The Washington Capitals responded to their marathon overtime loss in a big way today with a huge 3-2 victory at home to knot the series at 2-2 with the New York Rangers heading back to MSG. They did it with the three keys you need to win in the playoffs; solid defense, stellar goaltending, and excellence for your stars.
In what has become a hallmark for the Dale Hunter Washington Capitals, the line of Jay Beagle, Troy Brouwer, and Matt Hendricks were a force defensively and led all forwards in ice time. Hendricks has become a fan favorite in DC as he made a key block late in the game and was a perfect nine for nine in the face off dot while playing his normal punishing style. And speaking of fan favorite, Holtby again put in a solid performance as both goals were defensive gaffes and he stood tall when it mattered late.
The play of the stars though is a welcome change to this run for the Capitals. Ovechkin scored early on a bad play by Chris Kreider despite playing only 15 minutes in the game. The slumping Backstrom potted the second goal with a rare physical play followed by a nasty wrist shot. And the annual playoff goat Mike Green scored maybe the biggest goal of his career late in the 3rd to ease the pain of Thursday morning. And not to be left out, Alex Semin made the play to help keep the puck in the zone to set up the game winner.
If one thing has been made clear this postseason it is that these are not your typical Washington Capitals. In years past, the heartbreaking triple OT loss to the New York Rangers in Game 3 would have spelled disaster for the Caps. Just as it did in the past when Pat Lafontaine, Petr Nedved, and Martin St Louis ended long games that ultimately ended the season for the Capitals. In the last few seasons, the Capitals would not have even been in this series as the team likely would have lost Game 7 to the Bruins. And no one would pick the much maligned Mike Green to deliver any goals in the postseason, let alone a clutch goal. But these are not your typical Washington Capitals.
There has been many words that have been used to describe the Washington Capitals over the years. Soft. Regular Season or Off Season Champions. Defensively lacking. Lazy. Pittsburgh South. But never resilient. These Capitals are resilient. Every time they have had a chance to wilt, they have answered with wins. Early OT goal by Chris Kelly against the unproven Holtby? Double OT winner by Backstrom. Suspension to Nick Backstrom? Gutty win in Boston. OT loss to Tyler Seguin with a chance to win series on home ice? Joel Ward knocks the Champs out on home ice in dramatic fashion. One goal games do not bother this team and neither does the media trying to make a story out of Ovechkin’s drop in ice time. They are defensively solid and do not panic no matter what the situation, following the lead of their unflappable coach and young goaltender. Players accept their roles and do whatever it takes to win. Dale Hunter has this team believing they can win and the team is buying in. Things will not get any easier in Game 5 as the Capitals will likely have to play without Alex Ovechkin in New York as there is a good chance he will be suspended for a high hit while leaving his feet on Girardi. This series is still up for grabs and neither team will go quietly. The Rangers have always been resilient and they will show up for Game 5 ready to take the driver seat again. But one things is clear. These are not your typical Washington Capitals and they are not ready for this surprise run to end.
Matt Ragghianti is an NHL writer for The Sports Blitz and can be contacted at MRagghianti@TheSportsBlitz.com