Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, April 18, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau went to his bench Saturday, calling upon rookie backup goalie Simeon Varlamov to start Game Two in place of Jose Theodore, who admittedly played poorly in Game One.

Photo 2009 © Cheryl Nichols. All Rights Reserved.

The change mattered not, as the Caps offense took a holiday, playing sloppy and loose in the neutral zone, and fell to the New York Rangers 1-0, who now hold a two games to none lead in their best-of-seven first round series.

Washington once again out-shot the Rangers, 35-24, but most of the shots Henrik Lundqvist faced were from the perimeter, unscreened, or right into his chest.

In addition to the 35 shots on goal, the Caps had another 29 shots blocked. Washington had 24 turnovers compared to New York's seven.

As with Game One Wednesday, Washington came out buzzing in the first, and Lundqvist actually looked a little shaky early on, giving up a couple of rebounds and bouncing pucks. But there were no Caps in the area to follow up the original shot.

Lundqvist settled down and made no mistakes, though, and finished with his third career playoff shutout. Washington was only shut out three times this season.

There was some unevenness in the officiating for the second straight game, with the Rangers getting five power plays and Washington just three. But the Caps were their own worst enemies today.

New York's only goal of the game came as a result of the Caps trying to do too much on offense. Mike Green, who looked lost at times today, joined the rush on a 4-on-2, but a bad cross-ice pass by Alex Ovechkin sent the Rangers back the other way. Ovechkin had five turnovers on the day; Green had seven.

Winger Viktor Kozlov was back, but instead of retreating on defense, he tried to pinch in and keep the puck in play. Brandon Dubinsky beat Kozlov to the puck and tapped it ahead to a streaking Markus Naslund. Naslund carried the puck into the Caps' zone and held it long enough to get Varlamov to commit, then made a nice pass to Ryan Callahan, who redirected it behind the rookie goalie for the only tally of the game.

The best chance the Caps had to tie the game up late came from their MVP, Ovechkin. He beat Lundqvist with a wrist shot from the high slot, but the shot deflected off the crossbar and into the protective net above the glass behind the Rangers goal.

It's strange to think the Caps would lose a game giving up only one goal. But that's exactly the scenario that unfolded in the Verizon Center this afternoon.

The Capitals now travel to New York for Game Three Monday evening, losing the first two games in their own building. It's not where they wanted to be, but at this point they have to trust that their scoring touch will return, hopefully with the newly found defensive effort, to even this series up and bring it back to Washington.

07:44 Ryan Callahan (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: Naslund, Dubinsky



1. H. Lundqvist - NYR (Saves: 35, Save Pct: 1.000)
2. R. Callahan - NYR (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
3. M. Naslund - NYR (Goals: 0, Assists: 1)

Defenseman Jeff Schultz was scratched due to an upper body injury. He is listed as day-to-day. Brian Pothier played in his place.

Chris Drury returned to the lineup for New York. Aaron Voros was a healthy scratch after playing less than four minutes in Game One.

Varlamov made 23 saves in his playoff debut.

The Washington Capitals, down 1-0 to the New York Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, may be making some lineup changes for Game Two, Saturday at 1:00 p.m. If you don't have tickets, the game will be broadcast on NBC as the national game.


Caps coach Bruce Boudreau is playing it close to the vest whether he will stick with veteran Jose Theodore, who by his own admission played poorly in the 4-3 Game One loss, or go to talented but largely untested rookie Simeon Varlamov.

In response to the question, Boudreau was coy yesterday, saying he had already made up his mind, but, "You guys [reporters] won't find out," Boudreau said. "You guys are asking, and I'm not divulging anything."

Boudreau went on to say that he has confidence in the rookie backup, should he find the need to go in that direction. "He has played in the [KHL] and he's played in the world championships in front of big crowds. So it's not like he's going to be a star-struck young guy if we went with that decision."

