Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty
Here we go again.
Saturday night inside Madison Square Garden, the Washington Capitals will play a game seven in which one team is the favorite. One team had the banner regular season. One team led the Eastern Conference in points. One team is a betting favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
Sound familiar to a Capitals fan?
It should. But as we all know, this year, is different. This year, the Capitals are the upstart underdog, the team pushing the top seeded club to the brink for a decisive game seven on the road. It is their opponent, the New York Rangers, that have the MVP candidate, the all-star coach, and the top seed in the Conference. And, both among most pundits and in Las Vegas, it is the Rangers that are expected to win.
For the core of these Washington Capitals, this will be the sixth game seven that they have played as a group. Brooks Laich, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green have compiled a 2-3 record in those decisive games, disappointing results to say the least. Of course, prior to this year, that group had played all of their game sevens inside Verizon Center, a period in which they put together a 1-3 record.
In the one road game seven that they have played in the last six years? A thrilling 2-1 victory over the Bruins last month that sent the Stanley Cup champions to the golf course.
In sports, a lot of focus – media, player, and organizational – is often placed on home ice advantage, and how the regular season is so important because if you are the top seed, you earn the right to home ice throughout the Conference playoffs. But to some of the Capitals, they say the mindset is different – and decidedly better – when you are heading in to an opposing team’s building for the final game of a playoff series, because it allows you to be a bit more relaxed, and a little bit less under pressure.
“I would say it’s a different mindset,” said center Nicklas Backstrom following practice on Friday. “I mean we don’t have the pressure on us. They are the number one seed and they have the pressure. We just have to go up there and throw everything we have at them.”no comments
Hot on the heels of Chris Bourque, Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby and his fiancée Brandi welcomed their first child, a son, Benjamin Hunter on May 10, 2012. No telling if Dale had any influence on lil' Holts middle name, or if the doctor performed his own set of superstitious rituals before entering the room and delivering the newborn with a glove hand flourish.
In honor of the newest member of the Holtby clan, we present to you this .gif!
Congrats to the Holtby family!
[Ed. Note: If you made this .gif, let us know so we can give you proper credit!]
88 seconds into last night's do-or-die Game 6 against the visiting New York Rangers, Alex Ovechkin sent a howitzer of a one timer high over Henrik Lundqvist's glove to give the Washington Capitals the early lead. The power play blast was the Captain's 30th career playoff goal, and tied him for the franchise lead him with Peter Bondra, who netted 30 in 80 career playoff games. Surpassing the 30 goal mark in a players' first 50 playoff games is a rare feat, not having been surpassed since the Colorado Avalanche's Joe Sakic in 1997 who netted 33. As James Mirtle points out, Ovechkin's 0.60 playoff goals per game is better than such notible names as Wayne Gretzky, Pavel Bure, Jari Kurri, and Brett Hull - with only Mario Lemieux, Mike Bossy, Maurice Richard and Cam Neely higher.
Ovechkin now holds or shares seven franchise records in his seven seasons with the club including most goals in a season, most power play goals in a season, and most shots in a season. In addition to tying Bondra's record, Ovechkin is now within one point of tying Mike Ridley for 2nd all-time.
The goal continued the trend of Ovechkin rebounding in a big way after being held without a shot on goal. In his career, Ovi has been held with out a SOG only five times prior to Monday's 3-2 overtime loss in Game 5, the first time in 26 consecutive playoff games. He averages 6.3 SOG in games after not being able to put the puck on the net with 5 goals, 5 assists for 10 points. In games facing elimination, Ovechkin has collected 7 goals, 6 assists in 13 games.
The record-tying goal:
I love Joel Ward. He’s one of those players that, if you’re not paying attention to and really only check the stats, people could argue he’s a let down. I don’t think so. True, he struggled to make the score sheet in the regular season, but he wasn’t signed for regular season performance. He was signed because of his super-human ability to elevate his game in the 2nd season – the one that comes 82 games after the initial season. There was a buzz surrounding his signing in DC last summer, and for good reason. Joel Ward was sold to the fans as the opposite of everything the Capitals have been over the past few years.
