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Caps Pwn Pens to Extend Streak to 14


What a week! The Washington Capitals do love their dramatic finishes.

Needless to say, the Washington Capitals have extended their winning streak to 14 and Alex Ovechkin has once again proven his dominance over Sidney Crosby.

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Varlamov Dazzling in Defeat


In a game with few bright spots for Washington Capitals fan, Simeon Varlamov continued to shine.

Varly faced 42 shots on the night – many of them quality chances – and turned away all but 3. The Caps were outplayed and outworked most of the night, but the outstanding young Russian kept the Caps in the game, allowing them to force overtime, and ultimately, put themselves in position to steal a win.

History was not on their side last night. The Capitals have pulled out to a 2-0 lead in a best of seven series five times in franchise history. All five times, the Caps have gone on to lose game 3, and in all but one, they have gone on to lose the series. Notably, the series they did win, they won in 5 games en route to the Stanley Cup finals.

As for last night’s game, the scoring got started early for the Caps. Mike Green dumped the puck into the Penguins zone to facilitate a line change. Alex Ovechkin drove in on the forecheck as Pens netminder Marc-Andre Fleury left the crease to corral the puck, dropping his stick in the process. Somehow, the puck bounced off the boards out in front of the net, directly in front of a charging Ovechkin. Ovie had the whole goal to shoot at, and didn’t miss on a diving shot, past a diving Fleury.

Initially, it seemed to stun the Penguins, and Washington’s offense began to press, culminating in a wrap-around attempt by Nicklas Backstrom that slid across the crease past a wide-open net. From that point forward, the Penguins dominated the game, with the formula used in the regular season by teams like the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets to beat the Caps: an ultra-aggressive forecheck and relentless physicality. If not for the Caps’ 21-year-old netminder, this game could easily have been a blow-out.

The entire second period looked as if the Capitals were on the penalty kill. The Pens seemed to have possession of the puck for 70% of the period. When the Caps did get possession, they were lucky to get it out of their own zone, let alone create quality chances.

On top of the offensive woes, the Caps couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. It seemed every time Evgeni Malkin touched the puck, the Caps were called for a penalty. The Penguins had six straight power plays, and again, Varlamov was there to save the day, stopping point blank shots, making diving saves and frustrating the fired up Pens at every turn. His magic ran out in the sixth, after Alexander Semin was called for hooking, as Evgeni Malkin, who dominated the Capitals all evening, finally found the back of the net.

The Capitals finally got their chance with the man advantage for the second time with just under two minutes to play in the third period, and boy did they take advantage. Caps sophomore Nicklas Backstrom made up for his earlier miss with a goal off the back of Fleury, and just like that, the Caps found themselves tied at 2, in a game that could easily have been 6-1 at that point.

The Caps came to life, and had several quality chances in the last two minutes of regulation, and in overtime, Ovechkin had two quality chances within seconds of each other, but fanned on one and lost the puck on the other.

Unfortunately for Simeon, at 11:23 of the first OT, he made a stop on a full-court pass that just missed a driving Malkin, and the ensuing face-off was his undoing. In a play eerily similar to the one Ovechkin scored his second goal of game 2, Sidney Crosby beat David Steckel on the face off for only the third time all evening. The puck trickled back to Mark Eaton, who sent a cross-ice pass to the waiting Kris Letang. Letang, who had fanned on two quality chances of his own in OT, nailed this one. The puck careened off of defenseman Shaonne Morrisson over the glove of Varlamov, off the cross bar and in to end game 3.

As mentioned before, the Capitals have had little success in series in which they hold a 2-0 lead, but as the history of this post-season has shown, the Caps are routinely re-writing their history. Hopefully the boys in red, white and blue will come back for game 4 a little more fired up and continue to distinguish themselves from previous Caps teams, en route to the finals. For now though, they need to focus on game 4.

There’s a pretty good chance that Bruce Boudreau is telling his team that at this very moment. That, and telling George McPhee to sign Varlamov for a long, long time.

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Caps Edge Penguins 4-3


Once again the Penguins out skated, and outshot the Capitals, and once again the Capitals won by a single goal.

The three stars may have been Ovechkin, Crosby and Varlamov, but it was David Steckel’s goal in the second period that turned out to be the difference maker in a game that has been billed as “Sid the Kid vs. Alex the Great.”

The Capitals looked like they were skating at half-speed throughout most of the game, while the Penguins skated hard, and swarmed the puck at every opportunity.