Theodore offered an honest assessment of his game, "For playoff hockey, obviously, [I was] not good enough," Theodore said. "They only had a couple of shots in the first, and after that, I tried to find a rhythm. I'm not happy with my game. I wasn't good enough."

"I've been around long enough that there's really no excuse," he continued. "When you're out there, you have to be ready to make a couple of key saves and key moments, and [Wednesday], that just wasn't the case."


It was revealed Wednesday before Game one that captain Chris Clark, forward Boyd Gordon and enforcer Donald Brashear were cleared to play by the medical staff. Gordon played while Brashear skated during warmups but watched the game from the press box. Clark and defenseman Brian Pothier were scratched.

Clark was practiced in full gear Friday, so he is ready to play.

These veteran options give Boudreau something else to think about as he makes out his lineup for Saturday's pivotal game.

Boudreau said, "I'll sit down with the coaches and consider everybody and see what would be the best fit. Chris Clark is always in that [discussion]. Even though I thought our forwards were pretty good. It's hard to sit and look and say, 'Which forward would you take out to make our team better right now?' I don't know."

As for his defensive corps, he may not have an option. Jeff Schultz did not practice Thursday or Friday, and there are reports that he is hurt. If Schultz can't go, Pothier would be the likely choice to replace him. But would Karl Alzner be a possibility? Hershey just started their playoffs as well, and while that would be a big hit to their Calder Cup hopes, the needs of the big club come first.


If Schultz is injured, it puts to rest questions about him being benched for his play, especially on the game-winning goal from Game One. Brandon Dubinsky, who scored all of 13 goals in the regular season, turned the big defenseman inside out, with Schultz crashing to the ice, arms and legs flailing.

For his part, Dubinsky was gracious, maybe in a back-handed manner though, about the play.

"I got the puck, and I was gonna go wide there," Dubinsky said. "And I just kind of saw [Schultz] cutting over, so I tried to put it between his legs. It's one of those plays where it doesn't happen very often. And fortunately enough for me, I got pretty lucky and found a way to get through, and found a way to score."

Why lucky?

"Because defensemen in this league are too good," Dubinsky said. "They don't get beat one-on-one, I mean, ever. So in order for them to get beat one-on-one, you've got to generally get a little bit of luck with the move you decide to make."


Despite falling in Game One, the Caps aren't running around with their tails between their legs. Alex Ovechkin was confident, but not cavalier, in his assessment of trailing 1-0 in the series, "What can I say? It's the playoffs. It's seven games. You can't concentrate on one game. It's seven games. It's one week. It's OK. It happens. We can't win all of our games right away."

Boudreau was equally as confident, "It's a loss in the loss column, but with seven minutes to go, it was a tied game," Boudreau said. "It's not like it was a 5-1 game and we were outclassed and we weren't ready. We were ready and we did a lot of good things. And we want to build on those things."

One of the good things the Caps did was to win 46 of the 66 faceoffs (70%) in the game, including Nicklas Backstrom going 13-for-18. Also, the Caps drew seven penalties, capitalizing on two of the resulting power plays. And they out-shot the Rangers 35-21, so overall the defense was fairly economical in the number of shots Theodore had to face.


The Rangers' Chris Drury was scratched, but he's been back at practice and could possibly give New York another lift in spirits, as if a Game One victory wasn't enough.

Also, the Sean Avery watch continues. The pesky winger insinuated himself into several plays, including New York's first goal where it appeared he interfered with defenseman Mike Green as Scott Gomez skated around the pair en route to the net. Avery also poked at Theodore toward the end of the game, a situation that drew the attention of rugged defender John Erskine.

The Rangers, owners of the league's next-to-last power play, were 2-of-4 with the man advantage in Game One. Washington's penalty kill got better as the season went along, but still finished only 17th in the league. For as much attention as the Caps power play (second in the league) and New York's penalty kill (ranked first) have received, maybe it's the other way around that should be meriting discussion.

Washington, DC--In the first period of last night's Stanley Cup Playoffs Round One matchup, the Washington Capitals completely dominated the seventh seeded New York Rangers in every category on the ice--except the scoreboard.