While the point production hasn’t come as advertised, I’ve learned a lot about Joel over the past week or so. Mostly, I’ve learned to appreciate him on and off the ice.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about him before his arrival in Washington. Predators’ games were rarely highlighted on National TV, and with all of the late interconference games Nashville is accustomed to, I just couldn’t stay awake most nights to take them in. Sure, they did some preseason gigs here and there, but what can you really tell about a player or a team in preseason? They’re adjusting to new linemates (that may or may not be sent down to the AHL soon); getting their legs back, maybe learning new systems… it’s not a fair judgment forum.
So I let anything I may have thought I knew about Joel Ward slip my mind and waited to see him in action in Red before drawing my own conclusions. What I saw was a tough player, one who puts the work in and does the little things. He’s not afraid to get hurt, he’s got no problem getting dirty, and he’s a force in front of the net. Hmmmm… judging by my other favorites in recent years (Knuble, Steckel, Laing, etc), he was a match for me. The goals and assists weren’t what many thought we were getting, but hey, he wasn’t signed for the regular season.
And then the second season began.
Looking at his stats today he has 1 goal, 4 assists, is a +3 and has 6 PIMS (four of which came last night, but we’ll get to that in a minute). Again, it’s not what people expected. But let’s forget for a minute that his goal was the biggest goal for his team this season. Let’s focus on what happened after it.
Twitter erupted with Racist Tweets. I can’t even think about copying what was said, as trash like that doesn’t deserve to be shared. We all know what was out there. I was impressed with Boston stepping up and issuing an apology for small minority of their fan base. Classy move by the organization, and much appreciated, especially by Ward himself who acknowledged his teammates, organization, and even the Bruins for their support. In the middle of the aftermath, a buddy of mine in Toronto texted me to tell me he was listening to an interview with Ward on local radio up there. The words this friend of mine used to describe Ward were “gentleman, class act, warm.” I couldn’t agree more. The way Ward carried himself after that mess showed me that he’s not just an honorable warrior on the ice; he’s one off the ice as well.
Fast forward to last night. The Penalty heard round Caps nation. To make it worse, there was blood. The 2 minutes of horror quickly turned to 4 minutes of desperation and the Caps couldn’t hold on to the lead. We all know how the story turned out. Twitter blew up with arguments of blame Ward vs. blame the team for not capitalizing on earlier chances. And somewhere, tucked away (luckily not in any of my newsfeed), were the return of racist comments. This time, from both Caps and Rangers fans. What a blow. The baffling ignorance of the conclusion of the first series reared its ugly head again, but this time from the fans of the Red, White, & Blue. People who clearly don’t respect the game or the players who put on such a show for us night in and night out.
Yet, when the reporters entered the room, guess who was waiting for them? Mr. Ward himself. Guess who took responsibility for the loss? Guess who could have easily hidden and made himself unavailable to the media, but instead wanted to “face the music” – even though it wasn’t all his music to face. Honorable Warrior off the ice, indeed.
I have a tendency to root for the character guys. I love goals and stats and heroes, but I love the guys who support the stars more. I love the blue collar, the accessible, the personable, the team guys. Joel Ward joined that list for me earlier this season, and after the way he’s carried himself despite the unfathomable emotional roller coaster he’s been on lately, I’m now in the market for a red #42 sweater.no comments
Wednesday’s game with the Boston Bruins will be another in a long line of game sevens for the Washington Capitals in their history. Some have ended well. Others, more recently, have not.
The numbers against the Caps are daunting heading in to the game, and everyone knows it. Boston won three game sevens last spring, including the final game of the Final, en route to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1972. They became the first team since the lockout to go seven games in the first round and win the Cup. They “own” game seven, if you will.
Washington is 1-3 in game sevens in the Alex Ovechkin era, with the lone victory coming in the first round of the 2009 playoffs against the Rangers on home ice. All three game seven losses came against a lower seed. And the Capitals have never won a game seven in franchise history when leading a series 3-2 and falling in game six.
But for this incarceration of the Capitals, there are many that feel that this game seven, and this year, could be different. And for good reason. Washington matches up very well against this Bruins team, and they have played them very tight. So tight, in fact, that according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first playoff series in NHL history in which the first six games have been decided by one goal.
Dale Hunter, despite his unorthodox personnel decisions and controversial bench management, has finally gotten his roster to go for what he’s selling.