Truly the game was infuriating to watch. Whenever the Penguins got the puck, they raced up the ice without delay. Whenever the Caps got the puck, they passed it around for a bit in their own zone, and then began to meander up through center ice before dumping it into the attacking zone or having it taken away from them.

The Penguins looked like they had endless energy; the Caps looked like they had just come off a three-day bender and were trying to skate off their hangover, but in the end, it was the Caps who found the back of the net most often.

Crosby scored first on a cheap little tip-in during a 5-on-4 power-play in the first period. Ovechkin scored early in the second with a wicked one-timer from the left face-off dot to tie the game at one.

Crosby scored again in the second period by standing in Varlamov’s hip pocket and tipping the puck past the goalie from point-blank range. It may not have been interference, but he was close enough that Varly could have been wearing him like the skin suit from Silence of the Lambs (I giggle when I think about Buffalo Bill wearing a Sidney Crosby skin suit and saying the things he said in the movie [things I can't type here as this blog is rated PG]).

It was David Steckel who tied the game up in the second period when he slapped a rebound past Fleury from just below the right face-off circle.

A little more than halfway through the third with the game tied at 2; The Caps begin a power play at the right face-off dot and four seconds later, Ovechkin nails a one-timer from the top of the left face-off circle to beat Fleury once again and put the Caps up 3-2.

Two and a half minutes later, it began to rain hats at Verizon Center as Ovechkin nailed a slap-shot from between the face-off circles and got his first career playoff hat-trick. To find the last Capital to get a hat trick in the playoffs you’d have to go all the way back to 1993 and look at a guy named Al Iafrate (maybe you’ve heard of him). It took three and a half minutes to clean up all the hats, even as they continued to rain down amongst the chants of “MVP! MVP” The Caps were up 4-2 with a little more than 4 and a half minutes to play.

With roughly two minutes to go, the Penguins pulled Fleury for the extra attacker and the refs made it interesting when they called a cheap cross checking penalty on Milan Jurcina.

With 30-seconds left to play, and the Penguins now skating 6-on-4, Crosby had a rebound bounce onto his stick to the right of Varlamov and he slapped it into a surprised Tom Poti from point-blank range. The puck bounced right back to Crosby who again slapped it into a still stunned Poti. The puck again bounced back to Crosby who lifted this time and had the puck rainbow over Poti and Varlimov and just clear the top left corner of the net.

One lonely hat drifted down from the stands to celebrate Crosby’s third goal of the game. Of course, it could have been an accident and the hat got pulled off some poor fan’s head by how much Crosby sucks but either way It would be too little, too late.

Crosby may have gotten the second star of the game honors, and Ovechkin is credited with the game winner, but in the end it was the dynamic play of Simeon Varlamov and the under-rated goal by David Steckel that gave the Caps the edge and allowed them to win 4-3.

The real test comes Wednesday as the Caps travel to Pittsburgh with a two game advantage in the series. Expect Pittsburgh to play their hardest, and expect that the Igloo will be filled with ballpoint fans screaming “let’s go Pens!”

No one is going to pick the Caps to win game three. Commentators will briefly touch on Ovechkin’s hat-trick as a lead into talking about how great Crosby is, and how the Caps can’t stop him. They will talk about how Varlamov is starting to look a little shaky as he has given up five goals in the last two games (four of which were scored by Crosby) after only giving up six in the entire first round.

You better believe that they will consider game two a moral victory as the Pens finally got their power play going, and that coming home will be just the confidence booster Malkin and Staal need to make their presence felt.

The Caps are not being taken seriously…but they are winning games. The Penguins can outshoot, and outskate the Caps all they like, but in the end, the only stat that matters is the score.

Go Caps!

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Second Round to Feature First Ever One-on-One Hockey


For those that don’t know, the Washington Capitals begin their second round playoffs Saturday at 1pm on NBC against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

If you are unfamiliar with hockey and are just starting to listen in to the hype surrounding this series, you may be expecting to tune in for a one-on-one match-up.

I turned on the NHL Network this morning to watch ‘NHL on the Fly‘, and I was excited that they were going to talk to Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin both on the show.

Then I saw the interviews.

Each player was asked approximately 10 questions, and none of them had anything to do with their respective teams or what to expect in the upcoming series. It was all about Ovie vs. Sid.

Isn’t it true you two exchanged autgraphed sticks? What kind of question is that. Who cares? How about asking two of the best players in the world to break down the match-ups, what they think they need to do to win. Sure, throw in a couple of questions about the rivalry or about whose the better player, but for goodness sake’s, don’t ignore the significance of the series itself.

I understand that it is rare to see the league’s two top players square off in the playoffs, but it takes two entire teams to have an exciting series, not two guys, no matter how good they may be.

