Sunday, April 25, 2010

Coyotes pull off shocker in Hockey Town

As I sat down to watch Game 6 of the Coyotes-Red Wings series this afternoon, I was preparing to write about a Detroit win and how the Red Wings once again showed the NHL why they have been to the Stanley Cup Finals six times since 1995.

Solid wins in Games four and five in which they outscored the Coyotes 7-1 gave the impression the Wings had put their stamp on this series, and were about to teach the upstart Coyotes a lesson they have tought so many other teams in the playoffs over the last 15 years.

However, just a few hours later I realized this was not going to be the case. Despite being outshot 14-6 in the first period, the Coyotes came out of the first period with a lead, and cruised to a solid 5-2 beat down of the Red Wings to force a Game 7 on Tuesday night in Phoenix.

The Red Wings, who pride themselves on playing disciplined hockey, were uncharacteristically undisciplined on Sunday afternoon. Detroit gave up a shorthanded goal to the Coyotes Lauri Korpikoski just 4:10 into the game as Detroits' Brad Stuart nonchalantly carried the puck out of his end.

Detroit's penalty kill, which is always amongst the best in the league, had it's worst game of the series Sunday as they allowed the Coyotes three power play goals on six opporunities; two of which came in the second period that allowed the Coyotes to blow the game open.

After Game 5 on Friday, it seemed the Coyotes cinderalla season was nearing it's end. The Wings had just unleashed one of their classic playoff performances and were coming back to Joe Louis Arena with a chance to clinch the series in front of their passionate home fans.

But, no one expected the Coyotes to even make it to the playoffs, but they did. After five losses in their final nine games dropped them to fourth in the Western Conference standings, their weren't many people who gave the Coyotes a chance against the two-time defending Western Conference champions, who happened to be entering the playoffs having won 17 of their final 22 regular season games.

But, the Coyotes have won two of the three games in Detroit, and have now pushed the Red Wings to their first Game 7 in the quarterfinals since 1994, which, just for the record was a Red Wings loss.

The Coyotes have defied the odds makers all season long and they did it again Sunday afternoon. If they do it one more time on Tuesday night they will advanced to the second round for the first time since 1987 when the franchise was still in Winnipeg.

Considering what they've already overcome this season, a Game 7 against the Red Wings on home ice doesn't seem like that arduous of a task.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Canadiens push Caps to Game 6

The Washington Capitals entered Game 5 Friday night at Verizon Center with a chance to clinch the series. The Capitals had won Games 2, 3, and 4 after dropping Game 1 by a combine score of 17-9, and after trailing the Canadiend 4-1 late in the second period of Game 2 had outscored Montreal 16-5.

However, on Friday night, the Canadiens got an unconscious performance from rookie netminder Jaroslav Halak, who was making his first start in the series since being pulled in the second period of Game 3 after allowing three goals in 8:33.

Halak stopped 37 of 38 shots including all 12 he saw in the third period to help the Canadiens to a 2-1 win, and a Game 6 in Montreal on Monday night.

The Halak the Capitals saw on Friday night was not the Halak they chased to the bench in Game 3. His eye-popping stop on Tomas Fleischmann from below the right circle on a rebound with just over 12 minutes to go was final proof that the Capitals were fighting a loosing battle.

But, it was evident from the outset that the Capitals weren't going to victimize Halak the way they did in the third period and overtime in Game 2 and in the second period of Game 3. Halak stopped all 15 shots he faced and was the primary reason the Capitals were unable to capitalize on two early power plays.

The Capitals, once again, struggled on the power play. They had three opportunities in the first 21:06 of the game and came up empty handed, and failed to score a power play goal for the fourth time in five games of this series.

So, what happens now?

The series shifts to Bell Centre on Monday where the Capitals have already won twice in this series. Is it conceivable they Capitals will overcome this loss and muster up enough confidence to end the series in a hostile environment? I think so, but these are circumstances the Capitals have yet to face.

This is the first time since returning to the playoffs in 2008 that the Capitals have had a chance to clinch a series before Game 7. Furthermore, this current group of Capitals is now 1-3 in series clinching games with all four of these occurances taking place at Verizon Center.

Also, this is not the first time this group of Capitals has had a double digit series lead. Let's not forget the Capitals led the Penguins two-games-to-none in last year's Eastern Conference semifinal and ended up dropping four of the next five games.

Could the memories of that experience combined with Friday night's loss cause doubt to creep into Ovechkin and his teammates' heads? It's possible, but I doubt it.

