Saturday, May 5, 2012

The "young guns" finally come through

Just as I wrote in my previous post, the Capitals mindset coming into today's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals was going to be the key to the game.

They showed right from the opening faceoff they had put the disappointment of Game 3 behind them. Washington registered the game's first seven shots and scored the first goal.

The scorer of the first goal proved to be a foreshadowing of who was going to make the ultimate difference and allow the Capitals to tie the series for the second time.

Alex Ovechkin beat New York netminder Henrik Lunqvist high to the glove side on a slap-shot from the high slot at 12:43 to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead. It was apparent here that the Capitals "young guns" had come to play.

Along with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin had strong first periods and both had quality scoring chances before Ovechkin's tally.

That strong play carried over into the second period as Semin tested Lunqvist several times in the periods first 10 minutes. Finally, at 11:54, Backstrom found the top left corner of the net to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead.

How Backstrom scored the goal is what was most telling. Already in the corner to the left of Lunqvist, Backstrom could see Rangers forward Artem Anisimov preparing to lay a check on him. So, instead of quickly pushing the puck along the boards, Backstrom barried his left elbow into Anisimov's chest; sending him to the ice.

Backstrom then pushed the puck behind the net and skated to the top of the right circle where Jason Chimera found him wide open for the goal.

Green came through for the Capitals late in the third as he buried a point shot on the power play with 5:48 to play to give Washington the win.

All playoffs long, it has been the grinders or "blue-coller" players that have come through for the Capitals, and they are going to have to continue to do so for Washington to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. But, it is also going to take contributions from the so called white-collar players like Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin and Green.

Their natural skating, stick-handling and play-making ability allow them to open up the tight defense they are going to see not only from the Rangers, but any team they potentially play if they win this series.

Oh, and I can't finish this post without mentioning how these guys have also bought into Dale Hunters style of hockey.

How many times under Bruce Boudreau did you see Alex Semin back-checking the way he did today and has the entire playoffs, or Backstrom lay into a player the way he did Anisimov?

All three forwards have bought into Hunter's defense first system and are playing the physical, griding style of play they need to in order for the Caps to be be successful.

Ovechkin can't lift his skate off the ice like he did on Girardi's point shot that led to the Rangers first goal, but he dove to block several shots later in the game, so he seemed to realize he made a mistake.

The big four game through today as the Capitals tied the series. Heading to Madison Square Garden for a pivotal Game 5, a second collective performance from the "young guns" is definitely welcomed.

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