Ovie and Sid are obviously tired of talking about it. Heck, Ovechkin actually said so at the end of the interview on the NHL Network. Even in this clip from Fox 5 you can hear the frustration creeping in:

 

Let’s remember to talk about the teams, not just the players. It probably not going to be either of these players that determine the outcome, anyway. Its the second and third lines, the goaltending and the defense that make the difference between a good team with one great line and a Stanley Cup champion.

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Hating the Penguins


The Pittsburgh Pengiuns.

There’s a team that should get the bile duct of most Caps fans going.

Even though Pittsburgh isn’t a division rival, I can think of no team in the NHL that I hate more than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They are my Dallas Cowboys of Hockey.

I hated going to games at Verizon Center whenever the Penguins came to town.

Sure the games would be close to sell out capacity, but that’s because it would be packed with Penguins fans. If the Caps scored, the crowd at home ice would boo them!

The now familiar chant of “Let’s go Caps” would be replaced with “Let’s go Pens!”

Pens?! Seriously?! You cheer for office equipment?

Could you imagine seeing this on Wheel of Fortune:

PEN_S

“Pat, I think I’d like to buy a vowel.”

Pittsburgh currently has Sidney Crosby. I hate Sidney Crosby. Not because I think he’s better than say, I dunno, Alex Ovechkin, but because he is more popular (well, in anyplace other than DC).

Sidney Crosby complained to the media this year that he thought Ovechkin was “targeting” him. He implied that he thought Ovechkin was trying to hurt him and taking “cheap shots.” He complained that the refs weren’t calling any penalties on Ovechkin and, get this, giving him special treatment because he’s a “star player.”

How can anyone seriously cheer for this cry-baby?

Okay, let me break this down simply. Ovechkin is not a “finesse” player; well, not totally. He is not afraid of contact. He relishes it. He expects to get hit when he has the puck, and he gives as good as he gets.

Ovechkin wants the puck. If nothing else, he doesn’t want the other team to have it. If you have the puck, and Alex is nearby…he will hit you; hard. If you don’t want to get hit, then maybe you picked the wrong sport. Hockey is a contact sport, maybe those delicate hands are more suited to wield a golf club as opposed to a hockey stick (see: Happy Gilmore). At least that way you won’t have to worry about someone knocking you off the tee (unless you invite Ovie to play…then who knows).

The sad part is that Canadians, who pride themselves on the gritty game of hockey with the hard hits, the fighting, the blood on the ice; side with Crosby.

It makes me sick to see these guys like Don Cherry (in his multi-colored crushed velvet suits) talk about what a great player Crosby is, and in the same breath describe Ovechkin as a “mindless goon.” Crosby is the next Wayne Gretzky while Ovechkin is more the ilk of Sean Avery (at least in Cherry’s opinion).

Cherry made his attacks more personal this year when he blathered on about how much he hates Alex’s goal-scoring celebrations. He compared Ovechkin’s exuberance with that of international Soccer players. He even had the nerve to use (you guessed it) Crosby as a contrast of what a hockey player “should be.”

The way Cherry made it sound, the rest of the league hangs their head in a dignified, almost apologetic manner whenever they score a goal. Kind of a “hey man, I know I just scored on you. Terribly sorry about that y’know, but my coach said I had to do it otherwise we might just lose this game.”

Everyone celebrates when they score. Yes, even your beloved Crosby jumps up and throws his hands in the air after a goal.

Ovechkin loves the game. He loves playing it, he loves being the best at it, and if anything his huge celebrations are a further example of how humble he is. What kind of arrogant jerk would he look like if he simply skated away from a goal like it was ‘no big deal.’ It would be the same as saying “yeah, I score all the time. I was going to score against you anyway, and now I have. Let’s not make any big thing out of it, a’ight.”

That may be the Don Cherry way, but considering he dresses more like he should be taming tigers in Vegas like his brothers Siegfried and Roy, and less like an analyst covering a professional sport, he doesn’t really have a lot of room to be criticizing anyone else’s “flamboyance.”

We are done with the whining. We already got plenty of that from New York. “Your fans spit on us and called us dirty names. Your guy bit us, I’m gonna tell. ”

Pittsburgh is going to think they have home ice throughout the playoffs, because that’s what they’ve been used to. They are gonna expect Verizon Center to be filled with their roaming bands of Gypsy fans, but when they get in there and see a sea of 18,000 people all wearing red…they’ll know they aren’t at home, and they certainly aren’t welcome.

Puck drops at 1pm Pittsburgh; bring your A-Game.

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