April 18, 2014

Washington Capitals Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game 4: Too little, too late as Rangers tie series

After a strong effort but a defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers Monday night, the Capitals played their weakest game of the series so far, and after spotting the Rangers the lead. Despite a late finish, Washington couldn’t quite recover and saw their 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals evaporate in two games at Madison Square Garden.

Mental lapses dogged the Capitals again on Wednesday, as Braden Holtby’s ill-advised turnover, Jason Chimera’s needless penalty after Washington fought back to tie it and other defensive breakdowns were costly, as New York controlled most of the first 50 minutes and then the Capitals couldn’t pull even with a late kick.

Washington now faces a best-of-three series – with three games in four days – to advance to the next round of the postseason. If they don’t, they likely will remember the squandered lead they lost early this week in Manhattan.

The Rangers got on the board first last in the third period when a bad Holtby clear through the middle of the ice was intercepted by Taylor Pyatt. Hagelin picked up the loose puck and fired, but John Carlson blocked the shot attempt, but Holtby slid through the crease and past the net, allowing Brad Richards to deposit the puck in the empty net with 3:35 left in the first.

Just 2:01 after the Richards tally, Washington got a power play on a Michael Del Zotto penalty, but at the tail end of the advantage, a collision of Alex Ovechkin, Martin Erat and Ryan Callahan resulted in a pair of Washington penalties and a 5-on-3 to end the first period for New York.

Erat left the game after he lost his glove and slid into the cage, and the Caps had more penalty problems after Monday’s early issues.

However, the Capitals were able to kill off the remainder of the two-man advantage at the start of the second, but New York carried the momentum generated by the advantage, outshooting Washington 18-7 five minutes into the frame.

New York took advantage of that surge as Carl Hagelin blasted a pass in the top corner to give the Rangers their first two-goal lead of the series with 10:13 gone in the second.

Although Washington remained flat for most of the frame, Joel Ward gave the Capitals some life late in the second. Ward made a nifty move down the side towards the cage, deking around a sliding Michael Del Zotto and the corner of the net, then fed Matthieu Perreault who was parked at the side of the net for the Capitals’ first goal with 6:52 left in the period.

Washington then got the equalizer in the final seconds of the second thanks to Troy Brouwer, as he broke in with the puck into the Rangers zone and backhanded a shot past Lundqvist with just :18 left in the second period.

Despite being outplayed for most of the contest, the Capitals headed into the second intermission tied 2-2 even though they were outshot 26-15 through 40 minutes. However, a Chimera penalty at the end of the second proved costly early in the third.

With the power play to start the third and looking to turn the tide, New York did, as Dan Girardi used the man advantage to blast a puck past Holtby just 59 seconds into the third.

The momentum generated by the early goal carried over into the frame, as the Capitals were caught scrambling around in their own end and Derek Stepan was left alone by the net and put the puck past Holtby for a 4-2 lead.

Karl Alzner pulled the Capitals to within one just 1:29 later, putting a fluttering shot that deflected off Perreault past Lundqvist to make it 4-3.

However, despite some late pressure, the Capitals couldn’t overcome their early mistakes and now are tied 2-2, with Game 5 Friday at Verizon Center.

Washington Capitals Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Game 3: Capitals can’t grab 3-0 series lead

The Capitals had a golden opportunity to take a 3-0 stranglehold on their first-round series against the Rangers, but a slew of early penalties and a lack of success on their own power play late cost them Game 3 in a 4-3 loss at Madison Square Garden Monday night.

Although the Caps dominated 5-on-5 play for a bulk of the contest, the Rangers – sensing an urgent need to take the contest to have any chance in the series – scored twice in the third to grab the win. Derek Stephan tipped in a Rick Nash shot with just 6:25 left in regulation for the eventual game-winner.

The Caps had a chance late with an extra-man advantage for the game’s final 1:54, but Washington was a bit too passive even with a 6-on-4 and never really got a good chance for the equalizer on Henrik Lundqvist. Instead of shooting, they held the puck, and as a result, couldn’t force overtime.

Washington let a golden chance for a quick series win to vanish as a result, as the Capitals now will have to try and settle for a series split Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, with at least one more game in Washington now on tap for Friday night at Verizon Center.

The night started off well for Washington, as the Caps broke out in front just 4:06 into the game, as Nicklas Backstrom tipped a John Carlson shot past Lundqvist to give the Caps their first first-period lead of the series.

