The Capitals are alive and well in their best-of-7 series with the New York Rangers after a 4-0 thumping of Sean Avery and Co. tonight at Madison Square Garden. The Caps trail 2-games-to-1, with Game 3 set for Wednesday night in New York.
Monday night’s win had plenty of storylines.
First, Washington once again went with rookie Simeon Varlamov in net and he responded with 33 saves en route to the whitewashing. Jose Theodore has played his last game in goal for Washington in THIS series, that’s a certainty. I’m sure Graig in Parkville or my hockey pal Eric will remind all of you that way back in November I was right about Theodore. At this stage in his career, he’s not a goaltender you can rely on in the post-season. Either Bruce Boudreau is as dumb as me — or I’m as smart as Boudreau. Either way, Theodore is out and Varlamov is in and the Caps are back in the series. By the way, my guess is a few of the players helped orchestrate Theodore’s ouster after his sub-par Game 1 performance in Washington, a 4-3 loss. But what do I know?
Alexander Semin scored twice in the first period for Washington and Nicklas Backstrom had 3 assists including a great behind the back whip to Tom Poti for a late “rub-it-in” goal as the Caps were efficient on offense and collectively energetic in the defensive end. Even Alex Ovechkin made a nice defensive play late in the 2nd period…he coughed up the puck at his blue line, then made a diving poke check 15-feet from his net that saved a sure fire breakaway scoring opportunity for the Blue shirts. Defense wins championships, after all.
My hunch is that the Rangers won’t win another game in this series. At some point, probably on Wednesday, Ovechkin will win at least one game in this series by himself. Held goal-less again on Monday night in the 4-0 win, “The Great 8” is due for a breakout game. When Tiger Woods doesn’t make a birdie in the first 12 holes, you know there will be fireworks over the final 6 holes because he can’t play 18 holes without making some noise. The same goes for Ovechkin. It won’t be long before he goes crazy with one of his 3-goal games and once he breaks that seal, forget about it.
Another reason the Rangers might be “2 and done” is because of that nutjob Sean Avery. I’m privately hoping John Tortorella continues to insert Avery in the lineup, especially on Wednesday night for Game 4. At this stage, all Avery is doing is hurting the Rangers. All he did in Game 3 was rack up 3 minor penalties and then got himself booted from the game in the waning moments for elbowing Varlamov after the whistle. It’s one thing to buzz all over the ice and make a pest of yourself and get the other team pissed off at you. Claude Lemieux had a Master’s Degree in Agitation during his heyday with the Devils — but he also contributed on the offensive side and was a prime time post-season player. Avery stinks. My gut tells me he’s probably not well thought of in the Rangers locker room right about now. A likely scenario would be one of the team’s veterans going up to him tonight while he’s icing down and saying, “Hey, chief…you thinking about actually trying to play hockey in this series or are you just content on being one of the Hanson brothers?” In any case, I hope beyond hope they don’t bench him for Wednesday’s game 4. The Caps have a much better chance of winning if Avery plays. He’s not a distraction to the Caps. He’s a distraction to the Rangers.
Road wins are vital in the playoffs. New York had two of them on their side of the ledger and could have, for all intents and purposes, closed out the series tonight with a win in Game 3. Instead, the Caps blazed out of the gate – Semin nearly scored eight seconds into the game – and the Rangers looked listless and disinterested while Washington played as if their season was on the line…which, it was. Now, Washington gets the chance to stack together two straight road triumphs and would move the series back to D.C. with all the momentum if they can pull off a Wednesday night Game 4 victory.
I think the Rangers have won their final game of the ’09 playoffs. Washington won’t lose again in this series.
Meanwhile, the decisions are easy for Bruce Boudreau after tonight’s 4-0 battering. Stay with Varlamov in goal, keep preaching good team defense and give Ovechkin a hug and tell him to keep shooting. It’s all in the player’s hands after that.