If you watch a lot of hockey, you already know that playoff hockey is different than regular season hockey.
Perhaps more than any other sport, the game transitions from one of preservation and artistry into a sacrifice at all costs, knock-down, bare knuckles, shot-blocking, tight-checking affair that elevates players like Karl Alzner and Dan Girardi into superstars while open ice snipers like Alex Ovechkin and Marian Gaborik have to fight even harder for what little space is available to them
Both teams first goals were close to the crease bang-bang plays you see a lot in the playoffs. "Greasy goals" Bruce Boudreau called them.
That's what made Wednesday night's game winner that much more impressive, on every level.
After watching it several times, there are a few things that stand out to me. Watch it again and then let's go through it step-by-step.
1) Mike Green, in his first game back after missing so many with concussion symptoms, does a fantastic job of fighting off Brandon Dubinsky to keep the puck at the blue line and get it back into the Caps offensive zone.
2) Jason Arnott chops at Chris Drury and wins the puck along the boards and gets it deep enough so that Marc Staal has to play the puck below the dot, forcing Staal into a very tough decision whether to play the puck forward or pull into a more defensive position and take it -- or pass it -- behind his own net.
3) But then, Brooks Laich closes fast and puts real good pressure on the forecheck, forcing Staal, usually a very responsible defenseman, to make a lazy attempt to clear the zone under a rush.
4) Arnott's reach allows him to haul down Staal's clear like pulling down a rebound, where he hits a now wide open Alexander Semin waiting in the high slot.
5) Semin unleashes a bomb past Henrik Lundqvist. The shot, obviously is one thing. But watch the video again and just watch Good Sasha. As soon as Staal made that clearing attempt, he knew that the puck wasn't going to clear and circled like a shark back to the slot. It's that innate great anticipation that only true goal scorers have that told Semin where to go to receive that pass.
The play wasn't scripted. It was the product of a defenseman with the skills and confidence to play the puck at the offensive blue line, a good forecheck by one of the hardest working men in the game, terrific ability by a veteran along the boards, and singular anticipation and talent for the finish.
Four of the Caps five skaters touched the puck within eight seconds to produce the game-winner, and it all started with the forecheck. Looked a lot like the "old Caps" before the philosophical change. But don't tell anybody. Let's keep the secret to ourselves and maybe we'll see a few more like it.