Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Раскрыть ярости!

Game 7 is in the books, and will be marked as one of those pieces of history that no one will forget any time soon.

Coming into tonight's game, no Rangers team in franchise history had lost a playoff series after being up by 3-1 in the series. On the same note, only one Capitals team in franchise history had won after being down 3-1.

In game seven situations, only once had the Capitals won, April 16, 1988, against the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime. That was the reason me and my lab partners named our fetal pig in AP Biology "Ron Hextall."

Simeon Varlamov had just turned 21 yesterday. Henrik Lundqvist, on the other hand, was coming off a game where he'd been pulled in the third period, for the second game in a row... for the first time ever in his career.

After two games where the Capitals really dominated the Rangers, many were saying that the Rangers were done, and Washington had momentum on their side. Someone forgot to tell New York that, as they came out hard from the start, stonewalling the Capitals attempts to penetrate deep into their zone, and Lundqvist really never was tested until more than halfway through the period. Varlamov, however, had to work hard to keep the home team in the game, after some poor turnovers in the neutral zone.

Then the unthinkable. Avery tossed the puck towards the net from the corner, and his teammate Nik Antropov was able to get it past Varlamov. Knowing that the team that had scored first had won every game so far in this series, seeing the light go on there was a downer.

The crowd was a bit subdued. I remarked to Gabe that Boudreau should call a time-out, as the team was not playing well, and maybe needed a quick rethinking session. Right about then, there was a stoppage in play, and the glass repair crew came out; a pane behind New York's net was evidently broken and needed replacement. Voila! Time-out!

Boudreau obviously took the time to talk to his players, and whatever he said made a difference. While it still wasn't at the level of game five or game three, things had changed for the better, culminating with Alexander Semin taking a pass from fellow young gun, Nicklas Backstrom. Semin's shot appeared to be a double-deflection, off two different Rangers' defensive sticks, and past Lundqvist. While it may not have been "pretty," it was still "pretty effective" at getting the score all tied up.

And 1-1 it remained through the second period, and deep into the third. The number of shots Varlamov faced was pretty low -- after 8 shots in the first, there were only 6 in the second and a miserly 1 in the third -- and the number taken by the Caps was shockingly low as well.

However, maybe Lundqvist suffers from Theodore syndrome, where if he's not "tested enough," he can't stop the easy shots. When Sergei Fedorov took the shot after a long pass from Professor Matt Bradley, and it went in, the somewhat subdued (though usual for a Tuesday night) crowd erupted. Everyone stood, started cheering, and this continued for the next (last) five minutes of the game, meaning for about twenty minutes real time.

The fury had been unleashed, and it was speaking Russian.

It is difficult to say what happened those final five game minutes. It was so loud, so frenetic, all I remember was a lot of keep-away with the puck, and one aborted attempt to dash to the bench by Lundqvist, who ended up trapped in the crease. Avery was taken down by Fedorov, and limped to the bench, and the constant cheering of "Let's Go Caps!" and "C-A-P-S, Caps, Caps, Caps" stopped momentarily to jeer the gnat as he limped off the ice. Then, it was over, and the team mobbed Varlamov so thoroughly that they took the net right off its moorings.

The Devils vs. Hurricanes game seven evidently had been just as -- if not more -- wild, with two Carolina goals coming in the final 90 seconds of the game, including Staal's game winner with just under 33 seconds remaining. The Carolina win means the Capitals will take on Pittsburgh in round 2, while the Bruins battle the Hurricanes.

I received several text messages as I was leaving the game, all basically saying the same thing about the Capitals winning or Fedorov scoring.

But there was one that was different. One that was.... ominous.

It read, simply, "Doobie doobie do."

I think there's going to be a rough road ahead. Saturday afternoon can't come soon enough.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Now or Never

"The Caps Need a Win in New York" is the top headline on the Capitals web page as I write this.

I guess Captain Obvious is the web developer of the day.

"We have to try something new. Maybe we have to go even more to the net. I mean more traffic, get rebounds and those kinds of things," was what Nicklas Backstrom had to say after the loss in game two.

I'm trying not to be sarcastic here, but it's been pretty evident that driving to the net and getting rebounds by being in the crease has been lacking in the first two playoff games, as well as most of the last part of the season. Even Brian Pothier sees it. "If we REALLY want to score, we've got to get to the net and bang in a rebound or two, that's really what it comes down to for us," he was quoted as saying in the DC Sports Bog.

The good thing at this point is that rallying from a 2-0 series deficit is something this Capitals team can do. This team has broken or tied so many franchise records this year, very little seems beyond them. They just need to follow through on what they know already they need to do.

Otherwise, let the mass hysteria begin.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

They're Here!

Playoffs start today! The sucky thing about it is simply that I have to work tonight, and can't go. So, Pat is going with his friend Bryan, while I make sure I turn my phone off and cross my fingers and try not to go insane with anticipation.

The trip to Atlanta last week was fun. I snuck down to the glass during warmups to get a few photos, only because our seats were on the opposite end of the ice.

Boyd Gordon and Donald Brashear were still out, so the hard-working Keith Aucoin was centering the fourth line (he was just sent back down on Monday since everyone, except Brent Johnson, has been cleared to play).

The game itself wasn't all that great. The lackluster play kinda scared me, to tell the truth, because the only reason the Capitals won is simply because of Simeon Varlamov's heroics in net. He did get the team's "hard-hat" award for his play, but it was terrible to see several odd-man rushes after certain defensemen decided to step up on a play, and then leave their partner out to dry when the inevitable breakdown occured.

Does Erskine look asleep there, or what? Maybe that was part of the problem? Though, to be fair, he wasn't one of the biggest issues last week.

