Washington Capitals fans were cautiously optimistic about their team following another dramatic come from behind victory over a current non-playoff team on Thursday night in overtime to close out their recent five game homestand.
Who could blame them after Washington failed to capitalize on momentum gained when they scored two late third period goals and won in overtime to steal the first game of that homestand. The win was was followed by three straight losses to New Jersey, their worst of the season, the Flyers, and Hurricanes. The homestand also included a scoreless streak of almost 134-minutes, but despite the futility at home, Washington entered play today in Boston still in the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Calgary Flames did Washington a huge favor last night by beating the Winnipeg Jets 5-3, and for good measure, the Florida Panthers also lost, but still managed to earn a point as they were beaten by none other than the Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout at CONSOL Energy center in Pittsburgh.
To make any of this count, the Capitals needed a victory today in Boston, and that wasn’t going to be easy considering the Bruins had won five of seven vs. Washington, while going 7 for 19 on the power play dating back to last season.
Head coach Dale Hunter and his new animated ways may be paying off as the Capitals finally came out with a sense of urgency, and played as though their season were on the line for 60-minutes and beat the defending Cup champs, 4-3 in Boston today.
Washington came out with intensity, and played with discipline as Alexander Semin and Matt Hendricks scored just 25-seconds apart to stake the Capitals to a 2-0 lead just eight minutes into the first period.
The Bruins weren’t going to fold up their tents and leave; they are after all, the defending Stanley Cup champions. Following Hendricks goal, Boston head coach Claude Julien called timeout to settle his troops down, and it worked. The Bruins outshot the Capitals 10-1 during the rest of the period, and cut the Caps lead in half just before the final buzzer sounded to end the first period.
Washington almost escaped, but with 5.6 seconds showing on the clock in the opening period, Milan Lucic scored to cut the Caps lead in half. Boston tied the contest 4:58 into the middle frame as Brad Marchand collected a loose puck at center ice after Jordan Caron checked Alex Ovechkininto the boards, sending the puck free. He skated in alone, waited and slipped a shot between Vokoun's pads.
Despite allowing the B’s back into the game, the Caps never stopped playing. In fact, they beat Boston at their own game. If you look at the stats from the contest, the Bruins outhit (30-16) the Caps by almost 2-to-1, they won more face-offs (30-27), and outshot Washington 33-30 for the game. But it was in the corners, in front of the net and great play on special teams that allowed the Caps to take back control of the contest.
The Capitals didn’t falter after Marchand’s game tying goal, and took the play to the Bruins. Washington outshot Boston 12-4 for the rest of the period. Jay Beagle, who scored his first goal of the season during an overtime loss at home on Tuesday, couldn’t have picked a better time to notch his second. On a beautiful pass from Alexander Semin, beagle snapped home a wrist shot to give the caps a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
On the play, Semin outhustled two Bruins forward into the corner, causing them to collide which allowed a clear path for the puck to get to Beagle.
The game winner came off the stick of Caps center Brooks Laich, whose been struggling this season. Part of Laich’s troubles stem from not being able to get to the front of the net like he has in years past, but on the tip in that provided the Caps with a two goal margin once again, Laich was in perfect position less than three feet from bruins goalie Tim Thomas.
Laich’s goal also came on the power play as Greg Zanon was serving the Bruins third straight minor penalty of the period. Laich tipped home an elevated pass by defenseman Dennis Wideman for a 4-2 lead with 2:29 left in the second. Laich’s 13th of the season was his 33rd point, which has him on pace for career lows in both.
The Bruins wouldn’t go quietly, and with just 3:13 remaining in regulation, the Bruins Johnny Boychuk scored a goal to cut the lead to 4-3, but Washington also received great goaltending from Tomas Vokoun, who stoned Boston in the final minute of play as Bruins net minder Tim Thomas was pulled in favor of a sixth attacker.
Making his second straight start after missing the previous six games, Vokoun earned his 25th win of the year while stopping 31 Boston shots. Vokoun single handedly preserved the win in the final minute of the game, and perhaps the biggest two points of the year for Washington to date. Vokoun has now stopped 55 of the last 59 shots he’s faced, and has now won two in a row for the first time since he won three in a row from Jan, 11 through Jan, 15.
GREEN IS GOING TO MISS SOME GREEN:
Not many gave the Caps a chance in this one, as Washington learned late yesterday that they will be forced to play the next three games (now two) without their once top scoring defenseman, Mike Green.
The former All-Star blue liner was suspended by the NHL on Friday evening for his hit to the head of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brett Connolly during Thursday’s night’s game at Verizon Center. Green has been suspended once and fined once in the past for what NHL director of player safety Brendan Shanahan called similar infractions earlier in his career.
Connolly was shaken on the play but returned to play the third period. Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and based on his average annual salary, Green will forfeit $85,135.14. The money goes to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund. The incident occurred at 11:03 of the second period, and no penalty was assessed on the play, but there should have been one.
Green has played in just 20 games this season, and has three goals and six points. He has no points and is minus-2 since he returned for the second time this season back on Feb-18, a span of 10-games. This is not the longest stretch of his career without a point. Green once went from Dec-15, 2006 until Feb-6, 2007 without recording a point, a span of 22-games.
