Thursday, April 30, 2009

ACK!

Imagine clicking on the ESPN (Extra Special Penguin Network) site, and finding this on the NHL page....


It has begun...

Your Peerless Prognostos for Round Two -- Vancouver (2) vs. Chicago (3)


It’s round two in this marathon of four sprints, and it all starts tonight with the Vancouver Canucks hosting the Chicago Blackhawks. So, we start there…

Why Vancouver can’t lose…

Roberto Luongo. How’s that for insight? He leads all playoff goaltenders in goals against average (1.15), save percentage (.962), and has a shutout. It’s not a case of just having found a patsy of an opponent (if such a thing could ever be said…ok, so there was that Montreal thing for Boston) in St. Louis in the first round. In his last seven games dating back to the last three of the regular season, Luongo is 7-0-0, 0.82, .973, and three shutouts. He’s in a zone.

Why Vancouver can’t win…

Since losing to the New York Rangers in the 1994 Stanley Cup finals, the Canucks haven’t escaped the second round in three tries (in seven total playoff appearances). In fact, in 21 playoff appearances in franchise history, Vancouver has advanced from the second round only twice, both times reaching (and losing in) the finals. That’s a lot of history packed in their baggage. As a practical matter, one has to wonder if the Canucks will score enough to advance, despite Luongo’s passable impression of an earthen dam the last couple of weeks. The Sedins – Daniel and Henrik – produced at roughly their regular season pace (a point a game) in the sweep of the Blues in the first round, but the Canucks got little out of Pavol Demitra (a pair of assists) and less out of Mats Sundin (a goal in two games before missing the last two games of the sweep with a “lower body injury”).

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder:

Mats Sundin

Last Friday, he was said to be “flying around the ice” in a Canucks practice. Whether his problem has been a hip, groin, or knee, though, he’s got to add some offense, even if Luongo plays well. It’s what he’s here for.


Why Chicago can’t lose…

Balance. In their six game win over Calgary, six players had at least six points, including two defensemen (Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook). The power play has been lethal (29.2 percent – second in the playoffs thus far), which is quite a reversal of fortune from how the Blackhawks finished the regular season in that regard (five of 60 – 8.3 percent – in their last 14 games).

Why Chicago can’t win…

They’re not supposed to be here. Well, they’re not supposed to advance, anyway… they’re too young, they’re not ready, blah-blah-blah. And Nikolai Khaibulin, who finished the regular season strong (8-1-1, 1.85, .921, and a shutout in his last ten regular season games), was much more ordinary in the series against Calgary (2.52, .914). If he’s not the guy, there’s always Cristobal Huet, but then again, he’s lost both of the playoff series he’s been in, too.

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder

Patrick Kane

Some players have a natural swagger about them, and Kane has that in spades. But we’re at that point in the show where it’s got to be done on the ice, too. He was streaky to finish the regular season – a six-game pointless streak followed by a seven-game closing rush in which he was 1-5-6, +6. Against the Flames, he was 2-2-4 in five games, including a 1-1-2 effort in the series clincher. He was 2-2-4 in four games against the Canucks this season. Chicago will need that sort of an effort to topple Vancouver.

In the end…

Frankly, there seem to be more reasons to pick against either of these teams than there are reasons to pick for either of them…Vancouver doesn’t have enough scoring. Chicago is too young. The Canucks have shown an unsettling tendency to take penalties – 24 shorthanded situations in four games (worst on a per-game basis of any surviving team). Chicago hasn’t been especially dominating at even strength (the worst of the eight teams remaining). Vancouver has a poor track record in the playoffs after round one. Chicago has been this far once in the last 13 seasons, and the last time was, well, 13 seasons ago.

At this time of year, it’s really hard to pick against the hot goalie, and that argues for Vancouver. Khabibulin was ordinary in the first round, but he’s the only goalie in this series with a Stanley Cup on his resume. Chicago has more and deeper skating talent, even if Sundin raises his game for Vancouver. Someone has to win this series…it’ll be the one with the home ice advantage.

Vancouver in 7

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

OK...now what?


Much will be made over the next few days about how the Penguins have abused the Caps in playoff settings over the years. Since the first time the teams met in the playoffs in 1991, the Penguins have compiled a a 6-1 series edge as the teams head into the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

But these two teams have met only once in the second round, that being the first meeting, in 1991. Washington won the first game of the series, 4-2. However, Pittsburgh stormed back to win the next four games.

They then went on to win their first Stanley Cup.

Time for a change.


"You know, there's a rule in sports...


...don't do anything great if you can't handle the congratulations."

Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images

My God!...He's Talking About Us!!

Bloggers, that is.

David Brooks is an opinion columnist with the New York Times. He was honored at The Week's "Sixth Annual Opinion Awards." But it was this quote from Brooks that stopped us cold...

“I used to have all sorts of human drives, the need for food, for water for sex. Now I have one drive: the need for column ideas."

We reckon he could have been talking about any hockey blogger you can think of.

In Praise of Blue


When we were younger, we’d have been inclined to say, “ah, f*** ‘em…we win, you lose. Go back to New York.”

But after seeing a lot of playoff hockey over the years, we stood there at the end during watching the handshakes, silently appreciating the effort on the part of the New York Rangers. The Rangers are an offense-challenged team that doesn’t have a finisher worthy of the name. They don’t have a real stopper on defense, although Marc Staal could grow into that role one day. They have some underachievers and guys who don’t look like they fit.

