By Leslie Silvey (Musings of a Hockey Mom)
Prior to this Friday night's game against Tampa Bay, many Caps fans - myself included- were wondering when the boys would find their scoring touch to compliment their much improved defensive work and their stellar 86.3 percentage on the PK. Turns out, this weekend was a winner if you tend to sport Capitals' red, white and blue as Washington stunned the Lightning on Friday and shut out the hated Penguins in a Winter Classic rematch (and a bloody messy one, at that).
In Friday's fisticuff-filled 5-2 win against the Lightning, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom found their mojo with both players recording four-point games. The joyous occasion marked the first time that both players had four points in the same game. Caps fans (my little brother included - he was sitting directly behind the Bolt's penalty box in his #8 Caps sweater) were also treated to something we haven't seen in far too long - a Brooks Laich crash-the-net lamp lighting. Semyon Varlamov and the multitude of Capitals players clogging the neutral zone stymied the Lightning's offense and made for a miserable night for Steven Stamkos and pals. Of course this rivalry wouldn't earn up to its name without a bout between Matt Hendricks and Steve Downie - those two duked it out as did Matt Bradley and Adam Hall. The role player that he is, Hendricks got under the skin of Dwayne Roloson by invading his space in a big way, and Roly proceeded to pound Hendricks in the back of the head in frustration. At the end of the night, Roloson was still frustrated as he and his mates could not contain the Caps rejuvenated offense.
Friday's win was key for a team that has struggled to find the back of the net lately and all were hoping they'd carry that regained confidence into Super Bowl Sunday’s showdown with the Penguins. Of course the Pens were without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (who suffered a torn ACL and MCL) but they've been winning their games without their scoring leaders. Brooks Laich got the party started with second goal in as many games - tallying late in the first period. It was your typical gritty, get in the goalie's grill type goal that we've always seen from Laich and it's nice to see him back on the score board! The first period lead came at a price though, as Mike Green was hit in the head and bloodied by a Brooks Orpik shot that went high. Green said he felt okay despite not returning but the coaching staff will be keeping a close eye on his condition, particularly with the league’s new concerns about concussions.
Marcus Johansson scored a beautiful shorty in the second period to give the Caps a 2-0 lead. Mike Knuble, who has now scored a total of 30 goals - including today's empty netter- against the Penguins, took a high stick to the face (which drew no call) and returned the ice bloody but determined. History repeated itself in the third period when things between these two enemies turned even uglier. David Steckel dropped the gloves against recent AHL call-up Tim Wallace, most likely in direct regards to Steckel's unintentional hit on Crosby on January 1. And Matt Cooke was being the typical - well, Matt Cooke. As the final minutes ticked off the clock, Cooke went straight for Ovechkin and sent the Great8 flying with a thunderous knee-on-knee hit. The resulting free-for-all saw Ovi, Backstrom and Shultz go after #24 and I’m pretty sure there would have been “H-E-double-hockey sticks” to pay had the refs not gotten control so quickly.
Thankfully it was the Caps who got the last word in where it mattered - on the board- as the grizzled Mike Knuble nailed it down with the empty net goal. A big day for Michal Neuvirth as well who recorded 22 saves and notched the shut out! So the boys could sit a spell and enjoy the Super Bowl - a perfect ending to a hard-earned winning weekend for the Caps.