This group of Capitals has shown a tremendous ability to put tough losses behind them and push foward. They've already come back from two three-games-to-one series deficits and have won one of those series, and lost the other one in overtime.

Bell Centre will be rocking on Monday with rowdy Canadians who are full of Molson beer and primed for their beloved Canadiens to bring this series back to Washington.

The Capitals will return to Washington after Monday's game; but it won't be to prepare for a another Game 7.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Game 5 loss speaks volumes

Last night the New Jersey Devils fell 3-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers in game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series.

The loss, New Jersey's third straight in the series, gave the Flyers a four-games-to-one series victory and a spot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, and, barring any unforeseen collapse, a date with the Washington Capitals.

However, last night's loss isn't about the Flyers and their dominance this season of the Devils. It's about how the Devils, and future hall of fame goalie Martin Brodeur have lost their aura.

With their season on the brink of being ended, and playing at home in front of their rowdy home fans, Brodeur and the Devils laid an egg. Brodeur, who has built his reputation and hall of fame resume on coming up big in these kinds of games was no where near the world class goaltender that we have come to adore.

Brodeur was very mediocre last night stopping just 18 of the 21 shots he faced. In fact, Brodeur was rather mediocre the entire series. Brodeur stopped just 12 of the 14 shots he faced in Game one and never once resembled his usual playoff self.

Even in Game 4 with the Devils still within striking distance in the series, Brodeur was again less then steller as he allowed four goals on 28 shots faced, and allowed two third period goals, one to Danny Carcillo on a wrap around shot from behind the net as the Devils fell 4-1.

Sure, the Devils failed to provide Brodeur with adequate scoring. New Jersey scored just nine goals in the fives games with five of those goals coming in Game 2. Despite having top of the line talent in forwards Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk the Devils managed just one goal in the last two games of the series; not exactly stellar scoring.

But, more glaring then any of that is Brodeur's save percentage for the series. Brodeur finished with a save percentage under .900 in four of the five games including a combined .857 save percentage the last two games of the series in which Brodeur allowed seven goals on 49 shots faced.

I can't say this is all that surprising. Brodeur, at the age of 37, appeared in 77 games this season with 76 starts. Though the amount of games he played is not at all surprising; Brodeur appeared in at least 70 games for 10 straight season's from 1997-2008 before appearing in just 31 last year due to injury, you can't expect a 37 year old to endure that heavy of a workload and not at some point have a let down. Unfortunately for Brodeur and the Devils the let down came at the most crucial point of the season.

Also, Brodeur was not particulary strong for Team Canada during the Olympics. Brodeur won just one of his two starts and allowed four goals on only 22 shots faced in a 5-3 loss to the United States in the preliminary round, despite Team Canada outshooting the United States 45-23.

Martin Brodeur is a sure fire Hall of Famer, his three Stanley Cup rings are proof of that on top of every other record he owns. But, Brodeur came up short in the big games this season and has been unable to get the Devils out of the first round the last three seasons.

Brodeur and the Devils have been one of hockey's most enjoyable success stories over the last two decades due to the classy manor in which they conduct themselves.

But, like everything else in life, and sports, all good things eventually come to an end.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Familiar trend is surfacing in Predators-Hawks series

As the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs commenced last Wednesday, I was on campus at George Mason University doing the sports talk radio show I hosted my last two years in college.

Not surprisingly, a good portion of the show was spent breaking down all of the first round match ups and who we thought was going to move on to the semifinals. As we broke down the match up between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators, the overriding opinion was the Blackhawks had too many talented forwards for the Predators blue line to handle, and that Chicago would no doubt move on to the second round.

The difference in opinion occured when each of us gave our predictions for how long the series would go. The consensus among my fellow co-host's was the Blackhawks would win in no more then five games. There offensive firepower was too much for the defensive minded Predators. My prediction, however, was slightly different.

I said the Hawks would win in six, as I felt that Pekka Rinne was the kind of goalie that could steal a few games in a series.

Well, after three games, my prediction has already come to fruition, and the question now is whether or not the Predators can actually pull of the upset.

On Tuesday night, Rinne stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced, and held the Blackhawks scoreless over the final 42:25 of the game. Rinne has now stopped 74 of the 78 shots he has faced through the first three games of the series, and has held the Western Conferences' second highest scoring team in the regular season to just four goals through three games.

This is a familiar trend come spring time in the NHL. One of the league's best and highest scoring teams in the league runs into a hot goaltender who swallows shot he faces and sends the favorite home for the summer wondering what just happened?

