How Bad Do the Caps Want it?

April 19, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, who trail the New York Rangers two games to none in their best of seven playoff series, will play game three on Monday night at 7pm at a sure to be rocking Madison Square Garden (viewing party at Silver Spring Mining Company in Perry Hall). The Caps have had good efforts in games one and two and it wasn’t enough so now we’ll find out how bad they really want to win in the playoffs. As we’ve seen so far, having more skill than the other team doesn’t necessarily translate into victories in the post-season. Bruce Boudreau’s crew is going to have to become more gritty and determined than ever in game three to find ways to get around or through the Rangers defense to get more traffic and gather rebound shots on Henrik Lundqvist, who has saved 67 of 70 shots in two games.

It has been well documented that most of Washington chances have been on the perimeter and this issue has been one that Boudreau has talked about all season. We’ve seen this hockey club have good nights where they go hard to the net and get rewarded, but lately they have not been doing it. Can anyone remember the last time a Washington player, other than Alexander Ovechkin, drew an interference or roughing penalty from driving hard to the crease?

I keep hearing the Caps defensemen talk about how the rules make it easier for opposing forwards to get to the front of their net. So my question is how come it seems so hard for the Washington players to get there? Are they afraid of getting hit? This isn’t the NHL pre lock-out when a cross check to the back or a slash to the legs was the norm when heading to the spot directly in front of the blue paint. The rules are set up for forwards to have an advantage now so the Caps players need to show some more heart, grit, and toughness and get there. Frankly, Washington needs more guys to be like or even better than Brooks Laich has been most of the season in going to crease and scoring the ugly goal. Chris Clark is a player who can do that but word out of Kettler Ice Plex today is, although he has been cleared to play, that he isn’t ready yet (that is what Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post is reporting).

On the defensive side of the rink, Caps players need to be more physical, be willing to block shots, and do whatever is necessary to prevent the tap in goal like we saw on Saturday (the Caps need to do a better of job defending two on one breaks. I’ve watched the Ryan Callahan goal five times now and can’t believe how poorly Tom Poti played it. Poti had one job, to cut off the pass, and he didn’t get it done. Marcus Naslund was not going to be able score from where he was so #3 had to leave him to goalie Simeon Varlamov).

As for Washington’s goaltending situation, right now it doesn’t matter whether Boudreau plays Jose Theodore or Varlamov in game three because if you don’t score any goals you can’t win. I’ve heard Boudreau and the players mention that Carolina was down two games to none against  Montreal in 2006 and ended up winning the Stanley Cup that year. That is all well and good but I’m willing to bet that a big reason for their turnaround was a dedication to playing playoff hockey, which means paying a PHYSICAL price to get results.

How many of the Caps are feeling banged up or bruised right now? If you aren’t feeling any pain than you aren’t doing what is necessary to win, just ask any player with a Stanley Cup ring. When I hear stories about those great Islanders teams from the early 1980’s, the Oilers teams from the eighties, and the Penguins clubs from the early 1990’s, I always hear those players talk about playing through the injuries and battle scars that they endured during their ride to the Cup. Is anyone on the Caps bruised from fighting through the Ranger defense yet? I doubt it because I haven’t seen a dedication to doing what it takes to win in the playoffs. Going forward the rest of these playoffs Washington’s team motto needs to be: If you aren’t hurting, you aren’t trying hard enough. It is that simple.

At this point, the Caps players shouldn’t need Boudreau or anyone in the media to call them out to play with more heart, grit, toughness, determination, intestinal fortitude, passion, or whatever you want to call it. I see plenty of room for improvement from every player on that roster right now and if anyone wants to whine about playing time, they have no case, because if Boudreau sees production he will reward the player(s) who gets it done. So each player needs to look in the mirror, hold themselves accountable, and find that extra drive and sacrifice himself for the good of the team. And if these players can’t come together and do that in these next several games then they provide an easy answer for the people running this team: these guys can’t collectively get it done and it is time to make some serious changes going forward.