Caps celebrate Jason Arnott's power play goal. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)

Forgive an old hand for feeling good about a win.

The Washington Capitals got goals from Jason Chimera and Jason Arnott, and Michal Neuvirth turned away all 22 New York Rangers shots en route to a 2-0 win in Game Two, propelling the Caps to a 2-0 First Round series lead.

The affair resumes Sunday at 3:00 pm at Madison Square Garden, the most famous arena in the world.

The Capitals fairly dominated Game Two, using speed, forechecking, physicality and game plan to keep the road-weary Rangers at bey.  Through the Rangers outshot the Caps for the evening, they only challenged the Caps goal on a few occasions, and when they did, Neuvirth was up to the task.

It's not really fair to call Neuvirth a rookie anymore, though the 2010-11 season was his first full in the NHL.  But he played like a veteran last night, cool and calm in the face of whatever pressure the Rangers could muster.  He benefited once again from a defensive squad that blocked only one less shot than New York got through.

Neuvirth was exceptionally sharp in the first period, when the Rangers seemed to have a bit on momentum.  “They had shots early in the game," Neuvirth said.  "After [the] first period, I think they had like 13 shots. I feel pretty good about my game right now. After, I think we didn’t give up any big scoring chances, I think it was a solid team effort tonight.”

As is the case in series like this, the road team seemed to weary first, and after jumping out for 13 first period shots, New York managed just nine more and never really challenged in the latter stanzas, despite controlling most of the play in the third period.

It was then when the Caps defense really came to the aid of their netminder.  It seemed like every time Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury or Sean Avery tried to ignite something, Karl Alzner, John Carlson or John Erskine was in the middle of the action, or laying down in front of a shot, or generally pushing Rangers forwards to the boards to harmlessly dump a puck they had no intentions of retrieving.

The Capitals received all their scoring in the second period and they made it stand up until the end.

Brooks Laich made a tremendous physical play behind New York's goal, brushing off Matt Gilroy one-handed and directing the puck out to Marcus Johansson, sitting at the top of the left wing circle.  MoJo hit Jason Chimera, alone in the slot, for a one-timer to give the Caps a one-goal lead a little over two minutes into the second period.

Less than two minutes later, with Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh off for roughing, Mike Green stepped in from the point and wound up to take a big slap shot.  The puck was deflected right to Arnott, who sent a shot past the outstretched Henrik Lundqvist (16 saves) for the insurance goal.

The rest was up to the defense, and they took care of business.

Erskine blocked three shots.  Alzner blocked three.  Green got in front of two, including laying out prone for one.  Carlson was credited for one block and four hits.  It was just a stifling, dominating performance by a group that has bought in wholesale to a new philosophy, proudly displaying the new-found dedication in the second season.

Rangers defenseman Marc Staal was complementary on the Caps defensive game plan.  "They’re not giving us too much offensively. We’re not getting too many clear looks or clear chances."

Lundqvist agreed. "It’s a tough game when you get behind – especially the way they’re playing right now. They’re very tight in their own end. It’s tough for us to get the big chance."

“They’ve been buying in since the middle of December," coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game.  "They just want to win. The important thing is that they get success. We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve won a lot of awards and that doesn’t mean anything to them now.”

Game Three in New York Sunday will be an opportunity to really put a stamp on this series.  A win and New York is all but toast.  Lose, and you give new life to a hard-working crew.

Let's see if these defensive-minded Capitals have the killer instinct that has escaped so many of their predecessors.
Arnott give them his war face. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
Jason Chimera starts the scoring for Washington in 2-0 win. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)

"Old Caps" Trigger Game-Winning Goal

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, April 15, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

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.

No one said this would be easy.

The Washington Capitals finished first in the Eastern Conference.  The New York Rangers barely qualified for the eighth seed. But as is common in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you can throw the records out the door.

Most prognosticators, including national media, expect this first round series to be a tooth and nail affair, with the winner escaping by the narrowist of margins.  Wednesday night, the Caps took first advantage, securing a 2-1 overtime win and taking a 1-0 series lead over a stunned Rangers squad.

Jason Arnott colllected a lazy clearing attempt with 1:36 left in overtime by Rangers defenseman Marc Staal and hit Alexander Semin, standing alone in the slot.  Semin one-timed the puck past Henrik Lundqvist for the game winner, sending a capacity crowd out into the streets of Chinatown happy.

Semin, through a translator, was introspective on the game-winner: “I just saw the puck get intercepted. It’s just a situational play. I tried to get open and shoot as soon [as] possible because the defenseman was right there.”  There are very few in this game that can get off a shot as hard and as quick as Semin, and his goal last night was evidence of how much he can mean to this offense.

The game was a fierce battle, with both teams playing things close to the vest.  It was the perfect appetizer for the banquet that this series should turn out to be.

Neither team exerted their will over their opponent last night.  Most of the game was counter-punching and recovery.  The Rangers scored first when unheralded forward Matt Gilroy chipped a puck past Michal Neuvirth not even two minutes into the third period. It was a fluky, ugly goal, but it stood until 13:44, when Alex Ovechkin would not be denied, pounding and pounding until he stuffed a shot under Lundqvist to tie the game up.