Jose Theodore did it twice in the early 2000's as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Theodore twice befuddled the higher seeded Boston Bruins in the first round; once as the 8th seed in 2002, and as the 7th seed in 2004 after the Canadiens had fallen behind the 2nd seeded Bruins three-games-to-one.

Theodore did it again in 2008, this time as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. The Aves, the 6th seed in the West that year, knocked off the 3rd seed Minnesota Wild as Thedore stopped 96 of the 100 shots he faced over the final three games of the series as the Avalance ripped off three straight wins in route to a four-games-to-two series win.

And, who can forget what Jean-Sebastien Giguere's Conn Smythe Trophy winning performance in the 2003 playoffs for the Anaheim Ducks? Giguere was unbeatable as the Ducks swept the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings in the first round, then lost just two games over the next two series, both in the Western Conference semifinal to the Dallas Stars in route to the Ducks first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, which was an eventual seven game loss to the New Jersey Devils.

Point being, the Blackhawks better be careful. For all the offensive weapons they have, the Predators have the natural equalizer; a goalie who isn't afraid of the logo on the opposing jersey.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Game 3 goes to the Capitals

A lot of attention and praise will go to Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov and Captain Alex Ovechkin after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Monday night. Varlamov, who got the nod after relieving Jose Theodore in the first period of Game 2 Saturday night, made 26 saves on 27 shots faced, and Ovechkin tallied for the second time in as many games after being held shotless in Game 1.

However, the guy that should receive the most praise is fourth line forward Boyd Gordon. After being a healthy scratch in Game 2, Gordon was reincerted in to the line up after Capitals Coach Bruce Boudurea decided to scratch usual fourth line center David Steckel.

The decision paid huge dividends.

Gordon scored a shorthanded goal at 1:06 of the second period to kick start a near 14 minute onslaught as the Capitals tallied four times in the period to propel themselves to a 5-1 win, and a two games to one series lead.

Gordon also won 13 of 15 faceoffs, but his key contribution was his first career playoff goal (in 23 games). With Tomas Fleischmann in the penalty box for hooking Montreal's Andrei Markov, Gordon skated in to the Canadiens zone on a 2 on 1 with Mike Knuble, and fired at shot that was stopped by Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak.

But, Halak let the rebound come back to Gordon, who put home the second chance and put the Capitals ahead 1-0.

After killing off the final 1:49 of the Canadiens power play, Brooks Laich potted his first goal of the playoffs on a wrist shot from the right circle at 4:42.

Washington was off and running.

Erich Fehr made it 3-0 3:49 later on a rebound of Laich's shot that chased Halak from net in favor of Carey Price.

That move would make no difference.

Just 5:17 later, Ovechkin scored the Capitals fourth and final goal of the period on a one time shot from Nick Backstrom from the middle of the right circle. Matt Bradley closed the scoring at 19:15 of the third period with an unassited tally that proceeded a Montreal offensive zone turnover.

Varlamov, though, was outstanding as well. Making his first playoff start since Game 7 of last year's Eastern Conference semifinal against the Pittsburgh Penguins, proved Boudreau correct. Boudreau, who said he was playing a hunch in his decision to start Varlamov, saw his netminder stop several early shots; a few from point blank range, that helped the Capitals withstand an early Montreal push.

After allowing a power play goal to Tomas Plekanec at 2:25 of the third, Varlamov was again solid stopping several quality shots as the Canadiens briefly fed off the momentum of Plekanec's tally, which allowed the Capitals to pick up their game again and cruise the final 10 minutes of the game. Varlamov, no doubt, earned himself another start in Game 4.

The Capitals fourth line of Bradley, Gordon, and Jason Chimera was outstanding the entire game. The trio recorded 2 goals, a plus-4 plus/minus rating and 12 shots on goal. Chimera was also effective in getting under the skin of the Canadiens forwards. Chimera goated Canadiens forward Brian Gionta into a cross checking penalty at 15:08 of the second and was clearly under the skin of Tomas Plekanec, who was assessed a four minute minor in the latter stages of the second period.

Washington again was held scoreless on the power play, this time failing on all seven chances. The Capitals are now zero for 14 on the power play through the first three games of this series, and zero for 21 if you count the teams' final two regular season games.

On the other hand, the Canadiens recorded a power play goal for the third straight game in this series, and combining the regular season have now scored at least one power play goal in all seven games against the Capitals this season.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Could this be the Year?

