Friday, April 03, 2009

'08-'09 Southeast Division Champions Lose

Capitals 4, Sabres 5 OT
Scoresheet - Post - Times

It only took one point for the Washington Capitals to claim the Southeast Division crown, but it was the Buffalo Sabres had the last laugh. Jason Pominville scored the game winner 1:51 into the extra frame to give the Sabres a much needed two points to stay within reach of a playoff spot. The Caps meanwhile were able to push the game to overtime which gave them their single point to claim the Southeast title, but again have struggled defensively against at home.

Alex Ovechkin scored on the power play off of a great pass from Brooks Laich. But it didn't take long for the Sabres to tie and then take the lead into the first intermission. The Caps answered when the Sabres took a slew of bad penalties. Alex Semin scored on a 5 on 3 and Sergei Fedorov added another power play marker to take back the lead.

The Sabres were able to tie the game again before Fedorov scored his second goal on a shot that had eyes to beat Ryan Miller. The Caps regained the lead into the third but the Sabres came back with some sustained pressure in the final frame. They had the Capitals on the run in their zone a bit too much, even scoring early in the third but it was washed out after Maxim Afinogenov made contact with Simeon Varlamov in the crease. But Afinogenov got his game tying goal after the Caps collapsed in their zone and it pushed the game to overtime.

In the extra frame, the Caps seemed content playing at a lesser pace than the Sabres. Buffalo came out with nothing-to-lose flare and forced a bad turnover by the Caps in the neutral zone. That set up a two on one that set Pominville free and clear to beat rookie Varlamov five-hole. It was just another bad mistake that plagued the Caps all game.

The game itself was pretty intense with the raucous crowd into it and a few Sabres' fans in the stands. But the intense atomosphere did not seem to help the Caps. When the Caps have faced adversity in last two months or so, they have not faired well. It puts some question marks on the preparedness of the Capitals as they enter the post season.

Bruce Boudreau and several players have pointed to an effort to be committed to defense and off the puck positioning. There were several breakdowns on that front for the Caps in this game, and those breakdowns lead to Sabre chances and goals. One of the biggest problems the Caps face is not supporting the puck carrier in their own zone. There is such a rush for the wingers to leave their defensive zone that if the puck carrier turns it over, it leads to odd man opportunities in the other direction.

Varlamov played well, his new half and half mask with the Caps logo on one side and the Hershey Bears logo on the other is pretty wild. Varly did have a few game saving stops, but at times he was left on his own, especially on the overtime goal. I think he would have liked to have that shot back.

The Capitals play their final home game Sunday against Atlanta. The Thrashers apparently did not get the memo that there is no way they will make the playoffs, because they have been on a tear late this season. They are a dangerous team to play and the Caps have a home and home with them. The Devils won their game with Tampa Bay, which will put pressure back on the Caps to seperate from their third place foes.

The Caps are down to their final four games and it is more important than ever for them to show some more gusto down the stretch. There is no time to lay back and rest on one's laurels, as the Caps still want to keep hold of that second place standing.

Tonight should have been a celebration of winning the Southeast Division, instead it was the Sabres who cleared the bench and celebrated on the Verizon Center ice.

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