But they have some guys on that team – and behind the bench, for that matter – who are nothing short of warriors.

Chris Drury, who couldn’t even shake hands with his Capital opponents afterward because of a broken hand suffered in a playoff-clinching win against the Flyers almost three weeks ago, was the epitome of a “leave it on the ice” approach to Game 7. He still managed to win five of eight draws and register a couple of hits, despite playing more or less one handed.

Sean Avery was booed every time he touched the puck. He deserved it for some of the antics he perpetrated in this series. But apart from the “Side Show Sean” persona, he was the best Ranger on the ice last night not wearing goalie pads. Avery played with a singular energy – within the rules, if at times right up to the edge of them – and was for long stretches the only Ranger who was asserting himself on offense.

Brandon Dubinsky could have been a “Plumber.” We mean that as a compliment to the young forward. He would have fit right in with that lunch pail bunch for the Caps in the 1980's. A player of somewhat limited offensive skills, he makes the most of what talents he has – on display last night – to rattle, harass, hound, and otherwise make a nuisance of himself to the other team. If he was a Cap, fans would adore this guy.

Ryan Callahan, another player of somewhat limited offensive skill, was just about the hardest working guy on the ice for the Rangers in most of the games of this series. It was his sheer hustle to get into a play that afforded him the opportunity to score the game’s only goal in Game 2, and last night he was one of the Rangers who were checking the Caps all over their own zone, threatening to skate the Caps right out of the rink in the first 40 minutes.

Henrik Lundqvist had the unimaginable pressure of being the one Ranger who could not have a bad minute, let alone game, in this series. On a team that would struggle to score more than two goals a game in this series (the Rangers only did it twice), Lundqvist had to be as close to perfect as a goaltender gets. That he wasn’t, in the end, is not a reflection of his skill or cool determination in this series as much as it shines a light of some other Ranger deficiencies.

When we looked at this series before it began, we thought it would turn on the fact that Lundqvist would not have enough sub-three goal games against the high-octane Caps offense to win the series. The irony is that Lundqvist would lose the ultimate game while providing the Rangers that sub-three-goals-against effort. No goalie is without holes, and the Caps managed to find one often enough to win the series, but absent the play of Lundqvist, this series is probably over before last weekend arrives.

John Tortorella is an abrasive, sour, prickly cuss who no one in the media probably ever wants to ask a question of after a loss. He also has lousy aim with a water bottle. But he was a fantastic bench coach in this series, getting the absolute maximum out of a flawed array of talent. And while he was trying to find the right buttons to push as the Caps were crawling out of a 3-1 deficit in games, Tortorella was, if not pleasant in post game interviews, graceful in a gruff way, if such a thing can be said. His comments about his team last night in the aftermath of the Ranger loss hit all the appropriate grace notes, and none of them seemed forced or false. He really does seem to have an affection for a lot of those players, many of whom are a reflection of a “junkyard dog” approach to the game that he prefers to coach. When he commented that “we checked our ass off,” you could almost hear his voice cracking in disappointment that his boys didn’t quite have that last measure to pull the game out of the fire, but in true appreciation of the effort they gave.

It’s hard to muster a real hate for the Rangers. The first 40 minutes of the game they played last night were a sight to behold, something any fan of the sport who has watched any measure of playoff hockey can appreciate for its “old school” values of hard work and relentlessness. It says something about the Capitals that they were able to dig down in the last 20 minutes and find what it took to win. And in that respect, the Capitals earned their victory.

The Rangers made them earn it.

CAPS WIN! CAPS WIN!! CAPS WIN!!! Game 7: Caps 2 - Rangers 1


The old man had one left in him, after all.

With the clock ticking down to midnight on the Caps’ season, Sergei Fedorov snapped a shot over the left shoulder of New York Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist and into the net, propelling the Capitals to a 2-1 win in the deciding Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal. The digits 2 and 1 figured heavily in this oddly entertaining game…

21 – the number of years since a team – any pro sports team – has won a Game 7 in Washington (yes, including Landover, MD).

21 – the age of the winning goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, who turned that number just yesterday.

2 – the second shot of the game, by Nik Antropov, on a breakaway that Varlamov stuffed. If that shot goes in – 42 seconds into the game – the result might have been very different.

2 – the number of shots the Caps registered in the first period, when they were almost run out of their own building.

1 – the number of shots on goal registered by the Rangers in the third period, when the Caps almost ran them out of the building.

1 – minor penalty taken by the Caps (Mike Green)

2 – minor penalties taken by the Rangers (Nik Antropov, Dan Girardi)

Some other stuff…

- We noted above that the clock was ticking down to midnight on the Caps’ season when Fedorov scored the game winner. Why? In the last three instances in which the Caps were eliminated from the playoffs, it happened in overtime: 2008 to Philadelphia, 2003 to Tampa Bay, and 2001 to Pittsburgh. We weren’t terribly enthusiastic about this one heading to extra time.

- This game completed the symmetry started in Game 4 – a 2-1 win by the Rangers that featured an odd, multi-deflection goal to get the Rangers on the board. This time, it was Nicklas Backstrom leaving the puck for Alexander Semin, who tried to curl the puck around defenseman Dan Girardi, but the Ranger maintained good position. Semin managed to get a shot off, but it appear to deflect off the stick of Ryan Callahan, which served to deaden the puck as it popped into the air. It floated past Girardi and goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who looked to have difficulty picking up the biscuit as it floated in the air.

