Monday, April 16, 2012

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 3: Bruins 4 - Capitals 3

If you play, coach, or watch enough hockey, sooner or later you see it all. On Monday night, “all” took the form of a goal that will either haunt the Washington Capitals into their post season or anger them enough to get over the hump that is the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The score sheet will read that Zdeno Chara scored at 18:07 of the third period for what would be the game-winning goal in a 4-3 Bruins decision over the Caps. But the slap shot from the far right point was bladed up and over goalie Braden Holtby’s glove by teammate defenseman Roman Hamrlik.

It was the sort of “own goal” that can deflate a team, and it would be a shame if it did, for the Caps proved once more that they can stand toe-to-toe with the defending Stanley Cup champions. What they will regret, though, as much as the last goal was their inability to build on the first. Alexander Semin scored that goal when he collected a loose puck, looped around and between two Bruin defenders at the top of the offensive zone, then wristed a shot that eluded screened Bruin goalie Tim Thomas.

The Caps might have used that goal at the 16:00 mark of the first period to build some momentum, but Keith Aucoin took a penalty a little over a minute later, and the Caps spent much of the remainder of the period killing off that penalty.

Boston threatened to reverse the momentum with a Rich Peverley goal in the first minute of the second period, but Alex Ovechkin restored the Caps’ one-goal lead 13 seconds later. Brooks Laich was the equivalent of the football quarterback who “puts air” under a deep throw, flipping the puck out and ahead of Ovechkin into open space in the neutral zone. Ovechkin sped after the bouncing puck, and with the biscuit still refusing to behave still swatted it past Thomas.

Boston came back, however, an unsurprising turn for a team that tied for the league lead in road wins this season. Dan Paille scored late in the second, and Brian Rolston tallied early in the third period to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead. The Caps tied it once more six minutes into the period when Nicklas Backstrom picked up the puck from behind the Caps’ net, then sent a long lead pass up the right wing boards to Brooks Laich, who got behind the Bruin defense. Laich was alone on Thomas, showing a short side shot, then pulled the puck all the way across the crease and snapping it over Thomas’ right pad.

It was all the Caps could muster, though, and they could manage only four more shots on goal in the last six minutes… unless you also count the deflection by Hamrlik for the game-winner.

Other stuff…

-- It is difficult to sustain a high-energy level for 60 minutes of hockey, on an individual or a team basis. One indicator: Alex Ovechkin had five hits in the first period, none thereafter.

-- Have to think Mike Knuble is going to get a jersey on Thursday. Mathieu Perreault skated a total of seven shifts and 4:23 in ice time – one shift in the third period. He has looked physically overmatched at times in this series. Or it could be Keith Aucoin who takes a seat. Seven minutes and change, minus-1, and a penalty. Between Perreault and Aucoin, they have one shot on goal and are a minus-3 in a combined 20:00 of ice time.

-- Don’t know what Dale Hunter can do about Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz, though. They were on the ice for two more goals tonight, and that makes their having been on the ice for four of the Bruins’ six goals in the series.

-- The big question on Tuesday might be whether the Caps are going to lose the services of Nicklas Backstrom for a game or more. He was assessed a match penalty for decking Rich Peverley away from the play as the game ended. By definition, a match penalty is a violation with “intent to injure (Rule 21.1).”

-- Brad Marchand must be getting ready for the Summer Olympics in London. He’s a cinch for a spot on the Canadian diving team. If a drill sergeant shouted “drop and give me twenty,” Marchand has the “drop” part down pat.

-- If anything, this game put in stark relief the differences between these teams in depth. The Alexes and Brooks Laich got the goals for the Caps. The other nine forwards had a total of eight shots on goal. Meanwhile, look at the Boston goal-getters. Rich Peverley, Dan Paille, Brian Rolston. Each had their first of the series, and none of them are top-liners. Those three had sis of the Bruins’ 29 shots on goal.

-- Who has more taken out of them in a game like this, the “hitter” or the “hittee?” Boston was credited with 58 hits. There are days we don’t get that many hits on our web site.

-- If Backstrom was to miss any time, it would be catastrophic for the Caps. He was arguably their best player tonight, despite not getting a shot on goal. His stretch pass to Laich was a thing of beauty. He was otherwise sharp in finding teammates. He added two hits, three takeaways, and two blocked shots. He split 24 draws. This despite a withering assault (he might have been the target of 50 of those 58 hits).

-- If the gods of hockey have a ledger, Mike Green is owed much. Not only did he miss a ton of games, he has played in bad luck for weeks, missing by the smallest of margins a goal here, there, or anywhere. He had more than his share of chances tonight, but he still does not have a goal since October 22nd.

-- Nice to get four power plays, nicer to score on one of them. Less nice… no power play shots on goal for Ovechkin (he was 1-for-6 at even strength).

-- On the other side, we’ll take the Bruins getting one power play shot from Joe Corvo and one from Milan Lucic.

In the end, this could be a demoralizing sort of loss – late goal off a Capital’s stick and all. But this team has a different sort of look to it. There is a look of resolve on this team that did not exist when they fell behind Tampa Bay last spring. But while that is a good thing, now they have to turn that resolve into results on Thursday, when the Caps will be facing the sort of adversity that just about every champion has to push through on their way to a Stanley Cup.

No comments: