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Game 7: Calm Before the Storm


I got to the Verizon Center two hours before tonight’s game and when I showed up, the atmosphere outside of the building was already electric. There were marching bands, men on stilts, people painting their faces, and of course – an overabundance of both red and facial hair.

Both teams are on the ice working out the final kinks before tonight’s epic seventh game. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be donning their road-whites. Washington, as you’d anticipate, is wearing it’s home-reds. The drop of the puck is just under 15-minutes away. Here are a few of the better pre-game nuggets from today’s press packet.

Evenly Matched Clubs
– Five of the six games played in this series have been decided by a goal or less (three have gone to OT).
– Both teams have held a lead at some point in all six of the previous contests.
– No team has led by more than two goals at any point in the series.
– No two-goal lead has lasted for an entire period at any point in this series.

Star Power
– Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have had a hand in 15 of Washington’s 20 goals in the series.
– Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have earned a point in 15 of Pittsburgh’s 21 goals in the series.

Power Play (Dis)advantage
– The Caps have had 19 extra-man chances in the first six games. The ‘Pens have had 30 in the same span.
– The biggest eye-popper in the PP debate comes in the 3rd period where PIT leads 11-3 in PP chances.
– WSH is 5-for-19 (26.3%), PIT is 7-for-30 (23.3%) in man-advantage situations.

Shooting Breakdown
– The Penguins have out-shot the Capitals in all 6 games in this series (226-159 advantage overall).
– WSH held the Rangers to 23.7 shots a game in the first round. PIT is averaging 37.7 this round, though.
– Still though, Simeon Varlamov didn’t’ allow more than 3 goals in the playoffs until the past two games with PIT.

Fun Fact
– This is the third straight series the Capitals have played in that has needed a seventh game. Before last season’s first-round matchup with Flyers, Washington hadn’t played in a game-7 since back in 2005 against the Penguins.

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We’ve Got A Series


It took a scintillating performance from a goaltender who isn’t even old enough to drink and a pair of goals from the second best Alex on the team, but the Washington Capitals finally found a way to beat the New York Rangers.

Simeon Varlamov, who was making just his seventh career start and second of the playoffs, couldn’t have been sharper in his inaugural road playoff appearance. The young Russian spent the early part of the first-period turning away shots while the fans at Madison Square Garden showered him with taunting chants. Read the rest of this entry »

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Varlamov Gets the Call


Simeon Varlamov is starting in net for the Washington Capitals in game 2 of their first round series against the New York Rangers. Varlamov, only 20-years-old, has only started five games as an NHL goal-tender.

The move was made just four days after Jose Theodore, Washington’s starting goalie throughout the season, struggled in a 4-3 loss. Theodore’s lackluster effort was cited — by both fans and the local media — as the reason for Washington’s game-one loss.

Varlamov has played well and seems to take better angles and move better in the net than Thedoroe, but his sample size as an NHL net-minder is miniscule. There was a sense of shock in the press box when Varlamov, and not Theodore, led the Capitals on to the ice in warmups. Read the rest of this entry »

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Random Thoughts From Verizon – 03/05/2009


The crowd at the Verizon Center is spread out and more docile then normal tonight. Some might blame this on the fact that the Capitals have been outscored 12-3 in their last two games. I’m not some. I’ll blame tonight’s turnout and calmness on the fact that it’s a weeknight. Oh, and of course the small fact that that the Leafs are in town. (Sorry Mark Solway).

Here are a few thoughts from tonight’s festivities to this point…

Alexander Ovechkin isn’t in uniform tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead the NHL’s leading goal scorer is wearing a suit. I saw him get off the elevator on the sixth-level of the Verizon Center just before the National Anthem. He’s likely going to take the majority of the game in from General Manger George McPhee’s box.

The Capitals and Flyers are scoreless midway through the second period. The game’s most intense moment to this point came at the 8:27 mark of the opening period, when Ben Ondrus and Matt Bradley dropped the gloves for a center-ice fight. No huge punches were landed during the bout, but if you were to go to the cards Bradley would have probably won narrowly by decision.

Toronto defenseman Jeff Finger was helped off the ice early on in the second-period. Finger took an errant John Erskine pass to the face before collapsing to the ice. There was a brief stoppage in the game while the Verizon cleanup crew tried to clean the blood off the ice from where Finger had fallen down. Tonight marked the defenseman’s 49th game of the season.