By: Justin Creech
On Saturday afternoon I went to the Men’s Wearhouse in Woodbridge to get fitted for a tuxedo for my best friend’s wedding this June. Just a few stores down from the Men’s Wearhouse is a Best Buy, so after getting fitted for my tux, I decided to walk down to the Best Buy and see what dvd’s they had.
I went straight to the sports section and began looking at World Wrestling Entertainment dvd’s where I found a dvd of the greatest Intercontinental Championship matches, the Hart family anthology, and a retrospective dvd of Shawn Michaels.
Almost hidden in the corner of one of the shelves was the newly released Washington Capitals 10 Greatest Games dvd. Disc number three in the set of ten is the original broadcast of Game 6 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals; a game that will live in infamy in Caps history.
On June 4, 1998, Joe Juneau banged home a rebound of a Brian Bellows shot under the left arm of then Buffalo Sabres goaltender Dominic Hasek at 6:24 of the first overtime period. The goal gave the Capitals a 3-2 win after coming back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits and the franchise’s first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
I remember the game like it was yesterday. My father had angrily gone to bed twice as each Buffalo goal brought back memories of past playoff failures. He didn’t even come back to our den until the start of overtime; missing Peter Bondra’s late third period goal, until a good family friend of ours called our house at 10:15 to ask me to explain to her what icing means.
But, down the stairs he came, and his new found faith was rewarded about 20 minutes later when Juneau’s shot eluded Hasek and clinched the series.
Seeing that date on the back of the box that contained the dvd’s caused me to think; could this be the year? Could this be the year they finally do it? Could this possibly be the year the Capitals put their past behind them, a past that includes just one playoff series win in the last 11 seasons, a past that includes consecutive first round exits in 2000 and 2001 after consecutive Southeast Division championships, a past that includes seven series losses to the hated Pittsburgh Penguins; four of which saw the Capitals blow two game leads.
Could this be the year the Capitals take the lessons from the last two springs which saw them loss two heart breaking Game 7’s at the Verizon Center and finally put it all together and raise Lord Stanley’s Cup?
My answer; a resounding yes.
The Capitals have all the pieces. Star winger Alex Ovechkin gets the most attention, but center Nicklas Backstrom is a rising star as well, and Alexander Semin is not far behind Ovechkin and Backstrom. Backstrom just wrapped up the most productive season of his young NHL career by finishing fourth in the league in scoring with 101 points (33g, 68a) and Semin just recorded the most goals and points he ever has in a single season, finishing with 40 goals and 84 points.
Ovechkin finished tied for second in the league in points with 109 (50g, 59a) despite missing 10 full games due to injury or suspension, and parts of four others due to ejection or injury. However, the most impressive for Ovechkin this season is his plus/minus ratio. Ovechkin finished the regular season a plus 45, second only to teammate Jeff Schultz who led the league with a plus 50. Ovechkin’s previous high for plus minus was in 2007-2008 when he finished at plus 28.
The Capitals also have a new dimension they have not had the last two years which is depth and grit. Yes, this not the first year that Brooks Laich has scored 20 plus goals as he has scored 21 and 23 each of the last two seasons. But, Laich also finished a plus 16 this year, the first plus season of his career.
The same holds true for Tomas Fleischmann. Fleischmann finished with 23 goals this season after scoring 19 last year, but also finished with a plus-plus/minus ratio this year, plus-9, for the first time in his career.
The offseason acquisition of right wing Mike Knuble from the Philadelphia Flyers has given the Capitals the net presence they lacked last season. Knuble rewarded the Capitals with 29 goals and 53 points. The midseason trade for Jason Chimera, and the deadline acquisition of Eric Belanger has given the Capitals even more grit, evidenced by Chimera getting into several fights since joining the Capitals on December 28th.
For all the offensive weapons the Capitals have, there have also been improvements on the defensive side. Mike Green, who has built his reputation as an offensive defensemen finished the regular season with a career high plus 39 plus/minus ration. Coupled with defensive partner Schultz, and the Capitals have a duo that is capable of stopping any teams top forward line.
Washington also finished the regular season with the top four plus/minus players this season in Schultz, Ovechkin, Green, and Backstrom. Backstrom finished a career best plus-37.
With all the fancy statistics the Capitals have put up this season, the one that may prove to be the most valuable this post season is the number 0; which is the number of regulation losses Jose Theodore suffered his last 23 regular season starts.
After a December slump which saw Theodore temporarily loss the Capitals number one goaltender spot, Theodore has rebounded to put together one of the best stretches of play in his career. In his last 23 starts, Theodore has posted a 2.58 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. In his last 10 starts he posted a .911 save percentage, which is up from his .889 save percentage his final 10 starts last season.
But, even more impressive then that is his third period play over his final 23 starts. Theodore allowed just 9 third period goals on 229 shots faced, which will help the Capitals leaps and bounds if he can keep it up over the next two months.
Unlike in 1998, the Capitals are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Winners of the President’s Trophy and the most potent offense in the league, all the pieces are in place for the Capitals to add another chapter to the history book they began writing in April of 2008.
June 4, 1998, an unforgettable day in Capitals history. June of 2010; could it be another unforgettable chapter?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Semin reaches 40 as Caps fall in shootout

