turned into an answer closer to the end of practice yesterday.

"You'll see it in the warmup," Bruce Boudreau teased reporters. "But look it, it's not a big surprise. Theo is our number one goalie."

Jose Theodore took the blame for the loss on Wednesday night. "There really is no excuse," he said following Game 1 Wednesday night. "You need to make a couple of key saves at the key moments."

The team was quick to come to the defense of their goaltender with several Caps talking about giving the Rangers too many scoring chances. A problem they plan to rectify in Game 2. "I mean, (the Rangers) were getting shots from the slot," Mike Green said. "If we're getting shots from the slot we're usually going to score, too. We can't leave (Theo) out to dry like that."

There will be changes made on the defensive side. Jeff Schultz, who also took some of the blame for the game winning goal when he was outdeked by Brandon Dubinsky, will sit out this afternoon with an undisclosed injury. Brian Potheir will make his first appearance in the series.

The Capitals also want to do a better job creating traffic in front of Ranger goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "We have to make some traffic," Alex Ovechkin said. "We have to make some rebounds. We have to pay some price." Lundqvist was clearly the best Ranger player in Game 1, and the Caps have to make his job a lot harder.

On the flip side, the Rangers sounded like they just got away with shoplifting a candy bar from the corner drug store. "I thought we were a nervous club, but that we rebounded well in the second period," Ranger coach John Tortorella said. "(We) found a way to get our legs underneath us. (We had) big plays at big times. We were fortunate to get a win."

The Rangers seem to be fooling the Caps with some fancy drop passes just inside the blue line, that is how they scored two of their four goals. The Caps have to do a better job of stepping up to the blue line and forwards have to be sharp on the back check.

Sean Avery would have to be a saint after getting away with the stuff he got away with in Game 1. Running interference will raise some red flags for the officials who I am sure have taken a look at the replay of the game to recognize some errors.

In this tilt this afternoon the Capitals will have to do a better job on the penalty kill. They have a allowed the Rangers two big goals with a man advantage. Their power play is sufficient, especially against one of the best PK units in the league, but they have to simplify their play and get the puck to the net.

Bottom line for the Capitals, they have to take advantage of their scoring chances. "It's the playoffs and if you do get chances to score goals you have to use them," Ovechkin told reporters following practice. "We didn't use our chances and we lost the game. Next game, we just have to use our chances, play smart in the offensive zone and be more responsible on our chances."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Saturday Is A New Day

The Washington Capitals outplayed the New York Rangers for a majority of the game. Out shooting them in the first period 14 - 4. A majority of the ice was tilted to the visitor's side. And it took a non-call for the Rangers to get the response goal to the Capitals power play.

There are numerous positives to take from game one for the Caps. Their physical play set the tone for how they wanted to treat this team. If the Rangers' heads are constantly on a swivel, they would be concentrating on who coming at them rather than someone who is open.

The Caps also were good on the power play. Even though they were not able to score in the third to take the lead, the Caps took away two goals out of a tough penalty kill team. They were able to move the puck well, set up plays and find the open passing lanes. But they need to get the puck to the net.

The face off dot was also an area where the Caps excelled. Four players were over 70% on their draws. That is important to establish for offensive chances in the offensive zone or quelling a chance in the defensive zone. Boyd Gordon's return helped in that regard, in five draws he won 4.

Believe it or not, the Caps have cut down on their penalties. The Rangers did take advantage of two of the penalties, but take away Mike Green and Sergei Fedorov's delay of game penalties and the Caps were only called for two infractions. The Rangers, however, took seven penalties.

The game one loss hurts home ice advantage. But the Capitals have been a tough road team of late. They had a 6-3-1 in their last ten games of the season. And the Caps have also felt pretty comfortable at MSG forcing overtime in their last two games there where they came out with a win and a shootout loss.

Last note, the Capitals won their opening game against Philadelphia last year. A lot of good it did them. The Rangers still have to win another 3 games against a team that usually answers a loss with a win.

The San Jose Sharks are favored to win the Cup this year by many experts and they also lost their first home game in their series against Anaheim. Meaning series are never won after just one game.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Some Thoughts On Last Night's Action

The Washington Capitals were the only home team to lose their game last night. So much for home ice advantage. Bruce Boudreau now faces a tough decision, stick with Jose Theodore or go with rookie Simeon Varlamov. It may seem like a rash move, but that is how much Boudreau disliked Theo's performance last night.