However, after Washington couldn’t convert on a power play shortly after, Joel Ward took a high-sticking minor in the defensive zone – in a flashback to last year’s Game 5 – and the Rangers scored as the minor expired to even the game as Brian Boyle to even the game.

The goal was the Rangers’ first since the first period of Game 1, breaking Braden Holtby’s shutout streak at 124:06, and also was the first goal directly off a Rangers stick in the series.

New York went up just 83 seconds into the second, scoring 8 seconds into a tripping penalty on Holbty as Darick Brassard rifled one past the Capitals netminder. Washington’s penalty-killers were put to the test over the first half of the period, giving up two more minor penalties, but were able to stay within one.

Once the penalty parade subsided, the Capitals were strong at even-strength over the remainder of the middle period, generating one power play and eventually a Mike Green equalizer, as he shot a blast past Lundqvist.

The Rangers, sensing the importance of winning the third period, came out fast in the third, and Aaron Asham caught the Capitals’ defense out of position and beat Holtby just 2:53 into the frame and gave the hosts the lead back.

Washington responded 4:22 later, as Jack Hillen’s shot from the point was tipped by Jay Beagle past Lundqvist, bringing the Capitals even and putting pressure on the Rangers.

New York pressed again after the equalizer, and were able to retake the lead with 6:25 left in regulation, as Derek Stepan tipped in a Rick Nash shot for a 4-3 lead for the hosts.

The Capitals got a late chance with 1:54 left in regulation as Brad Richards caught Alex Ovechkin under his visor for Washington’s third power-place chance of the evening. But Washington played a bit to casually with the power play and failed to convert with a chance to force overtime.

Washington has never held a 3-0 series lead in a best-of-seven series, and now are 0-8 in that situation, as the Capitals will look to earn the split Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Washington Capitals Game 34 Recap: Capitals Rally to Stun Sabres, Gain in Chase

BUFFALO | With their season hanging in the balance, the Washington Capitals rallied to eke out a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center Saturday night, opening a critical road trip by getting two valuable standings point.

A poor start put the Capitals in a 3-1 hole early in the third period, but a shorthanded tally by Troy Brouwer and a last-minute tally by Mike Green forced overtime, where Matt Hendricks and Alex Ovechkin both scored on Sabres netminder Jhonas Enroth in the shootout.

Ovechkin turned in a tremendous effort in Washington’s only visit to Buffalo, scoring his 17th of the year and also adding the deciding shootout goal.

The win comes at a critical time, as they gain points on the Jets, Rangers and Islanders, moving just five points back of Winnipeg in the Southeast race, and two back of the Rangers in the chase for 8th in the East.

Buffalo – a team missing their top sniper in Thomas Vanek, having traded defenseman Jordan Leopold, and playing backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth – scored just 3:01 into the game and didn’t trail again until Braden Holtby was pulled for the extra attacker. While the Caps nearly won the game in overtime, the shootout allowed Washington to steal two points out of Western New York.

The Sabres started off quickly, cashing in early on a turnover in the Washington end, as Christian Ehrhoff fired a shot past Holtby to put the Sabres on the board just 3:01 in. While Washington got a four-minute power-play when Mike Weber went to the box for a high-stick, the Caps couldn’t take advantage, having difficulty setting up on the extra-man advantage.

The Sabres boosted their lead to 2-0 just 79 seconds into the second as Villie Leino scored his first of the year past Holtby off a rebound of a Tyler Ennis shot.

Tyler Ennis went to the box just :28 after the goal, however, and the Capitals took advantage. Alex Ovechkin scored just :34 into the power-play to bring the Capitals within one, firing a shot past Enroth, and giving him his 17th of the year.

But another bad breakdown in the Washington end proved costly, as Leino was allowed to poke a puck sitting off the post just past the halfway mark of the frame.

While Washington outshot the Sabres 17-8 in the second, the Capitals fell further behind in the contest.

Troy Browuer cut the lead to 3-2 with a short-handed tally with John Carlson in the box for a delay-of-game penalty, beating Enroth with a wrister for his 13th of the year. Despite a power-play opportunity on a Tyler Myers hit on Jason Chimera, the Capitals pushed and couldn’t net the equalizer until the final minute.

With Holtby out, the Caps controlled the biscuit, but couldn’t beat Enroth. However, Green unleashed a shot from the point that went off the post and off the Sabres netminder to earn the Caps the valuable point.

Mike Ribeiro had a golden chance to end the game in overtime with Enroth down, but the netminder put in a terrific glove save. But in the shootout, both Hendricks and Ovechkin netted goals as the Caps moved to 2-0 for the year in the tiebreaker.