"Bruce was here 20 games and Dale's been here 60,” said veteran winger Mike Knuble to ESPN’s Scott Burnside earlier this week. “It's taken every bit of that 60 games to get everybody to buy in."
The result has been a team that some expected to miss the playoffs carrying the defending Stanley Cup champions to a seventh and decisive game. Even when Washington made the playoffs, the conventional wisdom was that the big, deep, talented Bruins would wipe the floor with the Capitals and their rookie goaltender, Braden Holtby. But that hasn’t been the case.
There are, absolutely, reasons to believe.
However, it’s not because the Capitals are the underdog.
It seems as though some people are laboring under an idea that because the Caps had such a decidedly poor season in the NHL’s weakest division, the Southeast, that this year is different. That it was the pressure of being such a high seed that had caused the Capitals to fall out of the postseason well short of their goals in 2009, 2010, and 2011. That there is no pressure this time around, because the Capitals are a seven seed and are not “expected” to contend for a Stanley Cup.
And I don’t understand it. How is there no pressure on this team, exactly?
Photo by Toni L. Sandys / The Washington Post
Bruins fans have a saying.
Whether it’s Jack Edwards on NESN, Mike from Walpole or Jack from Dedham on 98.5 The Sports Hub, or the countless people I know from going to school in New England the last six years of my life, it always comes up when the Bruins play.
“You don’t poke the bear.”
Or, more accurately, “Yah don’t wanna poke the beahh, dood.”
The Washington Capitals poked the bear on Monday night inside Verizon Center. And they probably lost the game because of it.
In games one and two, the Caps refused to bite on the extracurricular activities that the Bruins feed off of. Boston plays on the edge. They always have and always will. One of the reasons that makes them so tough to play against and such a good team is that they are able goad players on the other team in to that kind of stuff.
You saw it on several instances. When Tim Thomas blatantly attempted to kick Troy Brouwer at the top of his crease in game two, Brouwer just stood there. He didn’t turn around and shove Thomas. He didn’t try and start a fight. He took the high road and he skated away.
When Thomas blockered Nicklas Backstrom in the head after a net mouth scramble in game two, and then Backstrom was taken down by David Krejci, there wasn’t a fight. Harsh words, maybe, but very little physicality. Very little response by the Capitals.
The Caps, as we know, won game two, and they could have won game one, because they didn’t bite in to the extra stuff, and they frustrated players like Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic whose job it is to play on the edge. Boston was annoyed by it, and they said so to the media. Everyone knew what was going on. The Caps kept their composure, they stayed to their game plan, and they were able to grind out some goals and a playoff game.no comments
It is quite probable that many Capitals fans turned off their TVs right after Chris Kelly scored for the Bruins in overtime last night. I know I did, and I missed what is easily this season’s biggest fan gaffe. Normally fan encounters involve fans jumping onto the field or the ice, or opposing fans heckling the players and coaches. But not this time. As the defending Stanley Cup champions and their fans were raucously celebrating the victory, two fans who were brainlessly pounding away on the safety glass instead of just yelling or clapping managed to knock a pane free, a pane that fell directly on top of the head and neck of David Krejci, the team’s #1 center and leading scorer in the playoffs last season.
So much for home-ice advantage.
Fortunately for him, Krejci was still wearing his helmet, blunting the blow that knocked him to the ice. Even so, it's a bad omen for a hockey team when a player who has already had 2 concussions misses practice after a blow to the head. While Krejci is officially listed as day-to-day and is expected to play in Game 2, he isn't likely to be the same player, even if he did give the Caps a powerplay in Game 1.
This crazy event begs two questions: why is it that certain people just ruin the fun for an entire city? And why do fans bang on the glass?
Made by Jumping the Glass
Well, it looks like the goaltending tandem of the Hershey Bears will be manning the pipes to start the 2012 NHL Playoffs for the Washington Capitals. With Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin up with the big club in DC, the two will have to adjust to the faster game and higher intensity of play in the playoffs. Holtby has some recent NHL experience, while Sabourin hasn't played in the NHL since early 2009 and has only 2 career NHL playoff games on his resume. Just in case he's forgotten, we've come up with a list of requirements for a backup NHL goaltender in the playoffs.
Bill Ranford: One-time 31 Year Old Backup Goalie