The top two teams in the Eastern Conference faced off for their last meeting in the regular season at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston and the game lived up to the hype going into overtime for the second straight time. Alexander Semin, who has really been performing at a top level lately and has one of the best shots in the NHL, blasted one past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas from outside the blue line to give Washington the win just 23 seconds into overtime, a 4-3 victory.
Washington jumped out quickly to an early 1-0 lead on Nicklas Backstrom’s 17th goal of the season at 3:36 of the first period on a rebound of a Semin shot when they broke in three on two on the power play with defenseman Mike Green. But shortly thereafter the Bruins answered back on Matt Hunwick’s fifth goal of the season off of a pretty pass from Marc Savard, who was questionable coming into to Saturday afternoon’s contest (shoulder). After the early fireworks the play settled down with Washington carrying much of the play, outshooting the Bruins 12-9 in the opening period.
The second period started like the first ended, a tight checking affair, but Washington then took the lead for the second time in the game at 8:48. Defenseman Milan Jurcina did a great job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone after some great cycling by Washington tired Boston out and he fed the pass to Matt Bradley who quickly gave it to Alexander Ovechkin, who was tapping his stick calling for the puck, and the Great #8 snapped a beauty by Thomas. But as they did in the first period, the Bruins struck back quickly, this time only 18 seconds later, when Washington defenseman Tom Poti misplayed a puck giving the Bruins a two on one break against Shaone Morrisonn who allowed Savard to pass the puck to an all alone streaking Phil Kessel, who easily put the puck past Jose Theodore.
The play opened up from there (Boston outshot Washington 13-12 in the 2nd period) and Theodore made his best save of the game on Patrice Bergeron when #37 appeared to have an easy open net goal on a three on two rush only to see #60 slide over and make the save. Then it was Thomas’ turn as he stopped Brooks Laich on a clean breakaway. After two periods it was two all.
In the third period the Caps received their fourth power play of the day and they got lucky, much like Boston did to win the game the last time the two teams met in Beantown. Washington took their third straight lead of the game on a goal by Tomas Fleischmann, who was trying to pass back door to Ovechkin, only to see the puck hit a Bruins skate and go between Thomas’ legs for a 3-2 Caps lead with just 2:20 gone. Shortly thereafter Washington almost went up by two goals when Eric Fehr broke in all alone on a breakaway but Thomas robbed him and then miraculously got his skate on the rebound while Fehr crashed into the boards and appeared to be in terrible pain when shown on the bench.
With the Caps clinging to the lead they reverted to some bad habits and started amassing penalties again and with Backstrom taking a hook at 14:52, after Washington had just killed off an interference call on Laich, Zdeno Chara tied to the game on a sharp angle shot that Theodore would like to have back as it squeezed under his right arm. Down the stretch both goalies made some good saves before the game headed to extra time.
Notes: The Florida Panthers, who will play the Caps on Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center at 3pm, were drilled, 7-2, by the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon. Craig Anderson played in net for Florida on Saturday so the Caps can expect to get goalie Tomas Vokoun. Washington is now 15 points ahead of the Panthers in the Southeast Division going into tomorrow’s game. They trail the Bruins by eight points in the Eastern Conference but are only up two points on the Devils for second place.
Post Game Analysis: This was a very big win for the Caps as they went 3-0-1 against the Bruins this season. Theodore was very good for the most part but he did give up a goal to Chara that he should have had, but he made numerous huge stops today. I am pretty tired about hearing, as JP at Japers Rink is also based on his posts, that the Caps can’t win the Stanley Cup with #60 in net. The list of dissenters include Craig Simpson, Neil Smith, and Elliott Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada Radio and Matthew Barnaby of ESPN, just to name some of the critics. I haven’t heard him say it yet, but I have a feeling that Kelly Hrudey, the best analyst on Hockey Night in Canada Radio, thinks that Theo can do it (Hrudey helped Theodore resurrect his career last season in Colorado). I happen to think the Caps can win the Stanley Cup with Theodore in net assuming GM George McPhee adds some defensive help (I want Karl Alzner up now to prepare for the playoffs and another physical defenseman added at the trade deadline- Chris Pronger??) because it seems that there continues to be defensive breakdowns with this current crew of blueliners. The second Boston goal was a colossal serious of mistakes that teams just can’t make in the post season.
With the Caps winning today and the Panthers losing I think Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will, and should, play Michal Nuevirth in goal tomorrow. The Panthers are NOT catching the Caps and the last thing Washington needs is to wear Theodore out or risk an injury in back to back contests. Neuvirth has played well and #60 needs to be saved for the post season. I will be very surprised if you don’t see #30 in net for the Caps tomorrow.
Speaking of Hockey Night in Canada radio, several of the analysts are on the Devils bandwagon as the team they pick to win the Eastern Conference in the playoffs. With goalie Martin Brodeur back and looking strong it is a trendy pick but we still have Wednesday’s trade deadline that could help decide who has the most powerful team heading into the playoffs. The Caps actually match up well with New Jersey right now because the Devils are not big up front. Currently the Flyers are the one team the Caps don’t match up well with due to some of their bigger forwards like Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, and Jeff Carter. Throw in Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, and a soon to be healthy Daniel Briere and you see why I don’t want the Caps to have to face Philadelphia in the second round or beyond (they won’t have to play them in the first round because the Flyers are finishing fourth overall while the Caps will be in the top 3).
Michael Nylander was once again a healthy scratch. Hopefully he is moved on Wednesday but I don’t see it happening due to his hefty salary plus he has two more years remaining on his contract.
Boston out shot the Caps 37-32 this afternoon. The Caps were 2 of 5 on the power play and the Bruins were 1 for 4. The Caps did a good job of staying out of the penalty box until the third period.
By the way, Semin has had a good year but it has been a rollercoaster (primarily due to injuries). However, the last five games or so he really looks like the guy who led the league in scoring the first month of this NHL season and was a big factor in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Semin has been strong on his skates and is back checking fairly well. He isn’t making the bad giveaway and even though he took a penalty today it wasn’t really awful, in fact, it was a very questionable call (but that is what you get in Boston from the zebras). If he plays like this consistently then the Caps will have to give him big money after next season before he becomes a free agent. He turns 25 years old on Tuesday and he continues to mature. Sergei Fedorov is a good influence and mentor for #28 and he needs that oversight right now. It is amazing how mature Ovechkin is at only 23 and he helps with Semin as well.