Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Comeback Capitals Find Themselves In Famillair Place - Jump Out To 2-0 Series Lead Over Penguins




The Wa
shington Capitals apparently have a penchant for falling behind. The Caps fell behind 2-0, and again 3-1 in their 1st round Stanley Cup Playoff series Vs the NY Rangers. The Capitals fell behind early against Pittsburgh in game one, but would come back to go on to win that game. Last night at another sold out, red rockin Verizon Center largely devoid of Penguins supporters, the Capitals once again fell behind early on. In fact, the Capitals would fall behind twice in this game, but as in games before, and the series before, they would find a way to come back and ultimately come out on top. Once again, tonight's heroics were from familiar faces. For Washington, 3 of their 4 goals were provided by the game's #1 star, Alex Ovechkin, scoring his first ever NHL Playoff hat trick. Unsung hero David Steckel provided the other tally for Washington. Once again, Simeon Varlamov proved superior with his extraordinary athletic ability making 33 saves, some of which were once again epic in nature. His efforts would earn him the third star of the game. Sidney Crosby provided the entire offencive output for Penguins for this game. Alex Ovechkin scored his fith, sixth, and seventh goals of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Sidney Crosby maintained his league lead in goals with his sixth, seventh, and eighth.

Once again the Capitals appeared pensive at times, allowing Pittsburgh the slight advantage in play for stretches in the game. Simeon Varlamov also ha
d to come up large again this game as the Penguins continued to pressure the Capitals, and get some great scoring opportunites. The Penguins would hold the edge in play, and on the scoreboard for a the first period, and for a good portion of the game. Crosby would open the scoring with his first goal of the game at 6:38 of the period with a Pittsburghs first power play goal of the series. That was the lone goal of the game and the Caps were down after the first period by the score of 1-0. They were also now short of 1 forward as well, as Eric Fehr would leave the game mid way through the perid and would not return. He is now listed as questionable for game two, along with defencemen John Erskine, who took a hard shot to the leg in game one, and was scratched from game 2.

The second period things would even out a bit more. The two teams would trade goals this period with the the Capitals opening the scoring and leveling things at 1 a piece with Ovechkin's first goal of the night at 2:18 of the period. The play would start in the Caps own end with Milan Jurcina making a head man pass from deep in the Caps zone to Sergei Fedorov at center ice on the right hand side. Fedorov would carry the puck into the Pens zone on the right side and would find both Viktor Kozlov and Alex Oveckin streaking in the zone with him. Fedorov turned and whipped the puck cross ice to Kozlove high in the slot who almost immediately passed it over to a wide open Oveckin on the left side, who unleashed his signature one timer that sailed passed Marc-Andre Fleury. Pittsburgh would come answer about 8 minutes later with Crosby's second goal of the night at 10:57. However it was the Capitals that would get the last score of the period at 15:49 when David Steckel would once again be johnny on the spot and pick up a rebound off of a shot from Tyler Sloan, and bury it in the Pittsburgh net behind Marc-Andre Fleury for the 2-2 tie. The Caps would take that score, and the momentum in their favor into the locker room for the second intermission.

The third period would see Washington continue to control the play, and at 12:49 would get an important power play opportunity with Evgeni Malkin sent off for tripping. It took the Caps just 4 seconds to make the power play count. The Caps would win the faceoff back to Mike Green at the right point who would immediately find Ovechkin cross ice high in the left circle who would one time a hard slapshot past Marc-Andre Fleury, and just like that, the Caps were ahead for the first time in the game, and for good. Less than 3 minutes later, the red clad Capitals faaithful would get whipped into a frenzy once again, as Ovechkin completed his hat trick at 15:22 of the period picking up a pass from Sergei Fedorov near center ice and going the distance by himself to whip a hard snap shot past both defencemen Sergei Gonchar and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Verizon Center erupted into an ear splitting roar, and the hats, hundreds of them rained down from the stands in celebration and exultation, and the chants of "MVP! MVP! began. So many hats rained down onto the ice that it took several minutes, and a few large rubber trash cans to clean them up. During the delay the Caitals red rockin faithful remained on thier feet cheering and were treated to something they have not been able to do for several seasons. The song Rock & Roll Part II began over the PA system much to the delight of the fans who have long yearned to have that back. The crowd quickly picked up and chanted what used to be the mantra after Caps goals, shouting in unison "HEY... YOU SUCK!" For reasons unknown the song was nixed as the Caps "goal song" several seasons ago, although it is speculated that there were some complaints that the crowed would chant "HEY... YOU SUCK!" so loudly that it could clearly be heard both in the arena and over the television. It was definately a very appropriate moment to bring back the fan favorite, as it just added to the inhospitibilty of playing at Verizon Center for the visting team. The Pittsburgh Penguins could not recover and lost what little momentum they had. Crosby however would complete his hat trick as well, when the Penguins got a late power play with 1:41 left in the game. Pittsburgh would pull thier goaltender, and would have a two man advantage for the remainder of the game. The Capitals did a good job keeping Pittsburg at bay and nearly scored a couple of times on the Pens now empty net as they were free from icing calls since they were on the penalty kill. Ultimately the Caps could not hold them off completely. Crosby would get his hat trick with just 30 seconds to play. The Pens would keep thier goaltender out of the nets, and would have the extra man for the final 30 seconds, but to no avail. The raucous Verizon Center crowd remained on its feet as Caps prevented the Pens from getting much of anything going. Each attempt by the Pens the Caps would thwart, the crowd would grow ever louder, ultimately being able to wildly celebrate a Caps victory and 2-0 series lead over our long time nemisis and hated rivals. One thing of note that happend just seconds before Crosby's last minute goal , was a vicious cross check to the neck of Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov, by Pittsburghs Chris Kunitz. Not only did the crosscheck probably help lead to the Pens goal, but it was a very visious and dangerous play. It is my understanding the the NHL has reviewed this play, and Kunitz had a telephone hearing with the NHL's director of hockey operations, and disciplinarian Colin Campbell. It is also my undererstanding that no suspension will be handed out to Kunitz, however he will be fined. Both Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, and Alexander Ovechkin were upset by the dangerous play, and rightfully so. Ovechkin called the play "dirty" and said,

