Ovechkin Does it Again!
The Great #8 did it once again scoring the game winner in dramatic and spectacular fashion on Friday night as the Caps won the opening tilt of their first round playoff series by rallying from a 4-2 end of second period deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Ovechkin’s first ever playoff goal was a thing of wonder as he knocked the puck away from Flyers defensemen Jaroslav Modry, then as Philly defensemen Lasse Kukkonen went to play the puck in front of his own net, Alexander the Great lifted Kukkonen’s stuck, stole the puck, faked Flyers goalie Martin Biron down to the ice, and then deposited the puck top shelf for the game winner with just four and half minutes left in regulation. Here is a link in case you haven’t seen the goal or want to see it again:
Ovechkin is absolutely incredible! I’ve been following or working for the Caps since their inception in 1974-75 and Friday’s 5-4 win was among the best Caps games I’ve ever watched in person. Back in the Capital Centre days that place could get rocking but there was nothing like the scene at the Verizon Center for Game 1 with almost the entire crowd decked out in red (except for a few hundred Flyers fans) screaming their heads off most of the game. It was an absolute thrill for an old school Caps fan like me to attend and see the passion that is becoming Washington hockey. With Ovechkin I can finally see a day in the future where perhaps this team could sell the building out every night. But that is another story for another time.
Back to the action on Friday, as predicted in this blog last week this will be a very tough series and the thing the Caps will struggle the most with is clearing the front of their own net for goalie Cristobal Huet. The Flyers first goal by Cap killer Vaclav Prospal was the direct result of a Scott Hartnell screen and the fourth goal, one that in the past might have doomed Washington for the night and possibly the series, was the result of Hartnell, Mike Richards, and Daniel Briere charging the net on a power play (I thought Hartnell might have been interfering illegally in the crease but it happened so fast it was hard for the referees to call it).
The Caps defensive pair of Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn also badly misplayed a Flyers three-on-two rush in the second period that allowed Prospal to walk down the slot and beat Huet for the third Flyers goal. Green and Morrisonn needed to force Prospal more and make him pass the puck to one of the wings to give Huet a better angle on a shot. Morrisonn was back for the first time since injuring himself in the win over Carolina on April 1st and did not look 100% but he played over 20 minutes and hopefully will improve on Sunday. Steve Eminger played in place of the injured Jeff Schultz and was out of position on Briere’s game tying goal in the second period following the end of a Caps power play. Eminger logged only 10 plus minutes on Friday and hopefully Schultz will be back on Sunday. Washington’s defense needs to be more solid in its own end going forward in this series.
On the positive side, Green finally scored some goals again (he had only 1 in his previous nine games) with his two third period tallies tying the game at four. Sergei Federov, who continues to excel on a line with Alex Semin and Matt Cooke, made a beautiful no look behind the back pass to Green back door for the third goal that got things going for Washington in the final period. Green’s second goal, which tied the contest, was a beautiful slap shot that came after Flyers forward Patrick Thoresen took an initial Green power play blast in the groin area and was laying on the ice in obvious pain. The officials, however, followed proper protocol and did not stop the game. This non-whistle was supported by Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.
“I know in the past there have been players that have laid there and rolled around trying to get a stoppage in play when they’ve just been hit on the shin,” Paul Holmgren said. “It’s a tough call. I didn’t have a problem with it last night and, thinking about it, I still don’t have a problem. The ref has to make a judgment call in a split second, and they made the call they made. Obviously it cost us a goal. I don’t believe that’s the reason we lost the game.”
Luckily Thoresen is not seriously hurt and may actually play in Game 2 according to the Flyers.
Also playing very well for Washington, after a month’s absence (due to a broken finger), was forward Dave Steckel who scored the Caps second goal in the second period on a beautiful top shelf shot on Biron. Biron has a weak glove hand so you will continue to see Washington trying to exploit that weakness. Steckel also did a very good job of killing penalties all night. In addition to Ovechkin’s goal and assist on Friday, the Great #8 doled out eight hits including some big ones in the last minute when Washington held off the final Flyer surge.
Game two is Sunday afternoon at 2pm at the Verizon Center.
Chris Chelios played in his NHL record 248th playoff game today in a Detriot Red Wings victory over Nashville. Detroit won game two, 4-2, and now leads the series two games to none.
Flames Coach Mike Keenan was upset about the officiating in Thursday night’s 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks that evened that series at one game apiece. Calgary was assessed 24 penalty minutes to only 12 for the Sharks. At one point in the second period the Flames were whistled for seven straight minor penalties and thanks to goalie Mikka Kiprusoff (41 saves on the night) killed off several five on three power plays by San Jose before Torrey Mitchell’s five on four power play goal sealed the Flames night. While some of the calls may have been ticky-tacky I thought the Flames played stupidly and deserved the fate they received. For example, the David Hale cross check of Mike Grier in the neutral zone was a boneheaded and selfish penalty. Calgary must be smarter going forward. It is one thing to send a physical message but it is another to take bad penalties and put your team shorthanded. Game three of this physical series is Sunday night in Calgary.
Speaking of not liking the officiating, Devils Coach Brent Sutter had good cause for being upset with several no calls against the Rangers in Friday night’s 2-1 Rangers win that put New York in a commanding two games to none series lead. However, Sutter should look no further than the lack of scoring by his team and the uncharacteristic bad goals that Martin Brodeur gave up to Ryan Callahan in game one and Jaromir Jagr in game two. Game three of this series is Sunday night at 7pm. Clearly my pick of New Jersey in seven games is not looking good right now.
Don’t look now but the Dallas Stars are up two games to none on the defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks after Saturday’s night second consecutive win in Anaheim. Dallas has played extremely well and the Ducks look nothing like the team that went 20-5-1 after Teemu Selanne returned to the team late in the season. I would like nothing more than to see the Stars knock off the Ducks even though I picked Anaheim to easily win this series.
One non-NHL playoff note: The Tampa Bay Lightning won the NHL’s draft lottery and will select first at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa in June. The Lightning have already made it known that they will likely select forward Steven Stamkos of Sarnia from the Ontario Hockey League. Lightning GM Jay Feaster, in an interview with Hockey Night in Canada Radio host Jeff Marek on Sirius 122 this past week, said that Stamkos is ready for the NHL next season and should help fill the scoring void left by the Tampa trades of Brad Richards to Dallas and Prospal to the Flyers.