Game 2: Caps Tie Series at 1 Apiece; Backstrom’s Trick Leads Comeback Effort
Theo is Pulled Early, but Ovechkin, Carlson Score to Force OT
Theo is Pulled Early, but Ovechkin, Carlson Score to Force OT
By Kate Crowder, DCSportsFan
You know what one of the funniest things about Saturday’s overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens was? That we all sit around for a 20 minute intermission between the 3rd and 4th periods, drinking flat soda and wishing we had had more chips and salsa from the media meal so that the Caps could have a breather and the zamboni could prepare the ice for another period of play, just so that Nick Backstrom could score only 31 seconds in, ending the sudden death OT. Kinda’ wish he’s been able to come up with that game-winner within the last 30 seconds of play, but hey, who’s complaining when the game-winning goal comes off the stick of a Cap?
But sometimes all it takes is an extra 31 seconds, and despite staging an impressive 3rd period rally after falling at one point to an embarrassing 4-1 deficit, the Washington Capitals needed an extra session yet again to settle with their eighth seeded playoff opponent. And although this nail-biter ended well for the Caps, who will now head to Montreal where they will look to take their first lead of the series, it started with a startling two goal hole that prompted a goaltender change before the game was even eight minutes old. Canadiens’ Brian Gionta and Andrei Kostitsyn capitalized on costly neutral zone turnovers and defensive mishaps in front of Washington’s starting netminder, Jose Theodore. Both Gionta and Kostitsyn had entirely too much room to work, using their speed to gain an extra step on the Capitals defenders, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that (despite how well he played down the stretch) Theodore allowed two goals on two shots, and therefore Boudreau gave him the hook in favor of Semyon Varlamov at the 7:58 mark of the first. "It was more of a deflating thing on the bench," said Boudreau. "I thought we needed a change. I don’t know if in the real world, [Theodore] had much chance on [either of the first two goals] but I do know that we had expended an awful lot of energy in the first eight minutes of the game and we were down two nothing, so I thought [a goaltending change] might be a), a lift from the crowd and b) a lift on the bench."
Eric Fehr would be the first Capital to get on the board, taking advantage of a tremendous pass from Tomas Fleischmann in the defensive zone to beat two Canadiens defenders before ripping his breakaway goal behind the Canadiens’ netminder Jaroslav Halak. However, the second period saw the Caps fall by a score of 4-1 on the heels of an Andrei Kostitsyn hat trick before they were able to stage a rally in which they exploded for 5 goals in the second half of regulation and into the overtime session. And after being called out by their coach only a day before for failing to be his best players, the Capitals’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and Mike Knuble led the way for Boudreau and their teammates, combining for 4 goals, 5 assists and 9 points.
It all started when the Caps – and the crowd – got what they needed: an Alex Ovechkin goal, bringing the Caps within 1, at 4-3. It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t typical of Ovechkin’s style, but give credit where credit is due. After witnessing firsthand Halak’s near unbeatable ability to make saves on long-range shots on Thursday night and throughout the course of the first and second periods on Saturday night, Ovechkin took Boudreau’s advice to heart, went to the net, and started jamming away at a puck that seemed at one point to be underneath the Habs’ netminder. You know those times when you’re chastising the ref for his quick whistle? Well, this wasn’t one of those times; thank god they let Ovi jam away at that puck for as long as he did, because you know that after being held pointless and shotless in Thursday’s game, he was determined to get on the board with a goal.
Now within one, it appeared that perhaps the Capitals had found a weakness in Halak. In the 3rd period, the Capitals were much more successful in going to the net and creating a net presence, looking for the dirty goals on rebounds from within tight. And it worked. Backstrom’s marker that tied the game at 4 apiece came on an Ovechkin rebound, and Carlson’s marker that again tied the game at 5 apiece, while it came from above the circles, passed through a heavy screen in front of Halak to force overtime. "We wanted to make sure we were causing a few problems for [Halak]," said Fehr. "He was seeing everything last game, and we wanted to change that tonight and win some battles in front."
The fact that the Caps could come back shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but these games with such dramatic swings in momentum and energy (just think about going from 4-1 to 5-5) can be trying on a team’s mental faculties, and in the playoffs, you only want to expend energy on one thing and that’s winning. Perhaps Fehr said it best when he talked about the Caps’ "rollercoaster games." "It’s a bit of a rollercoaster, and it’s something we [don’t want] to put ourselves through," he said. "You know, it’s tough mentally on a team when you have to come back like that all the time. Hopefully we learned our lesson and hopefully we can start [playing] a little earlier [from now on]."
A win is a win, and with the prospect of falling down 2 games to none and having to head into a raucous Bell Centre, the Capitals’ top players responded with performances we need them to have in order for this team to be successful. After all, it’s only 2 games, yes, but a 2 game hole is whole ‘nother ballgame from being tied up at 1 apiece. Mentally, the Caps now have the momentum – they have spotted a weakness in Halak who gave them fits in the series opener on Wednesday. Moreover, their top line players of Backstrom, Ovechkin and Knuble, and especially Ovechkin, proved that you can’t take away the best players in the world for too long. And that’s a good thing for the Caps, but a really bad thing for Montreal.
5 Notes No Caps’ Fan Should be Without: Who’s between the pipes?
Who’s between the pipes?The million dollar question now is where does the Caps’ goaltending stand? Theodore or Varlamov? Have we seen the last of Theodore or does Boudreau return to him as the Caps kick off the second part of this series at the Bell Centre in Montreal? Keep in mind too that Theodore is from Quebec and he is a former Canadian himself. He won both the Hart and a Vezina trophy during his stint in Montreal (both in 2002), and he’s familiar with the pressure cooker that is that the Bell Centre. However, Varly has great numbers against Montreal, in Montreal (including his first ever NHL start, which he won). Theodore has endeared himself to fans with his regular season play, and therefore many fans and members of the media will be calling for Theo’s right to have earned him another chance. However, the regular season is not the same thing as the post-season and Theodore has a history of inconsistency in the playoffs – anyone else feel a sense a déjà-vu when Theo was pulled early in the 1st, or was that just me?