- John Tortorella said of his team in the post-game, “we checked our ass off.” Did they ever. Credit is due the Rangers, who could have just packed it in after the dominating performances the Caps laid on them in games five and six. But to a man, they hounded the Caps in their end of the ice, especially in the second period, when the frustration at their inability to get the puck past their own blue line threatened to turn the crowd against them. It was one of the most dominating checking performances under the Verizon Center roof this season.

- Before the game, Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of Chris Clark, “"There's a difference between being fresh and being rusty -- if [Clark] plays. Anybody who is put into a Game 7, they're not feeling any rust. They're feeling energy. They're feeling excitement like the rest of us." Well, Clark’s hands were rusty. He had a couple of glorious chances to pot a goal, including one where he had a virtually empty net staring at him, and he couldn’t get the hands to work quite quickly enough.

- If the absence of Blair Betts for the Rangers was to be felt most keenly on the power play, then that was a non factor. The Caps had two power plays and a total of 3:28 in ice time. In a sense, it was old-tyme hockey – the refs weren’t calling much of anything.

- That Fedorov game-winner?...”high glove.” In fairness to Lundqvist, though, he had to be aware of who it was barreling toward the net while Fedorov was settling into the right wing faceoff circle to take the game-winner… Alex Ovechkin.

- Ranger fans kept waiting for it, but Scott Gomez never really showed up in this series. Tonight… no points, one shot on goal, and he lost nine of 15 draws.

- On the other hand, say what you want, but when Sean Avery is not a flaming a**hole, he is a helluva hockey player. He was just about the only Ranger who consistently and assertively took the puck to the net. He had no support for his efforts. An assist, six shot attempts, four hits, and he even won both the draws he took, pretty much by just bull rushing Boyd Gordon and David Steckel, neither of whom is a slouch in the circle.

- John Erskine might not give Caps fans a warm and comfy feeling on the blue line on some nights, but it is hard to argue with the guy’s compete level.

- Caps fans might never say it out loud, but we’ll bet they were thinking it in the first two periods – the Caps were playing scared. Guys were getting rid of the puck as soon as it hit their sticks, and they spent 40 minutes chasing the Rangers all around the Caps’ zone to no good end.

- In the post-game radio show, Brooks Laich said that Chris Clark said something to the effect of, “win 20 minutes, win a series.” That was the last 20 minutes in a nutshell. The Caps outshot the Rangers, 13-1. They out-hit the Rangers, 13-6. They won nine of 17 draws. They had seven blocked shots to four for the Rangers.

- Henrik Lunqvist had a two-headed game. One could look at his saving 22 of 24 shots and conclude that he found his game after a couple of relatively poor ones. On the other hand, the Caps did not pound him on the glove side the way they did in games five and six. It’s worth repeating that the Fedorov game-winner was over his glove hand. As things turned out, 13 of the Caps’ 19 goals were scored to that side.

- The Rangers had the look of a team that had expended so much effort in the first 40 minutes that their tanks ran dry in the third. They had no shots on goal in the last 10:31 and could not get out of their own end in the last 90 seconds in an effort to pull Lundqvist for an extra attacker.

- Seven goals in six games. If you’re looking for a frame of reference for that performance by young Mr. Varlamov in goal, the 1998 playoff run is an interesting comparison. In the four series that spring, Olaf Kolzig’s best was in allowing seven goals in five games against Ottawa, in an era when goals were much harder to come by. A 1.17, .952 set of numbers is quite an inaugural for Varlamov. Consider that in that spring 11 years ago, Kolzig’s numbers were 1.95, .941.

- Of 18 skaters for the Caps, 16 registered hits (Alexander Semin and Tom Poti held off that column of the score sheet).

- Now, here’s an odd one. Number of hits registered by Paul Mara in the series for the Rangers… four. The number for the Caps’ Tomas Fleischmann… four.

- Alex Ovechkin missed 21 shots in the series. No Ranger had that many shots on goal (Ryan Callahan had 19).

Well, now it’s Pittsburgh for the second round, thanks to some late game heroics by Carolina in defeating New Jersey in their Game 7. Pittsburgh presents an entirely different set of challenges – an opportunities – than did the Rangers, but that’s a conversation for another day. Tonight was a case of a lesson learned from last year, and the lesson appears to have been titled, "Resiliency."


Well done, guys!



photos: Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Confidence...


Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

-- Sun Tzu

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 7: Caps vs. Rangers

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Game 7 for all the marbles, the whole enchildada, the whole shootin’ match, there is no tomorrow, it’s do or die, fish or cut bait, live or die, and for these teams, it might be all about pressure and who can handle it best. If you’re New York Rangers coach John Tortorella, you’re planting the seed today that all of the pressure is now on the Capitals, they being the favorite in this series to begin with. According to Torto—

“Ah, vutt duss he know about pressure?”

Professor?

“Dat guy, hiss name zounds like zum kind of zalad I get mitt my dinner – weinerschnitzel mitt die Tortorella on ze side.”

Still, about the pressure on these teams.

“Ja, ja…pressure. Let me tell you about pressure. Ze scientific pr-r-r-roperties of pressure are qvite zimple, really. Let me zhow you…"

“Zee? Pressure ee-qvalls vutt ve call ze ‘normal force’ divided by ze area. Now, here iss vere tings get a little more complicated for ze Rangers. Ze normal force does not apply here. Vy?”

I don’t know, Professor.

