Tuesday, March 05, 2013

A TWO-point night -- Game 21: Capitals 4 - Bruins 3 (OT)

There are some games you have no business winning.  Not 19 minutes into the game you are down 0-3, your opponent having scored at even-strength, on a power play, and on a shorthanded penalty shot.  And, your opponent is 9-0-0 when scoring first, 5-0-0 when leading after one period.  They had allowed a total of only 26 goals in the second and third periods of their 19 games to date.  You have a blogger calling up images of a 10-2 pasting you put on this team five years ago being thrown back in your face.

Yes, it would be fair to say you had no business winning that game.  But the Washington Capitals scored two goals in the second period, kept the pressure up in the third, and finally cracked the Boston Bruins with a goal late in the third period to tie the game.  Getting that extra-time point would have been at the least a moral victory.  But the Caps came all the way back when Eric Fehr scored at 37 seconds of the overtime to give the Caps what is easily their best win of the year, 4-3 over the Bruins.

The Bruins scored first when Brad Marchand was hooked by Alex Ovechkin after he took off on a breakaway with the Caps on a power play.  Marchand was awarded a penalty shot and showed patience as he skated in deliberately and picked goalie Braden Holtby’s five hole for the goal. 

Zdeno Chara added a goal a little more than ten minutes later when his initial shot hit David Krejci right in the “lower-body injury” area.  The puck dropped to Krejci’s feet where it then pinballed among a clot of players in front of Holtby.  Chara snuck – if one who is 6’9”, 260 can be said to “sneak” – around the bodies and stuffed the puck under Holtby’s pad.

Dougie Hamilton, who came into the game with two goals on 45 shots so far this season (4.4 percent) scored with just 90 seconds left in the period in what might have been a dagger goal, a fluttering shot that Holtby missed with his blocker over his right pad.

But that would be it for Boston.  The Caps got one back early in the second when Chara could not get the puck out of the Bruin zone.  Steve Oleksy, playing in his first NHL game, kept the puck in at the point and fired on goal. Alex Ovechkin sticked the puck down and slid it to a wide open Mike Ribeiro to goalie Tuukka Rask’s right.  Ribeiro did not miss, and the Caps had life.  For Oleksy, the assist was his first NHL point.

The Caps inched closer by doing something they have had some success with this season.  Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff from Chris Kelly by kicking the puck back toward the top of the circle.  Eric Fehr beat Brad Marchand to the puck and slid it back to Tomas Kundratek.  Marchand tried to get his stick in front of the shot coming from Kundratek and might have gotten a sliver of the puck as it came off Kundratek’s stick.  Whether he did or did not, the shot had the look of a Mariano Rivera cut fastball.  The fluttering puck looked as if it actually curved around Rask’s glove as it sailed up into the near corner of the net to get the Caps within one.

That set the stage for an odd play that would foretell the game’s end.  Eric Fehr took a pass in stride from Nicklas Backstrom and skated down the right side through the neutral zone.  As he approached the Boston blue line he cut to the middle with Wojtek Wolski on his left.  Fehr drew four Bruins to him, surrounding him as if in a box.  Rather that try to split the two defensemen in front of him, Fehr chipped the puck off to Wolski.  Dougie Hamilton appear to get a piece of it with his right leg, but not enough to keep it from getting to Wolski’s stick.  Wolski wasted no time in sending the puck the rest of the way on a backhand that seemed to catch Rask flatfooted.  The puck settled into the back of the net with 6:05 left, and the game was tied.

That is how regulation ended, but overtime did not last long.  It was Backstrom starting things again.  He took a feed from Eric Fehr as the two were exiting the Caps zone.  Backstrom edged over to his left ever so slightly, and Fehr filled the middle.  As they approached the Boston line, Backstrom fed the puck back to Fehr.  Boston found themselves out of position as the end-game of this play unfolded.  Dougie Hamilton found himself too far outside fronting Backstrom, especially since David Krejci had Backstrom more or less covered.  Dennis Seidenberg did not slide over far enough to cover the opening Hamilton left, and Fehr jumped through the gap.  Seidenberg tried to hang onto Fehr as he was splitting the defense, and as Fehr was falling to the ice in Seidenberg’s grasp, he chipped the puck over Rask’s shoulder on the far side, Rask cheating a bit to the near post.  It sent Caps fans home happy into what will be a snowy night, warm in the glow of an unexpected, but well-earned win.

