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!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Southeast Champs Again

The Washington Capitals pulled out another close game tonight, coming back from one-goal deficits twice and beating the Maple Leafs 3-2 in a shootout.  John Erskine and Alex Ovechkin scored for DC and Michal Neuvirth made 19 saves to lead the win.  With the victory, the Caps clinch the Southeast Division for the fourth consecutive year, as they are six points up on the Lightning with only two games left to play.  The Capitals also jumped the Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of Philadelphia, and both teams have played 80 games.

The Caps got off to a good start with a solid rush inside the first two minutes, and James Reimer had to make a nice save on Eric Fehr to keep the Caps off the board.  Toronto found their legs quickly, though, and started to ramp up their attack soon after.  As a result, the Maple Leafs drew the first power play of the game as John Carlson was sent off for holding at 4:23.  The Capitals were not able to kill the penalty, though, and Nikolai Kulemin scored on a rush at 5:37 for a 1-0 Leafs lead, a goal that Michal Neuvirth would likely want to have back.   The Caps came back pretty strong after the goal, trying to set up some pressure in tight, but Reimer made some nice plays to keep DC from equalizing.  Washington was able to get a power play at 9:37, however, when Matt Lashoff was sent off for delay of game.  After an awful beginning to the man advantage, the Caps were given a 5-on-3 advantage when Joey Crabb was boxed for hooking.  The Capitals did not waste this one, as Alex Ovechkin one-timed a bomb past Reimer on the two-man advantage at 11:28 to level.  Still on the power play, Washington continued to control the play well and got a bunch of chances, but Reimer played very well to keep DC from extending the lead.  The game then moved into a back-and-forth stage, with both teams getting some solid chances on up-ice rushes, but both goalies were able to hold strong and keep the game tied at 1.  Inside of three minutes remaining, the Leafs tried to crank up the pressure with a solid forecheck, but the Washington defnese stood strong, and the second period ended with the teams tied 1-1.
The Maple Leafs got off to a strong start in the second period, as Phil Kessel collected a loose puck just over a minute in and roared in on Neuvirth, feeding in front to Joffrey Lupul, who buried it for  2-1 lead at 1:35.  Washington then came back relatively hard with some chances, but were not able to convert as again the Toronto defense was able to keep them at bay, aided by some great saves by Reimer.  The Caps were able to force Reimer to give up some rebounds, too, but just simply could not cash in off of them.  Inside of 11 games remaining, Washington got a great chance when a muffed icing pass was collected and fed in front to Brooks Laich, but the center put it just wide.  The Capitals kept coming at the Leafs, and were rewarded as John Erskine equalized when he laid into a slapshot from the point that deflected off Luke Schenn and into the net at 12:07. After some fireworks that included a fight between Mike Komisarek and Jason Chimera, the game settled into more back-and-forth action.  The Caps were awarded another power play with 4:26 remaining as Tim Brent was boxed for hooking, giving them a chance to take the lead for the first time.  Despite some great shots and chances, however, Reimer made some great saves to keep DC from claiming the advantage on a dominant shift.  As the period began to wind down, the Leafs got a couple great chances, but Michal Neuvirth was able to pull two nice saves out of his back pocket and the second period ended tied at two.
In the third period, both teams came out rather flat, particularly the Maple Leafs, and Ron Wilson needed to call a timeout to wake his squad up inside the first two minutes.  The Capitals slowly began to crank up their pressure, but were unable to convert as Jason Chimera in particular missed a golden opportunity for a breakway when he was unable to handle a pass.  As the period continued, however, Washington continued to press the Toronto defense, including a dominant shift by Alex Ovechkin, but Reimer was again there to bail out his defense with some miraculous saves.  Toronto then came back with some pressure of their own, but this time it was Michal Neuvirth's chance to impress as he made a nice stop on a Phil Kessel shot from the slot to keep the game tied. As the period progressed the Caps began to come at the Leafs once more with dominating shifts, but James Reimer continued to pull amazing saves out of nowhere.  Inside six minutes remaining, both teams began their final pushes, and Alex Ovechkin hit a post, but neither was able to break through.  Inside two minutes remaining, both teams sort of shut it down, and the game moved to overtime.
In the extra frame, the Leafs came out hard and got a good chance in the first minute, but Michal Neuvirth made a nice save with his pad to reject Phil Kessel. The Caps then came back with some rather half-hearted pressure, and the Toronto defense was able to reject it.  Late in the OT, Nicklas Backstrom took a delay of game penalty, but nothing came of it and the game moved to a shootout.
In first round the shootout, both Mikhail Grabovski and Nicklas Backstrom missed.  In the middle round, Nazem Kadri missed, as did Matt Hendricks.  The third round saw botn Nikolai Kulemin and Alex Ovechkin miss, sending it into bonus dangle time.  Mike Knuble then converted his chance, and the Caps skated out of the Air Canada Centre with a win.


Michal Neuvirth really battled in this one.  He got off to an awful start and was shaky at best for most of the game, but nailed it down late with some nice saves and then was not beaten in the shootout.  This sort of quells my worries about him struggling early in the week, but I still think that we see Semyon Varlamov get one more chance tomorrow.  This goalie battle is very fun to watch.

Alex Ovechkin scored his 300th goal tonight and boy was it a bomb.  Ovechkin got a great pass from Brooks Laich up top on the power play and just ripped it past Reimer, who had absolutely no chance.  Ovechkin has really looked good since coming back from his week off to heal an injury, and it is clear that the rest did him good.  This is pretty obvious, but I'll say it anyway: him rolling in the playoffs? Scary.

The defense held up remarkably well for the patchwork group that they have become.  Sean Collins didn't mess anything up, John Erskine scored goal, and even Jeff Schultz wasn't totally awful (even though he was a tree on the second Leafs goal).  Word on the street is that we may see Mike Green tomorrow night, and boy would that be a huge boost for the D corps.  Tom Poti is also looking better, but he's a wild card.  Whatever.  We win, we win.  No complaints.

The Capitals will fly back to DC tonight and are right back in action Wednesday night against the Panthers.  That game is scheduled for 7 P.M.

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