"There’s times when you sit there, you need the save, and he didn’t make the save when we needed it," Boudreau said.

The Cap's power play was good, but not good when they wanted it to be. The power play chance in the third period to get the go ahead goal fell short when the Caps looked to make the perfect play. Instead of looking for that home run play, the Caps needed to keep the play simple and get the puck to the net. Their second power play goal by Alex Semin was scored in that very fashion, getting to the net broke down the Ranger coverage.

Another disappointing factor of game 1 was the officiating. I do not like to pick on the officials, but there were some blatant missed calls on the play following the Caps' opening goal in the second. Nik Antropov's interference with Tomas Fleischmann in the zone was missed and just seconds later Sean Avery's interference on Mike Green lead to a unassisted goal by Scott Gomez. It also prompted a long conversation between Boudreau and Referee Tim Peel at the start of the third period.

The Capitals were clearly ready for a fight, the Rangers came out nervous leading to a first period mismatch that resulted in a 14 - 4 shot count. But the Caps didn't score during that stretch. Even with two power plays, they failed to generate a single goal which could have lead to further frustration.

Nick Backstrom was at times brilliant. He made a couple behind the net passes to a wide open players in front of the net. He had an assist but some of his passes were mishandled. In fact, many passes made by Capitals seemed to miss their mark. Alex Ovechkin himself took a number of passes in his feet, especially when he was wide open and had a perfect shooting lane. The passes have to be more precise.

The good news, the Caps have a couple of days to fix the problems. Even if that means making a change in net.

"There’s a chance anything could happen," Boudreau said. "When you lose, you make changes."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Caps Drop Game 1

Capitals 3, Rangers 4
Scoresheet - Times - Post

The Capitals could not have asked for a better start, except for a goal. The Caps out shot the Rangers 14 to 4 and kept the pressure on. But the Rangers survived the barrage of hits and shots and took advantage of their opportunities. The Capitals faltered to crack the Ranger defense late. The New York Rangers shock the Verizon faithful and take a one game lead in the series with a 4-3 win over the Capitals.

The Caps didn't get playoff performance from Jose Theodore. Of the four goals that beat him, all of them beat him top shelf. Theo seemed tentative and too far back in his crease. He didn't play aggressive out on top of the crease. Instead of playing in the playoffs, Theodore seemed like he was still in regular season mode.

"I'm not happy with my game," Theodore said. "I wasn't good enough. But in the playoffs, you bounce back and that's it. You have to turn the page."

Alex Ovechkin did come to play. Not only did help open the scoring with a power play assist in the second, he was just a force in the first half of the game. He had 6 shots and 6 hits in the first period alone. He finished the night with two assists. Tomas Fleischmann was credited with the first goal for the Caps.

The Rangers responded soon after. There were actually two blown penalty calls that allowed New York to tie it up. Nik Antripov interfered with Fleischmann allowing the puck to clear the zone and Sean Avery tripped up Mike Green allowing Scott Gomez an open path to the goal and the Rangers were on the board. From there, the Caps took two bad penalties and the Rangers capitalized on both chances stretching their lead to 3-1.

Viktor Kozlov saved face for the Caps in the second with a late tally. Nick Backstrom cut down the left wing side and Kozlov made a b-line to the net to score with under a minute left. Alex Semin tied it in the third Ovechkin threw the puck in front of the net and the rebound coming right to an open Semin. It seemed the Caps had won the momentum back, but the Rangers responded with the game winning goal.

The game winner was not all Theo's his fault. Jeff Schultz had a game he would love to forget. After mishandling the puck a few times he was deked out of next week by Brandon Dubinsky who undressed Schultz and scored the game winner. Just when it seemed the momentum shifted, it only took a few mistakes for the Rangers to unravel it all.

Avery had a target tonight and it wasn't Ovechkin. Avery seemed concentrated on Green who seemed to have brought his physical game to this opening game. Green was prepared for every hit and doled a few out himself. But Avery did catch Green along the boards near the Ranger bench. Avery hit him and tried to dump him into the bench. The hit was a good second after Green had released the puck.

The game took a physical tone early thanks to Matt Bradley and Shaone Morrisonn who both played their most physical games of late. Bradley opened the game with a huge hit that set the tone early and Morrisonn played his best defensive game I have witness in a while.