With just two games left until the trade deadline – and a chance to gain further ground Sunday in Philadelphia – the Capitals will see if they can cut the deficit further and try and to recover from the poor start to the season.

Washington Capitals Game 32 Recap: Caps nip Rangers in shootout

At the end of a four-game road trip, the Washington Capitals had every reason to drop the finale against the New York Rangers this season, playing three games in four nights after a journey from Pennsylvania to Manitoba and finally, Manhattan.

While Washington started out strong with two quick first-period goals, the Caps eventually seemed to show some wear and fatigue from the busy schedule, yielding two goals in a 3:49 span late in the first frame and getting outshot 25-10 over the last 45 minutes.

But the Capitals were able to force overtime and a shootout, and in Washington’s first shootout of the season, the Caps were able to hold off the Rangers and grab an important two points with a 3-2 shootout win. With the victory, Washington is just two points behind New York for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Game 22 Recap: Capitals’ quick start buries Panthers

While the Washington Capitals have dominated the Florida Panthers in the last two years at Verizon Center, Thursday night the Caps took it to a whole new level in a 7-1 destruction of their Southeast Division foe.

The Capitals scored four times in the first 8:10 of the contest – second-fastest time to the four-goal mark in team history – and crushed the Panthers to move within a game of the .500 points mark for the first time since the team’s home opener back on January 22 – when they were 0-1.

Washington has outscored Florida 23-3 in their last five meetings at Verizon Center, with three shutouts, and overall have scored 18 goals in three games against Florida, 27 percent of their season’s production. More importantly for the Capitals, they moved to within six points of the Southeast lead with Carolina’s 4-2 loss to Montreal. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Game 17 Recap: Ovechkin’s hat trick fuels rout of Devils

Thursday night’s loss to the New Jersey Devils was perhaps the low point of the shortened season for the Washington Capitals, as the team was in danger of completely falling out of the playoff chase with many more losses. But following the disastrous third period Thursday, the Capitals put perhaps their most complete third period of the season in a 5-1 rout of New Jersey Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center.

Alex Ovechkin scored his first hat trick in over two years – and his first at home in over three – as Washington shrugged off an Ilya Kovalchuk equalizing tally late in the second to roll past the Devils with their first four-goal period of the season.

“Sometimes I feel that the puck doesn’t want to go in,” Ovechkin said afterwards. “Today, it was that kind of game hat almost every shot goes in, or at least it feels like that. It’s kind of nice.”

With the noon start, both teams started off at a sluggish pace, with the best chance for Washington being Wojtek Wolski’s miss of a wide-open net in the first, as the forward shot a bouncing puck across the goal line with a wide open cage.

But just over five minutes into the second, Ovechkin made his presence known, shaking off a hit along the wall and then moving in to the Devils zone and blasting a one-time pass from Mike Riberio past Devils netminder Johan Hedberg for the first goal of the game.

After the goal, Washington, fresh off losing a 2-1 lead late in the game Thursday, played tentative in the rest of the frame, allowing a penalty shot to Steve Bernier which Holtby stopped. Although the Caps looked like they might escape with the lead into the break, Kovalchuk picked up a puck that came loose and wristed it past Braden Holtby with just :37.5 left in the second.

Unlike Thursday, in the intermission, Washington regrouped and were able to record just their sixth win of the season.

“We stayed with it,” forward Mike Ribeiro said. “We didn’t drop our arms or quit… when they scored that goal at the end of the period. We just came out and did the same thing we had to do and stuck with the game plan. Most of the time, the teams that stick with the game plan the longest will win games.”

Just 83 seconds into the final frame, Ovechkin took a stretch pass from Matt Hendricks, and using Anton Volchenkov as a screen, wristed a shot from the top of the circle through the defenseman’s skates and past Hedberg.

Things seemingly turned ominous when John Erskine was whistled for a delay-of-game penalty less than a minute after the goal. Unlike Thursday where the game came unraveled on the penalty kill, though, Washington used it to their advantage as Eric Fehr notched the team’s first shorthanded goal of the season.

With Hedberg going behind the net to play the puck, Fehr charged in and left the goaltender in no-man’s land. Fehr collected the biscuit and scored a wrap-around insurance goal, giving the Caps an important boost in both confidence and on the scoreboard.

For Fehr, it was his fourth goal in his 14th game of the year, a bargain for the $600,000 contract he signed in January after scoring just two with Winnipeg last season.