“Ach! Und you call yourzelf a pr-r-r-rognosticator! It is ze AB-normal force zat izz important here.”

And zat…I mean, that would be?

“You tell me, schmarty pents.”

Ovechkin?

“Zee? You do heff a brain!”

Well, we try.

“Don’t get carried avay…Now, you zee, ze ab-normal force applied to ze area of ze hockey rink can heff ver-r-r-r-ry interestink effects of ze outcome of the egg-shperiment.”

You mean the hockey game.

“Ja, vutt-ever…anyvay, ze ab-normal force in ziss instance is apr-r-r-roaching a constant.”

You mean the fact that he has a goal in each of his last three games.

“Ja! Ver-r-r-r-ry goot! You sure you aren’t a vizziks schtudent?”

Not since college, Prof.

“OK, now…vee contr-r-r-ol for ze Ovechkin factor, but vee heff not accounted for all ze variables on pressure. Vutt are vee missink?”

Tell us, Professor…

“Ah, you remember zat for every action, zere iss a reaction, ja?”

I seem to remember that…

“Vell, here, for vun Alex, vee heff a corresponding Alex egg-zerting force on ze hockey rink.”

You mean Semin.

“Egg-sackly!”

And he has more goals than Ovechkin in this series.

“Ja, but mit Semin, ze force is a bit more variable. He had vunn goal in Game Vun, no goals in Game Two, two goals in Game Three, did not heff vun in Game Four, had vun in Game Five, and vuss mitout vun in Game Six.”

So…

“Ze mass-a-matical function predicts he vill heff at least vun goal tonight.”

Can’t argue with that. But what about the other side of the rink? The Rangers haven’t ever lost a series in which they led three games to one. Is there any pressure on that side of the rink?

“Ah, you betcha!”

And there is, I suppose, some mathematical formula to show that?

“Nein…zey play in New York. Iff zey lose, zey vill never hear ze end of it until next Zeptember.”

What about Henrik Lundqvist? He was dominating early in the series, but he has been somewhat less than that in Games Five and Six. What sort of pressure is on him?

“More pressure zenn Don Koharski leaning up against a donut case.”

Good one, Prof.

“I’ve been zaving zat vun.”

But seriously, we hear that Lundqvist won’t have three bad games in a row. Anything to that?

“Vell, it’s not eggscakly unheard of. Earlier ziss year, he had three conzeckutiff games in which he allowed four or more goals.”

That would be December 23rd to December 29th, against the Caps, Devils, and Islanders, in which he allowed four, four, and five goals.

“Ja, and zeen zere iss zat real schinker of a run he had in early Dezember…”

Six, three, and eight goals allowed in consecutive games to Montreal, Calgary, and the Devils. He’s never done it in a playoff series, though.

“Ja, und until he allowed nine goals in two games against the Caps in 80 minutes, he hedd not allowed more than three goals in conzeckutiff games in ze playoffs, either.”

And, he’s allowed 14 goals in his last four games, covering 199:52 of play…that’s a 4.20 GAA.

“You’re pr-r-r-retty goot mit de mass-a-matiks your zelf.”

Thanks, Prof. I take it then, that there is more pressure on Lundqvist in this game?

“Oh, ab-zo-lutely. Zere iss a mooltiplier effect here. Iff you take ze lack of offense on ze part of ze Rangers…”

You mean six goals in their last five games…

“Ja, zat compunds ze problem for Lundqvist. Not only has he allowed zo many goals, but now, the Rangers heff to be sinking zat Lundqvist hess to…how do you say it?”

Pitch a shutout?

“Eggsackly! Pitch a shutout to vinn.”

And with the opposing forces of the constant of Ovechkin and the variable of Semin that would argue for some production in this game.

“It schpells ‘doom’ for ze Rangers.”

Nothing is guaranteed. All the Capitals have done in forcing a Game 7 is give themselves a chance to win a series they should, in fact, win. But the whole notion of pressure is, to our way of thinking, a product of sportwriters, fans, and Tony Kornheiser.

Players have dreamt about such moments since they were kids – Canadian boys on a pond dreaming it was Game 7 of a playoff game, and the puck is on their stick. European kids dreaming of perhaps making the big save to win an Olympic gold medal or World Championship. A youngster in New England with thoughts of stuffing home a rebound in the last second of a championship game.

Frankly, we’re thinking that fans are feeling more pressure than the players are.

For the players, it’s just a matter of going out to, as the late Herb Brooks put it, “play your game.” If both teams do that, the talent and the momentum are tilted steeply to the Capitals’ end of the ice. In a one-game playoff, a goalie – either goalie – could be an outsized factor. But the Capitals are deeper, more talented, on a roll. And the other goalie has had his struggles lately.

Tonight is the Capitals’ “final exam” of sorts, the product of lessons learned in last year’s Game 7 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. They’ve spent a year studying. Think they’ll pass, Professor?

“Oh, ja…based on ziss zimple arizzmetic, mit flying colors…”


Caps 4 – Rangers 1

Monday, April 27, 2009

Investigation Into Alleged Morrisonn Biting Takes a Turn

There is considerable anticipation this morning among Capitals and Rangers fans over the alleged incident involving Shaone Morrisonn and Brandon Dubinsky during yesterday’s 5-3 Caps win over the Rangers, one in which Morrisonn stands accused of having bitten Dubinsky. When the Ranger sought out a referee to show him the alleged damage inflicted by Morrisonn, Dubinsky was sent to the penalty box to serve a 10-minute misconduct penalty in addition to the roughing minor he earned in his scrap with Morrisonn.

