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  • Will Brashear’s Return be Enough?


    Donald Brashear had only been back from injury for four games when he got suspended for six. Without Brashear the Caps had gone 0-2 versus the New York Rangers losing by scores of 4-3 and 1-0.

    On “The Donald’s” first night back in game three, the Caps won 4-0. During round one of the playoffs the Caps averaged 3.75 goals a game when he played, and 1.66 goals a game when he didn’t. In contrast, the Rangers scored an average of 2.00 goals a game when Brash didn’t play and 1.00 goals per game when he did.

    Why is this information important? Because Donald Brashear’s suspension is now over.

    With the Caps now trailing three games to two, Brashear’s return could be just the boost the Caps need. He may not score a lot. He may not get a lot of assists, but it’s hard to deny that the team seems to play better when he’s there.

    Brashear played a total of four games out of seven versus New York. In the three games that he didn’t play, the Caps went 1-2 and the combined scores for both teams was 6-5 Rangers. During the four games he did play the Caps went 3-1 and the combined score for both teams was 14-5 Capitals.

    Brashear is an intimidating force that should never be taken lightly. It’s more than just the fisticuffs which he is more widely known for, it’s his dominance on the fore-check that wears down the opponents. He is part of what’s called “the Energy Line” for good reason. When you pair him up with Matt Bradley and David Steckel, you have a line every bit as intimidating as Ovechkin, Kozlov, and Federov.

    It gives the Caps a solid fourth line and forces opposing teams to either play their own fourth line, or heavily rotate their three lines to keep up. It can really test the depth of the other teams. Their choices are to either thin out their talent across four lines to matchup with the Caps, or risk wearing out before the Caps do by keeping their three lines out for longer shifts.

    The Caps need a big game tonight. They need to send a message to Pittsburgh that this series isn’t over. Brashear’s first game of the playoffs came in game three, with the Caps down two games to none, headed to New York, and reeling off a 1-0 shutout loss.

    His first game back was a 4-0 shutout win for the Caps.

    Now he comes back to find his team with their backs against the wall, facing elimination, headed to Pittsburgh, and reeling off a 4-3 overtime loss.

    Can he bring back the magic one more time? We’ll know tonight at 7pm!

    LET’S GO CAPS!

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    Clark: “It Feels Like a Rock Concert Out There.”


    Washington Capitals fans weren’t just Rocking the Red, they were rocking the Verizon Center. During a TV timeout with 5:56 left to play in the third period, the Caps gameday staff played “Unleash the Fury,” a video that got the already roucous crowd whipped up into a frenzy.

    At that point, the decibal level in the Verizon Center was deafening. In the arena, you could feel that something was going to happen for the Caps. When Sergei Federov, certainly no stranger to the playoff hero role, scored the game winning goal (and first of the series), the decibal level soared even higher, and remained there until well after the final horn blew.

    Feds believed the energy from the crowd helped will the team to victory: “It was a great atmosphere all around. I’m sure any player who plays in an atmosphere like that would enjoy it and work hard and play hard… It really was an amazing experience.”

    Bruce Boudreau agreed.

    “The last five minutes after we scored,they never sat down, they never stopped cheering. If you look at the energy we had just in checking. The people brought that out. They wouldn’t let us not continue skating,”  Boudreau said, adding, ” it was really a thing to watch.”

    Of course, going into the third period, it was an experience few thought would come to pass. For the first two periods, the Capitals were out-played and out-hustled. If not for the continued dominating play by the barely 21-year-old Simeon Varlamov, this game could easily have been 3-0  after five and a half minutes. 

    In the first period, the normally gifted Washington offense had only managed two shots on the Rangers Henrik Lunqvuist. Luckily, one of them went in after deflecting off two Rangers defenders.

    The second period was more of the same. It almost felt like the Caps were on penalty kill the entire period. Washington managed nine more shots on goal, but Lunqvuist looked to be back in form for this pivotal game 7.  The most telling stat of the second period was time of possession. While this isn’t an officially kept statistic, Mike Green mentioned in the locker room after the game that he felt like the Caps only had the puck for 2 of the 20 minutes in the period.

    After the second period ended, there was a weird vibe in the air. Some thought that this series was set to end like last year’s opening round defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Still others thought that the Caps were lucky to be tied at 1, and that the third period was the Caps period, so anything could and would happen. Most though, believed the Capitals would prevail.

    Whatever the vibe in the building, the vibe in the locker room was much like the last. In his post-game presser, Coach Bruce Boudreau, when asked what was said between the dreadful second period and the fateful third, quipped:  “One of the messages was ’20 more minutes.’ How hard is that to work as hard as you can for one of the best feelings you’re ever going to have.”

    Besides the motivation, the Coaching staff went to work, as well, trying to solve the dominating play the Rangers brought to the rink.

    “We were used to them being a more passive team and they were very aggressive, in your face,” the Caps head coach stated. “We had to change what we were doing and I’m not that sharp. I took me two periods to figure it out.”

