Saturday, April 12, 2008

Caps battle back to take 1-0 series lead

Capitals 5, Flyers 4

The Capitals are capable of being an electric team, playing with grit and talent to spare, able to quickly strike in the offensive zone or bottle up the opposition in their own end and of being, quite possibly, the best team in the NHL on any given night. Why they have to be down and out, gasping for air and all but dead to rights for them to play that way is anyone's guess...but I guess there are worse characteristics for a team to have.

For forty minutes the Flyers executed their gameplan almost perfectly: they crashed the net of Cristobal Huet, played a physical game without getting burned by penalties and successfully controlled not only Alex Ovechkin and his linemates, but the secondary line of Alex Semin, Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke as well.

But then, NHL games go sixty minutes, not forty, and the Capitals completely controlled the final frame, outshooting the Flyers 12-3 and of course outscoring them 3-0.

It seemed only fitting that Ovechkin netted the game winning goal (and even more so on an individual effort play) but the story of 'The Great Eight''s first playoff game with another talented youngster, Mike Green. Green had, frankly, an awful first two periods. He failed to clear the net on the play that led to the Flyers first goal, giving Huet no chance because of the screen and failed to step up on Vinny Prospal, giving him a wide open path to the slot and the chance to score his second of the night. Then, to top things off, Green took a delay of game (puck over the glass) penalty in the second period's closing minutes forcing his teammates to finish off the frame a man down and try desperately not to allow the Flyers to pick up a three-goal lead.
Green was indeed picked up by his teammates and he returned the favor, notching two goals in 6:26 to tie the game in the third.

Of course, his teammates weren't the only people Green picked up with his stellar third period, as an already raucous crowd went into near bedlam when Green's slapshot hit twine to make the score 4-4. As someone who was at the Capitals last playoff game five years ago, one which was attended by a largely listless crowd of about 13,000 and described as having the "feel of a well-attended preseason game", it was great to see the whole building behind the home team. I don't think there's any doubt it helped the Caps win.

As excited as Washington fans and players are is about how concerned Philly fans and players should be. Sure, the Flyers went into the second intermission ahead 4-2 and it took a great comeback for the Capitals to come out with the win. But if my allegiances were to the orange and black I would still be a little worried because the Flyers executed their gameplan perfectly for most of the game and still wasn't enough to secure a win. That, plus that the Capitals now have momentum and confidence again and have experienced playoff hockey, means the Flyers are in for one hell of challenge Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center.

DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Mike Green
- 2 goals, 1 hit, +1
(2) Alex Ovechkin - 1 goal (game winner), 8 hits, +1
(3) Matt Bradley - 2 assists, +1, 7 hits

Quick Hits

  • Everyone was predicting a physical series and, well, sometimes the majority is right: the two teams were credited for a combined 76 hits, 40 of which were doled out by Washington, led by Ovechkin (8), Matt Bradley (7), Matt Cooke (6) and Milan Jurcina (5).

  • Is it just me, or does it seem like interference is apparently not a penalty in the playoffs?

  • Bruce Boudreau's decision to put out the Fedorov-Semin-Cooke line after Ovechkin's goal was great. Man can those guys cycle the puck.

  • It would have been understandable for Caps' fans to have been concerned about the playoff readiness of their team, but that first game did a lot to calm my nerves. In addition to Green and Ovechkin I thought Tomas Fleischmann, Milan Jurcina, Alex Semin and Matt Bradley looked ready to go.

  • I have to admit I'd been wondering a bit how David Steckel was a 30 goal scorer in the AHL. His goal last night did a lot to help explain it to me.

  • Federov's pass that led to Green's first goal was beautiful both in concept and in execution. I guess that's why he leads all active players in playoff assists.

All photos AP/Getty by way of Yahoo!

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