Well, The Peerless has learned that a detailed examination of the Ranger was, in fact, performed after yesterday’s game, and we were able to obtain a partial transcript of the proceding, led by the renowned marine biologist and elasmobranchologist, Matt Hooper of the Oceanogaphic Institute…


Hooper: The height and weight of the victim can only be estimated from the partial remains. The torso has been severed in mid-thorax; there are no major organs remaining... well, at least his heart is missing…

Right arm has been severed above the elbow with massive tissue loss in the upper musculature... partially denuded bone remaining... This was no whirlpool accident! Did you notify the NHL league offices about this?

Ranger Official: No. Glen Sather just wrote a letter about the foul language Caps fans were using in Washington.

Hooper: The left arm, head, shoulders, sternum and portions of the rib cage are intact... Do not smoke in here, thank you very much!

This is what happens. It indicates the non-frenzied feeding of a large defenseman - possibly Erskimanus or Shaonus Morrisonnus. Now... the enormous amount of tissue loss prevents any detailed analysis; however the attacking defenseman must be considerably larger than any normal defenseman found on this Madison Square Garden ice. Didn't you watch these guys in the pre-game skate?

Ranger Official: No… we were proof reading Glen’s letter to make sure he spelled “egregious” right.

Hooper: Well, this is not a whirlpool accident! And it wasn't any locker room door; and it wasn't any hockey stick; and it wasn't Don Cherry! It was a defenseman.


This is not good news for Caps fans.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sun Stops in Sky, Cats and Dogs Live Together, Rangers Offended by Words

A lot of outlets have reported on the letter sent by Rangers General Manager Glen Sather to NHL Commissioner on the "egregious" conduct on the part of Capitals fans in Game Five at Verizon Center last Friday. The alleged behavior led, ultimately, to the suspension of Ranger Coach John Tortorella for this afternoon's game at Madison Square Garden after he tossed a water bottle into the stands, hitting a Caps fan.

Having read the language of the letter, we were struck by this...

"Throughout the game, several people seated immediately behind the visitors' bench took advantage of the looseness of the glass panels and the unusually wide gaps between the panels to assault the Rangers with some of the most obscene language imaginable. Because of the way the glass is installed, the patron sitting behind Coach Tortorella (the gray-haired, bearded man in the white T-Shirt) could literally scream into the coach's ear. According to Rangers trainer Jim Ramsay, one patron was screaming at the team, in graphic language, about whether Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have a sexual relationship. This was within earshot of several children seated nearby. Several other fans also made repeated homophobic remarks. Moreover, Mr. Ramsay reported that he and other bench personnel were spit on by one or more "fans" as they yelled through the gaps in the glass."

It reminded us of a line offered by the comedian Lewis Black, who knows something of New York linguistic traditions...
“In New York City, f*ck isn’t a word—it’s a comma.”
Maybe Glen is looking to have the league spot the Rangers two goals for Game 7 on Tuesday.

We've heard it all.

Morrisonn Bites Dubinsky -- The Visual Evidence Is In


There you have it...Shaone Morrisonn done bit Brandon Dubinsky's arm clean off at the elbow, but trooper he is, Dubinsky soldiered on (as depicted here with Brooks Laich about to lose his pre game meal at the sight of the wound).

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 6: Caps 5 - Rangers 3


.735

If you’re a hitter in major league baseball, that’s a helluva slugging percentage. If you’re an NBA basketball player, it’s a passable free throw shooting percentage. If you’re an NFL quarterback, it’s a fantastic completion percentage.

If you’re an NHL goalie, and that’s your save percentage, you suck.

And yet, that is Henrik Lundqvist’s save percentage (nine goals allowed on 34 shots) in the last two games, the latter being a 5-3 win by the Caps to force a Game 7 on Tuesday night at Verizon Center. He was pulled in both contests, the first time in his career he was pulled in consecutive games.

One could say that the Caps have found that hole they’ve been looking for on Lundqvist – high glove (gee, as if there isn’t a goaltender who can’t be beaten there), but that would be simplistic. What the Caps have done is create space for shooters to get shots off before Lundqvist can get square to the shot. And, the Caps have crowded Lundqvist’s crease to manage getting opportunities from in tight.

Of the former, nothing illustrated that more than the first two Capitals goals of the game. Milan Jurcina scored the first of them when he collected a pass and without a Ranger impeding the path launched a shot past Lundqvist on the glove side. But that was merely the end of a process. It started with Brooks Laich harassing Nikolai Zherdev along the far wall, enough that Zherdev coughed up the puck, whereupon Matt Bradley took control of it, sidestepping Zherdev and nudging the biscuit down the wall to David Steckel. With his back to the play, Steckel flicked the puck to Laich, who had circled back into the play. Laich slid it across to Jurcina, and before defenseman Paul Mara could recover to get into the shooting lane, Jurcina let fly for the goal. It started with pressure in the Ranger zone and kept the defense from establishing their shot blocking stance that has been so important to the Rangers in nullifying the Caps offense for much of the series.

The second goal – off the stick of Mike Green – involved the sort of random chance that occurs on power plays. Tom Poti backpedalled with the puck from the left wing point to the top of the Ranger zone, then fed Alexander Semin in the left win g faceoff circle. Semin hitched, then fired, the puck deflecting out to Green on the other side of the play. No Ranger was in a position to challenge Green, and without that sort of challenge, Green launched a shot that beat Lundqvist…on the glove side.