The Caps have a couple of days to right the ship. They need to be more precise with their passes as well as keep dumb penalties to a minimum. This is a much more aggresive forecheck team than what the Caps may have expected, and it seemed to cause problems for them down the stretch.

On special teams the Caps were 2 for seven, but the Rangers were better with 2 of 4 chances. The Caps had an opportunity in the third to go up 4-3 after they tied, but it looked as if they were trying to hit the home run play rather than just getting the puck to the net. The penalty kill was okay, but not great.

A funny moment in the third period, Ovechkin lost his helmet on a hit with Marc Staal. But play kept going until it was Ovi's turn to go back on the ice. Since a player cannot take the ice with out a helmet he had to borrow Bradley's. With no visor, Ovechkin may have looked a little weird as he made a hit and had a missed shot on net with the visor-less helmet.

It Begins - Capitals vs. Rangers

Alex Ovechkin is not too concerned about his goaltender. In the locker room after practice he couldn't say enough about how much confidence he had in the 32 year old net minder. So did all of the other Capitals.

"We are confident in our goalie," Ovechkin told reporters following practice. "We are confident in our team."

Jose Theodore has a good history in the playoffs and a little bit of luck. He is a perfect 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs. A stat that plays in the favor against a Ranger team that has been struggling to score. Don't talk about Theodore's inconsistencies to the Capitals, they are not hearing a word of it.

What they will be hearing a lot of is Ranger Sean Avery. Avery has returned to New York and already he has made a difference. While he has the power to get under one's skin, he is also a scoring threat on the power play and the checking line. While the talking gets him noticed, the Caps will have to deal with his antics through out the series.

The Capitals are facing a different New York Ranger team from what they saw during the season. With a new coach and some new players, Bruce Boudreau was quick to throw out the 3-1 regular season series lead they had against them.

"It's not the system that's changed, it's the mentality," Boudreau said, addressing the media. "You can see a different hunger in their eyes. That may be strange to hear, but you can watch two tapes at the end of Tom's run and John's run now. That usually happens with a coaching change. I don't know either man, how they coach, but reputation-wise it looks like John's a little more fiery and gets 'em going."

The Rangers are looking for a big upset despite their lack of scoring. Which means they will be relying heavily on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. He has killed penalties on his own, played tough in big games and even addressing his pad size when called out on having over sized gear.

"It's funny, I've heard that before," Lundqvist retorted. "There's no way you can cheat because they measure it all the time. Sometimes, it's the way you stand... I guess I look big."

While the Capitals have had no trouble in the scoring department, it has been defense they have struggled with down the stretch. They have allowed nearly 30 shots per game in their last six games. It is a number that the Caps aren't overly excited about. The blue liners would like to keep that number in the low to mid 20's to give themselves a chance.

Tom Poti, Donald Brashear and Brian Potheir are all questionable to start in game one. Karl Alzner may be a late call up from Hershey. Alzner did not practice with the team in the past two days. Boyd Gordon has practice fully with the team, but is still listed as injured.

Home ice should be a factor as well, as the Verizon Center should be very loud and very into it. It has been a bright spot for the Caps all season. All of the Capitals numbers improve at the phone booth; power plays, penalty kills, even shots on goal. The Capitals are looking forward to taking advantage of that fact all series long.

Game 1, Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers, 7:00 pm et, CSN (HD), MSG (HD), TSN (HD).

Bring On The Cup '09 - Fearless Predictions Pt. 2

San Jose looks pretty good coming out of the Western Conference, but what about the East. With the playoffs just hours away now, it's time to see who I predict will come out of the East to play with the Sharks.

The Eastern Conference could have been a toss this year, much like last season. But there are a few teams that have some momentum going and I doubt it is as wide open as some may think. There are some very good teams like Boston and Carolina that seem poised for a good run. While other teams seemed to flounder down the stretch. The East's teams were set early on, nearly a week before the end of the season. But I smell upsets up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Round 1

#1 Boston Bruins vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens - These two teams seem destined to play each other in the post season. Although this year the roles have been reversed from last year. The Canadiens were atop of Eastern standings and the Bruins just squeaked in. Boston has been a monster all season long, playing staunch defense and finally their scoring is up. The Canadiens struggled, fired their coach and fluctuated in the standings only to wind up at the lowly 8th spot. But don't count them out, if Alexei Kovalev gets inspired and Boston goalie Tim Thomas plays inconsistent it could be a disappointing end to a whirlwind Boston season.

