Monday, April 14, 2008

Caps' (Undefeated) Run Continues Tomorrow In Philly

With the slight speed bump of yesterday’s series-tying game now behind us all, it’s on to Philadelphia, where the Caps have won four in a row, undefeated for two seasons. We don’t even need them to repeat that feat: winning a mere two games in a row will suffice. On to the place where Bruce Boudreau got his first taste of NHL victory, where Nicklas Backstrom discovered the similarly sweet taste of birthday OT winners, and where the Caps have not lost since February 10, 2006. You might remember those days, when “rebuilding” was still something in progress, rather than a fading memory.

Being shut out at home in the playoffs always stinks. It’s far from the end, though. Look back to 1998, when the Caps were shut out by the same 2-0 score by the Buffalo Sabres, at home, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals (I seem to recall some manner of ridiculous Dominik Hasek flopping around the crease, arms pinned tightly against the goalposts, as Adam Oates tried repeatedly in vain to flip the puck over the prone goalie). Those Caps went on to win three games in a row (after being tied 1-1 after two games), including a pair on the road in Buffalo, to ultimately win the series in six games. Sure that was ten years ago and the only links to that team are Olie Kolzig and George McPhee, neither of whom is on the ice these days, but we find it relevant. We read several sources after Game 1 needlessly pointing out how the Caps historically lost x of x series after winning Game 1, so if teams with Bob Mason and Mike Ridley are game for comparison, so is 1998’s Conference Champion squad.

During any kind of review of video of the game, it will have to be obvious to the Caps that they tried to be too fancy. Too much fanciful passing and too many attempts at artful weaving through the neutral zone. There will be adjustments. Thus, we’re likely to see more of Brooks Laich crashing the net in the face of Martin Biron and less of Alexander Semin trying to curl and drag his way around two defenseman and a back-checking forward before throwing a blind pass to an empty point position. More of the Bradley-Gordon-Brashear line firmly establishing a Philly-exhausting cycle in the offensive zone corner and less of Mike Green attempting to split three Flyers on an up-ice rush. More of Ovie firing away instinctively as he has all season, rather than over-thinking and choosing a blockable wrist shot over a goal-seeking one-timer.

We’re confident the Caps can rebound and counter Philly’s “traditional” “physical style”, which seems to have evolved into a “traditional” “running-over-the-goalie-in-as-filthy –a-manner –as-possible-whenever-possible style”. Speaking of which, isn’t it cute to watch Danny Briere try to goon it up; flailing his stick around like a 5-year-old, and throwing adorable little punches at the back of the goalie as he skates away as quickly as possible? Awwww.

So here we are tied 1-1. No big deal. This “home ice advantage” stuff is hugely overrated as it is. Nobody really expected the Caps to sweep the series, so a defeat or two had to come at some point, whether at home or on the road. The important thing is for the Caps to continue to shed that playoff nervousness and get tough in the way they are capable of getting tough. Look no farther than Backstrom brutally shoulder-checking Mike Richards (he who is beloved by math wizard Pierre McGuire, whose reporting we estimate to be about 50% accurate), who promptly looked for a penalty, incredulous that someone might return the punishment we are told he is so good at doling out. We need more of that, starting tomorrow.

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