With the Chicago Blackhawks leading the Washington Capitals 3-0 after two periods the NBC announcers said that the Hawks were making a statement that they were serious Stanley Cup contenders. 23 minutes and 10 seconds of hockey later it was the Alexander Ovechkin-less Caps who made the bigger statement as they rallied with three third period goals and then Nicklas Backstrom won it for Washington, 4-3, on a beautiful move and shot in overtime. Ovechkin was kicked out 12:16 into this contest on an arguable major boarding call against Brian Campbell so Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s crew had to dig deep and find a way to win in a hostile building without the best player on the planet. Washington, who outshot the Hawks 11-1 in the 3rd period in the come back, are now over the century mark in points at 46-14-9 (101 points) and they have a five point lead over the San Jose Sharks in the race for the President’s Trophy (San Jose has two games in hand going into Sunday night’s game vs. Anaheim).
Here’s my thoughts and analysis on this big victory for the Capitals:
Okay, so just how good is Nicklas Backstrom and how much is it going to cost GM George McPhee to sign this incredible player long term??!! My response: As great as I think he is, he is even better and I don’t care what the price will be, you have to pay the man. My gut tells me #19 will get around $6.5 to $7M a season. Ovechkin is the best player in the league but Backstrom, in my book, is easily in the top 10. He is so strong on his skates and he has amazing hands as evidenced by the skill and quick release he showed on his two tallies today. All of us in the MD-DC-VA area who watch Backstrom game in and game out know how good he is and today all of North America witnessed the brilliance that is #19.
More Backstrom: On the shift where he scores the winning goal, the young center actually turned the puck over at his own blue line, and it was a bad giveaway, but instead of pouting, lollygagging, or taking a penalty that another highly skilled forward on the team might have done in that situation, #19 back checked hard and helped to break up any opportunity Chicago had of getting a scoring chance. Then the super Swede took the puck the other way and made Olympian Brent Seabrook look like an orange road cone and Hawks goalie Antti Niemi appear to be nothing more than the shooter tutor to close out a thrilling Capitals comeback victory.
Both Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire said that the major penalty call on the Great #8 was incorrect and the hit on #51, at most, was a double minor for boarding. Boudreau was clearly incensed at the call and told referees Dan O’Halloran and Frederick L’Ecuyer what he thought of their decision (we can all read lips, right?). The good news is Ovechkin won’t be eligible for an automatic suspension as he has gone 41 games without a major for boarding (h/t Nate Ewell) but the bad news is Campbell is hurt. In addition, Caps fans will likely have to hear the words “reckless” and “out of control” once again from some biased members of the media. The Great #8 was finishing his check on the Hawks D-man after he had released the puck but right as Ovie was hitting him, Campbell turned and with the force at which both were going plus the size of Ovechkin something had to give, and unfortunately #51 went flying awkwardly into the boards. To me it is two for boarding but as Milbury correctly pointed out between periods (did I just really say Milbury and correct in the same sentence?), the officials overreacted, likely due to all of the recent uproar over hits to the head (which this one was not). My take on this one: if the David Koci hit from behind on Mike Green is not a suspendable offense than how the heck is this Ovechkin check worthy of one? But the Caps and their fans are now at the mercy of the league office.
Speaking of rules and officials, Dave Steckel showed today why no touch icing doesn’t have a place in the NHL as his hustle led to the tying goal. #39 made a super play behind the Hawks net and hit a perfectly positioned Eric Fehr in front, who snapped the puck by Niemi for his 18th goal of the season, just 13 seconds after the Great Backstrom had just made this a one score game (which came as a Washington 5 on 3 power play was expiring).
After Brooks Laich legally finished his check on Patrick Kane and sent him flying into the net late in the first period, Hawks Coach Joel Quennville sent out pesky Adam Burish to try and set a tone for his club. Burish proceeded to attempt to run Green through the boards from behind in a much worse fashion than the Ovechkin hit (due to the intent) and then #37 threw an elbow and two cheap cross checks yet only received two penalty minutes from the two zebras??!!
I can’t fault Jose Theodore for any of the Chicago goals and he did make some good saves in this contest. However, after the first period he didn’t have to do much as it was all Caps - they outshot Chicago 21-11 from that point on (30-23 overall for the game). The second Hawks goal came on a 5 on 3 courtesy of the Ovechkin major and a really bad penalty, but correct call, on Alexander Semin. Semin, who had a shorthanded breakaway, tried about eight too many moves, did not get a good shot off, and then went crashing into Niemi to receive a well deserved goalie interference penalty. #28 has to release the puck sooner and make sure he takes a better angle on his way past the goal. Frankly, he looked almost as foolish as he did in last Monday’s shootout loss against Dallas, except this time he couldn’t blame a rut in the ice for his fall on this play in Chicago.
With all of the lineup shuffling that has been going on lately by Boudreau, I would surmise that the 12 forwards and six defenseman that played today are your post season game one starters, assuming everyone is healthy. The only change could be Scott Walker inserted for one of the 4th line guys, depending on the Capitals first round opponent. Walker, Brendan Morrison, Quintin Laing, John Erskine, and Tyler Sloan were the scratches in Chicago, for those keeping score at home.
The Hawks first goal was scored on a 4 on 4 play off of a face-off on a sequence that found Jonathan Toews all alone in front. My first reaction on the play was where was the other defenseman playing with Tom Poti? On replay Joe Corvo goes with his man off the drop of the puck and Steckel did not cover for him. Eddie Olcyzk of NBC criticized #39 but given the system the Caps play perhaps #77 should have been pointed out as the guy at fault? Given that he is just 10 days into the Washington system, I would give him a break on that one if he was really supposed to “stay home” on the play. Next time I get the chance I will ask Boudreau about that play to get his take on who should have been doing what in that situation.
Notes: Chicago crushed the Caps, 30-19, in face-offs…Green had over 30 minutes of ice time, added two assists, and was +2…the Capitals have three more games on the road this week: at Florida on Tuesday, at Carolina on Thursday, and at Tampa on Saturday.