Briuns limps out in 7 games.

#2 Washington Capitals vs. #7 New York Rangers - A lot of "experts" are calling this the upset of all upsets. Really? The Capitals did not look like a playoff bound team in their last few games of the season. They have allowed 20 goals in their last six games. However, the Caps will be facing a Ranger team that has struggled scoring. If the Rangers can not get the puck in the net, it should be a very short series for them. They will make it interesting though, with the tough play of Henrik Lundqvist in net and pest Sean Avery mixing it up. Plus, the Capitals have a bit of history and luck on their side, their goaltender Jose Theodore is a perfect 4-0 in the first round in his career. It is just the second round you need to be careful of.

Capitals win in 6 games.

#3 New Jersey Devils vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes - It's been a story book year for Martin Brodeur. His injury sidelined him for much of the season, but when he returned the Devils helped him secure his spot in the history books as the winningest goaltender of all time. It could end there for NJ, because they struggled to finish the season. Suddenly they had a lack of scoring and Brodeur didn't look like Brodeur. On the other bench, the 'Canes finished the season with flair. Cam Ward has been playing like he did when they won the Cup years ago and the team seems to be rallying around him. This is a series where both teams seems to be traveling in opposite directions. Upset alert.

Hurricanes win in 5 games.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers - Rematch of last year's Eastern Conference final. Only this time the Flyers will be better rested. The could pose a problem for the flightless fowl who have had trouble finding their identity this season. The Penguins however made a few smart acquisitions at the trade deadline and a coaching changes seemed to spark them. The Flyers, when healthy and on top of their game are a pretty scary team when they want to be. This will be a hard fought, battle of Pennsylvania. I like the Flyers this time, they are holding a grudge.

Flyers win in 7 games.

Round 2 (probable matchups based on Round 1 predictions)

Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes - Interesting matchup. If Boston can stay healthy through their first round against a passionate Montreal squad, I don't see any reason why Boston can't dominate this series. Oh yes I do, Ward. When the 'Canes get the momentum and if they can quickly dispatch of New Jersey, the Bruins will have their hands full. Boston must score early and often if they wish to make it to the conference final. I will flip a coin on this one.

Bruins win in 6 games.

Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers - After an emotional series with Pittsburgh, the Flyers could ride the momentum through the next round, much like they did a year ago when they met Montreal. The Capitals will be shocked to see a grittier team than the Rangers were. If the Capitals' defense shores up in the first round, they should be tougher on the Flyers scoring barrage. But Theodore will have to be sharp. Maybe because it's bias, but I think the Caps can pull it out.

Capitals win in 6 games.

Eastern Conference Final

Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals - When the Caps faced the Bruins in the regular season, they were tight one goal affairs. A chess match that the Capitals seemed to have an edge on. But if the Bruins break out the scoring, it is going to be tough on a Capital squad that is in new territory, deep in the playoffs. It will all depend on which team is more tired and more injured going into the conference final. I like the Capitals depth, but I think Boston will pull it out.

Bruins win in 6 games.

Stanley Cup Final

San Jose Sharks vs. Boston Bruins - We are going to extremes here. Just about as east coast as you get against just about as west coast as you could get. Travel will be a key and I expect home ice will come into play in a big way. Time fluctuations and long plane rides will kill momentum in a heartbeat. The Bruins are not used to that kind of travel on a regular basis, so it is an edge for the Sharks. But the Sharks have to be weary of Boston's attack. In the end, Bruins give it a valiant effort but the Cup stays out west.

Sharks win the Cup in 7 games.

NBC will get their money's worth on that series. The Sharks just look good this year, and if they don't pull out of the west it will be a disappointment for them this season. The one thing that can trip them up is overlooking their first round opponent. It is a hurdle for every team once they get a one or two game lead then blow it down the stretch.

I like Boston coming out of the east just because of their play all season (although being a homer, I would like the Capitals better). But it should be an interesting and winding road for any team out of the east.

About noon today I should be coming out with a game preview of the game tonight with the Caps and Rangers. Don't forget I will be updating on twitter through the whole series. You are happy to follow along at

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bring On The Cup '09 - Fearless Predictions Pt. 1

Can you believe it? It's playoff time, which means it is time to make some predictions. This will be the fourth straight year for PHT's fearless predictions and it's the most exciting due to the Capitals ranked second in the East and they wrapped up a playoff position two weeks before the end of the season.