The Washington Capitals entered Thursday night’s game without the services of their best player. Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, missed the game after taking a puck to the foot during practice on Wednesday.

The Capitals knew that they weren’t going to have Ovechkin’s offensive wizardry and theatrics before the game began. The team did not know, however, that it would also be without its most stout defender – Tom Poti – who re-aggravated a groin injury and skated off the ice less then 10 seconds into the game.

Ovechkin watched the game from the General Manager’s suite. He couldn’t have liked what he saw, a 2-1 loss at the hands of a Toronto Maple Leafs club that entered the night ranked 11th out of 15 Eastern Conference teams.

“It was tough being out there without those guys,” said right wing Eric Fehr, who was one of several Capitals who spent most of the evening out of position. “We know what kind of players both of them are, but you’ve got to try to not miss a beat.”

That’s easier said then done. Ovechkin and Poti are Washington’s only players at their positions who log more than 20-minutes of ice time a game.

Being out-numbered didn’t keep the Capitals from playing a more sound game on Thursday than the team had in its previous two outings, though.

Coming off of back-to-back losses in which Washington had been outscored 12-3, the Capitals were able to keep Toronto off the board for more than 46 minutes. The problem for the gentleman in red was that they weren’t able to light the lamp until the game’s final minutes.

“It seemed like we had our chances,” said 23-year-old defenseman Jeff Schultz. “It was just one of those nights where we couldn’t finish.”

Not until it was too late, anyways.

Alexander Semin gave Washington it’s only siren-sounder when he beat Martin Gerber with only 39 seconds remaining. Semin’s 27th goal of the season extended his goal-streak to five games. Nicklas Backstrom registered his 52nd assist on the even-strength strike.

The goal cut Toronto’s two-goal advantage in half and quieted an outbreak of late-game boos from the 18,277 on-hand at the Verizon Center. But it proved trivial in the end.

The Capitals are now 0-3 in the month of March. Washington will get two days off to think about its recent struggles before it welcomes the Pittsburgh Penguins for a nationally-televised meeting on Sunday afternoon.

When he met with the media this evening, Ovechkin wasn’t yet sure about his status for Sunday.

“We’ll have to see,” Ovechkin said when asked if he was going to be ready to help his teammates try to sweep the Penguins in the season series. Then he paused for a moment and cracked a smile as he added one final word to his answer. “Probably,” he said.

There isn’t a team in the NHL Ovechkin likes playing – and performing well – against than Pittsburgh. The last time the two teams met, almost two weeks ago in DC, Ovechkin and fellow superstar Sidney Crosby got tangled up in front of the Washington bench while each of the player’s was skating off the ice at the end of their shifts.

Because it’s the Penguins, you can expect to see Ovechkin on the ice this weekend. He’ll be doing his best to irritate Crosby, and to score his 47th-goal of the season. I’d be surprised to see Poti back in the lineup, though.

“Sunday is going to be big for us,” Fehr said. “We’re struggling right now but this is something that every team is going to go through during the season. We’ve got to find a way to break out of this.”

Getting Ovechkin back out of a suit and back on the ice would be a step in the right direction.

-gp

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Caps Tie Up The Race


George McPhee isn’t one to show his emotions, and when he does, he isn’t normally smiling. Even a poker-faced executive like McPhee, the General Manager of the scalding Washington Capitals, couldn’t help being joyous as he watched his team skate to a 4-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes last night. With the win the Capitals, who are 7-1-0 in their last eight games, skated into a first-place tie at the top of the Southeast division with Carolina. Washington and Carolina each have two games remaining and both play the same remaining schedule (games against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning).

Last night’s game was the most anticipated on the NHL docket, and fittingly was played in front of a capacity crowd at the Verizon Center. The atmosphere at the ‘phone booth’ in downtown D.C. looked like something straight out of a movie, with the majority of the 18,277 on hand having shown up wearing all red. Whether participating in the team-mandated “red-out” or not, all of the fans in attendance helped to make last night’s game feel like Washington’s first playoff game of the season.

There wasn’t a happier spectator in attendance than McPhee, who was perhaps the NHL’s busiest decision-maker at the trade deadline. He’s been watching the trades he orchestrated back on February 26th pay off for the last month, but the trio of players he added at the deadline may have had their best games in Washington last night.

