Friday, April 24, 2009

Anything you can do...

...I can do better.

Tonight's lines for the kiddie goalies...

In the Ranger series, Varlamov is 2-2, 0.76, .969 and two shutouts. Meanwhile, Neuvirth closed out the Philadelphia Phantoms tonight, going 4-0, 1.50, .945, with one shutout.

Do you know what kind of game it's going to take? win Game 5, that is?

Rewind back a year, to Game 5 of the Caps-Flyers series. We'd kind of like to rewrite this one later this evening...

And here is the event summary from that game. 44 hits...they hit anything in a white jersey that moved.

Talking Game Five With...Carl Spackler

This being a special day and special circumstances, we went to visit an old friend to get his take on what the Caps need to do to snare a win and keep this series against the Rangers going another couple of games. Here are some highlights from our conversation with the esteemed sports legend and golfing commentator, Carl Spackler...

Carl, thanks for sitting down with us before game five of the Caps-Rangers series. I knew you were a legend in the golfing world, but I never knew you were such a hockey fan. You even met the Commissioner recently, didn’t you?

"Uh, yeah…I jump ship in Manhattan and make my way over to midtown, and I get in the NHL offices as a blogger."

A blogger?

“A blogger, you know, a windbag, a know-it-all, a blogger. So, I tell them I'm a blogger, and who do you think they let me see? The Commisioner, himself. Twelfth son of David Stern. The tailored suit, the weird smile, weaselly...striking. So, I'm in the office with him. And do you know what the Commish says? ‘Gunga galunga...gunga- gunga lagunga.’ So we finish our little talk and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Commish, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know?’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won't be any quotes for the media, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.”

About this series, some folks think that Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist is in the players’ heads on the Caps. If you’re sitting there getting ready for the game, how do you prepare?

“I got to get into this dude's pelt and crawl around for a few days. Who's the goalie’s ally. His friends. The harmless squirrel and the friendly rabbit.”

You mean Sean Avery and Marc Staal.

“Yeah, or maybe just the harmless squirrel and the friendly rabbit. Goalies are weird, man.”

Do you have any visualizations of how you’d face up to playing against a Lundqvist?

"You beast... You savage... C'mon, bark like a dog for me… I will teach you the meaning of the word ‘respect!’"

How about the Rangers? What will you be thinking about them? Sean Avery in particular…

“How 'bout a nice cool drink from this water bottle, varmint. Scum. Slime. Menace to the NHL. You’re a disgrace to the varmints. Your one of the lowest members of the food chain, and you'll probably be replaced by the rat. Well, I have been pushed. It's about time somebody teaches this varmint a little lesson about morality and about what it's like to be a decent, upstanding member of a society! Come to Carl, varmint. -- I guess we're playing for keeps now. I guess the kidding around is pretty much over. I guess it's just a matter of pumping about five knuckles into your face to teach you a little bit of a lesson. Is that it? I think it is!”

Last, Carl…the Caps have a lot of young guys who for the second year are facing a 3-1 deficit, playing a tough team trying to close it out here in Washington. If you’re visualizing your performance, trying to shut all that out, what are you thinking?

"What an incredible Cinderella story! This unknown, comes out of nowhere, to lead the team to a win at Verizon Center. We’re in the final minute. He's skating out of from behind the net about 455 yards away, he's gonna hit about a 2-iron, I think. Oh, he got all of that. The crowd is standing on its feet here at The Phone Booth. The normally reserved crowd is going wild... for this young Cinderella who's come out of nowhere. He's got about 350 yards left, he's going to hit about a 5-iron, it looks like, don't you think? He's got a beautiful backswing on his slap shot... that's- oh, he got all of that one! He's gotta be pleased with that! The crowd is just on its feet here. He's a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess, as he skates in for this last shot. He's got about 195 yards left, and he's got a, looks like he's got about an 8-iron. This crowd has gone deadly silent... Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former beer league player, now about to be the hero. It looks like a mirac- it's in the net! It's in the net!!"

Well, thanks Carl. Hopefully, the Caps will take some of this advice…

“...if you ever want to rap or just get weird with somebody...”

Not Getting It

The Caps have played in 11 post season games in the last two years. In those games, they have scored a total of 28 goals (27 by players on this year's roster, Steve Eminger having departed). Of that number, 24 have been scored by players aged 25 and under.

Four goals by "veterans" -- David Steckel (27), Donald Brashear (37), Sergei Fedorov (39), and Viktor Kozlov (34). Except for Kozlov's goal, the other three were scored in the Flyers' series last year.

It's one thing to rely on young talent, and the Caps certainly have an abundance of such talent. But the veterans need to chip in more than they have. We're not looking for a lot from David Steckel, whose talent lies more in preventing other teams from scoring, and less from Donald Brashear (who has only dressed for two games in this series).