Other stuff…

-- Eric Fehr, Tomas Kundratek, Wojtek Wolski, and Steve Oleksy went a combined 3-4-7, plus-9.  Their combined cap hit: $2.558 million.  They were worth every penny in this one.

-- Who had Jay Beagle leading the Caps in shots on goal (tied with Ovechkin with four)?

-- Speaking of Ovechkin, the Caps had 68 shot attempts, Ovechkin had 13 of them (four shots on goal, four shots blocked, and five missed shots).  He had three hits, three takeaways, no giveaways, and two blocked shots to go with an assist and a plus-1.  Oh, he also had three penalties, one of them leading to Boston’s shorthanded goal (Marchand’s penalty shot) and another resulting in a Boston power play goal 15 seconds after Ovechkin got the gate.  To that add the three times he found himself tumbling into the Bruin net, and he was a busy fellow.

-- Nicklas Backstrom quietly had three assists.  This might have been his most “Backstromian” game of the season.  The assists reflected keen vision and anticipation on his part, with some of the playmaking aplomb Caps fans remember from the pre-concussion version of Backstrom.  If he is raising his game a notch or two, the Caps might have to be reckoned with after all.

-- Boston converted one of two power plays, but the “two” is the important number here.  Holding the feisty Bruins to a pair of power plays was an essential ingredient in the comeback.  The Caps did not have to expend a lot of effort killing penalties, and the absence of frequent penalty kills allowed the Caps to keep some semblance of rhythm and flow.

-- Meanwhile, the Caps’ power play could do nothing against the Bruin penalty kill.  Boston is not number one in the league in penalty killing for nothing.  The Caps finished 0-for-4 and did not get so much as a shot on goal on any of their first three power plays (they finished with two power play shots on goal).

-- With his goal, Mike Ribeiro has had a hand in 25 of the Caps’ 59 goals scored through 21 games.

-- Steve Oleksy had quite the full score sheet.  In addition to his first NHL point, he had two shots on goal, three attempts, two hits, a takeaway, and three blocked shots in just 10:05 of ice time. 

-- Maybe it had something to do with stemming Boston’s momentum, maybe not.  But After John Erskine dropped the mitts with Shawn Thornton after the Bruins’ second goal, The Caps outscored Boston, 4-1.  OK, that might be a stretch.

-- The Caps fought the Bruins to a virtual draw in the Phenwick Phase with 47 Fenwick events to 46 for Boston.  And, the Caps took 28 offensive zone draws (winning 15) compared to taking 18 defensive zone faceoffs (winning six).

-- Via Adam Vingan on Twitter, Aaron Volpatti said in the locker room at the first intermission, “Boys, let's just focus on winning the second period.”  Volpatti played one shift in the second period, one shift in the third.  Who says actions speak louder than words?

-- Wolski’s goal might not have mattered, in fact might never have happened but for some fine work by John Carlson five minutes before Wolski’s heroics.  Carlson was the last man back on a 3-on-1 Boston break, and he managed to force a low-percentage pass across the slot that handcuffed David Kreici enough that he could not get a comfortable swing at the puck.  Holtby covered up, and the Caps still had a pulse.

-- And finally, tonight’s most valuable player might have been the one laid up with illness.  Troy Brouwer could not answer the bell, for which Wolski might have been grateful.  Wolski likely would have been in the press box had Brouwer been able to go. As Alex Ovechkin might say... “sick!”

In the end, this was the sort of win the Caps thrilled fans with in the 2009-2010 season when they had the best record in the league when trailing after two periods, and they outscored opponents in the third period of games by 44 goals (112 to 68).  It would be a bit much to expect this team to go to this well very often, but on this night they showed the kind of resiliency a team has to have if they are to make an impression in the post season.