Boudreau was mum on the subject of his starting goaltender on Sunday, and it’s anyone’s guess who gets the start on Monday night. Perhaps Boudreau gives the nod to Varlamov as not to burden Theodore with the added pressure of playing in front of the Montreal fans that he knows all too well. Perhaps that’s an advantage though, and he goes with Theodore over Varlamov. The good news is that Varlamov, while he let in three goals, looked solid in relief on Theodore, and at times, he authored dazzling saves that would be proof enough that the starting job is now his to lose. However, Theodore also played well in Game 1, and despite a shaky eight minutes of play on Saturday, he too believes that he has the ability to rebound and deserves another chance. "Yesterday, obviously, I didn't start it well," Theodore said at the team’s practice facility on Sunday. "The first two shots, they go in. It's not like I didn't feel confident. If I would have stayed in, I'm sure I would have bounced back and find a way to win. It's something I always take a lot of pride in - bouncing back. The good thing about the playoffs is you play pretty much every other day, so it's easy to forget about it and bounce back."
Captain, my Captain:
Captain, my Captain:After being held shotless and pointless in the series opener on Thursday night, Capitals’ Captain Alex Ovechkin responded with an impressive 4 point performance (1-3-4, plus 3), sending a message to the rest of his team to shoot more, to shoot more from everywhere, and to never give up in front of the net. Even the best shooters in the world have to dig for pucks in front of the goalie (a sure sign of playoff hockey). "[Ovechkin] plays with a lot of emotion and he plays physical, and it gives the other teammates a lot of energy," said Backstrom while seated next to his Captain in their post-game presser. "When you see him go to the net and score goals like that, it gives other guys good energy, and other guys want to do it too."
"I feel pretty good today," Ovechkin said. "Especially, in the first period, I just wanted to get into the game, make some hits, make some shots." Did he ever. Ovechkin had 7 hits in the first period alone, and he finished the night tying for a team high in shots on goal with 6. And for those of who you don’t know, 7 hits, well, that’s insane. His hard hitting first period prompted a reporter to ask Ovechkin whether or not his decision to flatten Canadiens was part of a strategy. In his response, we perhaps have the best quote of the night: "Strategy? What, destroy people?" he said to much laughter. "No, my job is to score jobs, but if I have a chance to hit somebody, I’m going to hit [him]."
"I think you could see his energy, and his desire and his leadership [were] there today," Boudreau added. "And we need him to be like that all the time if we want to succeed." Clearly, Ovechkin is learning how to adjust his game given that Montreal is using 2, sometimes 3, men to take away his space to shoot, as well as his shooting lanes. "We watch lots of video and he [leaves] lots of rebounds," said Ovechkin. "So our coach just tell us, go to the net, get some rebounds. But for me, I like to shoot the puck, but they play so tight on me that I have no space to shoot, so I decide to just to net and find some rebounds." And remember how much Ovechkin loves playing in Montreal. Yeah, Monday should be fun.
Where’s the power? "The sky is the limit for that kid.": Super Swede:
Where’s the power?The Capitals’ power play has gone 0-7 so far in this series, which is surprising considering how successful the power play had been during the regular season. However, consider too that the Canadiens’ penalty kill on the road ranked 9th overall during the regular season at 83.4%, and it’s clear that the Canadiens have scouted this power play extremely well. But should the Caps really be 0-7? Um, no. "Our power play is struggling beyond struggling," said Boudreau. Although Nick Backstrom seemed to take a more positive approach to the power play’s woes: "I feel like Montreal is doing a good job," he said. "But we have to work a little bit harder. They are taking Alex away, and we have to find another way to score. We just have to keep working but it’s going to go in sooner or later." That’s the spirit Nick!
"The sky is the limit for that kid.":Ovechkin’s goal may have turned the game in the Caps’ favor, and brought the crowd back to back to life too, but it was rookie defender John Carlson’s goal that gave the Caps their first lead of the game with just under a minute and a half to go. Again, it was the Caps’ top line that generated the play in their own defensive zone. Backstrom’s quick read helped him to collect a bouncing puck from Ovechkin, who was busy complaining about a blatant slashing call, blow through the neutral zone and then feed a patient Carlson, waiting just beyond the Habs’ blue line. And in a play that looked an awful lot like his winning goal for the United States in the 2010 World Junior Championships, Carlson ripped one cleanly over the pad of Halak, from above the circles. Captain America, we salute you, we salute you. "There’s just something about him. Glory follows him," said Boudreau. "He’s been our best ‘D’ in the playoffs," added Poti. "And he’s played two amazing games for us so far. The sky is the limit for that kid."
Super Swede:A hat trick consisting of 3 timely goals, including the game winner, and an additional assist, with an overall plus-3 on the night? In only 19:33 of ice time? Wow. Nick Backstrom truly earned his first star honors on Saturday night. "He had a good game," cracked Boudreau. "No, Nicky is a great player, and great players come to the fore when you need them." Boudreau hit the nail on the head: Consider that Backstrom had a tying goal at 4-4, a game winner, and the goal that jumpstarted much of the Capitals’ offense in the 2nd period. But in typical Backstrom fashion, he was keener to talk about his team’s comeback success than his own in his post-game presser. "We bounced back and that’s a good thing for us. That’s so important, and we need these kinds of wins, especially at home. Now it feels like we put the pressure on them and get the momentum back."
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