Happy Holidays To One and All.
Caps fans got an early present last night. Instead of a second potentially embarrassing defeat at the hands of another Eastern Conference foe in a row, they made a ferocious comeback and came away with a 2 point 5-4 overtime victory. In a second character game in a row, the Caps could have easily folded like a cheap suit after falling behind 4-0 and having their top four defenseman, as well as Alexander Semin and Sergei Federov out of the lineup. Instead, Coach Bruce Boudreau and the rest of the coaching staff exhorted them to play their game and continue taking it to the Eastern Conference 2nd place New York Rangers and their standard bearer, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Capitals, led by their star left wing, 2008 MVP, Alexander Ovechkin responded and when the Rangers didn't continue to play 110% through the entire third period, Alexander The Great and his teammates made them pay for every slight miscue to tie the game by the end of regulation. For Caps fans and those in attendance at Madison Square Garden, it was a sight to behold and at times an amazing one at that. The Rangers really didn't loose the game so much as Jose Theodore came up with some very special saves late in the second period and throughout the third period to ignite Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals team to come back and steal a victory from them. To be clear it wasn't like the rangers stopped playing at all, it was like they slowed a little bit to try and hold their lead instead of building it at times and when they did get good scoring chances after the 5:00 minute mark of the second period, Jose Theodore came up with the saves to keep them from building or re-building their lead.
The game started out in a rocky manner for the Capitals and Jose Theodore. Theodore let in three goals on the Rangers' first five shots during the first 11:15 of the game. At that point, with the Rangers up 3-0, Coach Boudreau pulled Theodore in favor of Brent Johnson who was nursing a cold as well as a tender hip. Johnson finished out the first period, stopping the three shots he faced but did not return in the net for the start of the second period apparently because of his hip injury. (Whether that means a return to DC for Simeon Varlamov for Friday's game against the Sabres remains to be seen). While Coach Boudreau rightly pointed out that during the first 11:15 of the game, Theodore got little if any help in front of him, 3 goals on 5 shots is not a good night in the NHL by any measure. To be sure the Caps Blueline corps for the game was a little on the green side and we're not talking about Mike Green in any way. The blueliners for this game were: Jurcina-Alzner; Morrisonn-Collins; and Sloan-Helmer. After the game, Bryan Helmer (along with Andrew Gordon and Alexandre Giroux) was sent back down to Hershey. A recap of the first three goals is as follows: Here's a rundown of the goals is as follows: #1: Markus Naslund puts a great pass from Nikolai Zherdev into the net. Basically, Theodore was left naked because Tomas Fleischmann couldn't get to where he was supposed to be in time; #2: Michal Rozsival pots a nice wrist shot in from the right point after Chris Drury beat Nicklas Backstrom on a faceoff. Theodore was apparently well screened and got caught looking around the masses to the inside and the puck went to his outside. Unlucky, but probably one JT60 should have nabbed; and #3) Ryan Callahan catches bouncing puck and bangs one in an empty net. Lots of blame to spread on this one - Theo was totally out of position trying to square up on Drury. Callahan's shot was actually near the near post and Theo still couldn't get to it. Of course you can't ignore the fact that the whole play was started with a 3-on-2 odd man rush by the rangers when an outlet pass by Karl Alzner was picked, and the two defenders were unorganized and offered little support. The puck went off Alzner's skate to Callahan, but the Caps were going to need a great save or a lucky bounce to avoid a goal there. However, add to this that it was the third ranger goal on the fifth shot of the game and that goal number three occurred only 11 SECONDS after goal number 2 and you can see why it was time for a time out and a change of goaltenders in Coach Gabby's mind. Luckily for the Capitals, despite the fact the Rangers played one of their best periods of hockey this year during the first period of last night's game, the Caps knew not to loose faith and that a game isn't over till it's over. Brent Johnson stopped three more shots during the remainder of the period and the teams went to the first intermission with the score Rangers 3 - Caps 0.
