Sunday, April 11, 2010

A ONE-point night: Bruins 4 - Caps 3 (OT/Gimmick)

No game is a “throwaway” game in the National Hockey League, but sometimes you get a chance to thank guys for the unsung dirty work they put in, even when thanking them puts your team at a bit of a disadvantage in a game-winning situation.

Such was the case as the Boston Bruins defeated the Capitals in a Gimmick, 4-3, this afternoon. Coach Bruce Boudreau eschewed using the obvious trick shot candidates, such as Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, or Nicklas Backstrom. Instead, Boudreau sent out Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley to take the shots on Bruin goalie Tim “Thunder Blocker” Thomas (more on that nickname in a bit). Thomas stopped both attempts, while David Krejci and Miroslav Satan succeeded on their attempts to get the extra standings point for the visitors. All in all, it was nice to see Gordon and Bradley get the chance, whatever the result.

It was a rather chippy game, especially for one with so little meaning to either side. Boston had sixth place sewn up and no individual hardware to try and lay a claim on, while the Caps clinched the top spot in the league and had only numbers to play for – more goals for Alex Ovechkin, getting to 40 goals for Alexander Semin, getting to 20 goals for Mike Green, getting to 30 goals for Mike Knuble, getting Ovechkin three points to get him the Ross Trophy for the league’s top scorer. Only Semin succeeded, getting a goal 2:23 into the first period, a play that also provided his 300th career point.

Other than that, the entertainment was provided by Tim Thomas, who thought Jason Chimera could use the waffleboard treatment after Chimera was ridden into him by a Boston defender. OK, so Chimera didn’t look as if he was making an herculean effort to get out of the way (he would say later than he tried to hug Thomas to keep from knocking him over, no doubt having read the Brian Burke treatise on hugging, although that pertained to plays along the boards). Thomas got a few good whacks in and looked to come perilously close to meriting a match penalty under Rule 51.3.*

Other stuff…

-- The Caps might have lost the game, they might have scored “only” three goals, but they looked to have “played” a pretty good game. There were a lot of chances in close in which the puck seemed to take an active role in avoiding Caps’ sticks.

-- Boston got two goals by hitting an area about three inches square just under the crossbar and inside the post over goalie Semyon Varlamov’s glove. If shooters put pucks there, there really isn’t a lot a goalie can do about it. The butterfly dares shooters to take and make those shots, and Michael Ryder and Marco Sturm did just that. They deserve the credit, not Varlamov the blame.

-- In another respect it was just like any other game… Mike Green finished with 28:34 of ice time (almost eight minutes more than the next Caps defenseman), and Alex Ovechkin finished with 25:55 in ice time (more than two minutes more than the next forward).

-- Another round number… 50. As in “plus-50.” For Jeff Schultz, that’s the highest such number in the league since teammates Milan Hejduk and Joe Sakic each finished plus-52 in 2002-2003.

-- The crowd was in playoff voice today, something that has been a bit missing in recent games. Lot’s more red, too (perhaps a function of it being a weekend game and fewer people coming straight from work).

-- In one respect the Caps did not make the Bruins pay a high enough price. With Zdeno Chara held out of this game and Dennis Seidenberg hurt, the Bruins started three defensemen – Adam McQuaid, Andrew Bodnarchuk (or “odnarch,” if all you had to go by was what you could see on the back of his jersey), and Jeffrey Penner came into this game with a total of 23 games of combined NHL experience. In a game with more meaning, the Caps probably exploit that more effectively, but in a game with more meaning, Chara and his broken nose is out there.

-- Only McQuaid and Bodnarchuk did not record a shot on goal for the Bruins. Only Tom Poti and David Steckel failed to record a shot for the Caps. A whole lot o’ shootin’ going on out there.

-- When the Capitals were struggling mightily to get points in 2005, 2006, and 2007, the biggest problem they had was playing players in a spot a rung or two higher on the responsibility ladder than their skill suggested. Guys who should have been third liners (think “Brian Willsie”) were first line wingers. Third pair, or maybe seventh defensemen (think "Mathieu Biron") were getting top-four minutes. No more, and that is the subtle talent that the front office has had in adding pieces. Jason Chimera is the kind of player who adds speed and grit to a third line (in 2006 he would have been on the top line or perhaps the second line). Eric Belanger can play in a natural third line slot and even be a credible second liner in a pinch. He would have been a second line center by default in 2006. These two provide the kind of two-way contribution that allows the Caps to ice a very good fourth line in some combination of Matt Bradley, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Scott Walker, a group that would have been getting third line (and perhaps second line in spots) minutes a few years ago.

In the end, the Caps did a lot of good… shattered the franchise points record, ditto the wins record. Fifteen losses in regulation is a franchise low for a season, and that includes the abbreviated 1994-1995 season that was only 48 games long). 313 goals ranks the team sixth in franchise history for scoring, the other five clubs ahead of them getting their totals in the go-go 1980’s and early 1990’s. Two 100-point scorers for the first time in history. Jose Theodore closed the season going 20-0-3, a franchise record for consecutive games unbeaten in regulation (if you’re wondering, Gerry Cheevers went 24-0-8 in 1971-1972… he won a Stanley Cup that year).

But all that is in the past tense now. The only thing that matters starts on Thursday.

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