The shoddy performances against non-playoff bound teams during the final week of the regular season has me fearful of what will happen tonight. Hopefully the abysmal game on Saturday will rile the team up a bit and have them wanting to come back from a terrible 7-4 loss to the Panthers. Several stories have been written already about how Theodore will need to step up in order to preserve the team's playoff hopes, but it's not just him; it's the entire defensive corps that needs to rethink its purpose. Don't get me wrong -- it's great that Mike Green contributed 30+ goals to the team this season. But 30+ goals does not a Norris Trophy winner make. The defensive side of his game still needs a lot of work, much like Jeff Schultz needs to work on being more than a moveable pylon out there. Putting the two of them on a line together last week was horrifying, as Schultz was left as the lone defender more than once when Green jumped into the play and a pass was intercepted.

Keys to the game are most likely to be :
*minimizing defensive breakdowns leading to odd-man rushes.
*not letting the Rangers camp in the crease. Make anyone who tries pay the price. Lift his stick, push him around, just do something. As badly as Theodore handles rebounds, letting someone sit in the crease is just asking for trouble.
*have a designated camper on each line. Brooks Laich is the poster child for this. Eric Fehr does it well on occasion. Backstrom is starting to do it a little more. But someone needs to be there for the juicy rebounds, and just to get in Lundqvist's face.

The playoffs aren't the only thing that's here. My AST struts have cleared customs! The coilovers will be on their way here soon, and that means the ESP WRX build will commence.

The car is scheduled for surgery starting May 4th, at IAG Performance. Whee!

Monday, April 6, 2009

To Kill A Mockingbird

Sunday's game against the Thrashers was more exciting than it should have been, what with some pretty poor Capitals' passing resulting in Atlanta goals -- most notably, Theodore's "clearing attempt" that went straight onto the stick of Slava Kozlov. Theodore says he whiffed. From 404, it certainly looked like he was staring down that empty net and thinking, "Goal," without seeing the white jerseys in front of him. Oh well, c'est la vie. It didn't tie the game and send it into overtime, at least.

One of the high points of the game was the Fleischmann goal in the first period. I wish I'd been able to get a picture of him throw his head back and mouth was looked like, "Thank God!" when the puck went in and the light went on. There was no question that it was a goal, and finally, no review.

Keith Aucoin wasn't so lucky later in the third period. He had a wide angle shot look like it went in, and then after review, was determined to have just hit the post and not actually cross the line. It was all good though, as he'd already scored on the power play earlier.

Michael Nylander broke a goal drought as well, scoring and celebrating with a fist pump in front of the net. Don Cherry's gonna be all over this team for celebrations!

Eric Fehr chipped one in that, after Theodore's miscue in the final minute, turned out to be the game winner. One of these days, Eric, they are all going in. ;)

Brooks Laich had the finishing touches to pull back to a two goal lead seconds after Kozlov's "empty netter," with an empty net goal of his own. That goal gave him back-to-back 20 goal seasons, a feat some thought was a fluke for him last year.

One thing most of these goals had in common was the crease presence. I've seen them practice this before, more than once, and once the team showed up to play in the third period, the practice paid off. It was nice to see more than just Laich mucking it up.

The team heads to the dirty souf for one last Southeast Division road trip before playoff time. Atlanta on Tuesday, Tampa on Thursday and Sunset, Florida on Saturday. Sunset... an appropriate town for the end of the season.

I'll be in Atlanta on Tuesday for that game, and might even post before I come home.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cuts Both Ways

The Capitals are the 2009 Southeast Division Champions!

They got there via scoring seven goals on Friday night... the problem being that three of those went into their own net.

Maybe they were just unlucky bounces of the type that plagues Pat during online poker where his pocket aces get cracked by the luckbox that "feels it" with his 2-7 offsuit. Or maybe it was just indicative of lazy skatework (two of them went off defenseman skates), and a general feeling of, "We've got this locked up."

In any event, Melissa's text to me, "The Sabres don't want it bad enough," wasn't true. The Sabres might not have wanted it "bad enough," but they certainly wanted it more than the Capitals did. They outplayed and outhustled the Capitals during the first period, and really, the only reason the Capitals were still in it after two was because the Sabres thought it would be really cool to take a multitude of penalties, leading to a couple of 5-on-3 situations that the Capitals took advantage of.

Why is it that Brooks Laich seems to be the only guy routinely willing to take the abuse of standing in front of the net, whether it's on the power play or even strength? Dude must have a ton of bruises from the battering he gets every game. The worst part is that while he gets beat up when he camps out in the crease, no one seems willing to make opposing players pay the same price in front of Varlamov or Theodore. Not once on Friday night did we see a Capitals d-man push a Sabre who was in the crease, much less lift his stick or otherwise make his life miserable for standing there. This is something that has to change for the playoffs. It's going to be how goals are scored... on both ends.

Sergei Fedorov was on, yet off, on Friday night. Two goals. Multitude of faceoff wins. But, he was directly responsible for the pass that was picked off for the game winning goal in overtime. It was pretty much inconceivable, considering he is usually one of the tightest players on the team in OT. Miscommunication between him and the receiver? Maybe. Tired from a long season? Maybe. Whatever it was, I'm sure that he and the team reflected on it a lot later that evening and through practice yesterday.

Atlanta is up next, for both games. A home game -- the last home game of the regular season -- on Sunday at 3, followed by a trip down to the dirty souf for the beginning of the last three game road trip of the regular season. I'll be at both, hopefully getting some good shots. Cembor has graciously sought out tickets for Tuesday's fight in Atlanta, and Melissa won't be rooting for the Sabres there. :)

Let's go Caps! 107 points is still within reach!