Saturday, April 30, 2011

Devil Is In The Details

Often in the playoffs, even the minor plays make quite the difference. That was ever more prevalent in game one between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Caps lost game one due to the little things the Lightning were able to accomplish. A lesson Tampa learned and carried over with them from the seven game win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rocking The Rust

Capitals 2, Lightning 4 (Tampa leads series 1-0)
Game Summary

Bruce Boudreau alluded to what the press would decide on the result of game one. If the Caps won they would be rested, if they lost it would be considered rust. The later would be true. The Tampa Bay Lightning fresh off their series win over the Pittsburgh Penguins would put the Caps behind in the series by a game winning 4-2.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Southeast Showdown

#1 Washington Capitals (4-1)
#5 Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3)

Round two is set. The Tampa Bay Lightning will take on the Washington Capitals. The Lightning were down three games to one to the depleted Pittsburgh Penguins to win in game seven 1-0. What has been surprising about the Bolts win is they did it with their defense, a soft spot during the regular season. And having Dwayne Roloson in net didn't hurt either who has won 7 straight elimination games.

First Round Winners And Losers

The first round of the NHL playoffs had just about everything. And age old rivalry, some new foes in post season play and more game sevens than you can shake a hockey stick at. This is what the playoffs should be, right? Some games have been whoppers of games, while others have been snoozers.

So let's get to it, the first round winners and losers:

The Winners

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lesson Learned: Caps Win In 5

Capitals 3, Rangers 1 (Washington wins series 4-1)
Game Summary

(Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)
All the questions about being up in a series and unable to finish, all the doubt through out the year that a defensive system wouldn't suit this team, all the concerns about Ovechkin's low numbers in the regular season, all seemed to be answered for the Washington Capitals in the first series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Capitals make good on what they started with and do away with the New York Rangers in five games by beating them 3-1.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Comeback Kids

Capitals 4, Rangers 3 2OT (Washington leads 3-1)
Game Summary

What appeared to be a rout, the team with the perfect record taking a lead into the third period looked poised to tie up the series at two games apiece. The New York Rangers and their fans seemed to finally get under the skin of head coach Bruce Boudreau and the Capitals. But the raucous crowd turned deftly silent when Jason Chimera chipped in the game winner in double overtime to give the Capitals a strangle-hold on the series with a 4-3 win.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Broadway Revival

Capitals 2, Rangers 3 (Washington leads 2-1)
Game Summary

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Playing desperation hockey, Brandon Dubinsky and the New York Rangers proved they could play close games too. Out working the Capitals, the Rangers claw their way back into the series thanks to a late third period goal despite the Caps rallying twice to tie up the game. They feel better about themselves and cut the Caps' lead in the series by beating them 3-2.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Jasons 2, Rangers 0

Capitals 2, Rangers 0 (Washington leads 2-0)
Game Summary

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
In what would be their best period of the series, the Capitals scored a pair of goals while their net minder Michal Neuvirth came up with the shutout. The only response the New York Rangers could come up with was Sean Avery's antics with seconds left in the game. It would do little to prevent Jason Arnott and Jason Chimera from scoring to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead in the series.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dramatic Finish

Capitals 2, Rangers 1 OT (Washington leads series 1-0)
Game Summary

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The playoffs have returned to Chinatown, Washington, D.C. And it returned in dramatic fashion. The Capitals open their post season march to Lord Stanley's Cup by coming from behind. The New York Rangers seemed to have the game at hand, scoring in the third period and Henrik Lundqvist seemed to have an answer for every Capital offensive chance. But a tying goal by Alex Ovechkin and the OT winner from Alex Semin secures the Caps first win and a series lead as they beat the Rangers 2-1.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Caps vs. Rangers Round II

#1 Washington Capitals (48-23-11, 107 pts.)  
#8 New York Rangers (44-33-5, 93 pts.)