The play went to review, but it was clear that the puck got underneath the Rangers goalie and the goal stood.

The teams traded opportunities for the rest of the third and into the overtime frame.  And everything indicated the game would need a second extra period.

But with just over 18 minutes gone in overtime, the Caps got a good forecheck against the Rangers defense, and Staal tried to clear the puck up the right wing boards.  Arnott stepped in front of the loose puck and for a moment looked like he would shoot himself.  But Semin streaked into the slot, and Arnott gave him a perfect pass.  Semin blasted the shot past Lundqvist and jumped into the waiting arms of his teammates to celebrate the Game One victory.

Ovechkin was happy for his countryman after the game.  "We are all happy for Sasha [Semin] because last year he was little bit upset he didn’t score a goal and right now it’s very important for him to score a goal, step-up and show his leadership. It doesn’t matter who score right now, it’s all about winning and character and see how good this group is right now.”

The game-winner capped a productive night for the enigmatic winger.  Semin finished a plus-two on the evening with the game winning tally and an assist on Ovechkin's goal.

Michal Neuvirth was solid in net for the Caps.  He made a couple of nifty saves, but for the most part saw only outside shots from the Rangers.  The rookie made 24 saves in his first playoff win.  Lundqvist, the Rangers veteran keeper, saved 31 shots, including several terrific glove saves in the third period.

Game One was exactly what we expected: tight checking, low shot total, good defense, and counter-punching offense.  Both teams played pretty much the way they wanted to.  Sometimes, games this close are decided by a lucky bounce.  Sometimes, in overtime, a good player just doesn't complete their play.

This time, the Captials benefitted from a veteran play on a soft clearing attempt.  They might not be so lucky next time.  But it will be fun finding out.

CAPS NOTES: Mike Green played in his first game since suffering a concussion Feb. 25.  He played 26-plus minutes, finishing with four shots, one hit and four blocked shots.  He looked rusty at times, but was not limited in what coach Bruce Boudreau asked him to do.

“I thought his first period might have been as good as he has played in a playoff game," Boudreau said.  "I thought it was outstanding for a guy that hasn’t played in six weeks to come back in a game like that.”

The Capitals won 54% of their faceoffs tonight. Brooks Laich won a game-high 13 of his 18 faceoffs (72%)

Yesterday, Tony Kornheiser had Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau on his radio show from 10:15 am - 10:25 am, just before the coach took the ice for his team's 10:30 am practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for their last serious practice before Game One of their first round match against the New York Rangers. 

Mr. Tony talked to Boudreau about everything -- and anything -- but hockey.  And he prefaced the interview that way.

Both sports talk radio stations had crews out at Kettler yesterday, as they do most days.  And there are a couple of folks in there that really know their stuff.  I've appeared with Sky Kerstein on The Fan's HD channel to talk pucks and he has a weekly show Sunday mornings as well, just as one fine example.

But ESPN980 and 106.7 The Fan also sent their "sports" talk personalities out there and from one observer's recount, the jokes and questions being lobbed at the Caps players and coaches were of the variety that were more appropriate for Super Bowl media day, a media created and driven circus so everyone can get their cut of the pie.

Mike Wise, who actually wrote a pretty good column today on the Caps acquisition of Jason Arnott (even if independent media beat him to it several weeks ago), started his interview with Boudreau by asking if the Caps don't advance past the first round is his job on the line?  The first freaking question!

Not to pick on The Washington Post, because beat writer Katie Carrera and former beat writer-turned-sometimes opinion writer Tarik El-Bashir do a good job with their responsibilities. But the Post columnists, the ones that are supposed to add context and critique to the local world of sports, have written a grand total of eight Caps columns since the Winter Classic, compared to 28 about the Redskins and the NFL, 23 about the Nationals and over 30 about college sports (local and national). Shoot, they've written 13 columns about the lousy Wizards!

How's that for depth of coverage?

Talk of the Caps has driven the local sports broadcasts the last couple of nights.  And why not, since no one is paying attention to the NFL draft because of the lockout?  Might as well latch on to the next best story.

It just so happens that next best story is the best team in town.  You know, the one with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the four-time consecutive Southeast Division Champion banners, the best active player on the planet and the winningest regular season record since their head coach took over in the league?

The very same.

All these people know about is choking, goalie controversies (hey, it works for backup quarterbacks!), job security, and funny commercials.  They wouldn't know Matt Hendricks if he walked down the street and kicked their dog.  Not that Hendy would kick anyone's dog.

But they're all here, latching on to the only perennial playoff team in town, at the only time of the year they bother covering them.  Choking?  That's all they know of the Caps cause it's the only time they pay attention to them.

And they'll all be up in the press box, jamming up the locker room post-game, and asking more silly questions out at Kettler the rest of the week.

Am I bitter?  I suppose.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was denied a press credential for the playoffs, as were many of the independent media (or given drastically reduced access) that cover this team on a daily basis, not just during the playoffs or even regular season, but year 'round.  They produce quality, professional, responsible and very often insightful, informative and philanthropic, and yes, sometimes funny copy. 