Then after an early second period goal by Tomas Fleischmann, the Eastern Conference's second seed appeared to lose focus, especially much-maligned goalie Jose Theodore, and the New York Rangers stole Game One, 4-3, right out from underneath the Capitals.

Washington out-shot, out-hit and out-hustled the Rangers in the first. The Caps held a 14-4 shot advantage, and several loud hits by Caps forwards in the New York end made it look like the rout would be on for the home team. But the Rangers, thanks to goalie Henrik Lundqvist, withstood the early barrage and the teams remained scoreless entering the second period.

That's where things turned sour for the Caps.

After Fleischmann's tally, a redirection originally credited to Alex Ovechkin with a blast from the high slot, Washington stopped skating, starting missing the big hits, and gave the Rangers two late power plays, of which they took full advantage.

And once New York started getting some quality chances, Theodore folded in every conceivable way.

The first New York goal rattled Theodore for the rest of the night. Scott Gomez collected a blocked shot in his own end and raced uncontested up the left wing. At the Caps blue line, Sean Avery took the legs out from under defenseman Mike Green from behind, allowing Gomez to move in on Theodore, and the veteran center slid the puck under a laid-out Shaone Morrisonn and beat Theodore low glove side.

Green looked dumbfounded with arms raised asking for a tripping penalty on the play. There was no call and the goals stood to tie the game at one goal apiece. Then came the avalanche.

With John Erskine off for high-sticking, Nik Antropov walked into the right wing circle and lifted a soft wrist shot over Theodore's left shoulder. There was no screen, no distraction and no excuse. Theodore barely flinched as the puck went past.

Less than two minutes later, Sergei Fedorov was sent off for a delay of the game as he threw the puck needlessly off the ice. The Rangers caught Washington making a line change on the resulting power play, and Gomez dropped a pass for Markus Naslund, who beat Theodore high stick side after the goalie had gone down early into a butterfly reacting to Gomez.

Viktor Kozlov cut the deficit with a tip-in of a Nicklas Backstrom feed with 49 seconds left in the second, and Alexander Semin tied it at 1:42 of the third, knocking in a bouncing puck on a Caps power play.

But the last goal of the night is all that any Caps fan was talking about after the game.

Naslund caught a breakout pass from Antropov and hit Brandon Dubinsky with a pass in the neutral zone. Dubinsky sped down the left wing boards and faked out Jeff Schultz completely with a cross-over move, and as Dubinsky raced past Schultz, the 6'6" defender fell awkwardly, arms and legs flying.

Dubinsky then walked in alone on Theodore and beat the goalie easily with a wrist shot to the near post, a bad angle for the shooter, were it not for the fact that the goalie was not in position.

Theodore allowed four goals on just 21 shots against one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL.

The goalie, and his coach, talked about his poor performance after the game.

"For playoff hockey, obviously, [I was] not good enough," Theodore said. "They only had a couple of shots in the first, and after that, I tried to find a rhythm. I'm not happy with my game. I wasn't good enough. But in the playoffs, you bounce back and that's it -- you have to turn the page.

"I've been around long enough that there's really no excuse," he continued. "When you're out there, you have to be ready to make a couple of key saves and key moments, and tonight, that just wasn't the case."

Washington coach Bruce Boudreau echoed his goalie's sentiments.

"He's right," Boudreau said when he was told that Theodore accepted the blame for the loss. "You need the save and he didn't make the save. But I'm sure he's going to bounce back. He's a professional. He's played this game long enough, I'm sure he feels bad enough."

Boudreau was asked if a change in goal could come for Game Two.

"There's a chance anything can happen," Boudreau said. "When you lose, you make changes. I'm not saying in goal. But, I mean, there's a chance for changes in a couple of positions."

Alex Ovechkin, the league's leading goal scorer, had two assists and took a game-high 13 shots on goal, with another 10 shots blocked. Rangers goalie Lundqvist robbed Ovechkin early on several point-blank attempts, and finished with 32 saves on 35 shots.