By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—The Washington Capitals wrapped up the regular season Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center by having another one of their heralded players reach another milestone.
Alexander Semin reached the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his career early in the first period, but the Capitals ultimately fell to the Boston Bruins, 4-3, in a shootout. With the Capitals already having secured the President’s trophy and having known their playoff seed for quite some time, individual achievements was all that was of any importance on Sunday.
Semin reached his at 2:23 of the first period on a wrist shot from the right circle that beat Boston’s Tim Thomas low to the blocker side and elicited a fist pump from Semin.
The goal, coupled with teammate Alex Ovechkin’s 50th on Friday marked the first time in NHL history that two Russian teammates each scored 40 goals in a single season, and the first pair of Capitals to accomplish that feat since Dino Ciccarelli, Geoff Courtnall and Mike Ridley in 1988-89.
“When he wants to play and he’s wanted to play an awful lot these days,” said Boudreau. “So, he’s as skilled as there is in the league and when people just focus on our one player he comes through, so it’s a pretty good second weapon to have.”
The Capitals finished the regular season with franchise records in wins (54), points (121), and home points with 65. The Capitals also finished with an NHL-leading 313 goals (not counting shootout “goals” reflected in the league standings) and are the highest scoring team since the 1995096 Pittsburgh Penguins (362).
The Capitals also received goals from Eric Belanger and Mike Knuble, and Semyon Varlamov stopped 35 of the 38 shots he faced in regulation and overtime before yielding shootout goals to David Krejci and Miroslav Satan.
Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau picked Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley to shoot for the Capitals in the shootout, later stating that he felt they deserved an award for the hard work they have put in all season, and also that the outcome of the game had no effect on either team’s playoff seeding.
Alex Ovechkin was held pointless in his bid to secure the “Rocket” Richard and Art Ross trophies. Ovechkin finished the regular season with 109 points (50g, 59a) which are three behind the Canucks Henrik Sedin for the league lead. Ovechkin still has a chance at the “Rocket” Richard trophy as he is currently tied with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and has a one goal lead on the Penguins Sidney Crosby.
The Capitals made a concerted effort in the first period to get Ovechkin on the scoresheet, but after a brilliant stop by Thomas early in the second period on an Ovechkin shot from in tight, it was apparent Ovechkin decided Sunday just wasn’t his day.
“To me it doesn’t take away from the year he had,” said Boudreau of Ovechkin’s failed bid to tie Sedin. “But, sometimes you just can’t dig it up to do it. Boston looked to me like their whole concern was to not let Alex score.”
Boudreau and the Capitals focus now turns to next Thursday when they will open the playoffs against either the New York Rangers, or the Montreal Canadiens; which depends on the winner of Sunday’s game at Wachovia Center between the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
Boudreau said he and his team are glad the regular season is over and they can now focus on what they really want; a Stanly Cup Championship.
“We are just anxious to get going,” said Boudreau. “We know we are going to play a good team. Once you have clinched stuff in the regular season, this is your next goal- this is the carrot, the thing that is going to drive you. Starting next week we are looking forward to the next challenge.”
Boudreau said he doesn’t have a preference on who the Capitals draw in the first round; just that he and the rest of the team know whoever they get is going to be a tough draw.
“Only 16 out of 30 teams can make the playoffs, and they’re all good,” said Boudreau. “We’ve got our hands full with whoever we play. Either way it’s going to be a tough [series].”

Pre-Game Notes

The Capitals just played a video tribute that covered the most memorable moments of the season to this point, and paying tribute to the first Presidents Trophy winning regular season in team history.

Rascal Flatts latest hit "Unstoppable" was being played in the background.