Matt Cooke, acquired in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks (for Matt Pettinger), was the third star of the game. Sergei Fedorov, another deadline deal, assisted on two goals en route to being named the game’s second star of the night. And Cristobal Huet, with Montreal until the deadline, did his best impression of a brick wall all night and was awarded the night’s first star honors for stopping 21 of 22 shots.

Cooke scored Washington’s first goal of the game at the 15:00 mark of the opening period. The tally – assisted by Mike Green and Sergei Fedorov – came when Cooke was alone in front of the net as a rebound bounced his way. Unable to get his stick to the puck, he kicked it towards his stick with his right skate, and then slapped it past a sliding Cam Ward for his 10th of the season.

Fedorov’s second assist (14:28 into the second period) came when the 38-year-old slung a cross-ice pass to Green, who blasted a shot off of Carolina goaltender Ward and through the crease to Alexander Semin. Semin knocked the bouncing biscuit past Ward for Washington’s third goal of the night, a commanding two-goal advantage at 3-1, and Semin’s 25th goal of the season.

Before Semin forced his way onto the stat-sheet, Brooks Laich’s 21st goal of the season at the 19:01 mark of the first, extended Washington’s lead to 2-0. The two-goal advantage didn’t last very long though, as Scott Walker scored Carolina’s lone goal of the night 2:38 into the second period.

Throughout much of the third-period it seemed like Washington was going to hold on to a 3-1 win, but Alexander Ovechkin had other ideas. Ovechkin, the first 60-goal NHL scorer this decade, shot a rocket past Ward with just under four minutes to go. Ovechkin’s goal, a franchise-record 63rd of the season, was assisted by Jeff Schultz and Nicklas Backstrom.

There isn’t a Capital who has benefited more directly from Ovechkin’s brilliant season than Backstrom. He has been on Washington’s first-line all season, and the Swedish-born center became the first rookie since Ovechkin to post 50-assists in his rookie campaign. With just two regular season games left, Backstrom now has 53 assists to go along with his 14 goals, and sits one point ahead of Chicago’s Patrick Kane as the NHL’s overall rookie scoring champion.

Thanks largely to both the performances of youngsters like Backstrom and Ovechkin, and the contributions supplied by the trio of veterans acquired late last month, Washington is still alive. The ‘Caps don’t control their own destiny, but that doesn’t seem to be bothering the Capitals very much.

“All we can do is win our games, and that’s all we’ve been worrying about since the loss in Chicago,” said Cooke. “The only thing we can do is control how we play, and get as many two-point nights as we can.”

The most telling comment of the team’s victorious post game locker room session came from second-year defensemen Mike Green.

“We still haven’t accomplished anything yet and we know that,” Green said. “These next two games are the biggest games of our careers, and hopefully come Saturday we’ll be where we want to be.”

The Capitals have already accomplished one thing that has been missing for a while in Washington – meaningful hockey games down the stretch. With a 7-1-0 record in their last eight games, they’re certainly doing everything they can to get to get there.

By Grant Paulsen

Grant Paulsen is a nineteen-year old writer and broadcaster in Washington D.C. Check out Grant’s website at www.grantpaulsen.com or tune in XM radio to Channel 144 (Grant’s Sports Take – weekday mornings), and Channel 175 (Minors and Majors – Saturday 10:00am – noon). You can also check out his weekly column in the Sunday Edition of the Fredericksburg Freelance Star.

Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Grant Paulsen

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Green Emerging As A Star


When Alexander Ovechkin netted his fourth goal of the night in overtime to give Washington an exciting 5-4 win over Montreal on Thursday, it was obvious to all in attendance who the Capitals’ fan-favorite was; but there’s a new one emerging.

Mike Green, arguably the game’s most improved player, has become one of Washington’s most talked about athletes. Green may not be considered the best player on his team, but he’s developing quite a following.

A quick glance at the crowd during a Capitals home-game will cement this theory. Red and white are still the most prominent colors being donned by the team’s faithful, but there is also a smattering of green surrounding the glass at the Verizon Center. The obsessed faithful call themselves the “Gang Green.”

“I have no idea who started that or why, but it seems to be catching on quick and I’d just like to thank those guys for their support,” Green said after Washington’s win Thursday. “It’s kind of nice to have something like that. I get chirped at by the guys about it, but it’s neat.”

The growing infatuation hockey fans in Washington have for their favorite team’s 22-year-old defenseman makes sense. Green has become one of the league’s top scoring-blue-liners, and in addition to being one of the hardest-working players on a young Capitals’ team (average age of 27), he’s also one of the team’s most fan-friendly players.

