Thursday, April 26, 2012

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 7: Capitals 2 - Bruins 1

The King is dead! Long live the…

Well, there will be time for that. In the meantime, the Washington Capitals eliminated the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with a nerve-wracking, fingernail-chewing, beard-pulling, face-in-the-pillow 2-1 overtime win at TD Garden in Boston.

Joel Ward, who had not recorded a goal in his previous 19 games, and who had only one in his last 41 games – half a regular season’s worth of games – scored at 2:57 of the first overtime to send the Caps to the second round.

It was a freakishly sudden end to a game that had been more than 60 minutes of grinding force. In fact, the whole ending sequence took all of eight seconds. Benoit Pouliot tried to hammer the puck down the right wing boards from just outside the Caps’ blue line, but it was blocked out of the zone where Mike Knuble picked it up.

Knuble wasted no time getting a jump on the stunned Boston defense and found himself on a 2-on-1 rush with Joel Ward with only Greg Zanon back and Pouliot desperately trying to close the ground on Knuble. The Caps right winger fended off Pouliot and managed a backhand attempt on goalie Tim Thomas, who kicked the puck out in the direction from which it came. However, Ward did not skate down the lane to Knuble’s right to the net, but crossed behind Knuble as he was getting his shot off. Ward was in perfect position to swat the rebound past the fallen Thomas, and TD Garden went silent save for the whooping and hollering of 20 white-clad Caps who congratulated Ward.

All in eight seconds.

Other stuff…

-- Mistakes matter in games that have such small margins for error. Boston made one mid-way through the first period, and it cost them. Jason Chimera had the puck along the right-wing wall where he fed if back to John Carlson. As this was going on, Matt Hendricks was in the middle of the offensive zone, circling to find a void in the Boston defense. He did, as neither Milan Lucic nor Johnny Boychuk appeared to pay him much mind. It allowed Hendricks to turn around to face Carlson as the defenseman was winding up for a slap shot. When Carlson sent the puck to the net, Hendricks had an unburdened opportunity to redirect the puck, and he did just that, altering the path of the puck just enough for it to elude Thomas on the stick side and just inside the far post to give the Caps a lead.

-- And the Caps made one of sorts to return the favor. Late in the second period the Caps were looking as if they were doing everything right, keeping the Bruins to the outside and unable to get any traction deep in the Washington end. Andrew Ference was reduced to trying to get the puck to the net from almost the exact spot from which Carlson started the Caps’ first scoring play a period earlier. He did manage to get it there, and even then, the Caps did just about everything right with Carlson and Karl Alzner defending Tyler Seguin. But Alzner could not tie up Seguin’s stick enough, and the Bruin had just enough of a chance to slip the puck the last couple of feet to tie the game.

-- Talk about secondary scoring in spades! Hendricks and Ward get the goals; they had ten between them in the regular season in 151 man games. Chimera and Knuble with helpers; they had 31 between them in 154 man games. In a series when Boston’s depth was the biggest problem facing the Caps’ defense, it would be the Caps’ “depth” on offense that would decide the series’ ultimate game.

-- The more one watches Braden Holtby, the more one is reminded of Olaf Kolzig in this sense. He is, like Kolzig was, nominally a “butterfly” goaltender. But he looks like a linebacker doing it. The movements are aggressive. It sometimes makes for adventures handling the puck, especially when it hits his chest and he starts looking for it. But he is quick enough to cover loose pucks before damage ensues.

-- John Carlson had an assist, and he was on ice when Boston scored their only goal. But for a guy who struggled mightily in the regular season with the defensive side of things, he came up big in this game and this series. He and his partner – Karl Alzner – were on ice for only four of the 15 goals scored by the Bruins in this series despite each getting more than 23 minutes a game.

-- Speaking of four goals against while on ice, that was the total Mike Green finished with for the series, none of them (of course) in this game. And he averaged more than 23 minutes a night, too. Green’s evolution as a capable “defensive” defenseman, if not completed, is certainly within sight of it.

-- How many Caps fans were screaming at their television sets with 2:26 left in the game when Jason Chimera was sent off for holding? Earlier in the day, Alan May was on a local radio show saying that in Games 7 referees will let everything go and then call something late. Well, there you go.

-- The Core Four had a total of six shots on goal for the game and no points, and although Backstrom and Semin were on ice for Seguin’s goal, they could not be faulted for their defense on the play. It was part of a solid act by all four in playing 200 feet instead of the 100 or so their collective reputation would suggest.

-- Give credit to Boston. They brought a champion’s resolve to this one. Sixty-one shot attempts, 36 hits. If they were going down, they were going to do it playing Bruins’ hockey. Which made the Caps’ win sweeter in that they stood up to it. An example – Zdeno Chara, with the hardest shot in the game, had seven shots blocked. Three by John Carlson, two by Dennis Wideman, and one each by Troy Brouwer and Alexander Semin. Not for the faint of heart.

-- Little things… Jay Beagle won six of eight draws in the defensive zone, part of a 12-for-16 night for the Caps in the defensive end. However, it shined a bright light on the fact that Patrice Bergeron had to be hurting. He took only one draw all night (and won it)… Nine Caps had blocked shots; 11 had hits…although they had only 44 shot attempts, they were efficient with them; only five were misses.

In the end, the fact that Joel Ward led the Caps in shot attempts (five) tells you what kind of game this was. Hockey is not war, but war analogies are sometimes apt. This was infantry on both sides going toe to toe in the mud and at close range. No one was yielding an inch of territory, and the slightest advantage appeared for a moment and was soon gone. But in playoff hockey, even the longest, hardest fought battles can end in the blink of an eye. And thus, so did this one.

In eight seconds, as a matter of fact.

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