Wednesday night the Caps got little help from the "hockey gods, so they just took matters in their own hands and helped themselves last night. Wednesday, the Penguins did beat the Flyers 4-2. However, the Lightning couldn't keep pace with the Hurricanes falling 6-2, and the Devils let the Bruins get out of "The Rock" with a point in a 3-2 shootout game that NJ did ultimately win. So at the start of the night the Caps found themselves 2 points behind Carolina with a game in hand for the Southeast Division title, and 1 point behind the Flyers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Yes it started out another as "Biggest game of the season - do or almost die game' for the pucksters from DC.
The Capitals let the Lightning get an early lead. However, Alex Ovechkin tied it up with his 64th goal of his season at even strength. Then there was a controversial disallowed goal that left the score at the end of the first 1-1. During the first period the Caps out-shot the Lightning 20-5; Lightning net-minder Karri Ramo had single-handily kept his team in the game.
The second period was much more even and ended scoreless, so the third period started still tied 1-1. During the third period the game went back and forth for five or so minutes before the Caps started to take control. At 7:26 Jussi Jokinen was whistled off for 2:00 for cross-checking and Alexander the Great potted number 65 of the season on that power play to put the Caps up by one goal. From this point on, the Caps really didn't look back, though the Caps did have to kill off a 4:00 minute high-sticking double-minor to John Erskine. The Caps really stifled the Lightning power play on that one and Tampa started to get a little frantic. Matt Smaby was whistled off for holding at 14:00 and even though the Caps didn't score on the power play, shortly after returning to even strentgh, at 16:36, the Caps got some secondary scoring and breathing room from Boyd Gordon - "Gordo" netted his third goal of the season off an otherwise rebound stingy Karri Ramo . Defenseman Tom Poti "iced" the game with an empty-netter at 18:53. Right about this time is when things got "a little interesting" Doug Janick came on the ice and took a run at Tomas Fleischmann at 19:37 that Matt Bradley didn't appreciate. The net of it was "Brads" ended up in a pretty good "hockey fight" with Junior Lessard. The two had a pretty good "dust-up" that it appears the feisty Capital got the better of (see it on hockeyfights.com here), check out the nice upper cut square to Lessard's face. Doug Janick got 2:00 for roughing and a 10 minute game misconduct. Why Lightning Coach John Tortorella didn't get the same and a bench minor for setting up the whole thing and instigating it is beyond me - the Lightning coach clearly intentionally precipitated the brawl by sending too many men out on the ice. I'm an old school guy, and not averse to fighting, but the bottom line is the hit by Cooke on Lecavalier was clean. Lecavalier was in the middle of the play, it was an open ice hit with the Bolts star in proximity of the puck, and the reason the Bolts star went down was because he went into one of his own men. Hopefully, Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman send a clear message with a VERY LARGE fine of say $150,000+ against the Tampa Bay club; the whole thing along with Torterella's post game interview comments were classless and unjustified. In any case when Caps enforcer Donald Brashear returned to the ice, none of the Lightning, not even the volatile Tortorella, took him up on his offer to "tango". Perhaps it was the fact that the relatively diminutive Bradley, had already beat down one of their goons, or perhaps they all want to be healthy to watch the "lottery". In any case as Caps Chick is oft quoted of late - "It was a TWO point night.
It was a good thing the Caps won in regulation as once again they got no help from the "hockey gods" tonight in their drive to the playoffs. The NY Rangers shut-out the Islanders 3-0 to clinch a playoff spot and are now alone in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 93 points. For a very short while Caps fans had some hope when Toronto took a 1-0 lead over Ottawa but the Senators came alive and never looked back drubbing the rival Maple Leafs 8-2 and really never looked back after Dany Heatly tied it up at 11:12 of the first period. The win moved the Senators up to fifth place in the Conference, a loss would have dropped them squarely into a final game melee with the Caps, Flyers and Bruins they now can avoid if they win out. The Senators are still not without the real possibility of missing the playoffs after a start to the season that was as hot as the Caps was cold. Montreal beat the Sabres 3-1 at Bell Center in Montreal mathematically eliminating Buffalo from the playoff race.
This morning the Caps find themselves in Eighth Place and even in points with the Bruins at 92 points for the season. Boston has a one game in hand and is in seventh. In any case, tonight it's LETS GO PANTHERS!!!!! if you are a Capitals fan. If the Panthers can get a win or hold the 'Canes to a point, the Caps fate is back in their own hands. Saturday, it's another "Red Out" at the Phone Booth - don't change a thing! If you were at last night's game do NOT, I repeat do NOT WASH anything you were wearing, wear it in the same manner you did last night, and do the exact same ritual if you are going to Saturday's season finale. THINK PLAYOFFS - only good karma between now and Sunday morning, PLEASE! Here's a view of how the remainder of the season could go and how the Caps could finish anywhere from 3rd to 9th in the Eastern Conference. For third, the Caps need some help tonight from the Florida Panthers - they have to hold the Hurricanes to 1 point or less in the Hurricanes' final game of the season. While not impossible, it will be a pretty big task for the Panthers, the 'Canes lead the series 5-2 including 3-0 at RBC Center. Like I said, LETS GO PANTHERS!!!!! (till tomorrow, when the Caps play them at Verizon Center for their own finale). Also Caps fans will be rooting for the Bruins over the Senators - in regulation - tonight. That will move the Bruins into 6th with 94 points and the Senators will drop to seventh with 94 points and have to watch the rest of the season to see if they finish 7th, 8th, or 9th depending on what the Caps and Flyers do. First and foremost for the Caps is they still need to WIN on Saturday against the Panthers. They could get in if they don't but the odds are much better if they do. It isn't necessarily "Win and You're In" but it's close. If the Caps "Win Out" on Saturday, the only way they finish out of the playoffs is if the Flyers (with 2 games to go - vs. the Devils tonight and the Penguins on Sunday) get 2 or more points AND Ottawa beats the Bruins tonight AND the Bruins beat the Sabres on Saturday. There are a lot of injury situations around the league that make these final games even more sporting, the Caps aren't the only ones missing key players but in the end championship teams don't make excuses, they make their own luck. The Caps last game of the season is at home on Saturday versus the same Florida Panthers they need to root for on Friday night. The Caps lead the season series against the Panthers 4-3 and have not lost to them since Thanksgiving. If NHL Rookie Coach Bruce Boudreau goes 4-0 on the Panthers this season that will be the Caps 7th win in a row. Last night's win officially makes the Caps the hottest team in the league right now as they are 9-1-0 in their last ten (10) games. LETS GO CAPS!!!
Other good blog posts to read today: #1) Peerless's account of the game and summary as to how the Caps can finish anywhere from 6th to 9th - he forgot 3rd....but hey whatever. As for his overall post and quality of the account, I stand in awe of his peerless talents. I have no opinion on his minority opinion about the disallowed goal since I listened on radio. #2) On Frozen Blog for the line "Its starting to become a hockey town!" #3) Caps Chick's A View From The Cheap Seats - always a daily read for Caps Fans for recognizing Karri Ramo as the Lightning's future in goal. I agree - the guy was absolutely shelled by the best, just look at the shot chart on ESPN.com, a somehow managed to keep his team in it through 2 1/2 frames of a great game.
One more time for good measure - LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!, everyone at the VC tomorrow, our goal should all be to be as loud and positive as Goat - see Section 105 for details. Forget Schwarzenegger, amened the Constitution for Alex - OVIE for President !!!!!!