Game Two in the seven-game series is Saturday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. It will be the national broadcast game on NBC.


06:40 Power Play - Tomas Fleischmann (1), Tip-In. Assist: Ovechkin, Green
07:49 Scott Gomez (1), Wrist Shot, Unassisted.
16:49 Power Play - Nik Antropov (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: Gomez, Mara
18:28 Power Play - Markus Naslund (1), Snap Shot. Assist: Gomez, Redden
19:11 Viktor Kozlov (1), Tip-In. Assist: Backstrom, Erskine

01:42 Power Play - Alexander Semin (1), Tip-In. Assist: Ovechkin, Green
11:43 Brandon Dubinsky (1), Wrist Shot. Assist: Naslund, Antropov

1. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 2)
2. S. Gomez - NYR (Goals: 1, Assists: 2)
3. B. Dubinsky - NYR (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)

Tom Poti and Boyd Gordon both returned from injuries, but Donald Brashear (knee) was scratched. Brian Pothier was scratched to make room for Poti, but may very well play in Game Two.

Fleischmann's goal was his first NHL playoff point. Kozlov scored his first playoff goal in 25 games.

The Caps won 46 of 56 faceoffs (70 percent) and out-hit the Rangers 35-27.

Photo of Dubinsky's goal coutresy of AP. Slidehow photos (c) C. Nichols 2009. All Rights Reserved.

The Washington Capitals, second seed in the Eastern Conference, host the seventh-seeded New York Rangers in Game One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at 7:00 pm from what promises to be a raucous, sold out, red-clad Verizon Center.

Tonight's game will be the fifth this season between the two teams. The Capitals won the regular season series three games to one, but these Rangers bear little resemblance to the early-season Blueshirts.

Coach John Tortorella took over late in the season and guided the Rags to a 12-7-2 record down the stretch after losing 10 of their previous 12 games under previous head coach Tom Renney.

This first round matchup pits teams of opposite strengths: the Capitals electrifying offensive attack against the Rangers stifling defense.

Washington is led, of course, by Alex Ovechkin. The back-to-back Richard Trophy winner for most goals registered 56 this season, falling just short of repeating the overall scoring title he won last season. His partners in crime, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and company helped propel the Caps to the number three spot in goals scored and finished second in power play efficiency.

The Caps had nine players with double-digit goals, and hope to get contributions up and down the roster.

The Rangers will depend on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and a very strong defensive corps to keep DC from lighting the lamp. Lundqvist has been a Vezina finalist the last three years in a row and has been successful in every league or tournament he's played in, including leading Sweden to the Olympic gold medal in the 2006 games.

The Caps will depend on Jose Theodore (32-17-9, 2.87, .900) in net, with rookie Simeon Varlamov backing him up. Veteran backup Brent Johnson was not cleared by the medical team to resume full-speed play.

Washington did receive some good news today: Team captain Chris Clark has been cleared to play after missing 33 games with a wrist injury. He won't suit up tonight, but getting their captain back has to bolster the morale of the team, and in the playoffs, every little bit helps.

Defenseman Tom Poti, however, will be a game-time decision with his lingering groin injury. If Poti can go, according to Capitals Insider, Brian Pothier will probably be odd man out for game one.

The status of Donald Brashear (knee) and Boyd Gordon (finger) are still unclear, and may remain so until after pre-game warmups.

All photos (c) C. Nichols 2008-09. All rights reserved.

Mohawks and Redheads!

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

Caps Defenseman Mike Green got his playoff mohawk yesterday while talking with Elliot in the Morning on DC101. Steinberg reports that Ovechkin and Green dyed their hair red! It is not too late to "Rock the Hawk!" Click here for more information. ROCK THE RED!!!

Rock the Hawk 2009

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »


Caps defenseman Mike Green is getting a mohawk for the playoffs. If you let Elliot of DC101 shave your head, he will give you a ticket in the "Rock the Hawk" section at the Caps playoff game! Must be 18+. Here is more information. See updated info.