After that, it was the Capitals’ transition game that was on display. First, Marc Staal was pinned along the left wing boards with nowhere to go and no puck in his possession. It left Dan Girardi alone to defend a 3-on-1 breaking the other way, Tom Poti leading David Steckel and Boyd Gordon the other way. Poti fed Gordon in the middle, who pushed the puck off to Steckel, who threaded a pass to Poti at the near post, and it was all over before Lundqvist could step back across to keep the puck out of the net.

The second instance was much more basic. Tom Poti collected the puck in the far corner of the defensive zone and pushed it ahead to Viktor Kozlov at the Capitals’ line. Kozlov skated out of the zone, pushing Marc Staal off as he sped (or at least as much as Kozlov “speeds”) toward the Ranger end. At the Ranger line, Kozlov pulled the puck inside, and Staal got his feet scrambled, allowing Kozlov to cut for the net. Just before crashing into Lundqvist, Kozlov lifted the puck over the sprawled goalie, and the rout was on.

All that was left was a pretty deflection by Alex Ovechkin of a Tom Poti drive, and some window dressing stat padding for the Rangers. And all of a sudden, from a 3-1 hole, the Caps have a chance – a chance, mind you – to win a game 7 for only the second time in franchise history after being down 3-1.

Other stuff…

- Nikolai Zherdev was, to be charitable, awful. Between his shying away from a Brooks Laich hit that led directly to the Jurcina goal to missing an open net on a backhand when the score was still only 3-1 nine minutes into the second period, Zherdev had a difficult time. For the series he has no points and is a minus-3.

- Scott Gomez had a nice deflection off a Wade Redden shot from the point for a Ranger goal and assisted on a goal by Ryan Callahan, but he continued his own difficulties, finishing the afternoon having been on the ice for two goals – going minus-2 – and losing 11 of 19 draws.

- Much was made at the start of this series about Marc Staal and Dan Girardi getting the assignment of defending the Caps’ big guns. That defensive pair was on the ice for goals three, four, and five for the Caps.

- Let’s face it though…eight power plays allowed (including two 5-on-3 situations) is a recipe for disaster against most teams, even the Rangers in a Game 7. The Caps took a whopping 11 minor penalties and spent a total of 12:29 shorthanded.

- OK, so… a Shaone Morrisonn hat trick is what… a hit, a penalty, and a chomp?

- Simeon Varlamov has been very good. He hasn’t been called upon to be great, at least not very often, and today was another case in point. In the five games in which Varlamov has played, he has faced only 130 shots. Today he faced 32, but only allowed one goal on the first 24 shots he faced, when the game was still in doubt, and only 23 shots came at even strength. The Caps have been playing pretty well in front of him. But his stop on Brandon Dubinsky on a 2-on-1 after Dubinsky screwed John Erskine into the ice at the blue line with a move was huge. The Caps scored the first goal of the game immediately after the ensuing TV time out.

- The Rangers have a total of six goals on those 130 shots, half of them coming in this game, and two of those long after the competitive portion of the afternoon had been completed.

- In the past two games Alex Ovechkin has played “only” 20:21 and 20:50 of ice time. As if he needs more energy.

- At the other end, John Erskine passed the 20 minute ice time mark for the first time in the series. It was the most ice time he’s had since getting 21:21 against Pittsburgh on January 14th and is the second highest ice time mark he’s had this year.

- The Rangers were 5-for-18 on defensive zone draws. Wrong way to stop a team that has found its offensive stroke.

- This was the first four-point game for Tom Poti since February 19, 2004, when he registered four assists as his Rangers beat the Islanders, 6-2. Surprisingly, Poti was not one of the three stars of that game (Jaromir Jagr, Matthew Barnaby, Mike Dunham).

- Picking up on a theme we noted in the pregame, Henrik Lundqvist is now 1-5, 3.99, .870 in playoff games past Game Four of a series for his career.

- We’ll be very surprised if Donald Brashear dresses for Game 7. The hit on Blair Betts was suspension-worthy. There just isn’t any way to sugar coat it or explain it away. Betts was vulnerable in open ice, did not have the puck, and got blindsided by Brashear. It was an ugly footnote to an otherwise excellent Capitals performance on the road.

- It’s worth noting that Brashear’s day ended, not on the Betts hit, but upon his taking a hooking penalty 3:53 into the second period. He served his time, skated back across to the Caps bench upon its expiration, and did not see the ice again.

Before the series started, Rangers coach John Tortorella said that “home ice only comes into effect in Game 7." Well, here we are. One game – in Washington’s arena – for the right to play in May. But this is, as we harped on early, first to four, not first to three. And that fourth one – as the Caps so painfully learned last year – is the hardest of all to win. We’re going to find out if that was a lesson learned well, because if the Caps play as well and with as much focus as they have shown in Games Five and Six, the ending should be much more to the liking of the boys and their fans than was the case last year.

Flyers Lose, At Least One Person Drowns Sorrows

You want to read that caption of the picture below (click on it for a larger view) and tell The Peerless it wasn't written by a bitter fan who had a long night?

The Caps are playing the Hickory Huskers this afternoon


We get it!

What a coaching genius John Tortorella is. The whole thing – the water bottle, the stick, the confrontation, even the dealing with the unruly player the game before…we get it!