The only team the Capitals have beaten in post season play comes back for revenge. Two seasons ago, the New York Rangers were not considered contenders against a offensive powerhouse that were the Capitals in the first round. The Caps had won their second divisional title with more authority that season. But the Rangers found a way to hold on and force a game seven, in which they lost when Sergei Fedorov pulled up and shot a slapper high on Henrik Lundqvist to give the Caps their first playoff series win since in the Alex Ovechkin era. Now, fast forward to 2011. Two different teams from that moment in time.

Stanley Cup Fearless Predictions: Eastern Conference

Whoa Nelly! Are you ready for the up for grabs Eastern Conference? No team has shown true dominance through out the dominance. In fact, it took to the last handful of games for each of the division champs to secure their crown. But even the pundits can't seem to agree if division champs Boston, Philadelphia or Washington is strong enough to take the Conference. Which makes the field wide open, much like it was last year where the bottom seeds shocked the millions of office pools through out Canada.

To pick a winner is like winning the lottery. Last year the two lowest seeds were battling in the Conference final. Can that repeat again?

Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 New York Rangers

Of course I am going into more detail about this particular series at a later date. The quick overview is Washington will have to learn from it's mistakes through the last three post seasons. All of them have gone to seven games. Even with the Capitals high powered offensive players, it struggled this year to score. But where the offense faltered the defense picked up. For the Rangers, there is little or no fear going into this series. They have taken 3 of the 4 games in the regular season series including a pair of blow out games were the Broadway Blueshirts beat the Caps 7-0 and 6-0. Ouch. If the Rangers can show the offensive spark they had against the Caps in the regular season, the Caps will be going home early with a plethora of questions.

Washington sneaks by New York Rangers in 6 games

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #7 Buffalo Sabres

The Flyers have tripped up in the final stretch of the season and lost their first place in the Eastern Conference to a surging Capitals team. Even though they had to deal with some pretty big losses on the blue line in Chris Pronger and a inconsistent netminding conundrum they are still a scary team to face in the playoffs. They face a team that has turned it on as of late just to make the playoffs. Philly's hard nose play should wear the Sabres talent guys down. I just don't see how Ryan Miller can stop them all.

Philadelphia defeats Buffalo in 5 games

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Montreal Canadiens

Who isn't going to watch this hard charged series. You have history, intrigue, and controversy. Every thing a classic series should have. Will the Habs get their day by putting Zdeno Chara on the golf course early? Can Tim Thomas stop a sneaky Canadien offense that seems to relish in big game goals? Can Carey Price live up to the hype that Jaro Halak left last post season? A lot of questions that are worthy of watching to see the answers. If Boston can lock down defensively and negate the Habs' speed, they will have a much better post season than the come from behind debacle against Philly a year ago.

Boston takes out Montreal in 7 games

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa reminds me a lot of the Caps two years ago. Great offensive talent but so-so defense and okay goaltending. The big question is how the Penguins are going to approach them with out their offensive keys in place with Sidney Crosby not likely to return until round two and no Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins have survived nicely with out either in the line up with others picking up the slack. If Tampa can survive the relentless forecheck of the Penguins and keep the play in Marc-Andre Fluery's end, then they should pull out the upset. But this is a team that needs more playoff experience before that can happen.

Penguins knock out Tampa in 5 games.

Eastern Champion: Boston Bruins

The Bruins have a chance to take it all and the way Tim Thomas is playing, it's plausible to see them conquering the Eastern Conference. They will have to survive an emotional first round against Montreal and battle Washington and Philly to take the Eastern crown. I do think the Capitals can make it to the Conference finals, but injuries will plague them through the post season. It will be Boston that takes honors here.

Stanley Cup Winner: San Jose Sharks

I picked them last year, and for much the same reasons I pick them to win it all last year. Shaking free of their demons, I just like the direction this team is taking themselves. But it will be no easy task for them. They have to keep their scoring up and their goaltending has to be top notch. Plus a series between Boston and San Jose would be pretty intriguing with the age old trade that sent Joe Thronton to the west coast.

Coming up... Series breakdown between the Caps and Rangers.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stanley Cup Fearless Predictions: Western Conference

Before we go into the Caps/Rangers Series A, let's take a look at the big picture and go through what will be some dynamite series as we roll to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Before I have done the Eastern Conference before the Western. This year I am flipping it. As always, you can leave your thoughts below in comments.

