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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!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rapid Rewind: #GoodSasha

There's that killer instinct.  Hey, he can play.
The Washington Capitals pulled off a huge win tonight, outlasting the New York Rangers deep into overtime to steal a 2-1 win inside Verizon Center.  The Capitals tied the game off the stick of Alex Ovechkin with about seven minutes left in the third period after Matt Gilroy gave New York the lead early in the frame, but it was Alexander Semin won the game inside two minutes remaining in the first extra session with a sick one-timer from the slot.  Michal Neuvirth made 24 saves in the Capitals' nets for the win.  With their victory, the Caps take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, with game two scheduled to be played Friday night in DC.

The game got off to a fast-paced start, with both teams using speed early to try and set up a good forecheck and offensive pressure.  It was the Rangers, however, who got the first shots on goal, but they were countered by Michal Neuvirth.  Neuvirth made another big save just over five minutes in, and soon after the Rangers were called for too many men at 14:49.  The Caps put some great pressure on Lundqvist early and throughout the man advantage, but he made several great saves to keep them off the board.  The Rangers slowly began to counterattack, but took another penalty at 10:13 when Mats Zuccarello was sent off for boarding Brooks Laich.  Once again, however, the Capitals were not able to convert on their power play despite some good chances because of great play by Lundqvist.  The Caps continued to press, with Alexander Semin and Jason Arnott rocketing shots off the crossbar with five minutes remaining, and then Lundqvist making another outstanding save in front on Ovechkin.  Alexander Semin killed the Caps' momentum at 18:08, however, when he took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone to send DC to their first penalty kill.  Washington was able to kill off the first 1:52 of the penalty to close out the period, however, and the first period ended tied at 0.
After killing off the first eight seconds of the New York power play to start the period, the Capitals were then put on their heels with a solid New York attack that generated some nice chances, and Karl Alzner had to make a nice play to deny Marian Gaborik early.  Washington tried to build up some offensive pressure of their own soon after, and Mike Knuble found a way to hit another post about six and half minutes in as the bounces just refused to go the Caps' way.  The Rangers came right back with a smart counterattack a minute later, but Michal Neuvirth made an outstanding save in front on Marian Gaborik.  As the period continued, Alexander Semin got semi-breakaway but was not able to get much wood on the shot and Lundqvist made another save.  Marco Sturm then got a great chance with a slapshot from the top of the left circle, but the Ranger goaltender was again up to the task.  New York then seized the momentum again, penning the Caps deep in their zone for about two minutes, but Washington was able to relieve the pressure.  With just over 3 minutes left in the period, Alex Ovechkin spring Nicklas Backsstrom on a breakaway, but Backstrom could not bury the puck.  The Rangers then got a break of their own, which forced Boudreau to call his timeout at 1:47 after a weak icing call.  The rest of the period expired without incident, and the frame ended tied at 0.
Keen on gaining an edge early in the final period, the Rangers came out hard, and took the lead 1:56 in when Matt Gilroy fired a one-timer past Neuvirth from in close following poor play down low by the DC defense.  The Caps came back hard with two chances in the next minute, but Lundqvist made another great couple of saves to keep Washington off the board.  The Caps, clearly desperate to get something going, began to get really physical in the corners as the period continued, but their chances began to dry up as New York attempted to lock the game down.  Marc Staal got a nice chance in front with ten minutes left, but Michal Neuvirth stood tall to keep the game within striking distance.  The Caps then tried to crank it up again, and Alex Ovechkin pounded a puck home on the doorstep at 13:44 to equalize.  But the Rangers were given another power play with only 4:43 to go when Alex Ovechkin was boxed for roughing.  The New York power play got some shots early, and Neuvirth made a sparkling glove save in close with 4:15 left.  Brooks Laich also came up with a heroic shot block late in the kill to keep the Rangers from taking the lead.  The remaining minutes of regulation expired with some tense moments, and the game moved to sudden-death overtime.
The Rangers came out hard at the start of OT, with Marian Gaborik getting two good chances in close that Neuvirth did well on to deny; the Czech had to be exceptional again under a minute later with a great stop on Matt Gilroy from the slot.  But the Capitals broke back, with Marcus Johansson ripping a high shot on Lundqvist who had to react quickly to get his glove up in time.  Both teams then settled in a bit, with little speed and aggressive attack from both sides as a little fatigue began to creep in.  Jason Chimera missed a wide open shot  with a little over eleven minutes gone from the slot, and that set the stage for a nice rush up ice by Marian Gaborik, who got a shot off in close.  But Michal Neuvirth made a great save in close to keep the game going.  Alex Ovechkin then tried to put the game in his own hands, barreling towards the Ranger goal and coming close to potting one only to be denied by Lundqvist.  Neuvirth was called upon again soon after to make a nice glove save on Ryan McDonagh.  But the breakthrough finally came with 1:36 remaining when Alexander Semin capitalized on a turnover and blasted a slapshot past Henrik Lundqvist to win the game.

Observations:

What a game.  This is what we live for as hockey fans, folks.  This one had everything: amazing goaltending, sacrifice, and of course, a win for the Caps. The atmosphere was electric the whole game and even when fatigue began to set in late in the first overtime period, Washington found that extra gear and ground out a huge win, one they had to win.  Yes, I said it.  We had to win this game.

Jason Arnott is the best thing that has happened to this team in awhile.  The veteran center caused the turnover that lead to the game winning goal and laid a perfect pass across for Sasha to bang past Lundqvist.  He has been there before and he knows what to do in the big games to bring teams to win.  You could see him on the bench and on the ice during OT, encouraging everybody and keeping everybody up.  Thank you, George.

Michal Neuvirth was sensational.  He had no shot on the goal he allowed as it was banged by him off a one-timer in front, and he made several game-saving saves late in overtime and late in regulation after the Capitals had tied it.  He stood firm under pressure and his technical style was cool, calm, and collected all night long.  He earned the playoff nod, and he proved it tonight.

The Caps will practice tomorrow at Kettler Capitals Iceplex before they host game two on Friday night.  That tilt is also scheduled for 7:30 P.M.

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