But for Fedorov and Kozlov -- a combined 2-8-10 in 11 playoff games the last two years (a combined 1-1-2, -2 in four games in this series) -- more isn't needed, it's to the point now where it is required.

edit: As reader Blanket points out, we missed Tom Poti in this little scribble, but it doesn't really affect materially the argument that the Caps aren't getting a lot from the vets. At the risk of making the usual (and usually abused) comparison, the Penguins have gotten two goals and eight assists from the veteran quartet of Bill Guerin, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Kunitz, and Matt Cooke through five games of the Flyer series that they lead, 3-2.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 5: Caps vs. Rangers

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

OK, Caps fans, with the boys down three games to one, it’s time to break out all the good luck charms you have lying around or any you find, for that matter. So, if you’re out and about today, enjoying the fine spring weather, look out for…

Acorns. For those of you familiar with Norse folklore, the acorn brings good fortune. A lone acorn is also thought to ward off lightning when placed in a windowsill. OK…save that one for next year when the Caps play Tampa Bay.

Stray Eyelash. As the story goes, if a stray eyelash should fall upon your cheek, place it on your finger and make a wish. Then blow the eyelash away. Your wish will come back to you. No word on if plucking eyelashes works…we might see hundreds of “lashless” Caps fans tonight.

Coins. If you see one lying on the sidewalk, look at it before you pick it up. If it’s “heads” up, pick it up – it’s a sign of good luck to come. If it’s “tails” up, leave it be – that’s a bad luck sign.

Crows. One is bad, two are a sign of luck, three signifies health, four – wealth, five means illness, six is death. No word on seven, maybe a hat trick.

Wood. Know where that whole “knock on wood” thing comes from? Seems there is a long history of believing that spirits live in trees, and knocking on them or touching them would bring good fortune, or (in the case of Celtic tradition) thank spirits for a bit of luck. Go forth and find a tree, Caps fans.

As for the game, we have that 3-1 deficit thing to think about. The last time a team down three games to one came back and won a series was in 2004. Montreal turned the trick against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. In game five of that series, Montreal was faced, not only with having to crawl out of a deep hole, but they had to do so after an especially bitter game four.

In that game four, Montreal gagged on a 3-1 lead that they took not two minutes into the second period. Mike Knuble scored a goal in the last minute of regulation for the Bruins to send the game into overtime, and the Bruins won in a second overtime when Sheldon Souray and Alex Kovalev collided in the neutral zone, allowing Glen Murray to skate in alone on – gulp! – Jose Theodore for the game winning goal.

Forward to game five. Beaten, beat down, and having to go on the road to Boston, Montreal got a masterful performance from, that’s right – Theodore – in holding off the Bruins while building a 1-0 lead after one period and a 2-0 lead after two. The Bruins cracked, and Montreal poured in three goals in the third on their way to a 5-1 win that featured 43 saves by Theodore.

Montreal won game six at Bell Centre, 5-2, then traveled back to Boston to close out the Bruins in shocking fashion – a 2-0 shutout by Theodore.

The point of all of this is that, as the great Senator John Blutarsky famously put it, “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”

But deciding it’s not over and making it so are two different things. To achieve that, some things are going to have to change. So far, the “young guns” have been good. Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green have a combined four goals and 16 points in four games -- four points a game. But each member of this foursome averaged more than a point a game this year in the regular season. The Alexes have averaged more than a point a game in this series (five points apiece), but all four must be better than good. In game three – a 4-0 win – they combined for eight points. Split the difference – the Caps need six points out of this group.

The Caps have received almost nothing from anyone else in this series. Outside of the “young guns,” no Cap has more than one point. Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov, Brooks Laich, Sergei Fedorov…you guys have one point apiece. That simply isn’t going to do.

Mike Green has had a difficult series. He just doesn’t seem himself, frankly. He’s been on the ice for four of the seven goals scored by the Rangers and has only two assists at the offensive end in compiling a team-worst minus-3 rating (tied with Eric Fehr). If Green doesn’t snap out of it, this isn’t likely to end well for the Caps.

If that Montreal-Boston series from 2004 is instructive, the best players need to step up in a big way. Montreal scored 12 goals in the last three games of that series. Richard Zednik had three; Alex Kovalev, Yanic Perrault, and Saku Koivu had two apiece. Koivu led the scoring with seven total points in those games. Zednik had five points. Perreault and Kovalev had four apiece.

But there were also the chip-ins. Darren Langdon and Jan Bulis had goals. Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov contributed a pair of assists apiece from the blue line. And there was the goaltending.

That series provides an eerie echo to what is going on in the Caps-Rangers series. Montreal could not solve Bruin goalie Andrew Raycroft in the first four games, beating him only seven times in 134 shots (a .948 save percentage for Raycroft). Goaltending (yes, by Theodore) was not the problem, having allowed Boston only 11 goals in those four games, two of which went to overtime – Theodore had a .912 save percentage in those first four games.

But in the last three games, the Habs found their stroke, beating Raycoft on 12 of 79 shots (.848), while Theodore bettered his early series numbers in the last three games (97 saves on 100 shots faced). And here's the was the first time in the storied history of the Montreal Canadiens that they recovered from a 3-1 series deficit.

This isn’t, as they say, “rocket science.” The Caps need to get more out of their best, get something – anything – out of the next wave of players, and keep stuffing the Rangers’ offensive chances. Do that three times, and there is hockey in May in Washington, after all.

229 teams have faced a 3-1 deficit in Stanley Cup playoff series. 20 of them have come back to win those series. If the Caps are to be the 21st, they have to win one before they can win another, and that starts tonight…

Caps 4 – Rangers 1