Sunday, June 20, 2010

The 2009-2010 season, by the "tens" -- Ten Games That Mattered: Atlanta at Washington, April 9th

Seven down and three to go in our look at the ten games that mattered this season for the Washington Capitals. Number eight just happens to be the last of the regular season games and features some important numbers…

April 9: Atlanta (34-33-13) at Washington (53-15-12)

Result: Capitals 5 – Thrashers 2

The Background: So many opportunities for reaching landmarks… The Washington Capitals have not been known as an offensive powerhouse for the largest part of their history. More a “meat and potatoes” as far as team identity is concerned, the club never had two players hit the 100-point mark in the same season, and the Caps never had a player score 50 goals in three consecutive years (Dennis Maruk and Alex Ovechkin were the only Caps to do it in two consecutive seasons). With 118 points coming into the game, the Capitals were poised to become the first non-original six team to reach 120 standings points in a season. And, the Caps entered the game with a franchise overall record of 1,214-1,214-303-71 in their 35-year history with a chance to go over .500 for the first time in franchise history.

Why It Mattered: For all the potential to reach milestones, the Caps played a rather lackluster game to start the contest. They peppered Thrasher goalie Ondrej Pavelec with 16 shots in the opening frame but managed only a single goal, that off the stick of Nicklas Backstrom. It got worse for the Capitals in the second period when Evgeni Artyukhin tied the game eleven minutes into the period by sending what looked like a harmless crossing feed from the left wing boards off the skate of Brendan Morrison, who was patrolling at the inside of the left wing faceoff circle. Then, Clarke MacArthur stole a puck on the Capitals power play less than two minutes later and potted a shorthanded goal on a breakaway to give the Thrashers the lead, 2-1.

The Caps stopped the bleeding by doing something they did well. Atlanta was sloppy exiting their own zone, and Alexander Semin swiped an attempted pass from Arturs Kulda at the Atlanta blue line before it could reach Evander Kane. Semin found Alex Ovechkin skating down the left side and put the puck on his tape, giving Ovechkin a chance to one time the puck past Pavelec, who appear to stub his toe in the ice trying to push across and stumbled, for the tying goal, Ovechkin’s 49th on the season.

In the third period, with the clock approaching the ten-minute mark, Backstrom led a charge out of the Caps end with Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin. Backstrom fed Semin heading up the right side of the ice, and as Semin entered the Thrasher zone he fed Ovechkin coming late on the 3-on-2 rush. Ovechkin cut into the middle behind Backstrom, who was driving to the net. With the congestion in front of him as a screen, Ovechkin sent a wrist shot past Pavelec for his 50th goal of the season, Backstrom getting an assist to notch his 100th point.

The goal seemed to awaken the Caps. Tomas Fleischmann rang a post two minutes later, then seconds later Jason Chimera took a feed from Eric Belanger and found the back of the net to put the Caps up by a pair. Less than a minute later, Joe Corvo picked up a loose puck and pitched it into an open area of the ice in the neutral zone. Semin took over from there, circling into the zone and snapping the puck toward the Thrasher net. Pavelec made the initial save, but Backstrom caught the Thrasher defense looking at the play, knifing down the middle and snapping the rebound past Pavelec to provide the final score in the 5-2 win.

The Takeaway: In a season of regular season achievement, this game provided the Caps with more than a few milestones…

-- Alex Ovechkin hit the 50-goal mark for the third consecutive year, the only Caps ever to accomplish the feat

-- Ovechkin’s 50 goals represented the fourth time in his five-year career that he did so, becoming only the third player in NHL history to do it, joining Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy.

-- Nicklas Backstrom became the fourth Capital to hit the 100-point mark, joining Ovechkin, Dennis Maruk, and Mike Gartner in hitting that plateau.

-- Backstrom and Ovechkin became the first Capitals teammates to reach 100 points in the same season.

-- Ovechkin and Backstrom were only the eighth pair of teammates to hit 50 goals and 100 points in the same game, the first to do it since Craig Simpson and Mark Messier accomplished it in 1988.

-- The Caps matched their franchise high of 30 wins on home ice in a single season.

-- The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin line finished 4-5-9, plus-11 for the game, although in perhaps a harbinger of things to come Semin recorded 11 shots on goal without any of them finding the back of the net.

-- Jeff Schultz finished a plus-4, making him plus-48, cementing his taking the top spot in plus-minus in club history (he would finish plus-50, including going plus-11 in his last three games of the regular season).

-- The Caps, who were presented the President’s Trophy before the game for having the league’s top record in the regular season, became only the eighth club in NHL history to hit the 120 point mark and the only non-original six team to do it.

-- Finally, in their 35th season, the Caps climbed over the .500 mark in franchise history.

It was the last home game in a season of considerable team and individual regular season achievement, and when the horn sounded to end this game it seemed as if this would be only the beginning of a special season.

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