Oh, how could we have missed this? Torts knows his team is an offense-challenged group of rag-tags up against the goal-scoring behemoth from South Bend Centr…uh, Washington.

It’s “Hoosiers,” all over again.

Torts is Coach Norman Dale, banished to the hinterland from his last coaching job, brought in to light a fire under a team in what might be his last chance as a headmaster. He had already brought in Jim Schoenfeld as an “interim” assistant coach before this series, Schoenfeld himself being a former coach who hadn’t been behind an NHL bench in ten years.

So now Tortorella goes off during a game, gets suspended, and has to turn the whole thing over to Shooter...uh, Schoeny, for this afternoon’s game.

The only thing that’s left for Schoeny is to bring the kids over in the last minute and tell them to “run the picket fence at ‘em.”

Just don't get caught watchin' the paint dry!

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 6 -- Caps vs. Rangers

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s Game Six in this first round series between the New York Rangers and the Capitals, and with all the twists and turns it has taken, it seems as if this series began in November.

But today, we are thinking…”paper.”


That’s right, paper. In our never ending search for the horse that escaped the barn before the door was closed, we came across this site, and their award-winning design for a paper water bottle.

That’s right, a paper water bottle. If the Rangers had stumbled upon this idea, John Tortorella would have had a better chance of being behind the Ranger bench this afternoon. As it is, he will be sitting this one out, the victim, if you will, of a suspension from the league for heaving a water bottle into the stands at a fan who was suggesting that perhaps the Rangers needed to actually score a goal to win a hockey game. Tortorella, like just about everyone else on the Ranger bench, missed his target and conked a female season ticket holder in the noggin.

And here we thought “Propel” was a brand of water, not a how-to-use direction for the consumer.

“A quick temper will make a fool of you soon enough."

Cheerless?

"Hey cuz…"

Is that something you made up?

"Nope…Bruce Lee...'Men are like steel. When they lose their temper, they lose their worth.'”

Ben Franklin?

"Nope...Chuck Norris...'The one who cannot restrain their anger will wish undone, what their temper and irritation prompted them to do.'”

And who said that?

“Horace.”

Horace?

“Yeah, he didn’t give me his last name.”

OK, we’ll forgive our cousin for not knowing of the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus (even the Romans knew the value of teamwork – all their names seem to end in “us”). But there is a game to play here, and for all the side show pyrotechnics – Avery, Tortorella, yada yada, yada – it all comes down to one thing, and at this point one thing only.

Henrik Lundqvist.

If Lundqvist is not on this afternoon, the Rangers will not win. And now we’re getting into some pretty interesting territory for Lundqvist. And that territory is out in the deep blue, as it were, water of playoff series that go beyond four games. Including Friday’s meltdown against the Caps, Lundqvist has played in five such games in his career, and in them, he has been less “King Henrik,” and more “Hank”…

1-4, 3.51, .886.

And here is the ominous part for the Rangers. In a combined eight man games going past the Game Four mark, the Alexes – Ovechkin and Semin – have combined for six goals. In none of the games were both held without a goal. A small universe of games, to be sure, and Martin Biron -- against whom much of that record was compiled -- isn’t Henrik Lundqvist (although Lundqvist’s efforts in Games Five and Six look somewhat Bironesque), but the matchups will be in clear focus in this game.

For the Rangers at the other end of the ice, you have to hope – if you’re a Caps fan – that Scott Gomez does not revert to form for Game Six. In each of his four playoff years preceding this, Gomez was at least a point-per-game performer. He was on track for that after Game One, in which he went 1-2-3, but he hasn’t had a point since.

Chris Drury is a different problem. He came into this series with the reputation of being a clutch performer. But that is a reputation earned more for what he did before becoming a Ranger. In 114 playoff games before signing with New York, Drury scored 43 goals, 15 of them game-winners. In 14 games with the Rangers, he has four goals, two of them of the game-winning variety (including one in this series). If the Alexes are on at all, then Gomez and Drury have to answer if the Rangers are to stay in it.

Perhaps the wild card in all of this isn’t even a player. Jim Schoenfeld, who will assume the coaching duties for the Rangers on Sunday afternoon, has coached in nine playoff series in his own coaching career with three different teams, including the Capitals. Another ominous note for the Rangers – Schoenfeld has lost his last five series in the playoffs behind an NHL bench.

What comes to mind at this point is wrestling – a sport of strength and endurance, but also one of leverage. And the Caps have put themselves in position to exert and to take advantage of a certain amount of psychic leverage here. A franchise that has been victim, in the eyes of its fans, of misfortune over three decades, has seen the stars align to perhaps give them the advantage heading into Game Six. A player succumbs to the stupidity of selfish play… his coach chides him, sits him, then the coach goes off on his own adventure in temper… the impenetrable goaltender is found – and made – to be human after all…

If the Caps can get a lead in New York, it could be the last bit of leverage they need to wrestle control of the series away from the Rangers. It says here that they will…

Caps 4 – Rangers 2

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 5: Caps 4 - Rangers 0


IT’S…

A—

--LI-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-VE!!!

With 29 seconds left in the second period, New York Ranger coach John Tortorella walked to the end of the Ranger bench, leaned over backup goaltender Steve Valiquette and said something to the effect of, “you’re in after the break.”

What prompted this?

