Saturday, April 23, 2011

Capitals Head for Round Two with Solid Win over Rangers

Caps fans welcomed the boys home to Verizon Center with a sea of red and chants of “We are louder” as they cheered the Capitals on in a potential close out Game Five.

The Rangers opened the contest with their thug line of Avery, Prust and Boyle against top line of Ovechkin, Backstrom and the always dashing Brooks Laich, who was tapped to replace the still ailing Mike Knuble. Dan Girardi blocked a sizzler from Marco Sturm as the Rags tried to elude an onslaught of shots by the Capitals in the first five minutes of the opening period.

Green scored  a power play goal from a wide angle at 5:59 as Dan Girardi slid into New Yorks goal crease to try and deflect yet another shot in a brave effort to help his goaltender out. After the goal, the pesky Brandon Dubinsky started an all-out melee in front of the net. Ovi and Arnott were on the side of the ice hugging in celebration, but quickly sped over to help out their mates in the line brawl. Penalties were doled out to Semin and Laich for the Caps and Drury and Dubinsky for New York. Vinny Prospal joined his fellow Blueshirts in the bin after he decided to mouth off to an official and drew a bench minor.

At around the six minute mark, Mike Green courageously laid out the body to block a shot from Matt Gilroy and appeared to take a puck in the head (screws from his helmet went flying on impact) – eerily reminiscent of the injury he suffered against the Pens in February that kept him sidelined for so long. Both Girardi and Green emulated the intensity that is the NHL playoffs – sacrificing the body and playing through injury for the ultimate goal. Green went off to the dressing room while Girardi (who went missing after the mid-period scrum) returned to New York’s bench with about a minute left in the opening period. Meanwhile, Marc Staal’s frustrations of being unable to contain the Caps (shots were flying from everywhere, though not making the net), were evident as he threw Matt Hendricks into the side of the net after a whistle. The Caps directed 13 shots at Lundqvist while Neuvirth stopped all six from New York.
End of First Period: Capitals 1 – Rangers 0

At 7:04 of the second period, Alex Ovechkin blew by the Rangers' defense (specifically Marc Staal) to net an absolutely lovely backhanded goal, sure to make highlight reels on sportscasts across North America. The Rangers’ frustration reached the boiling point as Brandon Prust made a late hit on big John Erskine less than a minute after Ovi’s goal. The Caps were not able to convert on the man advantage.

It was the home team down a man at the ten-minute marker when Matt Bradley got whistled for interference. The penalty unit took care of business but things got ugly in front of Michal Neuvirth. After the whistle, uber-pest Sean Avery took a blatant slash on Neuvy’s hand prompting Brooks Laich to step in. In the ensuing scrum, Avery ripped off his glove and yipped at the ref “He bit me” when we all really know he just wanted to show off his freshly lacquered playoff nails. John Erskine took the second Capitals penalty when he annihilated Brandon Prust in the corner and was slapped with interference. The great news is that Mike Green returned to the Caps bench towards the end of the period, even though he saw no action.
End of Second Period: Capitals 2 – Rangers 0

The Caps continued to do a good job of keeping New York hemmed in their zone during the final period as they held onto a 2-0 lead with 20 minutes separating them from advancing to the second round. The Rangers did have a few odd break outs with Brian Boyle and Erik Christensen having the best scoring chances that were absolutely stonewalled by Michal Neuvirth. Neuvy has been stellar and came into the game having played the second-most minutes among goaltenders in the playoffs (289:11).

It was Alex Semin who stuck the fork in the visitors and added the insurance the boys needed to go forward. His line mate Marcus Johansson evaded Dan Girardi and Semin picked up MoJo’s cross-ice pass and proceeded to roof it over Lundqvist, sending an already jubilant Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy. With their playoff hopes quickly fading and their goal tender on the bench for the extra man, the Rangers had a solid last minute shot to get on the board from Derek Stephan. But Neuvy made yet another incredible save in an attempt to preserve the shut out. Despite Neuvy's extraordinary performance, the Rangers finally lit the lamp courtesy of Wojtek Wolski with under a minute left in the game. Tempers flared once again as Ruslan Fedotenko tried to take on John Erskine.

Final Score: Capitals 3 - Rangers 1

The Caps shook the monkey of last season’s first round exodus off their collective backs and celebrated the hard-earned victory with their fabulous fans. The new emphasis on 'defense first' hit a few bumps in the road during the season but was key to victory against a hardworking and physical New York team. Speaking of Rangers, former Ranger and longtime Capital's enforcer Donald Brashear is focusing on a new career path where he can employ his finely-tuned "work skills."

In the meantime, Hockey Mom is off to celebrate this fabulous win with a glass of “red” wine as we await our next opponent and give the boys some much needed rest. Please join me in a toast – to the Caps!

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