In the Western Conference things took a while for the final 8 to settle into their final series places. In fact it took the very last game of the season between the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars to see if last year's champs even make a return to the post season (they did with a Star loss). This Conference has been ultra competitive, but one team has walked away from everyone. The Canucks may not want such a distinction given the fact they are facing a very good Blackhawk team in the first round.

Western Conference Quarter-Final

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #8 Chicago Blackhawks

The Canucks won the President's Trophy for most points in a season. They have the top point getter, most wins by a goaltender and an assist leader to give them a power house team that took their conference by storm. But I don't think they wanted to take on the Cup champs from last year in the first round. While the Hawks have had their bumps in the road, they have played well down the stretch to sneak in on the very last day. With some hard work and a little luck, the Blackhawks look to repeat with the same lack of respect they showed in last season's run. This should be a war of a series.

Vancouver sneaks past Chicago in 7 games.

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #7 Los Angeles Kings

I really like the Kings this year, if for nothing else they have just wanted their wins more this season. If their goaltender Jonathan Quick can stay on top of his game and the Kings show that never say die attitude they could be a handful for the Sharks. But the Sharks have been bitten by the Cup bug shaking some old demons that have plagued them in post seasons past. The Sharks have shown some offensive supremacy against the Kings at times, but the season series is tied at 3 games a piece. If the Kings can make the score tight, they have a very good chance.

San Jose defeats LA in 7 games

#3 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Phoenix Coyotes

It's round two for these two teams from a year ago. Only this time, the Red Wings have home ice advantage. The Coyotes lean heavily on their goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. He has the opportunity to steal a series for them and they will need him against the Detroit powerhouse. The Red Wings do have a weakness this season. Jimmy Howard is the go to guy with no serious back up to, well.. back him up. It makes these two teams a lot even than you might think.

Detroit defeats Phoenix in 5 games

#4 Anaheim Ducks vs. #5 Nashville Predators

This should be an interesting series. Neither team really has a history playoff wise to speak of. The Ducks are coming off their best second half of the season in some time. It helped them secure a playoff spot early and they are looking to return to the promise land. The Predators are still inexperienced at this whole playoff thing, but their emotion and some smart goaltending should help them steal a series from the Ducks.

Nashville upsets Anaheim in 6 games

Western Champs: San Jose Sharks

Just about every pundit has the Canucks coming out of the Western Conference with flying colors. But just looking down the line they have to play a tough team in Chicago in the first round then face teams like San Jose or Detroit down the stretch. I just don't see that happening. The Canucks are already limping into the post season as it is. I think the Sharks have the best line to make it to the Western Conference Final and a chance to actually play for Lord Stanley's Cup.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Put A Fork In It

Capitals 0, Panthers 1
Game Summary

There is some good news and some bad news. Good news, no new injuries and the Caps safely sail into the post season relatively safe. Bad news, it was a frustrating game for an offensive power house struggling to find itself. The Capitals fall in game 82 as the Florida Panthers score late in the third period to ice the last game with a 1-0 win.

At times Bruce Boudreau pushed on 5 forwards in the final minutes to muster up some scoring to tie the game. But the Caps failed to make any significant dent in the Panthers' goaltender Tomas Vokoun's shut-out attempt from giving the faithful at Sunrise a reason to cheer.

The Panthers scored with 6:05 left in the third when Bill Thomas knocked the puck out of the air, catching Michal Neuvirth off guard and slipping past the Caps' goaltender. It was sort of a flukey goal off the face off.

The Capitals special teams played well considering penalties were low on both teams. Just one minor for the Panthers, and a pair of penalties called against the Caps. No fights, no emotion in this one. It was almost like the Caps were just content to get into the post season as the number one seed in the east and get things rolling with their new defensive style.

It will be a rematch of two post seasons ago as the Capitals will take on the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. The Caps were pushed to 7 games with the Broadway Blues before Sergei Fedorov scored the series winning goal in game seven for the Caps' first series win since the lockout of '05.