Rock the Hawk 2008 participant after 1st Caps playoff game, 4/11/08

Photo C. Nichols (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved

Breaking Down the Caps-Rangers Series

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, April 14, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

Everybody is doing it, but here is Caps News Network's Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview.

: Caps took season series three games to one.

Nov. 8 at DC: WAS 3-NYR 1 Brent Johnson made 28 saves and Brooks Laich, Tom Poti and Alexander Semin tallied for the Caps.

Dec. 23 at NYR: WAS 5-NYR 4 (OT) Shaone Morrisonn scored 59 seconds into overtime to cap the thrilling comeback. Caps were down 4-0 midway in the second period. Alex Ovechkin had two goals in the comeback.

Jan. 3 at DC: WAS 2-NYR 1 Jose Theodore made 21 saves, while Mike Green and Ovechkin took care of the goals. There was a bunch of rough stuff in this one as well, including Semin's "bongo playing" on Marc Staal.

Feb. 11 at NYR: NYR 5-WAS 4 (SO) Charging, slashing, fighting, diving; this game had it all. Green tied the game at 19:02, but Theo was beaten by Ryan Callahan in the shootout.

WAS: 50-24-8-108, second in East, first in Southeast.

Third in goals scored; 11th in goals against; second in power play; 17th in penalty kill; second in shots for.

NYR: 43-30-9-95, seventh in East, fourth in Atlantic.

T-25th in goals scored; third in goals against; 29th in power play; first in penalty kill; seventh in shots for.

1) Caps Power Play v. Rangers Penalty Kill

The Capitals were second in the NHL in power play proficiency at 25.2 % in the regular season. It's where Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green are most dangerous--the pair were second and third in the league in power play goals, while Nicklas Backstrom was eighth. All are naturally gifted offensive players, and with the empty space are especially difficult to contain.

The Rangers, meanwhile, were first overall in penalty kills at 87.8%, and in the bottom half of the league in penalties taken. When the referees swallow their whistles in the playoffs, each power play will be of vital importance, and the Rangers do a good job of limiting the silly penalties to begin with.

Recently, Brooks Laich has taken it upon himself to play the role of net crasher, and creating traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist in this series is essential.

2) Solving King Henrik

Lundqvist this season was just 11th in the league in goals against, at 2.43, and his save percentage 12th at .916. These marks are just a tick below his NHL career numbers, but don't let the small dip in stats fool you; this cat can control a playoff series.

He has excelled in every league or tournament he's played in, including leading Sweden to the Olympic gold medal in the 2006 games. He makes shooters beat him upstairs as he concentrates on taking away the bottom part of the net, so Washington has to concentrate on putting lots of shot on goal, shooting upstairs and creating traffic to beat The King.

Oh, and Lundqvist enters the game hot, going 3-1-0, 1.51, .949 in his last four games played.

3) Caps Getting Defensive?

All season the Caps' blue-liners have run hot-and-cold, trending toward the cold.

While Green may win a Norris trophy, he'll do so on the strength of his goal-scoring ability. Tom Poti has struggled with injury, Brian Pothier is just getting his legs after returning from post-concussion syndrome, Shaone Morrisonn has a bent for taking bad penalties at the worst time, Schultz is still trying to grow into the role, and Milan Jurcina and John Erskine are what they are: sixth of seventh defensemen forced to play spots over their heads at times.

But here's the thing in this series: New York can't score. They finished tied for 25th in goals this season with Tampa Bay, further testament to their defensive capabilities. Their best overall player, Chris Drury, enters the series banged up. They didn't have a 30-goal scorer. And their best goal scorer, Nik Antropov, has been known to disappear for weeks at a time.

If there was one first round opponent the Caps defense could (should) gain confident playing against, they got it.

4) Jo-saaaay, Jo-say, Jo-say, Jo-say!