A day before helping Washington skate to a home victory over the Canadiens, Green was spending time with some of the team’s most passionate fans at the ESPN Zone in downtown D.C.. The gathering featured a lengthy question-and-answer session in which fans were able to interact freely with Green. He then signed autographs for all of the folks who showed up.

Wednesday marked the second of four scheduled player-fan gatherings at the ESPN Zone, with Donald Brashear and Green already having taken part in the event. Players are selected shortly before the meet-and-greet takes place, and with the growing admiration for Green in the nation’s capital, his involvement was a no-brainer.

“The event was good because I got a chance to answer some questions and interact with the fans and we had a good vibe. There seemed to be a lot of people there, and I just hope that they enjoyed themselves and got to [better] understand one of their team’s players.”

Despite his efforts off of the ice, though, Green’s status — which has risen to something of a folk hero in D.C. as he’s helped Washington to re-emerge as a post-season contender over the past several weeks — as one of Washington’s most revered players has more to do with his play this season than it does his off-ice endeavors.

His 14 goals are tops in the league amongst defensemen and rank him second, behind only Ovechkin, on the team. He also ranks fourth on the Capitals in assists (with 17), and in points (31).

As impressive as the Calgary native’s totals are, they become more noteworthy when considering that just a year ago he mustered only two-goals and 12-points in 70-games.

Having abruptly surfaced as one of his team’s, and the game’s, top young talents, Green’s transformation into an elite player has taken place over the course of the entire season, but he’s taken his most giant strides forward since Bruce Boudreau was named Washington’s interim-coach.

“Coach’s being around has definitely helped me and I think that being coached under Bruce in Hershey and winning a cup down there, I understand him and I know what his coaching is all about, and what he’s all about,” Green said.

“For me it was easy coming in here because he gave me a great opportunity to play lots of minutes, and to get out on the power play and do what I did in Hershey,” Green added.

The third-year Capital isn’t the only member of the Washington organization who is attributing a great deal of his coming of age to Boudreau’s promotion. George McPhee, the team’s General Manager, and Olaf Kolzig, its goaltender, agree.

“He’s comfortable with Bruce, and he’s had success with Bruce in winning a Cup and I’m sure that the comfort he has with him as a lot to do with it,” McPhee said.

Kolzig echoed the thoughts of both Green and McPhee, adding that, “Since Bruce came in they’ve unleashed the thoroughbred.”

“He maybe didn’t play with as much confidence before,” Kolzig said, “but because Bruce had him for a-year-and-half, he knew what ‘Greenie’ was all about and what he could bring to the table. He said ‘go do it,’ and he’s taken his game to a whole new level.”

While Green has indeed taken his game to a higher level, and despite the fact that he’s one of the game’s most lethal defenseman on the attack, he still has work to do as a defender.

“He’s done a really nice job. We were expecting him to do this last year and it took him a little bit longer than we thought. He had a great first year in Hershey, and won a cup, and now he’s playing the way that we had hoped offensively. Like a lot of young guys, he still has to learn how to play better defensively, but that will come,” said McPhee.

Kolzig added that Green, “Still has to learn some things on his own end defensively. He needs to be a little smarter.”

“That said though,” Kolzig continued, “We haven’t had a puck-moving defenseman like him since Sergei Gonchar. And for us to be successful from the point, we need that and he’s providing it.”

Green’s arrival on the national scene, as an elite enough player to draw comparisons to somebody as respected as Gonchar, didn’t take place solely because of a coaching change. The Canadian defender has also worked harder in the past year than he ever had before.

“It’s just been about dedication,” Green said. “My first couple of years I was watching guys and what they would do and how they would train. This summer was different. I dedicated myself to keeping focus through the season because the last couple years I realized that you can’t just get away with sneaking through in this league. You have to dedicate yourself and focus.”

In addition to his incessant efforts in the weight room and during practice sessions, Green’s modesty and low-key personality have also made him a hit with both his teammates and followers. His modesty was on display after Thursday night’s game, when he wanted to make sure that a story being written about him, wasn’t just about him. Doesn’t make sense? It shouldn’t.

“I have to give a lot of credit to the team and to my teammates,” he said. “It’s not just one or two guys doing well, it’s everybody but it’s just a couple of guys that are getting noticed.”

