Thursday, April 22, 2010
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 4: Capitals 6 - Canadiens 3
Well, not quite match, but based on tonight’s 6-3 thumping of the Montreal Canadiens, you might be forgiven for thinking that “match” is only a couple of days away. It might have been a 2-2 game after 40 minutes, but the Caps, who outscored the Habs 5-3 in the third period of Games 1 through 3, outscored the Canadiens 4-1 in the third period tonight to cement the win and put their skate blades to the jugular of the Canadiens heading into Game 5 on Friday.
Tonight was a night for the top line to shine. Yes, the top line got empty net goals from Mike Knuble and Nicklas Backstrom, but overall the top line went 5-3-8, plus-10. The Canadiens simply had no answer to this. But even with the top line accounting for five goals and eight points, ten different players recorded points.
As much as the first line shown on the stat sheet, the fourth line of Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, and Jason Chimera had a whale of a game. A 1-2-3, plus-2 night doesn’t really tell the story for that trio. Gordon contributed eight wins in 12 faceoffs, and Bradley had four hits to tie for the team lead. Chimera delivered the game-winning goal by crashing the net and following up on a loose puck. It was once more a case of the superior depth of the Caps wearing the Canadiens down and making the third period their own.
-- Semyon Varlamov will not earn an NHL star of the night, but he should for the second period performance he had. Twenty saves on 21 shots. Allowing only one goal in three power play opportunities when the Canadiens could have taken control of the game.
-- 16 goals in the last 142 minutes of hockey. That works out to 6.75 goals per 60 minutes. Does Jacques Martin have another goaltender he’d like to try?
-- Montreal’s top line took it in the teeth again. Plekanec, Cammalleri, Kostitsyn went 1-0-1, minus-5. The series has largely boiled down to the significant talent and performance gap between the teams’ top lines.
-- Gee… two empty net goals, and Ovechkin didn’t get either of them. Wonder what folks (read: Penguin fans) will complain about.
-- For all the worries about Washington’s defense and goaltending, and the fact that playoff hockey is played so much more tightly to the vest, this series has been played on Washington’s terms with respect to style. 38 more shots on goal makes for 158 in the series (39.5 a game).
-- The flip side of that is a bit disturbing, though, and that is the ability on the part of Montreal to get pucks to the net. The Canadiens missed only five shots all night, and the Caps blocked only 14 of the total 58 attempts on net. That is an awfully high percentage of shots (67.2) getting all the way through to Semyon Varlamov.
-- No player in the playoffs has launched as many shots on goal with so little success as Alexander Semin. Four shots on goal last night leaves him with 20 shots on goal for the playoffs and nothing to show for it. San Jose’s Patrick Marleau is next on the frustration meter with no goals on 15 shots.
-- The Caps finally got a power play goal (1-for-19 for the series), leaving Nashville and Buffalo as the only teams left having not scored a power play goal in the playoffs.
-- On the flip side, Montreal did get a power play goal, meaning that they have one in each game of the series. But the key there is that they have only one in each game of the series. Holding the Canadiens to that has allowed the series to be decided so far at five-on-five, and the Canadiens have not been able to compete successfully in those situations.
-- Varlamov is 27-for-28 in the first period of games so far (.964 save percentage) and 36-for-39 in the second period (.923). Keeping Montreal from getting off to good starts (or in Game 2, to sustain good starts) has been as key as the top line making the Canadiens goaltending look like swiss cheese.
-- Does one get the feeling of a certain inevitability that the Caps and Penguins are going to have to go through one another to reach the Cup finals?
-- Through four games, the Canadiens have outscored the Caps, 4-3, in the first period of games. But the Caps have had a big finishing kick, outscoring Montreal 6-3 in the second period and 8-4 in the third period.
-- Of the 18 goaltenders ranked thus far in the playoffs, three have a goals-against average of at least 4.00. Two of them are Canadiens. The Caps lead all teams in scoring and are second in shots-per-game. Only one Canadien who has played in all four games is as high as “even” in plus-minus (Hal Gill). The Caps have five players at plus-5 or better. You get the feeling it isn’t just the goaltenders for Montreal who are overmatched.
-- And keep in mind, the Caps are doing this with a power play than has converted one of 19 chances (5.3 percent).
-- The Caps were 15-for-23 (65.2 percent) on draws in the defensive zone. Little things matter. Or, if you prefer, there are no little things in the playoffs.
-- That Game 1 performance by Alex Ovechkin seems but a hazy memory now, doesn’t it? He has four goals on his last six shots dating back to Game 2.
-- On the bad side, that first Montreal goal was just a rancid tub of defensive goo on the part of the Caps. From losing a faceoff cleanly (Mike Cammalleri beating Brendan Morrison) to Glen Metropolit getting a little too much time and space behind the Capitals’ net to make a play, to Mike Green and Jeff Schultz both caught looking at Metropolit as Cammalleri was coming down the slot to Eric Fehr not tying up Cammalleri’s stick (all that on display below…
…all ultimately allowing Cammalleri to pop the puck over Varlamov for the first goal. It was a case of just not being gritty enough in tight to prevent a pass, a rebound, and a shot.
-- But speaking of Varlamov, the save he made on Cammalleri with under seven minutes in the second period – a glove save on a shot from the inside edge of the right wing faceoff circle – is one to keep in mind if the Caps move on and face a team in black and Vegas gold later on… that’s Sidney Crosby’s workshop.
In the end, this game – and this series, in fact – was captured in an eight second sequence early in the third period. Brian Gionta beat Tyler Sloan to a puck in the corner in the Capitals’ end. Sloan pinned the smaller Gionta to the wall, the puck squirting free to Alexander Semin at the goal line. Semin fought off a trailing Scott Gomez all the way to the Montreal line. As three Canadiens converged on Semin as he crossed the line, Semin shoveled the puck to Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin treated Hal Gill like a skating pylon, cutting across the grain and leaving Gill flatfooted, capable of only waving his stick at Ovechkin. Ovechkin then wristed a rocket past the glove of goalie Carey Price, and the Caps took a lead they would not relinquish. It was Montreal not being able to compete along the boards to retain possession of the puck, not being able to track down a faster Capital heading up ice, and not being nimble enough in their own zone to fend off a high quality scoring chance that found the back of the net.
The Caps have outscored the Canadiens 15-5 in the last eight periods of hockey (including a 31-second overtime). The Caps have too much history in being up 3-1 in games to say that this one is over. But it is going to take something close to divine intervention for Montreal to turn this around.