“If you’re not going to do the little things, and if you’re going to play stupid, this is what happens against a good team that is motivated… you get run out of the building.”
Well, that was at about 2:00 on Sunday afternoon, or about the time at which the Caps found themselves down after 40 minutes by a 3-0 score to the Chicago Blackhawks after taking five first period penalties, getting only 18 shots on goal (actually, a lot by Blackhawk standards for shots allowed), watching as Alex Ovechkin was tossed for pushing Brian Campbell into the end boards head first, and generally giving voice to those who might think that the Caps are more the product of a weak Southeast Division than truly a ready for prime time championship contender.
Then they dropped the puck for the third period. And it was the Caps doing the running and the Blackhawks playing dumb. The first 3:50 of the period went uneventfully, with the Caps recording the only shot on goal – that by Brooks Laich. It looked for all the world like the beginning of a period in which the Caps and Blackhawks would play out the string – the Caps doing what they could against a very good defensive team bent on playing prevent defense.
Then Jordan Hendry took a double minor for high-sticking Alexander Semin.
Way wrong move. Brooks Laich made the Blackhawks pay after he whiffed on an attempt. The puck came back to him in the slot, and after Mike Green sent a shot to goalie Antti Niemi, he batted the rebound past Niemi to get the Caps on the board. As important as the goal, Colin Fraser was sent off for high-sticking that left the Caps again on the power play. Nicklas Backstrom used the opportunity to find the back of the net on an odd play. Mike Green started it as he drifted down to the Blackhawk goal line holding the puck. That’s right, defenseman Mike Green holding the puck at the Blackhawk goal line. He sent it out to Joe Corvo, who fired a shot at the Chicago net. Brooks Laich waved at it, trying to deflect it in, but the puck eluded him and hit the end boards. The puck rebounded hard off the boards and past Laich once more, but right onto the stick of Backstrom, who shot it past Niemi, and the Caps were within one.
Not for long. On the next shift, David Steckel won a race to the puck with Nicklas Hjalmarsson to prevent an icing call. Then he outfought Hjalmarsson to get control of the puck, sending it out to Eric Fehr between the hash marks. Fehr wasted no time snapping the puck past Niemi to tie the game.
From an 0-3 deficit and looking like a team checking departure times from O’Hare International Airport, the Caps scored three goals on five shots in a space of 2:16 to tie the game. The teams fought to a draw over the last 12:15 of regulation, neither team getting a goal.
In overtime it was Nicklas Backstrom who was very nearly the goat. As the clock ticked down to the two-minute mark, Backstrom tried a cross-ice pass from just outside his own blue line. But the puck hit Troy Brouwer, who collected it on his stick and skated in on goalie Jose Theodore. Mike Green got back to impede Brouwer’s path to the net while Backstrom was getting back into the play. It was enough to allow Backstrom to sweep the puck off Brouwer’s stick and off the boards, where he picked it up himself. He carried the puck down ice into the Chicago end where he faked Brent Seabrook to the ice, pulling the puck inside to his backhand. Before Duncan Keith could close on him, Backstrom pulled the puck back to his forehand and whipped it between Niemi’s pads for the game winner, capping one of the more improbable comebacks of the season. The irony of Green making a play at one end and both Seabrook and Keith victimized at the other end seconds later is not lost on us.
-- All four Caps goals were scored from approximately a five-foot square portion of the ice between and below the hashmarks. For you fans of the Chicago defense, that is as close to unacceptable as it gets. One? OK. Two? Maybe. But four? Bad day for the Blackhawk blueliners.
-- Will Ovechkin be suspended for his hit on Brian Campbell? Well, here is the rule…
23.5 Fines and Suspensions – Stick Infractions, Boarding and Checking from Behind Category - In regular League games, any player who incurs a total of two (2) game misconduct penalties for stick-related infractions, Boarding – Rule 42, or Checking from Behind – Rule 44, shall be suspended automatically for the next League game of his team.
Ovechkin received a boarding major and a game misconduct on November 25th against the Sabres. Under the rule, it would seem he would sit for the game against Florida on Tuesday, at a minimum. Ah, but read further from the rule…
When a player has played in 41 consecutive regular League games without being assessed a stick-related major and a game misconduct penalty according to Rule 20 – Major Penalties or Rule 22 – Misconduct Penalties, he will have the previous game misconduct penalties removed from his current record. They will remain part of his historical record.