I never assume access.  I understand the limit of granting access to independent media.  The press box is only so big and if the "pros" need the space, it's perfectly understandable.

But am I disappointed that the access I've had for three-plus seasons, including previous playoffs, was taken away so that media that aren't involved with this team on a daily basis can be part of the party?

Hell yes, I'm disappointed. 

They ignore this team all season long and jump on the bandwagon when it suits them.  And they'll jump off as soon as the next news cycle comes along.  They don't respect their audience because they don't respect or understand the game.  It's just a story to them.

But we'll still be here.  Win or lose.  Triumph or disaster.

I understand them jumping on the bandwagon.  Playoffs sell.  Controversy sells even more.  And until the Caps win the Stanley Cup, they will be the biggest playoff controversy: regular season winners and playoff chokers.  The coach -- and franchise -- that can't win the big one.  That sells copy and drives ratings, maybe even more than winning.

Let's just hope they don't get to write that story this season.

We'll have some personal comments Wednesday about the Capitals, the playoffs and the psyche of America's Hockey Capital.

But for now, Caps News Network was invited to participate in a playoff roundtable by with some of the brightest hockey minds D.C. has to offer. And some other guys too.

Seriously, we were honored to be asked to be part of the discussion, and there were some very insightful and intriguing comments made by the responders. And some jokes were made as well.

Please click though on the link above, read all the comments, and enjoy. Playoff hockey is finally upon us.

Caps Rap 2 feat. Our Photography

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, April 11, 2011 | , , | 0 comments »

Andrew Bowser, who produced the wildly popular "Caps Rap", is back with a follow-up, "Caps Rap 2", featuring the the photography of Caps News Network's Cheryl Nichols.

Here's the link to, where the video is posted.

The NHL announced the schedule for the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday night.  As expected, the Washington Capitals will face the New York Rangers on Wednesday, Apr. 13 at 7:30 pm for Game One, to be broadcast on Versus.

The Caps and Rangers then play Game Two Friday, Apr. 15 at 7:30 pm, again on Versus.  Both Game One and Game Two will be in Washington at the Verizon Center.

The series shifts to New York for Games Three and Four, Sunday Apr., 17 at 3:00 pm (on NBC) and Wednesday, Apr. 20 at 7:00 pm.

Game Five, if necessary, will be back at Verizon Center at 3:00 pm Saturday, Apr. 23 at 3:00 pm on NBC.

Game Six is scheduled for Monday, Apr. 25 and Game Seven Wednesday, Apr. 27, times to be determined.

The Washington Capitals and the Florida Panthers played a game last night in Sunrise, FL that did not matter.  Sure, it will go in the books as a 1-0 win for the home team, but the result was meaningless.

The Panthers, with the fewest points in the Eastern Conference, lost out on their chance at the second season weeks ago.  And the Caps had already sewn up the top spot for the second season in a row a couple days earlier.

The only important thing about this game was not sustaining injury.  Which apparently they managed to do.

The loss was just Washington's third regulation loss in its last 20 games, but there weren't too many people associated with the team that were concerned with that detail.

No, the Caps weren't all that interested in who would win this game.  But they WERE interested in the outcome of the Carolina-Tampa Bay game, which would determine their first round matchup.  The Lightning tore into the Hurricanes, getting a 3-0 lead en route to a 6-2 win, knocking the 'Canes out of the playoffs and sending the New York Rangers to face the Capitals, either Wednesday or Thursday night at Verizon Center.

The Rangers clobbered the Caps in two of their three wins against D.C, winning at MSG in December 7-0 and 6-0 in D.C. in late February.  The Blueshirts were 6-3-1 down the stretch, but also lost second leading scorer Ryan Callahan (23-25-48, minus-7) to a broken leg and he'll be sidelined indefinitely.

New York is a big, physical team and could give the Caps fits, and as always they are backed by Henrik Lundqvist, one of the very best goalies in the league.  But they do not have a ton of offensive firepower and are prone to deep scoring slumps.

We'll have a ton more coverage of the first round matchup in the next couple of days.

This is the time all Caps fans have been waiting for.  And frankly, it's the time the Caps themselves have been waiting for.  It's been a strange, compelling season, and we're seen a transformation in the way the team plays and coaches. 

We've seen players grow up before our eyes.  We've seen players shipped out and brought in.  We're seen players alter their games.  We'll find out in the coming weeks whether it was for the better or worse. 

CAPS NOTES:  Mike Green (concussion symptoms) did not play against Florida.  The team opted to keep him out in hopes of avoiding a set back in his return.  He's been cleared by the league and has been practicing fully the last few days, but has yet to face opponents in a real game.

Jason Arnott and Marco Sturm were rested as well.

Washington finished the regular season 48-23-11-107, first in the Eastern Conference and second overall to the Vancouver Canucks with 117.  The Caps were 25-8-8 at home and 23-15-3 on the road, falling short of the franchise road record of victories by one.  They were 19th in goals per game, 4th in goals against per game, 16th on the power play and second on the kill.