    Whatever was said or done, it paid off. The Caps came out in the third playing like themselves. The passing was crisp, the effort was phenomenal and the results were there. Everyone in the building began to feel like a Russian was going to send the Rangers packing. Of course, everyone assumed that Russian would be Ovechkin or Semin.

    Enter Sergei Federov. As Feds skated down the right side, pulling up to look for the trailer on the play for a pass, he noticed several things. First, Wayne Redden was playing way off, quite possibly because the ever-threatening Ovechkin was on the left side of the net. Second, there was no trailer on the play. Third, the top-shelf glove side of Lunqvuist, perhaps the outstanding goalies only weakness, was beakoning him. He let the shot go, kept a longer follow-through to get the shot up, and watched as the puck soared into the net for the eventual game winner with just under five minutes to go in the third.

    Fellow teammate and countryman Alex Ovechkin was the first on the scene leaping onto the 39-year-old’s back, squeezing him hard and slamming him into the boards.  Since Federov was the Red Wing that ended the Caps Stanley Cup hopes oh so many moons ago, perhaps this game seven winner will reverse the fortunes of this young, exciting team in their current pursuit.  

    Regardless of kharma and the existential side of the meaning of this goal, Federov has brought something the Capitals haven’t experienced since that 1998 run to the Cup finals and never since the best owner in Washington sports bought this team: a playoff series win.

    While many thought Ovie would play the role of hero, Boudreau was not as surprised. “Experience sometimes pays off. He knew what he had to do and… when to do it,” the Capitals coach said. “That’s what makes him one of the greatest players ever.”

    Washington Capitals fans everywhere sure think so.

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    Brash Suspended For 6 Games


    According to NHL.com, Washington Capitals Enforcer Donald Brashear will be suspended for 6 games following the club’s game 6 victory over the New York Rangers.

    Brashear lost one game for his pre-game contact with Rangers tough guy Colton Orr, and the other five stem from his viscious hit on Blair Betts, which resulted in a broken orbital bone and subsequent and indefinite loss of the Rangers best penalty killer.

    This from the league’s disciplinarian, Colin Campbell:

    “Brashear delivered a shoulder hit to an unsuspecting player. It is also my opinion that the hit was delivered late and targeted the head of his opponent, causing significant injury.”

    I personally disagree. It appeared to me that the injury came from Betts’ head hitting the ice, not anything Brashear did to him. It was an open ice hit that was clean. An argument could be made that it was interference as Betts was off the puck, but the refs on-ice didn’t even think it warranted a two minute minor.

    This seems like over-reaction due to the pre-game incident, the visciousness of the hit, and the subsequent injury sustained by the player in question.

    I hope Betts recovers well, and I wish that he would have remained on the ice for the remainder of the series, as I always perfer to see my team face another team at their best, and the loss of Betts is a tough pill to swallow for the Blueshirts. That being said, I don’t think the NHL made the right call in this instance.

    As reported previously, Chris Clark is the likely beneficiary of the newly available ice time, with Michael Nylander holding an outside chance at getting the nod.

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    ESPN Erroneously Reports Brash, Green Suspended


    I’ve received a lot of inquiries over the course of the day regarding reports on ESPN this morning that Washington Capitals Forward Donald Brashear and Defensman Mike Green were suspended for Game 7 tomorrow night.

    This report was patently false, although there is a decent chance that Brash could be suspended for contact with Colton Orr during the pre-game skate and the viscious hit (although clean, IMHO) he put on Blair Betts during Game 6, a hit that resulted in a broken orbital bone for the Blueshirts top penalty killer.

    From the NHL.com’s Rangers-Capitals blog:

    ESPN erroneously reported that Mike Green and Brashear were suspended this morning. The Brashear news is a possibility, but not official. The Green report was shocking and completely untrue. I’m told that a fan posing as a Washington Post reporter called ESPN and told them Green and Brashear were suspended. ESPN put it on its bottom line ticker and reported it on SportsCenter this morning. It was completely untrue and they retracted it immediately. Green was laughing about it this afternoon.

    If Brash can’t go, Captain Chris Clark would likely get the nod, with Michael Nylander an outside possibility.

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    Capitals Drop Game 2 Despite Varlamov’s Fantastic Start


    In what was expected to be another aggressive, offensive affair, Game 2 turned into a tale of two goalies.

    On one side, there’s the young, four-year veteran who is regarded as one of the best young goalies in the NHL. On the other side is a raw but talented 20-year old prospect that is in line to be the future goaltender of his team who is making his first career playoff start.

    Rookie Simeon Varlamov replaced Jose Theodore, who allowed four goals in Wednesday’s one-goal loss. The bold move was announced to the team Saturday morning.

    Varlamov allowed only one goal in his impressive debut but for the time being it is overshadowed by the Game 2 loss and the two-game hole the team has dug itself into.

    The deciding goal came with 12:16 to play in the first period. Varlamov failed to stop the puck from flying over his left shoulder once Rangers right winger Ryan Callahan fired the shot. He finished the game with 23 saves.

    “He was phenomenal tonight. He did everything he could. There was nothing he could have done on the goal. It was a backdoor one-timer right under the bar,” defenseman Brian Pothier said. “He was solid. I don’t think he made any mistakes tonight.”