The starting line-up looks like this:

Forwards:

Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Matt Bradley.

D-men:

John Carlson, Shaone Morrisonn

Friday, April 9, 2010

Milestone night ends in easy win for Caps

By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—In a season full of milestones, the Washington Capitals added two more last night and came within reach of a third.
Nicklas Backstrom recorded the first 100 point season of his career with an assist early in the third period, and Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season on the same play to push the Caps to a 5-2 win and to within two points of the franchise’s first 120 point season.
Backstrom, who finished with two goals himself (32, 33), pushed his point total to 101 with the secondary assist on as Ovechkin gave the Capitals the lead for good at 9:49 of the third on a wicked wrist shot that beat the Thrashers Ondrej Pavelec low to the blocker side.
Ovechkin, who also scored the game tying goal at 16:04 of the second period, finished with three points (2g, 1a) pulled ahead in the race for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy and the Art Ross Trophy. Ovechkin now holds a 50-49 edge over the Penguins Sidney Crosby for the “Rocket” Richard trophy, and a one point lead, 109-108, over the Canucks Henrik Sedin for the Art Ross.
Pittsburgh has two games remaining, one on the road in Atlanta tomorrow night and one Sunday afternoon in Long Island. The Canucks wrap up their season tomorrow night at home against the Calgary Flames.
“Well, it’s a pretty big number, especially when you miss a couple games to suspension and got injured,” said Ovechkin of goal number 50. “You always want to score 50 goals, but sometimes you don’t have luck. Sometimes you just miss chances. But today, I think our line played well. Backy [Nicklas Backstrom] gets three points and I think Sasha [Alexander Semin] get three points. So, our line played
The goal marked the fourth time in his five year career that Ovechkin reached the 50 goal plateau, joining Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy as the only players to do so. It also marked the first time Ovechkin has recorded multiple goals in consecutive games. The last time he achieved that feat was October 27th and 29th.
After corralling the puck in the neutral zone, Backstrom passed to Semin, who upon skating into the Thrashers zone sent a cross ice pass to Ovechkin. Ovechkin cut to the middle of the ice and fired a wrist shot from the high slot that beat Thrashers netminder Ondrej Pavelec low to the blocker side to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead.
“It’s great because he’s a great scorer,” said Backstrom. “I’m always trying to set him up and he’s a great player- probably the best player in the world. So, it’s always good to see other people reach their milestones.”
Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau spoke glowingly about Backstrom after the game saying how proud he was of his 22 year old first line center to reach the 100 point mark.
“He’s such a great young man,” said Boudreau. “You like to see great people succeed. I’m sitting there thinking ‘Nicky just got his hundredth and Alex just got his 50th, who’s picking up the puck?’ It shows that he’s one of the elite players in the league and he does it every night.”
Ovechkin and Backstrom came together in the locker room and took a picture with both players holding the milestone achieving puck. When asked about what they were going to do with the puck, both players joked that they are going to split it, but neither knew exactly how they were going to do that.
Backstrom also admitted that Ovechkin mentioned achieving the milestones before the game.
“When I came here at 5 o’clock, he said to me, ‘Hey Backy are we going to score tonight?’ I said ‘Yea, why not?’ So it was kind of funny.”
After Backstrom gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead at 14:44 of the first period, the Thrashers were able to grab a 2-1 lead at 13:07 on a short-handed goal by Clarke McArthur, who intercepted Ovechkin’s attempted pass to Mike Green in the Capitals zone, and out raced Ovechkin and Green before beating Jose Theodore high to the glove side.
The goal was momentarily reviewed, but was ruled a good goal.
Washington didn’t wait long, though, as Ovechkin tied the game 2:57 later on a slap shot from the point on a pass from Semin.
After Ovechkin gave the Capitals the lead, Jason Chimera scored his first goal since March 16 on a slap shot from the high slot at 12:16. The Capitals final goal came from Backstrom after he poked in a rebound of Semins’ shot from the right circle at 13:05.
With wins in five straight games, the Capitals feel they are right where they need to be entering the playoffs.
“I think it’s the gradual maturity and growth from 21 year old kids who were very talented who are now 24 and 25 and have gone through the wars together,” said Boudreau. “They play for each other so well. That’s the biggest thing, they want the other prize.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bradley’s Late Tally Propels Capitals to Victory

