Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's Been An Interesting Month --- Lots of Differences and Lots of Similarities ...

I last posted a blog here on April 15th - tax day or almost tax day. A lot has changed and a lot remains the same. In the changed category there are now only eight teams left in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the same category, the Capitals are again/still locked in an intense battle to stay alive in their quest for the team's first ever Championship playing very good and very tight hockey against a favored opponent. When I last posted the Caps - Bruins round 1 playoff series was tied at one game a piece and I really had no idea how I would end up remembering the 2011-2012 Capitals. Today, the Caps are tied 2 games a piece in their second round playoff battle with the New York Rangers; and I definitely know how I'll remember this season, regardless of how the rest of it plays out. I will remember the 2011-2012 Capitals as a gritty, hard working never say die team with character. I will remember them as a team who has been able to match stride for stride two other gritty, hard working character never say die teams in this years playoffs - the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers. I was pleasantly surprised when the Caps, "our Capitals" knocked off Boston in Round 1, I mean I knew the Caps were and are a very talented team, and I know they "want it". However, when the Caps failed to close-out the series at home in Game 6, I was worried, Boston is NOT an easy place to play any time, let alone in a game 7. However, thanks to solid games by virtually everyone on the ice, a 0.969 SV% by Braden Holtby, 18 blocked shots by the team's skaters including a game high 5 blocked shots by John Carlson, and an epic game by the third and fourth lines the game ended on a 2-1 overtime wining goal by off season pick-up Joel Ward. Last spring Ward earned an off season "pay day" as an Unrestricted Free Agent signing by the Capitals because of his big game play as a Nashville Predator in the playoffs. This season's playoff performances by Ward are making Capitals GM George McPhee once again look prescient. I'll remember this team as a very gritty, never say die team because of this year's playoffs. So far this season the Capitals have played 11 Playoff Games, only one of them has been decided by more than one goal, the Rangers' 3-1 Game 1 victory at Madison Square Garden on Saturday April 28th. Five of the Capitals 11 playoff games so far have required overtime to determine the winner, including of course the triple overtime marathon game 3 versus the Rangers on Wednesday Evening/Thursday Morning at Verizon Center. A 2-1 victory by the Rangers in a goalie's duel that goes a long way in making sure no one ever thinks that "double headers" at least between the same two teams are ever going to be an idea that catches on in the NHL. Game 3 against the Rangers ran 102:09 (the 14:41 mark of period "6") at which time the Rangers took advantage of a couple of missed assignments and miscues by the Capitals in their own end that enabled Ranger sniper Marian Gaborik to put the game ending goal behind Holtby. The stat sheet from that game is pretty mind boggling to look at; both teams combined for 81 blocked shots (40 for the Capitals, 41 for the Rangers)and that's just one example of "playoff hockey" that can be found Holtby stopped 47 of 49 shots on goal for a 0.959 SV% while Lundquist stopped 45 0f 46 (0.978 SV%). On the Rangers Brian Boyle had 9 hits and 2 blocked shots, one of which he stopped with his face. After taking the puck to his face, Boyle still returned to the game to win a few more of the 17 faceoff draws he won (Boyle was 17 of 31 for a 55% face off win percentage. On the Capitals side of the ice Ovechkin also had 9 hits, though the Caps team leader in that department was Matt Hendricks with 11 hits. Hendricks' numbers balanced Boyle's nicely, in addition to his 11 hits, Hendy was 71% in the face off circle winning 12 of 17 draws and he also had two blocked shots though none with his face, at least not from my viewing angle. Yesterday's Capitals - Rangers game 4 was another tightly played game, though the Capitals clearly played their best period of hockey so far in the playoffs in yesterday's first period and the Rangers were on their heels for most of that period. In any case before the second period was over the Rangers had come back and we Caps fans again found ourselves watching a tightly played third period in a game which could have gone "either way." Both teams pretty much had their "A Game" out there except for minor faux paux' and when a team made a mistake, they pretty much paid for it. The good news for us Caps Fans is that our team is skating stride for stride with the opponents and not shrinking from any on ice battles. After yesterday's 3-2 win, the Caps find themselves again in a best of three games contest to see if they will continue their quest. The other good news is there are no doubts being cast about the team's stars' abilities in these playoffs and the entire team seems committed to each other and to winning. Look at the goal scorers so far in this years playoffs and you see familiar names; listen to the pundits and you hear some familiar names being used in unfamiliar (at least for the MSM)contexts such as Semin & "great two way play", etc. The bad news is none of their opponents are going to "mis-underestimate" them. The Rangers are also "playing for keeps" so the only thing for sure about the rest of this current series is we will continue to get to watch some excellent hockey, playoff hockey, Hunter Hockey. Next up, the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, tomorrow evening. LETS GO CAPS!!!!

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