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Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Knocking On the Door

Mojo celebrates Mike Knuble's winner. (Clydeorama)
The Washington Capitals won another huge game this afternoon, knocking off the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in dramatic fashion with a thrilling 4-3 overtime win inside Verizon Center.  After allowing the Blackhawks to score inside a minute remaining and tie the game late in the third, Washington rebounded tremendously and got their game-winning goal off the stick of Mike Knuble.  Braden Holtby won his fourth consecutive decision inside the Capitals' nets, making 27 saves on 30 shots.  With the win, their eighth in a row, the Capitals pull five points clear of the Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the Southeast Division, althugh the Bolts do hold a game in hand.  The also move five points ahead of Boston for second in the Eastern Conference and one point behind the Flyers for first in the Conference, although both of those teams have two games in hand on Washington.

The first period got off to a bad start for the Capitals, as Mike Knuble was sent off for a slash just 26 seconds into the game.  The powerful Chicago man advantage got several good chances, but Braden Holtby was up to the task with three excellent saves.  The Hawks, however, kept coming at the Caps full tilt, and broke through when a long slapshot by Nick Leddy eluded a screened Braden Holtby at 4:46 for a 1-0 Chicago lead.  The situation then got even worse, as Marcus Johansson was boxed for hooking at 5:53.  But Boyd Gordon took advantage of a bad play at the blue line by Patrick Sharp and broke in on Crawford, blasting a slapshot past the goaltender on the far side to equalize shorthanded at 6:11.  As the period continued, both teams got some quality chances on rushes up ice, particularly the Capitals, but both goalies were able to keep the puck out.  With about five minutes left, Washinton got a golden chance when Alex Ovechkin chased down a loose puck and threw it in front to Marcus Johansson, but Crawford swallowed it up with a great save.  The Capitals then drew a penalty with only 1:39 remaining when Bryan Bickell was boxed for holding.  Washington took immediate advantage of their power play, as Jason Arnott let loose a cannon from the point that made it's way through a screen and past Crawford for a 2-1 advantage at 19:06.  The Blackhawks then came back hard to try and answer, but the Washington defense stood firm for the remaining 56 seconds and headed to the locker room up 2-1.
In the second period, the Capitals got off to a much better start, controlling the tempo early and getting some good chances.  However, it was the Blackhawks who stole the momentum back with a bad angle goal off the stick of Tomas Kopecky that saw Braden Holtby vacate his post far too early; the goal came at 3:09.  Both teams began to get some good chances again as the period continued, and it took some strong defensive plays by both teams to keep the game in a tie.  The Blackhawks, however, drew another penalty at 8:09 when Boyd Gordon was given the gate for hooking.  Both teams got some golden chances on the man advantage, including a 2 on 1 shorthanded break for the Caps, but both goalies were up to the task with some excellent saves.  The game continued in a furious back and forth pace, with both teams getting quality rushes up ice, and Washington then drew a second power play when Kopecky was called for boarding Dennis Wideman from behind at 15:28.  On their man advantage, Washington got off to a poor start, and Alexander Semin missed a golden chance in front to keep the game tied.  Inside a minute and a half remaining, the game really opened up, with both teams getting more great chances on end-to-end rushes.  After a net drive by Jason Chimera send Crawford sprawling to the ice, things really got interesting with a fight between Chimera and Brent Seabrook.  Despite the fireworks, however, the period ended without any further scoring, and the teams went to the locker rooms tied 2-2.
In the third period, both teams were again able to get some solid opportunities early, but both goalies made nice saves to keep the tie intact.  Patrick Kane then put on a clinic inside the Capitals zone, but the Washington defense was somehow able to keep him at bay.  Washington was then able to respond with great offensive zone play, and were rewarded when Eric Fehr made a slick backhanded pass from behind the net to Brooks Laich in front, who slammed the puck past Crawford for a 3-2 lead at 6:32.  The Capitals kept coming, but Crawford made a sensational save on Matt Bradley in tight to keep the Blackhawk deficit at one.  Washington continued to get excellent forecheck pressure and Jason Arnott hooked up with Marco Sturm for an excellent chance, but the shot was blocked on the way to the net.  Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson then hooked up for a golden chance on their own, but Crawford again got across with a glorious save to keep Chicago within one.  The Blackhawks, running out of time inside five minutes remaining, began throwing extra men forward in attempts to equalize, and Braden Holtby made an excellent save on Michael Frolik with about three minutes to go to keep Washington in front.  But with 1:50 left, Marcus Johansson took a hooking call, sending Chicago to the power play.  With Crawford pulled, the Blackhawks had a 6-on-4 advantage, and Jonathan Toews equalized by banking the puck home off Holtby into the back of the cage with 40 seconds left.  The Blackhawks killed the last 40 seconds of regulation, and the game headed to overtime.
In the extra frame, both teams got excellent early chances off the sticks of Duncan Keith and Alex Ovechkin, respectively, but both goalies were up to the task.  But with a minute and a half remaining, the Capitals set up a dominant offensive zone shift and had the Blackhawks back on their heels.  After several missed chances, Marcus Johansson collected a loose puck in the corner and made a beautiful pass in front to Mike Knuble, who chipped it past Crawford for the winner at 3:51.  Pandemonium ensued.

Observations:

This is playoff hockey, folks.  What a game.  The Capitals battled back from an early deficit in the first period perfectly and then collected themselves after a late tying goal equally perfectly to bring home a huge statement win and drive the winning streak to eight games.  They dominated the Hawks for the majority of the third period, and if not for a soft penalty call, probably would have closed it out in regulation.  Winning this one heading into the daunting road trip ahead was imperative, and the boys pulled it off.

Braden Holtby was good when he had to be.  The second goal was pretty soft, but he had no chance on the third and couldn't see the first.  He seemed to be fighting the puck a bit early, too, but overcame those jitters to make some great saves in clutch situations in the second period, particularly after the soft goal he allowed.  This was the first real adversity he had to face since he was recalled, and he responded to it very well.  Props to 70.

Again, another great game from the "new" guys.  Jason Arnott scored a great power play goal early, and he was in the Blackhawks' kitchen all game causing mayhem and being a pain in the behind.  Dennis Wideman had another great game, with two assists, and made some solid plays on the back end to prevent scoring chances.  He is fitting in very well, and I love the trade even more when I remember we get him next year, too.

The Capitals will not practice tomorrow morning before flying to Montreal later in the day, where they will take on the Canadiens on Tuesday night.  That game is schedule for 7 P.M.

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