The second period started with Jose Theodore once more in the net and initially it seemed as though not much had really changed when Ryan Callahan scored his second goal of the evening to put the Rangers up 4-0 at the 4:48 mark. Callahan scored his 11th goal of the season when he was left all alone for a breakaway after a faceoff at center ice. Callahan was Ovechkin's man, and he didn't try nearly hard enough to back-check on the play. But Tyler Sloan was the other guy back, and he too failed to pick up and pressure Callahan fast enough before the play turned into a 2-on-1 and Nigel Dawes, ended up an easy play to Callahan for a nice assist. The Rangers fourth goal capped off 4 1/2 straight periods of poor defense by the Capitals, who could have just called it a night and crumbled at that point of the evening.
Instead, after the Rangers fourth goal, the Caps first line (Ovechkin-Backstrom-Kozlov) seemed to decide to change back to the type of awesome play they can deliver and take charge of the game. To be completely frank, up to that point in the game the first line had been just plain uncharacteristically poor. Ovechkin and Backstrom had been on the ice for three of the rangers four games and Kozlov had been on the ice for all four. All four of the Rangers' goals were even strength goals, the kind of goals that just kill a players Corsi Numbers in what might be the most meaningful statistic in the game. Additionally, it also seemed that Jose Theodore just looked deep inside himself and said "Enough is enough, I'm going to show these New Yorkers that I can be as much a world class netminder as that Swedish guy at the other end of the ice." Theodore made at least three "impossible" saves between the 5:00 minute mark of the second period and the end of regulation. His play seemed to further fuel the drive of the Caps first line and ignite the rest of the team as well. At the 12:35 mark, Ovechkin was Ovechkin and Backstrom was Backstrom as Ovie netted his 21st goal of the season off a play setup by Backstrom who got his 25th assist of the season. The period ended with the score Rangers 4 - Caps 1; but somehow there seemed to be an energy level coming through by the Caps that had you wondering if they didn't just feel like they might pull this one off after all.
The third period ended up being pretty much "ALL CAPS" thanks in no short part to an "ALL FORWARDS" power play that tallied twice. Due to the Capitals injury depleted regular blue line corps that has both Tom Poti and Mike Green out of the line-up the Capitals' first powerplay unit consisted of Brooks Laich opposite Alex Ovechkin on the point, with Nicklas Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann up front. It was this unit that produced Capitals goals number two and three. First at 1:41 with Michal Rozsival in the penalty box for hooking, Fleischmann got his 12th goal of the season assisted by Backstrom (assist #26) and Brooks Laich (assist #11). Then at the 7:04 mark with Blair Betts in the box for kneeing, Viktor Kozlov notched his 8th goal of the season assisted by Backstrom (assist #27) and Ovechkin (assist #24). All of the sudden, this is a 4-3 game that has gotten very interesting. The momentum was clearly with the Caps but Theodore was certainly part of it as well, JT60 faced and stopped 17 shots in a row including absolutely robbing Chris Drury at one point when the score was still 4-3 Rangers. The game tying goal was classic Alexander Ovechkin, at even strength, at 12:38 of the third period, the Rangers blew a clearing attempt and failed to get the puck out of their zone. Ovie grabbed the puck off the boards on the left side of the ice in the rangers zone, wheeled around and made a shot without taking a second look so that Lundqvist probably never saw the puck until the red light went on. Both teams bore down and regulation ended with the score tied 4-4, but again the crowd was basically stunned and the Capitals were now all believers in their ability to garner two points from a game at Madison Square Garden - something they hadn't been able to do in a long time.
In classic "Cinderella" style, the game ended during "Sudden Death Overtime" went Capitals defenseman Shoane Morrisonn, wearing number 26, scored his first goal of this season, in fact his first goal since last February, the 7th of his NHL Career, on his 26th birthday to give the Capitals the win. Morrisonn's shot was a bomb, a blistering slapshot through a screen that went laser beam straight into the right top shelf of the net over Lundqvist's left shoulder. It completed a truly amazing comeback by a team that is battling numerous injuries to many impact players but has so far managed to go 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and 8-3-0 (0.727 hockey) for the month of December. Add the fact that the Carolina Hurricanes lost to the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in regulation last night and the Caps are once again 8 points up on the second place 'Canes in the Southeast Division, and what's not to like?
Next up: The Buffalo Sabres at Verizon Center on Friday evening. I'll be there with my old wing man (son Chris) Rockin' the Red in Section 103. Until Friday Morning, I wish all who read this blog a Happy, Healthy, Safe and Joyous Holiday.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!