"I think the League has to do something about it. It's a cheap shot and it's not good for hockey. It's a cheap shot and Brash got six games but why not Kunitz? It's all about being fair. It's a serious problem I think. Can you imagine if he gave (Varlamov) an injury, what are we going to do? If it's not going to be called it's going to be a terrible decision and I'm going to be (mad) about it."
Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau was more tempered in his remarks:

"It happened so quick you sometimes don't realize it. But if you look at the clip and slow it down, I mean, he's aiming right for the throat."

I am going to post the video twice. The first will be in real time, and subsequent replays somewhat slowed down. The second will be in slow motion. First, here is the real time video with some replays of the cross check:

Here is the video of the cross check in slow motion.

Although Varlamov was not hurt on the play, that easily could not have been the case. I find it very hard to believe that the NHL will only slap Kunitz with a minor fine of purportedly a few thousand dollars. The NHL is continuing to shoot itself in the foot here. This was a dangerous play that could have resulted in a serious injury, and , it was a blatantly ILLEGAL play under league rules. The NHL is really starting to make itself look bad, and has already begun to piss off some long time fans to the point of no return. What is it going to take for the NHL to finally show some kind of consistency? Shame on the NHL for this one as well.

Now, back to the game 2 wrap:

This game definintely lived up to the huge hype that has been placed on this series, with the NHL's top two superstar players, who by all appearances do not care too much for one another, facing off, as well as a plethora of high powered houshold names among hockey fans The NHL could not have dreamed for a better marketing gimick for itself, and in the first two games, but espeically in game 2, it has lived up to and surpassed anyones wildest dreams. It isnt often you get to see two top superstars in thier leagues face off head to head, let alone both put on the prolific talent show that has been on display from both Ovechkin and Crosby. There is also the rivalry, and history between these two clubs, and thier fan bases. The history has largely been in the Penguins favor, but the Caps are looking to rewrite that history in a different directing starting with this series.

Once again, the Capitals find themselves in familiar territory, being up 2 games to 0 on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Although the Penguins now find themselves in a two-game hole, long time fans and followers of the Pittsburgh-Washington rivalry might be tempted to say that the Penguins have the Capitals right where they want them. From 1991-2001, the Capitals lost five series in which they led the Penguins, including 2 series in which they held 2-0 leads, in 1992 and 1996. Granted, the players on both clubs are all different now, but for the fans, and those with both clubs since that time, cannot forget, nor ignore this fact. It might also behoove the Capitals to pay at least some attention to this history, and use it as a motivating factor to put this series away. However, were I the Penguins and thier faithful, I would also keep some things in mind...

The "new" Capitals have some similar things going for them that they also have had in the past. They have had a hot goal tender, and Simeon Varlamov is most definately living up to that billing thus far this playoff season. They have had hard working, lunch pail type guys who could grined it out with the best of them. They even have had some heart and determination in the past, but never enough to take them to the promised land. But the Penguins have seen that from Washington all before. Ahhh but there is one thing that the Penguins have NOT seen from the Capitals in t he past. The Capitals of now, have all of these things going for them as well, and then some, but they also have one thing that no Capitals team has ever had in franshise history. A Bona-fide NHL SUPERSTAR, along the calibre of Wayne Gretzky / Mario Lemieux. A "once in a lifetime", generaltion / era definaing player, in Alexander Ovechkin. This could be the one peiece of the puzzle that just might finally put the Capitals over the top.



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Which team is the Capitals biggest threat in the Southeast division this season?