By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—Washington Capitals forward Matt Bradley doesn’t score often, but when he does it’s usually at the most opportune moment.
In a game his team needed to break their recent bad fortune, the rugged fourth line center who had made his name in the league as a guy that will do whatever it takes to help his team snuck behind a future hall of famer and scored a timely goal to propel the Capitals to a 2-1 win over the visiting Atlanta Thrashers at Verizon Center and put a stop to their 3 game losing streak.
The, Washington’s 50th of the season, tied the franchise record for wins in a season set by the 1985-86 squad and last year’s team. It is also the first time in team history the Capitals have recorded back-to-back 50 win seasons.
The loss was damaging for the Thrashers who failed to gain any ground on the Boston Bruins for the Eastern Conferences’ eighth and final playoff spot. The Bruin fell at home to Florida Panthers, 1-0, but stayed two points ahead of the Thrashers.
“It started with two great chips, one from [David Steckel] and one chipped by [Jason Chimera] in their end,” said Bradley. “I don’t think Chelios saw me. I kind of cut in front of him and stole the puck and just took it to the net. So, I just poked it to the net and it was a lucky goal.”
The goal was Bradley’s ninth of the season and first in 25 games matched his career high for goals (9) and points (22) in a season, tying his goals and point production from 2001-2002 when he was a member of the San Jose Sharks.
Last night was also a milestone night for center Nicklas Backstrom, who’s first period tally put him at the 30 goal plateau for the first time in his career. Backstrom moved to the top of the crease, and with a quick flick of his stick deflected Mike Green’s point shot passed Pavelec at 19:02 for a 1-0 lead.
Backstrom’s goal also gave the Capitals their third 30 goal scorer of the season, the most of any team in the NHL. Backstrom trails line mate Alex Ovechkin (46) and Alexander Semin (38).
After Chimera chipped the puck into the near corner, Bradley snuck behind an unsuspecting Chelios, scooped up the puck and headed towards the net. With Steckel cutting through the slot, Bradley put a soft backhander on Thrashers netminder Ondrej Pavelec. The puck managed to trickle through Pavelecs’ pads and across the goaline at 9:46 of the third.
“I actually was going to pass to Steck[el], but they had one defenseman out there and he kind of shaded towards Steck[el],” said Bradley “So, I just figured I’ll just take it to the net instead of trying to force a pass.”
The win was much needed after three performances that didn’t even come close to how well the Capitals can play.
Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau likened the game to a playoff game, saying it was the kind of game that challenged his team mentally.
“It was tense and there weren’t a lot of shots, but those are the hardest games to play because you have got to stay focused,” said Boudreau. “Some guys might not get on the ice for eight to ten minutes, so it’s a difficult thing.”
After sluggish first periods in their last three games that saw the Capitals get outscored 9-1 and manage a combined eight shots in the last two first periods, the Capitals came out much more focused against the Thrashers.
Though they managed just seven shots, and at times looked like they were lacking energy, the Capitals were able to get on the scoreboard on the deflection by Backstrom, and limited the Thrashers to just 6 shots after allowing the Flames and Senators a combined 25.
“We came out with a lead in the first period,” said forward Mike Knuble. “It was a mental thing. It’s not like worrying about what’s wrong with our game or anything. We just have to be mentally ready to start the game. Other teams in this league can burn you in the first. You have to be ready.”
Atlanta’s Tim Stapleton did manage to tie the game at 17:51 of the second on a nice wrist shot that beat Capitals netminder Semyon Varlamov high to the glove side. Stapleton took a nice pass from Colby Armstrong in the slot and beat Varlamov, who barely got his glove up.
The Capitals persevered, though, and picked up a much needed win with the playoffs just two weeks away.
“That was playoff style game,” said Bradley. “I thought in the third period we really came out and played the way we can. So, that was a good step forward on the way to the playoffs.”

