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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!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rapid Rewind: NEXT!

I think this says it all.  Tell me if it doesn't though.
The Washington Capitals exorcised their game five demons from last year Saturday afternoon, dominating from start to finish and winning game five against the Rangers, 3-1.  Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin all scored for the Capitals, while Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves to help the Caps advance in front of a raucous Verizon Center crowd.  Washington also managed to win the game despite missing Mike Green for the last 45 minutes of the game after he was hit in the head with a slapshot; Green did return to the bench but did not skate a shift.  With the win, the Caps win their opening round playoff series by a final of four games to one, taking advantage of home ice to close out an opponent and win a game they really needed to have.  And, I did NOT have a heart attack.

The Rangers came out hard, getting a shot inside the first 30 seconds that Michal Neuvirth had to make a great recovery on to stop. The Capitals then cranked up their pressure with a series of great chances on Henrik Lundqvist off a forecheck, but he was able to make some nice saves as well.  Washington continued to be very aggressive in the early stages, and earned a power play at 5:42 when Bryan McCabe was boxed for tripping.  The Caps took immediate advantage of the man advantage as Mike Green scored at 5:59, but a melee ensued after he scored and the Capitals were awarded another power play when Vinny Prospal was sent off unsportsmanlike conduct.  DC was not able to convert on their second power play, however, as the home side could not get much zone time or shots.  As the middle stages of the frame approached, the game's pace began to settle down as Washington attempted to control the tempo rather than just get in the Rangers' face.  The Caps continued to get the majority of the chances as well, but Lundqvist came up with some great saves to keep DC from extending their advantage.  With 6:11 left, Mike Green was hit in the face again during a shot block and went down the tunnel immediately, although he was able to skate off on his own power.  With the crowd in shock following Green's injury, the Rangers began to get some momentum of their own, crowding Neuvirth and getting some shots off that the rookie had to do well to respond to.  As the period wound down, however, Washington began to get some of the momentum back, and the period closed with the Caps ahead 1-0.
Still without Green to start the second period, the Capitals got off to a good start nonetheless and and got a chance early that was denied by a brilliant Marc Staal block.  DC continued to press early with a solid forecheck and puck control, but New York's defense would not break.  About six and a half minutes into the period, however, Alex Ovechkin beat Marc Staal cleanly down the wall and skated in front, backhanding a shot past Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead at 7:04.  Soon after, at 7:53, the Caps were awarded another power play when Brandon Prust was boxed for interference.  On their man advantage DC got off to a very slow start and never recovered, again getting little zone time or shots; Washington was then finally called for a penalty at 10:20 when Matt Bradley was whistled for hooking.  On their power play the Rangers got great chances during the full two minutes but some smart plays by both Boyd Gordon and John Carlson, as well as some nice saves from Neuvirth, helped DC knock off the shorthanded ice. New York would not go away, and continued to press as the latter stages of the period approached, but Michal Neuvirth kept holding the fort admirably.  With only 2:41 left John Erskine was called for interference and the Rangers set up a critical man advantage.  Again, New York got great chances on the power play, but the penalty killers stood tall and the rest of the period expired without incident; the Caps took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after 2.
Now missing Jason Arnott to start the third period, the Caps were on their heels early as the clearly desperate Rangers had them pinned in their zone for an extended period of time.  Slowly, DC began to turn some pressure back on the Rangers as they got their feet back under them and began to implement their system well, keeping most shots to the outside.  Inside 11 minutes remaining, the Rangers really began to come hard, throwing men forward in another desperate attempt to get some life.  Their aggression cost them soon after as Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson broke free on a two on one, but Chimera could not bury the chance.  Alexander Semin got another amazing chance with about eight minutes left, wide open in the slot, but Lundqvist's acrobatics robbed him again.  New York kept coming at the Capitals inside of six minutes remaining, getting continued pressure on Michal Neuvirth, but the Czech rookie kept coming up with big saves to keep the advantage at two.  But immediately after, Alexander Semin converted off a beautiful pass from Marcus Johansson to extend the lead to 3-0 at 16:23.  John Tortorella pulled his goaltender with 3:03 left and the Rangers's Wojtek Wolski scored with 31.5 left, but it was just too little, too late, as the Capitals skated away with a 3-1 win.

Observations:

New. Vee.  Michal Neuvirth played out of his mind, again, to lead the Capitals to victory in this game.  He has been their MVP so far and he is literally unflappable no matter what the Rangers or anyone else throws at him.  His positioning is impeccable, his timing is brilliant, and his technique is perfect.  He knows when to cover the puck and get a faceoff and he knows how to win.  He has been nothing short of stupendous in these playoffs.  People wondered whether or not he should have been the starter.  They got their answer.

Alex Ovechkin had another great game, adding a goal and an assist to his ledger during an already impressive playoffs so far.  His goal was vintage, embarassing Marc Staal down the wing and cutting to the middle to score a huge goal which game the Caps some distance and really got the crowd going.  If he can keep up this elevated play up, and Washington can keep playing defensively, they are going to be scary.  About that system...

The Capitals absolutely dominated this game defensively.  Dom-in-ated.  They kept to their game plan throughout the whole game and the Rangers had very little real chances despite forcing Neuvirth into making some nice saves.  This is what it takes to win in the playoffs, and the Capitals have finally learned from their mistakes and made the switch.  They won this game because the deserved it and they won the series because the deserved it.  Onward.

The Capitals will have tomorrow off before returning to practice on Monday.  Their next game, and next playoff opponent, will not be determined for awhile, so YOU can sit back and relax (and root against the Penguins).  Huzzah!

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