It's as simple as this: If good Jose Theodore shows up, this series should be no contest. If bad Jose Theodore shows, all bets are off.

Theodore won 32 games this year, but his quality numbers (2.87, .900) are the worst of any goalie in the playoffs. He finished at the bottom of every statistic for starting goalies. He's had stretches where hes played very well, but games where he's looked truly awful, and he's one of the the worst stick-handlers in the history of goaltending. It's a crapshoot.

He is proud to say that he's never lost a first round playoff series, so Caps fans hope that stands. Because the alternatives are a talented but green rookie that has never played in the playoffs or a guy that hasn't seen a shot fired in anger since before Valentine's Day.

5) The Wildcards: Ovechkin and Avery

Ovechkin has been biding his time the last few weeks as the regular season ground to the finish. He's been chomping at the bit for the Stanley Cup playoffs, for his chance to bask in the limelight that comes with this great tournament.

Coupled with the first round matchup against the favorite team in the country's biggest television market, and this series was tailor-made for the games biggest personality.

On the other hand, Sean Avery is the thorn in everyone's sides, and he would like nothing better than to exact his revenge on Gary Bettman and the entire NHL and upstage the game's biggest diva.

How will Avery react if Ovechkin celebrates a little too vigorously? Will Avery reprise his stick-in-the-face routine on Theodore even though it's been outlawed? Can anyone on the Caps, other than Ovechkin, match Avery's determination and passion?

All these questions and more will evolve and get answered over the next week to ten days.

For now, gear up Caps fans, Rock the Red and Unleash the Fury. The Stanley Cup playoffs start...right now!

CAPS GAME 1 = Wednesday, April 15th

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Monday, April 13, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

Posted by Cheryl Nichols posted the schedule tonight for round one of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Caps host Rangers this Wednesday, April 15th at 7pm.

Caps Press Release:

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals begin their quest for the Stanley Cup at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15, when they host the New York Rangers in Game 1 of a best-of-seven series at Verizon Center to kick off the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs. Game 2 will follow at Verizon Center on Saturday, April 18, at 1 p.m.

The Southeast Division champion and No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, Washington will host Game 1, Game 2 and, if necessary, Games 5 and 7 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Each game will be televised locally and in high definition on either Comcast SportsNet or NBC and broadcast on WJFK 106.7 FM in Washington, D.C., and WCBM FOX 1370 AM in Baltimore. Games 2 through 7 have been selected by either NBC or VERSUS to be televised nationally in the U.S., while TSN will broadcast the entire series throughout Canada.

After the first two games of the series in Washington, D.C., the series shifts to Madison Square Garden in New York for Games 3 and 4 (Monday and Wednesday, April 20 and 22, respectively, both at 7 p.m.). Games 5, 6 and 7, if necessary, alternate buildings and fall on every other day from April 24-28.

The Capitals went 3-0-1 against the Rangers this year while posting a club record 108 points and matching the franchise best with 50 wins. This marks the fifth time that the two former Patrick Division rivals will meet in the playoffs and is the first meeting since 1993-94. Each team has won two of the previous series.

Capitals Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Schedule Versus New York Rangers
Game 1 Wednesday, April 15 7 p.m. at Washington Comcast SportsNet, TSN WJFK, WCBM
Game 2 Saturday, April 18 1 p.m. at Washington NBC, TSN WJFK, WCBM
Game 3 Monday, April 20 7 p.m. at New York Comcast SportsNet, VERSUS, TSN WJFK, WCBM
Game 4 Wednesday, April 22 7 p.m. at New York Comcast SportsNet, VERSUS, TSN WJFK, WCBM
Game 5* Friday, April 24 7 p.m. at Washington Comcast SportsNet, VERSUS, TSN, RDS WJFK, WCBM
Game 6* Sunday, April 26 2 p.m. at New York NBC, TSN, RDS WJFK, WCBM
Game 7* Tuesday, April 28 TBD at Washington Comcast SportsNet, VERSUS, TSN, RDS WJFK, WCBM