October 31, 2014

Washington Capitals Game Four Re-Cap: Holtby steals game; everyone makes sacrifices

Here’s all you need to know about how loud Verizon Center was in the waning moments of last night’s Washington Capitals 2-1 regulation win over the Boston Bruins, tying this Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup at two games apiece, direct from an NHL press release:

“With 9.5 seconds remaining in the third period, there was a stoppage and resulting face-off in the Washington zone. During the stoppage, the game clock operator and Series Manager determined that 0.9 seconds should have been added to the time remaining in the third period and attempted to contact the on-ice officials to delay the puck drop to accommodate making the necessary clock adjustment to 10.4 seconds remaining.

“The off-ice officials were not able to attract the attention of the referees or linesmen despite sounding the horn, which was not audible due to crowd noise, and the puck was dropped.” (emphasis added.)

Yup.

The transformation is complete. These are not the Washington Capitals of recent years. The flamboyant, high-scoring, glass jumping Caps have been replaced by lunch-pail guys, willing to sacrifice their bodies to block 100-MPH slap shots. There’s a lot of skill hiding in there still, as evidenced by the two-on-one play for the Caps first goal — set up by the captain diving for a loose puck — or Alexander Semin’s game-winning power play goal, a wrist shot that had to go through Zdeno Chara, past Tim Thomas’ glove and over the goalie’s left shoulder into a space barely big enough for it to pass.

But how else do you describe the final 7:13 of the game, when the Capitals did not allow the Bruins to record a single shot on goal in that time frame, after allowing 45 up until that point? The Caps blocked four of their game-high 26 shots in that span, clinging to the one goal lead.

How else do you explain Alex Ovechkin’s measley four shifts for 1:58 of ice time in the third period? Everyone’s sacrificing in the third period, either by throwing their body in front of a puck or by giving up ice time to players better suited for the job.

Of course, up until that point, goalie Braden Holtby carried the load for the Caps. The 22-year old rookie has been sensational throughout this series, and was no less Thursday night. The only shot that beat him was a Rich Peverley wrister on a two-on-one break that he didn’t have much chance on. Other than that, if Holtby saw it, he saved it.

“I can usually tell when there are screens and I can follow the puck the whole way,” Holtby said afterwards. “I think that’s usually when I can tell that I am seeing the puck well. I felt pretty good tonight, but there were still some lucky times. In the second period I felt pretty good, but there’s still some improvement.”

He was able to see the puck well because the Caps went back to what worked for them in Games One and Two so successfully: Keeping Boston’s big forwards out of the slot. Washington got away from their game plan a little bit in Game Three and it cost them. Last night, it worked well for them again, limiting second chance efforts and redirects by steering bodies from out front.

There was noticeably less extracurricular activity in Game Four as well. The linesmen did a really good job getting between players after the whistle, but it appeared both teams really backed off the ugly stuff on their own.

“It was a much better game,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It was a hockey game. I think both teams wanted that, to go out there and play and not worry about that stuff after. You could just tell. There was very few, even close to being incidents out there of guys pushing each other, just little ones. We just want to play hockey. We want to play a nice playoff game and don’t want to get caught up in all that other stuff.”

“In the playoffs, you gotta let things go, and I think we saw that.”

Alzner’s right. All the extra stuff plays against what the Caps were trying to do, and the escalation in Game Three really got the Caps out of their plan. Whether it was as Alzner described, that the players didn’t want those distractions, or the addition of rugged defenseman John Erskine to the lineup, or even the officials making it clear they wouldn’t stand for a repeat of Game Three, it was a much cleaner game all around, which definitely plays into the Capitals hands.

This series goes back to Boston for Game Five Saturday and returns to Verizon Center Sunday, down to a best-of-three series, with both teams splitting in each other’s buildings. How the compressed schedule affects the next two games is anybody’s guess, but if the Caps play like they did in Games One, Two and in the second half of Game Four, they’ve got a puncher’s chance anywhere they play.

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Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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