    The Capitals tried everything they could to get a shot past the Ranger’s Henrik Lundqvist but were incapable of taking him out of his game. Washington continuously attacked the net, outshooting New York 35-24 but was unable to get anything to go through.

    “It was just a matter of us finding a way to score a goal. We had a ton of chances. They blocked a ton of shots. We need to figure out some kind of recipe to get some goals,” Pothier said.

    The lack of points was not the result of a lack of effort on the Capitals’ part. They have outshot the Rangers 70-46 in the series so far. That statistic and the fact that they are down 0-2 should say more about the performance of Lundqvist than it does about Washington’s offense.

    “We played a great game, I thought. We made a mistake and they capitalized on it. We couldn’t penetrate their defense they had. They did a great job of blocking shots and Lundqvist is obviously an exceptional goalie so we need to figure out a way to get pucks through,” Pothier said.

    The Capitals started the game fast and attacked the net as they tend to do but towards the end, passing miscues continued to hinder scoring chances.

    Another factor in the two losses was the team’s failure to alter their regular season style of play to accommodate their postseason matchups, Mike Green said.

    “I think we’re just so used to playing a certain way and now with playoff hockey the game changes a bit and we have to adjust. If you’re going to win you have to adjust.”

    Washington, who boasts the NHL’s third best road record, will have to continue their playoff quest in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Monday. In order to be successful, they must find a way to solve the predicament Lundqvist puts them in on a game-by-game basis.

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    Eastern Conference Playoff Picture Shaping Up


    With Washington’s win over division rival Tampa Bay last night, the playoff picture is starting to come into focus.

    Your top-3 seeds in the East are

    1 – Boston
    2 – Washington
    3 – New Jersey

    Seeds 4, 5, and 6 will be determined this weekend but will include Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Carolina

    Seeds 7 and 8 will go to either New York or Montreal.

    So who’s ready to play the playoff picture game?

    If the season ended today, your match-ups would be

    Bruins vs. Canadiens
    Capitals vs. Rangers
    Devils vs. Penguins
    Flyers vs. Hurricanes

    Caps fans will be pleased to see this, because it means there is a chance they may not have to face either Philly or Pittsburgh in the playoffs.

    Now here’s the rub.

    Philly technically has the fourth seed right now because they are a game up on Pittsburgh and Carolina (even though all three are tied in points and Philly has fewer wins). That extra game comes tomorrow in New York versus the Islanders.

    Carolina technically has the fifth seed over Pittsburgh because they have one more win than the Penguins do (even though they are tied in points) and they face the third seeded Devils tomorrow.

    The Rangers technically have the seventh seed because they have one more win than Montreal (even though they are also tied in points), and they face Philly on Sunday. The Rangers 2-1 win over Philly last night was huge, and when they face Philly on Sunday, it will be the Flyers third game in four days.

    Pittsburgh and Montreal square off tomorrow.

    So, each of the bottom five teams are facing a playoff opponent this weekend!

    Games I’ll be Watching:

    4/11 – 1:00pm – Carolina at New Jersey
    Carolina needs the points more than New Jersey and after a humiliating loss to Buffalo ended their nine-game winning streak they’ll be spoiling for a fight. For Carolina this could mean the difference between the sixth and fourth seeds. New Jersey is already locked in as the third seed, but shouldn’t want to take their foot off the gas now when they are one game away from the playoffs.

    4/11 – 2:00pm – Philadelphia at New York Islanders
    The Isles have nothing to play for. They lost their pride a few nights ago when they dropped one to Carolina in a 9-0 shutout. Sure, they’ll be in front of their hometown fans (what’s left of them) but I don’t see that slowing down the Flyers at all. I won’t be watching this one as much as keeping an eye on it. The only chance New York has here is if the Flyers overlook them and forget what time the game starts. The Flyers may not want to leave it all on the ice in this game as they play again the very next day. Of course, the Islanders are in the same boat as they have to turn around and face Boston the next day.

    4/11 – 7:00pm – Washington at Florida
    No playoff implications here, I just enjoy watching the Capitals. Much like New Jersey, the Caps playoff spot is secure. The Caps are one game away from a franchise record for most wins in a single season, and Boudreau is going to want them to finish the season strong. Florida is playing in front of their hometown fans, and may just like to play spoiler.

    4/11 – 7:00 – Pittsburgh at Montreal
    This will be a good matchup as Montreal will be at home in front of their home fans and *ahem* their home officials. Both teams need the points. For Montreal it means the difference between seventh or eighth seed, For Pittsburgh it could mean the difference between sixth and fourth.

    4/12 – 5:00pm – New York Rangers at Philadelphia
    If Carolina and Pittsburgh both lose in regulation, the Flyers may not need this game, but New York will to secure the seventh seed. If Montreal loses in regulation, the Rangers won’t need this game, but Philly might (depending on whether or not they beat the Islanders) to secure the fourth seed.

    There are far too many playoff scenarios to determine what the actual picture will be, but rest assured it’ll be fun to watch!

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