Sports Fix, The Features

Caps Dropped By Bolts In Overtime of Game 2

Photo courtesy of
‘Ovechkin Tosses First Star Puck to Crowd’
courtesy of ‘clydeorama’

A group of reporters huddled around a television in the press room at Verizon Center on Sunday night after the Capitals had lost Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs semifinals 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime. Deadlines momentarily forgotten, the drama of the night swirled up in wonder and emotion that has nothing to do with hockey.

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead.

Normally this would be the spot where I lay on the analytics. The logic of how the Caps have let two games at Verizon Center slip away after dominating much of the play only to come up short handed and staring the end of their season in the face. But, hockey is a game played by grown men. In the grand scheme of things, it is almost a trivial pursuit.

At the same time, it is anything but.

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Sports Fix, The Features

Fire Missing As Caps Dropped By Lightning in Game 1

Photo courtesy of
‘Rock the Red’
courtesy of ‘theqspeaks’

There was something missing at Verizon Center on Friday night. It just did not feel right, neither with the fans in the stands or the Caps on the ice. All evening felt like one of those awkward dates where you end up holding hands because that is what you are supposed to do, not because that is what you want to do.

And the Caps lost. The Lightning played solid and steady for most of the game, did not panic when Washington scored two goals and dominated for a 25 minute stretch through the second period and used a little luck to beat the Caps 4-2 to take a one game to none lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“You can’t play river hockey and I am looking at this saying this isn’t the way we play. It was reverting back to an older day,” said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau.

It was like Verizon Center was asleep. The fans were loud when they were supposed to be loud, cheered when prompted, joined the chants when it was appropriate. About 15 minutes before Game 1 puck drop I found myself standing in the press box saying “this is a 7 o’clock start, right?” The stands were only about 40% full. It eventually filled out and the pre-game was very loud but once the lights came back on, the crowd zoned out. They played with their thunder-sticks and cowbells because it was what they are supposed to do.

I mean, who are these people?

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Sports Fix, The Features

How To Quench Lightning

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_1717.jpg’
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

In the NHL the rule is that the warmer it gets, the harder the competition becomes.

It is not just a matter of increased skill from the opponent. There is no doubt that the Tampa Bay Lightning have a lot more talent than the New York Rangers, but with increased intensity and stress, teams resort to all sorts of desperate measures.

To beat the Lightning and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in the Bruce Boudreau era, the Caps are going to have to learn to cope.

Take a look at the other playoff series that have just been completed. In the Eastern Conference, every team except the Caps that moved on had to come from behind in the series. The Flyers had to figure out All-World goaltender Ryan Miller and their own shortcomings in net. They played to their strengths, kept the high-energy forecheck on the Sabres and eventually Buffalo wilted because their strength – defensive traps in front of Miller – could not cope. Boston lost the first to game, at home no less, to Montreal because the Canadiens took a lead in each game and went into a 1-4 zone and started using their bodies as rubber scotch guards. The Bruins knew they had the talent to get to Habs’ netminder Carey Price, played physical but in control and took out their arch-nemesis in a dramatic seven games.
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Sports Fix, The Features

We are louder: Caps usher Rangers out of the playoffs in Game 5

Photo courtesy of
‘Washington Capitals home opener 2009 – 8′
courtesy of ‘Garyisajoke’

Karl Alzner got a tweet this morning from a Rangers fan forecasting a repeat of history and certain Caps demise.

So, Josh Bennett (@JoshBenn80), how are you feeling right about now?

For the first time in the Bruce Boudreau era, the Caps have close out a playoff series in less than seven games. Did anyone think that was possible?

It happened

Washington took care of business against the Rangers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs quarterfinals 3-1 to take the series four games to one. The Caps now await the winners of the Buffalo/Philadelphia, Boston/Montreal series’ or the Tampa Bay/Pittsburgh series to see who they play next.

If Buffalo (the No. 7 seed) upsets the Flyers, then the Caps get the Sabres in the semifinals. If Philly comes back and wins, the Caps could play any team from the No. 6 Canadiens (currently tied at two games apiece heading into Game 5 in Boston Saturday night), No.5 Lightning or No. 4 Pittsburgh. Really, whatever is the lowest seed heading into the next round and the Sabres, with a three games to two advantage, look like they could be it.