Capitals College Hockey Fair a Great Success

By: Justin Creech

The Washington Capitals Fourth Annual College Hockey Fair took place this past Sunday at Verizon Center and once again saw a positive turnout. Nearly 350 people attended the fair and were treated to the most thorough informational session of the Fair to date.
The two hour session which was emceed by Capitals play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati and Color Commentator Craig Laughlin, and held in the lower bowl of the Verizon Center, touched on a number of topics from how many collegiate hockey programs are in the United States; how many are Division 1, 2, and Division 3, the combined GPA and SAT scores needed to qualify for Division 1, 2 and 3 schools, and the percentage of NCAA hockey players that earn a college degree compared to the percentage of junior hockey players
Among the presenters were Al Bloomer, National Coach in Chief of USA Hockey, and Paul Kelly, Executive Director of College Hockey Inc.
Kelly, who is also the former Executive Director of the NHL Players Association and a first time attendee of the Fair; said he was impressed with how much information the Fair covered.
“I think it was good,” said Kelly, who played club hockey at Boston College University. “You had an opportunity to hear a little bit about Division 1, Divison 3 and club hockey. You had the chance to hear about the women’s programs as well, and a little bit from the professional level. George McPhee provided some great information and some good insight, and you can’t throw too much information at these people. It’s got to be enough to where they can take it in and digest it, so I think it was a good balance.”
The informational presentations were followed by a Question and Answer period where the panel of coaches addressed questions presented by Laughlin and Beninati that were selected from questionnaires sent to those who registered for the fair.
Among the questions asked were how much do recruiters look at size when recruiting a player, how to get noticed by a college, whether or not an athlete can play more than one sport, how competitive women’s college hockey has become, and how competitiveness level of the club teams.
“I thought the responses from the coaches were pretty well done in terms of having to be a certain size to play, I thought they gave a good answer to that,” said Kelly. “Questions about how you get noticed and some factors that go in to this process. So, I thought the coaches did a good job, and from what I can tell from talking to the families, I think they felt the answers were what they needed to hear.”
Megan Maloney was one attendee who was particularly satisfied with the informational session. Maloney, a freshman at St. Stephenson Innes High School and plays both hockey and lacrosse; was especially interested in whether or not she could be a multiple sport athlete while in college.
“Division-3 schools let you play two sports, so that’s one of the things I was looking at,” said Maloney. “I’ve always wanted to go to a big school, but if I want to play two sports I think I’d be leaning more towards Division-3.”
The academic requirements were also a topic Maloney was interested in. Excelling in math and science, Maloney wanted to know how much emphasis is put on academics when it comes to selecting a recruit.
“Yea, it was good to hear as far as the academics and how important that is,” said Maloney. “So, that was enlightening because a lot of times you think it’s just all about sports.”
Evan Johnson, a junior at Randolph High School in Randolph, New Jersey, was in town to visit the University of Maryland as well as George Washington University. Johnson said Maryland Head Coach Andrew DeVore suggested he attend the fair. Johnson said learning about the academic requirements was beneficial to him as well
“I haven’t taken my SAT yet,” said Johnson. “So, I’m probably going to work a lot harder now to score better on the SAT.”
A new addition to this year’s Fair was the breakout session, which gave attendees a chance to talk to former college hockey players about their college experience. Clayton Adams, a graduate of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, was one of the speakers and said the common questions were what are the expectations for recruiting coming out of the Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC area and what are the best ways to get noticed by college coaches.
“You’ve got to play in a situation where you are going to see the most coaches, whether that’s in Boston or Toronto,” said Adams. “You’ve got to go to the hockey hot beds of the U.S. and Canada, and once you are in those positions it’s up to you to play to the best of your ability in order to get seen.”
Adams spoke of the expected daily routine for a college hockey player saying it is tough to give a solid answer since players daily routines depend on which school he or she chooses to attend. Adams also stressed to the attendees what he got out of college from an academic standpoint.
“The main thing I got out of college was the ability to read, write and communicate, and for a lot of people that is a huge asset when you are getting in to the working world,” said Adams. You have to allow yourself to be showcased, whether it’s as a player, a coach or a student. You’ve got to find a way to showcase that you’re the best option for whatever school or job you are looking for.”
Financial aid and NCAA compliance questions were addressed by David Francis, who works for a Student Athlete Consulting Group, and had a table set up in the hallway of the Verizon Center.
Francis said the most commonly asked questions are what is the minimum GPA a student-athlete needs to qualify for college, and when should parents reach out to the NCAA about their child’s grades.
“The most important process to understand is the difference between GPA for Division 1 and Division 2,” said Francis. “It’s important to understand the difference because the classes you take in high school are going to be based on what school you are shooting for.”
Paul Kelly felt one decision that could add a new dimension to the fair is bringing in an ex-NHL player to talk to the attendees about his experience playing college hockey. Al Bloomer felt the Fair should make attendees better aware of recruiting websites that ask prospective college athletes to pay them to help put their names out.
Craig Laughlin felt one topic that should be discussed is the differences between financial aid and scholarships.
“If a school is giving you financial aid that has hockey money, that should send a message to you that you are probably not high on their list as far as players coming in,” said Laughlin. “So, if I could’ve explained that, that would be one area to help out the players and parents.”