Season's end

The Capitals finish the season 48-23-11 and with 107 points. Alex Ovechkin lead the team in points (85), goals (32), assists (53), hits (238), game winning goals (11), shots on goal (361). and +/- (+24). Ovi shares the power play goal lead with Mike Knuble, both have 7 goals with a man advantage. Nick Backstrom led the team in power play assists with 18. Neuvirth led the team between the pipes with 27 wins, but it's Braden Holtby with the hot save percentage at 1.79. Matt Hendricks had the most penalty minutes with a modest 108 minutes.

As a team, the Capitals finish second in the league in points and games won behind the Vancouver Canucks. They were a modest 19th in the league in goals per game (2.67), but fourth in goals allowed per game (2.33). The power play struggled this season only at 17.5% effectiveness, good for 16th league wide. Their penalty kill has been exceptional finishing fourth in the league at 85.6%.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Prelude To The Playoffs?

Capitals 5, Sabres 4 OT
Game Summary

Alex Ovechkin can still prove to be dangerous in overtime. He recorded is franchise leading 11th overtime game winning goal in his career. It was a goal he would dance to as he defeated a team that may come to call in the post season in the Buffalo Sabres with a deflected shot that would sneak past Jhonas Enroth for the final score of 5-4.

For Ovechkin it notches 30 goals for what will be a career low for the left winger as the season starts to wane. Mike Knuble would tally two goals while Alex Semin and Jason Arnott rounded out the scoring for the Capitals.

It was a quick start for the Caps as they jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game. Enroth could not control John Carlson's shot on net and Knuble was there to clean up the rebound just :37 seconds into the game. Four minutes later, a similar play did in the Sabres as the shot was mishandled by their goaltender and Semin was on the door step to make sure the puck went in.

But the lead didn't last long. The Sabres answered with a screened shot and a soft goal given up by Michal Neuvirth. Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford would pull the game even before the game turned ten minutes old. After the flurry of scoring subsided, both teams seemed to settle in to play better defense and the game would remain scoreless through the second half of the first period, the second period and half way through the third.

Paul Gaustad would score the tie breaker in the third period at the 12 minute mark putting the Sabres in the lead. That would not last long as the Caps roared back and answered with Knuble scoring his second goal off of a deflected Brooks Laich shot on the power play. The Sabres would make it interesting by scoring on their powerplay chance to take the lead back as Stafford scored his second of the game. Stafford's goal was the result of a pass that had been knocked in from a hard charging Carlson after the Caps turned the puck over on the offensive end.

But the Caps get lucky in the dying minutes of the game as Gaustad was called for high sticking at 18:35. With the Neuvirth on the bench Jason Arnott, parked in front of Enroth, calmly reigned in a rebounded shot and back handed it past the Sabres' net minder to tie the game at 4 and force the overtime penalty. The charged crowd at Verizon Center erupted with Arnott's tally.

Ovechkin would get the game winner on the same kind of bounce Stafford had scoring late in the third period. His pass would be deflected by a pair of Sabre defenders before finding the edge of the net just inches from Enroth's out stretched leg pad. The goal sealed the game for the Caps who take the season series from the Sabres 3-1 and prompted Ovi's dance. He would finish the night with three points (1g, 2a).

Nick Backstrom played the strongest game yet this year. He would get the play-maker with three assists and add 4 shots of his own on Enroth. Semin had two points (1g, 1a), and Marco Sturm and Laich would each get an assist on the night while defenseman Carlson had a pair of assists.

The Caps showed some brilliant resiliency against a desperate team trying to keep themselves in the playoffs. The game had a tension to it similar to a playoff game, a good test for both teams. There was a lot of ebb and flow to the game for both sides as each team seemed to have the answer to the others goals.

The Capitals are limping into the post season as they deal with injuries down the stretch. Sean Collins was recalled from Hershey to boost the blue line as John Erskine sat out with what was called a "minor" injury. Even with a depleted D core, the Caps defense soldiered on.

The schedule winds down with a pair of road games, one against Toronto. The other is part of a final home and home with the Florida Panthers before the Caps close the book on another 82 game season.