“Obviously, a two-goal cushion is big,” Oates said. “The last few weeks [Fehr] seemed to have a lot of jump and has been making good decisions and getting more involved in the game, and I have been trying to find more minutes for him.”

“It was a very big goal for him, and give us much breathing room,” Ovechkin said.

Armed with the lead, Ovechkin capped his first hat trick at home since Feb. 7, 2010 with a one-tier off a Riberio feed for the hat trick.

For good measure, Ovechkin added an assist on Troy Brouwer’s goal with just 2:51 left in regulation, capping the 5-1 win and giving both Ovechkin and Brouwer the team lead with eight goals on the year.

“I kind of figured he was going to shoot it because he’s got a hot hand tonight, but he’s a good player and sees the ice well and you’ve got to be ready,” Brouwer said.

Afterwards, the Caps’ captain talked about how well his line played.

“I think our line has great chemistry right now,” Ovechkin said. “[Jason Chimera] knows exactly what to do, I know exactly where Chimmer’s going to be, and we talk before the games, between periods, especially Ribs, a guy who controls the puck is in between us. We win the game, our line finally gets plus, it’s kind of cool.”

While Saturday’s game wasn’t a must-win for Washington, it was pretty close, as the Capitals were in danger of falling 8 points out of the Southeast chase by night’s end.

But instead of folding the tents after Thursday’s crushing setback, the Capitals came back with a complete effort, and will get another big challenge Tuesday when division rival Carolina comes to town as Washington looks to chip away at the gap between them and the playoff pack.

With the effort Saturday, Hendricks said he hopes the team gets on track.

“We came out and played our game,” he said. “We played a full 60 minutes. We talked earlier about being 100 percent committed to the system not only in the defensive zone, but in the neutral zone and the offensive zone. We played a full game.

“That’s something we need to build on.”

Washington Capitals Game 12 Recap: Washington breaks skid in rout of Panthers

Mired in last place in the Eastern Conference and desperately needing a boost in the standings, the Washington Capitals earned just their third victory of the season with a 5-0 win over the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center Saturday night.

Washington struggled in the short season’s first quarter, going just 3-8-1, but managed to at least not fall any further out of the playoff chase with the victory over their division rivals.

Braden Holtby had a 27-save shutout for Washington, his first since last March 25 against Minnesota, while Troy Brouwer had his first two-goal game since last February 28 against the Islanders. In addition, Alex Ovechkin ended his 5-on-5 drought, scoring his first even-strength goal of the season.

“I had a feeling right away we were going to play well,” Ovechkin said afterwards. “Everyone was focusing and not joking around. That’s how we have to play.” [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Game 9 Recap: Second-Period Pens Flurry Sinks Caps

While the Washington Capitals matched the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first 26 minutes of their Super Bowl Sunday clash, the Caps’ effort came unglued in a 37-second span in the second period and ended up losing 6-3 in their only meeting of the regular season at Verizon Center.

Chris Kunitz ended up with a hat trick for the visiting Penguins in the game’s final seconds, but the game was lost well before the final horn.

A fluke goal by John Carlson lifted the Capitals into a 2-2 tie 4:03 into the second period, and Washington was given a power-play just 12 seconds after the strange tally to try and get their first lead of the afternoon.

Despite controlling the zone time with a decent power-play effort, Washington failed to score. Pittsburgh countered soon after the penalty kill, and Kris Letang fired a wrist shot that Capitals starter Braden Holtby couldn’t get all of, giving the Pens a 3-2 lead as the puck rolled in the cage.

It was a shot that Holtby knew he should have had, and left him looking at the arena rafters as a result. It also proved to be a big turning point.

“It would have been big to score a goal on the PP, and get us a lead there,” Backstrom said. “It would have been a different situation.”

Less than a minute after the Letang goal, Kunitz snapped a shot over Holtby’s shoulder, giving Pittsburgh a 4-2 lead in the game and sagging the Capitals’ hopes.

“We had a good power play, I thought we were moving it around well, afterwards, they picked it up a little bit, got two quick goals and it kind of deflated us and we weren’t able to recover,” Troy Brouwer said afterwards.

Pittsburgh took full command of the game later in the frame, taking a 5-2 lead with 6:01 left in the second while Wojtek Wolski was serving a tripping minor, giving the Penguins 3 goals on just 5 shots on Holtby in the first 13:59 of the second.

“It’s a tough break,” Wolski said. “I would have liked to stayed out of the box, obviously didn’t try to trip him, but they score and they’re up by two. It puts us behind and we’ve got to work extra hard. I think overall we did put in the effort and got a bunch of goals on the power play and it wasn’t a bad game for us, but a disappointing loss.”