“There is going to be a little bit of relief. I mean, we are completely different team this year and the whole circumstance is different,” Alzner said. “It is nice to get a round out of the way because I got a tweet, I think this morning, saying something about ‘are you guys ready to choke again and lose.’ I was like, ‘hopefully we will show you’ and now that that is done I am pretty happy about that.”

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Sports Fix, The Features

Good Sasha: Caps prove they can take the Rangers in Game 1

Photo courtesy of
‘Alex and Alex’
courtesy of ‘jakarachuonyo’

Quit holding your breath.

That is what playoff hockey does to NHL fans. Without realizing it, they are sitting on the edge of their seats, swearing at the refs, yelling at the ice, screaming at their TVs.

Then, overtime comes and it is so intense that it seems like they have completely lost their senses.

The Caps did not lose their senses on Wednesday night, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Rangers. They could have, it would have been very easy to say ‘Henrik Lundqvist is a freaking monster, we are completely snake bitten, it is all happening over again.’

Washington held strong and were rewarded, taking the game 2-1 for a one game to none series lead as Alexander Semin scored for the first time in 15 playoff contests, racing a rocket from the slot to the back of the net in overtime.

“I think we were a little flappable,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We weren’t getting anywhere and it wasn’t until that last 10 minutes where we said on the bench ‘OK, let’s start sending the defensemen, taking more chances and going after it.’”

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Sports Fix, The Features

Caps vs. Rangers: What will it take to escape the first round?

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_4766.jpg’
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

If there are two days during the regular season when Caps were at their lowest, they were probably December 12th and February 25th. Those two days the Capitals, having dealt with recent struggles, were not just shut out by the New York Rangers …

They were buried.

New York beat Washington 7-0 in December and 6-0 in February while taking the season series from the Caps 3-1-0 (or 1-2-1 from the Washington perspective). The Rangers outscored Washington 17-6 and basically pestered the eventual top team in the Eastern Conference through four games.

Perhaps this is not the playoff matchup the Caps were hoping for. Continue reading

Sports Fix, The Features

What will it take for the Caps to win the Cup?

Photo courtesy of
’2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs Logo’
courtesy of ‘jpowers65′

Are you ready to rock?

The 2010-11 Washington Capitals regular season was just a long exercise in patience. It was never supposed to be a definitive statement of what the Caps are or where the franchise stands in the pantheon of almost-great NHL hockey teams.

If anything, it was an exercise in patience, humility, endurance, creative problem solving and transformation. The Caps were like a caterpillar that turned into a butterfly.

Washington started off the season a high-octane offense-first juggernaut – flying, big scoring, finesse and fragile. This was the version of the Caps that the fans had come to know and love and be continually frustrated by in the playoffs. Up until the last weekend of November, the MVP of the Caps was probably Alexander Semin. If you even thought of Semin as the MVP of this team now, they would laugh you out of the Green Turtle. Then there were the larval stages, December through most of March, where the Caps suffered through the changes of playing a different style of hockey, relying less on scoring (and scoring a lot less), integrating new players from outside the organization and folding in the prospects to the already young base of Alexander Ovechkin, Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green.

The Caps learned to play good defense. Not just the defensemen, but the entire team has gotten better on the back check, they are still aggressive on the forecheck if a bit tempered, and have the ability to trap and keep shots coming from the wings as opposed to the slot. It has not been a perfect transition – the inner offensive juggernaut wants to be free – but it has been effective enough where Washington was able to rally out of its doldrums, find some of it old offense and emerge the butterfly as the Eastern Conference top seed heading into the playoffs. The spinning wheels of waiting for the second season, the real season, are finished.

Now it is time to fly.

What do the Caps need to do to succeed in the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup? Here are five items that will be important for Washington to get over its frustration and make a run deep into spring.

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Sports Fix, The Features

Capitals revamped defense: Stanley Cup worthy?