There are a few newbies to the Playoffs from a year ago which makes this an exciting playoff season. Two Southeast Division teams find their way to the post season, the Blue Jackets get to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Blues not only sneak in but get get a good ranking on their last game and the Blackhawks look tough to beat. So much going on!

Let's start in the West where it was a wild finish. Eastern predictions to follow tomorrow morning.

Round 1

#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Anaheim Ducks - It is an interesting matchup to say the least. The Ducks and Sharks do not really like each other, and going into playoff series with one another is not going to help the situation much. The Sharks however might be a tad too powerful for the Ducks this year, considering goaltending has been the Ducks weak point this season. J.S. Giguere could be the back up. The Ducks will play some tough defense and it should be a good test for the number one team in the league. But the Shark's solid goaltending should win out the day in Evgeni Nabokov.

Sharks win in 7 games.

#2 Detroit Red Wings vs. #7 Columbus Blue Jackets - Central Division rivals meet up for the first time in the playoffs. Actually every thing the Blue Jackets do will be for the first time, since this is their first trip to the post season in franchise history. The BJ's have a tough hill to climb if they are thinking of surpassing the Red Wings who hold the season series over them. The Red Wings are at the top, if not the first, in every category in the league. The Jackets are just trying to do well and they will behind phenom rookie goaltender Steve Mason. If Chris Osgood can keep it together that is.

Red Wings win in 5 games.

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 St. Louis Blues - Look who just crashed the playoff party, the St. Louis Blues. Hard work and determination do pay off. But it is going to be a short playoff series if the Blues can't stop the offensive juggernaut of the Vancouver Canucks while at the same time solving the arguably the league's best goaltender in Roberto Luongo. No easy task. I am afraid that the Blues venture into the post season might be short lived, Vancouver is just on too much of a roll these days to be stopped by a Blues team that has to keep up their intensity and strong forecheck if they want to be successful.

Canucks take it in 6 games.

#4 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #5 Calgary Flames - Proven leadership. That is what this series is going to be about. Jerome Iginla is the poster boy for leadership and he has lead this team to a finals already. Calgary's first test however will start on the road against a young and budding team that is not short on talent. The Blackhawks will have to depend on their goaltending here, Nikolai Khabibulin gets the edge in that department. His experience and tenacious play of late will help the Blackhawks do well. But I just think Calgary's leadership will help them through. Experience over youth.

Flames win in 7 games.

Round 2 (probable matchups based on Round 1 predictions)

San Jose Sharks vs. Calagary Flames - The Sharks offense will be just too much for Calgary unless Miikka Kiprusoff can put together a consistent effort. The Flames will need much more than leadership if they want to continue on. But these two are not strangers in the post season. It should be a dirty, down out fight. But with solid goaltending and an offense that is confident in themselves, San Jose just has an edge.

Sharks win in 6 games.

Detroit Red Wings vs. Vancouver Canucks - This should be a good match up. I imagine Luongo will be at his best against the best. The Red Wings must rely heavily on Osgood in this one and I am just not sure if he is up for that challenge. The Canucks' offense has found a groove. If they keep it up, the Red Wings will have their hands full.

Canucks squeak by in 7 close games.

Western Conference Final

San Jose Sharks vs. Vancouver Canucks - Ooo, a Pacific Division final. Who would have thunk it? Two of the best offensive teams in the west gear up for a show down. Travel shouldn't be an issue with both teams in the Pacific time zone. Goaltending will be the big show down, Luongo and Nabokov will go head to head for their teams. What will be the factor is how fresh the Canucks will be after their tangle with the Red Wings. Both teams seem to be evenly matched in offense, defense and of course in net, but I don't think the Canucks have the experience to take it the distance. Should be one heck of a series.

Sharks win in 6 games.

I really like San Jose coming out of the west. I have predicted it now two years in a row. The Sharks seem to have things going for them as well as the Canucks, but every time I count out the Red Wings, they end up in the finals, again. I don't think the newcomers are in a position to overtake the top teams, but how I have been wrong before.

Eastern Conference predictions and my prediction of the Stanley Cup winner will come tomorrow morning. Then it is game on, bring on the playoffs and bring on the Stanley Cup. We are more than ready.