For a Washington team looking to build some momentum in a short season, it was a difficult middle period for Holtby, who has been inconsistent so far in four appearances this season.

Oates said afterwards he thought about making a goaltending change, but felt Holtby deserved a chance to right the ship.

“There was a time I thought about pulling him,” Oates said. “But you know what, the guy’s been very good for this franchise the last year and I thought he earned the right to stay in there and fight through it.”

The two teams had an exciting start to the game, with the two teams trading chances.

Paul Martin got the Penguins on the board first, blasting a shot past Holtby, with the puck deflecting off Carlson’s shin pad into the cage.

Mike Green answered just 1:28 later, taking a big hit behind the net, but wobbled to the slot and blasted a Wolski centering feed past former Capitals netminder Tomas Vokoun to square the game.

But Pittsburgh got the lead back 3:15 later, as Matt Cooke tipped a Deryk Engelland drive past Holtby, and the Penguins had a 2-1 lead they would hold into the break.

Washington tied up the game on a very fluky tally, as Carlson was attempting to dump into the Penguins zone for a line change, but the puck hit a stantion near the faceoff circle and Vokoun, who went to play the puck behind the cage, was left in no-mans land as the puck rolled into the yawning net.

But Washington failed to build on the momentum of the tally and the ensuing power-play, and saw their chances for two points evaporate in short order thanks to a pair of goals Holtby would like to have back.

“We were playing good, answered back in the first right away, felt good about our game heading into the first intermission, we were are able to tie it up, a little bit of a lucky bounce – they happen,” Brouwer said. “We had a lot of good momentum, and is the case this season, we got scored on in bunches and can’t recover.”

Mike Riberio made the score 5-3 early in the third, as after a nice play by Alex Ovechkin to keep the puck in the zone during a power play, Riberio took a deflected Brouwer pass in front and beating Vokoun with the man-advantage.

Washington fell to 2-6-1 on the year – ironically, the same mark they held in the last 48-game schedule in 1994-95, although that team did eventually qualify for the playoffs. But the Caps will have to look to try and wrap up the three-game homestand with a win Tuesday against Toronto before a rematch with Pittsburgh looms Thursday.

Despite the rivalry, Backstrom said he was disappointed the Capitals lost the game.

“Right now, we don’t care who we play because we need points,” Backstrom said. “If you don’t get the points, doesn’t matter who we play.”

For now, the Capitals have to deal with how Sunday’s game came unraveled in just 37 seconds.

“We had all the momentum, the crowd was into it, the guys were into it, we felt good, and we got scored on,” Brouwer said. “Two quick goals and they scored a power-play goal after.”

“We let up a couple of easy goals, I think,” Backstrom said. “A couple of mistakes on our side.”

Washington Capitals Game 5 Recap: Oates Gets First Win as Caps Top Sabres

WASHINGTON–A relieved Adam Oates walked into the press room at Verizon Center Sunday, after having earned his first NHL victory as a head coach with the Washington Capitals topping the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in a matinee.

For Capitals fans who saw the team stumble out of the gate with an 0-3-1 start to the year, it certainly was a welcome change. Washington rallied from an early Tyler Ennis goal to even the score by the end of the period thanks to a Joel Ward tally, then added a John Erskine goal in the second and Alex Ovechkin’s first goal of the season in the third on a one-timer.

Afterwards, Ward said he felt the team was building off Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey.

“I thought the confidence was there, I thought the mood was upbeat even though we lost in OT,” he said in a happy locker room. “I thought we brought the momentum again today and slowly picked at them and kind of wore them down a little bit. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Game 2 Recap: Caps’ tank runs low in loss to Jets

While the Capitals had gone 259 days between home games at Verizon Center, Washington’s first chance to play in front of the home fans didn’t exactly go the way they wanted in a 4-2 loss to Winnipeg.

After taking an early lead, Washington allowed two power-play goals in the first period, giving the visitors – who played the day before in Boston – all the momentum as the Capitals lost their second game on the young season.

The defeat left the Caps frustrated and concerned with an apparent lack of energy despite the brand new campaign.

“I didn’t think we had the energy we needed tonight,” Matt Hendricks, who had one of the Capitals’ two goals as well as a pair of fights, said. “One of our keys to success was put them on their heels, put pucks in their end, get them to turn [it over], get them to work. They played last night and we didn’t make it look like that.” [Read more...]

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