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_6246.jpg’
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

Nine straight games.

Pretty good for a team that folk said was in complete disarray and out of the Stanley Cup picture three months ago. The Caps current streak now exceeds its lowest point of the season, the eight-game losing streak in December that led up to the Winter Classic. The highest high is now greater than the lowest low.

And Washington is looking to get higher.

The questions have been about the offense. Why haven’t they been scoring? What is wrong with Ovie? Traditionally though, with this group and this coach, scoring has not been a problem and the Caps are showing signs of getting out of the doldrums that plagued them throughout the middle of the season in the scoring department. The defense this year has been surprisingly competent in front of young, solid goaltending. Through the nine-game win streak, Washington has given up 13 goals for an impressive 1.44 goals against per game.

The question becomes – can these new defensive dynamics lead the Caps to the Promised Land?

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capitals hockey, The Daily Feed, WTF?!

Heartbreaker in Chinatown

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_9124′
courtesy of ‘jessie.whittle’

As I exited the Verizon Center this evening, I saw a few things that spoke to what I had just witnessed.  Dejected Caps fans covered their Ovechkin jerseys with jackets and pull overs.  I walked past a sign showing a basset hound with its ears held out straight; “SURPRISED?” it asked. Frankly, yes.  Surprised, shocked, slightly embarrassed; the Caps, the best team in the NHL, had just been defeated by a number eight seed in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  How did it happen? I’m sure there a dozen perspectives.  Mine is that the Caps never quite figured out how to get inside the Canadien’s defense and play the net. Continue reading

capitals hockey, The Daily Feed

Ovie, Caps Denied Game 1

Photo courtesy of
‘Alex Ovechkin’
courtesy of ‘brianmka’

Nobody said it would be easy.

The Montreal Canadiens did what they set out to do last night in a capacity-filled Verizon Center – steal a win in the Washington Capitals home building. Oh, and they shut down some guy named Ovechkin, too.

Tomas Plekanec silenced the crowd just over 13 minutes into the first overtime, corralling a bobbling puck and sending it end-for-end over Caps goalie Jose Theodore’s left shoulder. “We were screwing around with [the puck] instead of taking it back and setting it up and coming out,” said Coach Bruce Boudreau after the game. “They came up and our defense was caught in transition so they backed up so Plekanec got a chance to walk into the top of the circle and he had a perfect shot.”

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Sports Fix, The Features

Eastern Conference Semifinals: Caps vs Penguins

Photo courtesy of
‘Ovechkin and Malkin, Friends at Last, Friends at Last’ courtesy of ‘clydeorama’

I’m in hockey nirvana.

When the NHL playoffs were finally set, one of the first things many fans here and in Pennsylvania did was figure out when and if the Capitals would actually face the Pittsburgh Penguins during hockey’s “second season.” It was a bit convoluted to work around, since both teams were highly seeded, and it looked – for about a week – that this year wouldn’t see the match-up we all secretly wanted (and dreaded). But then the Caps figured out they were actually in the playoffs and executed a very stressful and tense comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to stuff the Rangers.

And when Carolina shocked New Jersey with two quick goals in the last two minutes of their own Game 7, it was as if the hockey planets aligned. The match-up the NHL slobbered for had arrived.

Penguins. Capitals. Eastern Conference Semifinals.

And it promises to be one extremely wild, crazy, emotional ride for both cities. Find out why after the jump. Continue reading

The Daily Feed

There’s a New Goalie in Town

Photo courtesy of
‘Semin Waits for Face Off’ courtesy of ‘clydeorama’

Seems the Caps showed up in New York ready to play Game 3 and along the way, found their on-fire goalie. And his name isn’t Jose.

Rookie netminder Simeon Varlamov blanked the Rangers with 33 saves – he’s only allowed one goal in two games now – as Alexander Semin netted two on his way to a three point night. Alex Ovechkin continued to remain goal-less, but assisted on both Semin goals. Result? Caps 4, Rangers 0.

The win guarantees a Game 5 here in DC and cuts the Rangers’ series lead down to 2-1. Game 4 is Wednesday in New York.