And these days, unlike in years previous, you don’t have to be named Alex to be one of those players getting noticed.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface with him, and as long as he doesn’t read his own headlines too much, he’s going to continue to improve,” said Kolzig.

“But we’ve got a good enough group in here to keep him grounded, and he’s a good kid. A special kid, and I’m excited to see just how good he can be.”

Grant Paulsen is a nineteen-year old writer and broadcaster in Washington D.C. Check out Grant’s website or tune in XM radio to Channel 144 (Grant’s Sports Take – weekday mornings), and Channel 175 (Minors and Majors – Saturday 10:00am – noon). You can also check out his weekly column in the Sunday Edition of the Fredericksburg Freelance Star.

Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Grant Paulsen

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Caps Club ‘Canes


It didn’t take the Washington Capitals long to give the home-crowd at the Verizon Center something to cheer about on Saturday night. Within a minute of the game’s opening face-off the Caps had registered two board-rattling hits. Each of the hits, dished out by Brian Sutherby and Alex Ovechkin respectively, resulted in a Carolina Hurricane falling to the ice. It was obvious from the onset – and not just because of Washington’s early physicality – that the Capitals were ravenously seeking payback on their divisional adversaries for the 6-2 defeat they suffered in Carolina just 24 hours before.

By the end of the opening-period Washington had tallied more goals (three) than they did in an entire 60-minute game on Friday night in Carolina. Left-wing Alexander Semin initiated the offensive-onslaught at the 7:56 mark of the opening-period, denting the scoreboard with an even-strength goal that may have been one of his prettiest of the season. Semin, who was racing down the ice after having intercepted an errant pass at his own blue-line, went top-shelf over Carolina-goaltender Cam Ward’s glove-side shoulder for his first-goal since the all-star break.

Less than two-minutes after Semin’s goal, the other and more renowned Alex in Washington – Ovechkin – joined his teammate on the scoring-sheet. Ovechkin has now tallied a goal in both of the Capitals’ two-games since making his all-star game debut, and extended his scoring streak to a league best 11 games. The second-year-star’s 31st-goal of the season came on a power-play after Ovie corralled a loose puck just to the left of the net and flicked it home unassisted.

But then Carolina came to life. Hurricanes’ goals from Justin Williams (26th) and Erik Cole (22nd) on back-to-back shots late in the first-period may have done wonders for Carolina’s team-morale at intermission. Each would eventually prove trivial though, as Washington net-minder Olaf Kolzig rebounded from a shaky-stretch late in period-one.

The Alex’s weren’t the only players helping Kolzig out on the offensive end though. Eric Fehr, a 21-year-old right-wing and a former 18th-overall draft-choice, scored his first-ever NHL goal on Saturday night. Fehr, who’s made 13-appearances in the last two-seasons combined, was called up just prior to Saturday night’s game. His goal, which was assisted by Semin, came at the 15:18 mark in the second-period. At the time it gave Kolzig and the rest of the Capitals a commanding two-goal advantage.

Washington sealed-the-deal with three final-period goals, which were scored by centers Kris Beech (6th) and Brooks Laich (5th), and team-captain Chris Clark (21st). Beech’s goal, the first of the three third-period goals, came thanks to an astonishingly athletic assist by Ovechkin. Beech couldn’t help but shake his head and laugh after scoring, as he gawked at his teammate in awe as the crowd went crazy. The stellar play was one of a half-dozen or so turned in by the young Capitals on Saturday night.

Although it was tough to tell from the final score, Carolina out-shot the Caps 37-23. Much to the chagrin of the fans donning Hurricane red at the Verizon Center, Carolina wasn’t able to turn their scoring chances into goals, as Kolzig put together a masterpiece for a 34-save, 17th win of the season.

Based on Saturday night’s festivities you would have thought that Washington was the team with the eleven-point advantage in the standings. The fact is that it’s Carolina (26-19-6) who is two-spots better in the South Eastern division. On this night though, Washington (21-22-7) was able to cap off the back-end of a home-and-home series with a much needed victory.

Editor’s Note: GRANT PAULSEN is an 18-year-old sportswriter who grew up in King George County and now attends George Mason University. He hosts a talk show each Saturday on XM radio, writes a weekly column for The Free Lance-Star, and is the special guest co-host on THN’s B.Lloyd Show during the NFL regular season. You can check out everything Grant does at his website www.grantpaulsen.com.

Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Grant Paulsen

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