Green was clearly lining Connolly up for the hit, and should have pulled up as Connolly was bent at the waste in plenty of time for Green to do so. This type of play is inexcusable at any time of the year, but getting suspended now, with Washington in the thick of trying to make the post season made this play the perfect example of the lack of discipline the Capitals are not playing with under head coach Dale Hunter, until today.
After a disappointing home stand in which Washington earned just five of a possible ten points, the road win in Boston is huge when you consider the Caps struggles on the road this season. Washington entered play today with the fourth worst road record in the eastern conference. With the victory, Washington is still just 13-18-3 away from Verizon center, and is 8-15-3 in their last 26 games. The Caps are proud owners of a modest two game road winning streak dating back to a victory in Toronto two weeks ago, but the Capitals have not won three in row on the road all season. In fact the last time the Capitals did win more than two games in a row on the road was from Feb, 2- through March, 7 last season when they defeated the Sabres, Islanders, Penguins, Panthers ,and Lightning. That streak was stopped in Detroit as the Red Wings beat the Caps 3-2.
The Capitals will embark on a similar five game road trip after hosting the Maple Leafs tomorrow. With today’s win in Boston and the impending road trip that starts this week, Washington will have faced four teams that played in each of the last three Stanley Cup finals by the time they return home.
The Caps will start in Uniondale, NY vs. the Islanders on Tuesday, and then travel to play the Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and Philadelphia Flyers.
OFFENSE FROM THE DEFENSE:
Even without Mike Green, who isn’t producing points anyway, the Caps defense has been more than holding their own this season. Following four more assists today, 10 Washington defenseman have combined to score 27 goals and record 100 assists for 127 points in the team’s 68 games this season.
A defenseman has contributed at least one point in 53 of Washington’s 68 games this year. With 14 games to go on the season, Washington’s defensemen have now combined for four more points this season than they amassed last season (28 goals, 93 assists).
The Caps season long six game streak of outshooting their opponents ended today, but 30 shots on the road in Boston is nothing to hang your head at. The Capitals outshot Tampa Bay 32-26 on Thursday which marked the sixth-straight game in which Washington has outshot its opponent, the first time the Capitals have outshot their opponents in six straight games this season.
POWER SURGE POSSIBLY ON THE HORIZON:
The Capitals power play goal was their first since Feb, 22, and just their third since Feb, 17. Washington was struggling mightily coming into today’s game as the caps were 0-for their last 16, and just 11-for-84 (13 %) since Jan, 1. But, the Capitals have proven time and time again that when they do play special teams well, they usually win.
The Capitals are now 19-7-1 this season when they score a power-play goal, and 13-1-0 when scoring a power-play goal and not allowing a goal with the man advantage. Washington’s power play looked solid today in Boston. They were swift with their passing and put the puck on the net. The Caps registered eight shots on goal during their three third period power play chances.
THE SIX DEGREES OF BEING A FORMER CAPS COACH:
The Capitals will host the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow at 5:00 pm at Verizon center. Washington is now 7-3-1 in the first half of back-to-back games this season, but is just 3-6-1 heading into tomorrow’s contest vs. the Leafs. Toronto is just 2-7-1 in their past 10 games and recently fired former caps head coach Ron Wilson. The Maple Leafs, who are now seven points behind the Caps for the eighth and final playoff spot, hired Randy Carlyle, who was replaced by former Caps coach Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim back in late November. The former Ducks coach took over in Toronto with a lifetime mark of 273-182-61. He led his team to a Stanley Cup back in 2007 as the Ducks defeated the Ottawa Senators in five games.
Carlyle must figure out the Leafs goaltending situation, and install a defensive system that must stop the opposition. The Leafs are ranked 28th out of 30 teams in goals against, allowing over three goals per contest.
Following today's win, Caps fans have begun to sit up in their seats and take notice once again, but if this season has taught us anything, it is to be sure to temper any emotions when it comes to the Great 8 and company. This time last season, the Capitals were in the midst of storming through the final weeks of the season. Washington was 10-3-1 over their final 14-games, and went 4-2-0 on a six game road trip from March, 15 through March, 26. This finish allowed Washington to win their fourth straight Southeast division title, and second straight regular season Eastern Conference crown.
A RIGHT OF SPRING:
The Caps will face a lot of the same teams when they hit the road Tuesday that they did last season during this trip. Let’s hope they remember how they did it last year because a similar finish to the season will probably needed if Washington is going to play in the Stanley Cup Playoff for the fifth straight season.
If we have learned anything over the years as fans of this organization it is to expect the unexpected. Remember, this is the Washington Capitals, and it is almost spring time.
THEY SAID IT:
"It's a coach's worst nightmare, giving up a late goal, and they tied it later, but the guys just kept pushing," Dale Hunter to reporters following the game.
“We are worried about our overall record and it is what it is. We’ve just got to approach the games, just focus on today. I think that we play five of our next six on the road but that wasn’t in nobody’s mind today. It was come here and try to get the job done. I’m happy with the guys, I thought we played a really good game, should be proud of themselves. We’ll get out of here, get back and then do it again [Sunday].” Brooks Laich on Caps modest two-game road win streak