Prior to Friday night's game against Tampa Bay, many Caps fans - myself included- were wondering when the boys would find their scoring touch to compliment their much improved defensive work and their stellar 86.3 percentage on the PK. Turns out, this weekend was a winner if you tend to sport Capitals' red, white and blue as Washington stunned the Lightning on Friday and shut out the hated Penguins in a Winter Classic rematch (and a bloody messy one, at that).
In Friday's fisticuff-filled 5-2 win against the Lightning, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom found their mojo with both players recording four-point games. The joyous occasion marked the first time that both players had four points in the same game. Caps fans (my little brother included - he was sitting directly behind the Bolt's penalty box in his #8 Caps sweater) were also treated to something we haven't seen in far too long - a Brooks Laich crash-the-net lamp lighting. Semyon Varlamov and the multitude of Capitals players clogging the neutral zone stymied the Lightning's offense and made for a miserable night for Steven Stamkos and pals. Of course this rivalry wouldn't earn up to its name without a bout between Matt Hendricks and Steve Downie - those two duked it out as did Matt Bradley and Adam Hall. The role player that he is, Hendricks got under the skin of Dwayne Roloson by invading his space in a big way, and Roly proceeded to pound Hendricks in the back of the head in frustration. At the end of the night, Roloson was still frustrated as he and his mates could not contain the Caps rejuvenated offense.
Friday's win was key for a team that has struggled to find the back of the net lately and all were hoping they'd carry that regained confidence into today's Super Bowl Sunday showdown with the Penguins. Of course the Pens were without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (who suffered a torn ACL and MCL) but they've been winning their games without their scoring leaders. Brooks Laich got the party started with second goal in as many games - tallying late in the first period. It was your typical gritty, get in the goalie's grill type goal that we've always seen from Laich and it's nice to see him back on the score board! The first period lead came at a price though, as Mike Green was hit in the head and bloodied by a Brooks Orpik shot that went high - glad to report that Green seems to be okay despite not returning to the game.
Marcus Johansson scored a beautiful shorty in the second period to give the Caps a 2-0 lead. Mike Knuble, who has now scored a total of 30 goals - including today's empty netter- against the Penguins, took a high stick to the face (which drew no call) and returned the ice bloody but determined. History repeated itself in the third period when things between these two enemies turned even uglier. David Steckel dropped the gloves against recent AHL call-up Tim Wallace, most likely in direct regards to Steckel's unintentional hit on Crosby on January 1. And Matt Cooke was being the typical - well, Matt Cooke- meaning that I can't say what I truly mean on this family-friendly forum. In his usual thugnasty manner, Cooke went straight for Ovechkin near the end of the period and sent the Great8 flying with a thunderous knee-on-knee hit. The resulting free-for-all saw Ovi, Backstrom and Shultz go after #24 and HM is sure there would have been mass chaos had the refs not gotten control so quickly.
Thankfully it was the Caps who got the last word in where it mattered - on the board- as the grizzled Mike Knuble nailed it down with the empty net goal. A big day for Michal Neuvirth as well who recorded 22 saves and notched the shut out! So the boys can now relax and enjoy a few cold ones as they take in tonight's Super Bowl - a nice end to a winning weekend for the Caps.
On another note, check out this fun interview of yours truly on a new blog from a fellow hockey mom, Sylvia, who is still digging out from last week's snow in the Windy City!
Finally, a sad farewell and best wishes to the Capitals' Media Relations Director Nate Ewell, who is leaving this week for a new post within the College Hockey ranks. He will be truly missed by all in the mainstream and new media alike and his shoes will be hard to fill!