The game against Buffalo was Game 25 of the season. This was Game 69. 44 games having passed, Ovechkin will not face an automatic suspension. And if Matt Cooke gets off for ending a player’s season (if not more), then what is going to be the basis for issuing supplementary discipline to Ovechkin?
-- Give Backstrom credit. He really stepped up in this one after Ovechkin’s exit. Two goals, an assist, three hits, two takeaways, two blocked shots, not turnovers. He could have had all three stars for his effort.
-- Although, once more we have to ask… home town scoring? The two teams combined for nine giveaways, total.
-- Please note for future reference… with the game tied, and the clock winding down in regulation, who was on the ice for the last shift for the Caps? John Carlson. He’s not going back to Hershey… ever.
-- Every Chicago center won a majority of draws. Only Eric Belanger kept the Caps from the reverse being true. In fact, Belanger won six of eight draws against Jonathan Toews, no mean feat. Toews won eight of nine against the rest of the Caps he faced. The good thing, though…only 11 draws taken in the Caps’ end.
-- Chicago had one shot on goal in the third period, and that one came with two seconds left in regulation. They had only eight attempts in the period. The Caps ripped a page out of the Blackhawk playbook, allowing only nine shots on goal in the last two periods combined.
-- OK, Backstrom I get… Toews, I get. But how is it that a guy who had a clean scoresheet (but for a first period assist) and who was on the ice for the game tying goal, having been outfought for the puck on a potential icing call, with the scorer all alone in the slot get named third star of the game?
-- Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby get all the ink, it seems, but Jonathan Toews is, for my money, the most underrated player in the NHL. We heard someone before the game liken him to Steve Yzerman. It is not an idle or farfetched comparison.
-- Shaone Morrisonn… five hits, three blocked shots, and he wasn’t on the ice for any of Chicago’s goals. Oh, and he was on the ice with Carlson in that last shift in regulation. A solid, solid game. And he’s been putting together a solid second half, too. Since he was minus-3 in a 7-4 loss to the Lightning on January 12th, he is 1-5-6, plus-16 in 22 games.
-- Mike Knuble will be credited with no points and an “even” game. It doesn’t nearly do justice to the game he had. Eight shot attempts, four on goal, five hits, and a takeaway in just less than 18 minutes. He was making things very tough for Blackhawk defensemen. Keep that in mind for future reference, too. These teams could meet again.
-- The biggest difference between Jason Chimera and Chris Clark is rather simple – speed. Chimera has it and demonstrated it on a few occasions with rushes down the wing. That is a dimension that makes the Caps’ third line more dangerous than it was earlier in the season.
-- 75 hits? They don’t have that many at Soldier Field in November. The Caps were credited with 43 of them (David Steckel with seven). If Ovechkin had hung around, the teams might have broken a hundred.
-- The Caps will be charged with giving up a goal in three shorthanded situations. But we really can’t fault the Caps too much on the goal. A 5-on-3… Toews won a faceoff in the Caps end, then converted a feed while all alone on the doorstep to Jose Theodore’s left. Good teams are supposed to do that.
This game was not an aesthetic masterpiece. The Caps played did not play well in the first 20 minutes, and the Blackhawks were ghastly in the first ten minutes of the third period. The Blackhawks learned a bitter lesson that teams in the East have spent a season learning, that the Caps are not out of games, even when they have to make up multi-goal deficits. The Caps had allowed the first goal 26 times in 68 games and trailed at the intermission in only 13 games heading into this game. But they came back 15 times to win when giving up the first goal and seven times when trailing at the first intermission, both contributing to league leading winning percentage in those items. They improved on both today, to the shock of the Blackhawk faithful.
Now it’s off to take a tour of the Southeast Division – Florida, Tampa Bay, and Carolina – before heading home to meet the Penguins in ten days. It is an opportunity to slam the door on the Eastern Conference race (if they haven’t already) and put distance between themselves and the Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks for the President’s Cup. But this one is worth savoring.