Well, if it wasn’t Alex Ovechkin’s top highlight goal of the season, it certainly was in the top three. Ovechkin’s second goal of the series capped the Capitals’ scoring in a 4-0 win over the Rangers to send the series back to New York with the Rangers still – if precariously – holding a 3-2 lead in games. As for the goal, we won’t even describe it. Just watch, and keep hitting “replay”…



Perhaps the sweetest irony in this goal was that Derek Morris – the defenseman who was supposed to bolster the Ranger blue line (and who was the object of affection for many Caps fans at the trading deadline) ended up being embarrassed not once, but twice on this play. First, by giving up the blue line so passively to Ovechkin as he cut across the middle, and then being the stuff of those still pictures you always see of great players making great plays at the expense of some schmoe – Morris filling the role of “schmoe” here by letting Ovechkin thread the puck through his legs as he took his final turn to the Ranger net.

But if Ovechkin’s goal was the cherry on top of the sundae, the Caps and their fans got two scoops of delight from just about the most unexpected source, and in the most unexpected ways.

Matt Bradley is not on anyone’s short list for “guys who will score big goals in big games.” No offense to Bradley, who’s energy we love to see displayed on the ice. But in 21 playoff games before last night, Bradley scored exactly no goals on 15 shots. Then, with the Rangers on a power play…

Boyd Gordon beat Wade Redden to a puck on the right wing boards. Gordon pried the puck off the boards and onto the stick of Mike Green in the faceoff circle, Green feeding it right back to Gordon. Skating down the half-wall, Gordon sent the puck hard around behind the Caps’ net. Michal Roszival could not get to the far wall quickly enough to keep the puck in the zone, and he appeared to get his skate blade caught where the ice meets the board, sending him tumbling to the ice as the puck slid free of the zone. Bradley sped by in pursuit of the puck, with Chris Drury trying to cut off the angle from the middle of the ice. Drury tried to pull the puck back while curling away from Bradley, but Bradley managed to poke the puck off Drury’s stick toward the Ranger end. In making his move, Drury was now out of position to keep Bradley from skating unimpeded into the Ranger zone, with the only thing between him and goalie Henrik Lundqvist being the puck.

It was here that Lundqvist had to make one of those split-second decisions goalies generally aren’t equipped to make in a split-second fashion. Do I skate out to try to cover the puck sliding toward me, or do I stay back and defend the shot? Lundqvist was caught in a no-man’s land, taking a step out toward the puck before deciding to stay back. Bradley collected the puck, settled it on his forehand, slid it to his backhand and roofed it over Lundqvist’s right pad for the shorthanded goal and the early lead.

Bradley wasn’t done. It all started when Brooks Laich couldn’t poke a pass away from Aaron Voros skating down the right side in the neutral zone. Voros, having escaped Laich, skated into the Capitals zone with Nik Antropov on a 2-on-1. Voros fired the puck short-side, and it looked as if Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov got enough of it with his left pad to send the puck behind the net. Paul Mara kept it in for the Rangers, sending the puck back around the net, but onto the stick of Sergei Fedorov for the Caps. Fedorov sent it forward to Tom Poti, who relayed it ahead to Laich in the neutral zone. Laich flipped the puck softly toward the right wing corner on what looked like a harmless dump-in.

But there was Bradley again, corralling the puck at the far edge of the right-wing faceoff circle. His momentum took him toward the Ranger goal line, and Bradley had little recourse but to throw the puck at the net in search of a rebound. But in throwing the puck at the net, Bradley’s shot found space between Lundqvist’s pads – it popped free behind the goalie and settled softly into the far side of the net.

Add in Alexander Semin’s rocket of a wrister off of a clean face off win by faceoff warrior (well, now at least) Nicklas Backstrom, and the Caps’ arsenal was on full display in front of a wild crowd at Verizon Center.

Other stuff…

- We get the impression that when John Tortorella’s fuse is lit, he would be a real hoot to watch go off. Fans almost got the full “Tortorella,” as a fan decided seven bucks was a fair price for something to toss at the Ranger coach – a beer. By the time the resulting dust had settled, Tortorella was brandishing a stick at the fans behind the Ranger bench, interim assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld had his arms around Tortorella to hold him back from swinging that stick, security was in the stands, referees were at the bench, players were standing a jawing with the fans, and it looked like some perverse episode of “Cops: The NHL File.”

- We get that Chris Drury is playing one handed. That he’s out there at all is testimony to his grit, trying to play through what looks like a wrist injury. But it’s also testimony to just how starved the Rangers are for any offense that he’s out there. He attempted only one shot (blocked), split eight draws, was the victim on Bradley’s first goal, and finished the night minus-3. Is he a liability out there?

- What we don’t get is Scott Gomez. Even if the Rangers advance, it won’t be because of anything Gomez has done in this series. He was awful last night, right from the point – 76 seconds into the game – where he took a retaliatory slash on Alex Ovechkin until he had his last shot attempt blocked by Brian Pothier in the game’s last minute of play. He has no points since game one, and he’s generally played with a chip on his shoulder, more inclined to stick work against players than on the puck.

- Why was that first Bradley goal so unexpected? Well, putting aside that it was Bradley at all who scored it, he was 18th on the team in average shorthanded ice time in the regular season. It was almost as much a shock that he was killing that early penalty as much as the goal that came during the penalty kill.

- Derek Morris is being paid $3.9 million and change this year. He’s not earning it in this series. Being undressed twice on the same play by Alex Ovechkin aside, he hasn’t resembled anything close to the sort of shut-down defenseman such a salary and his having been acquired to be would indicate. Early in the series, a fair amount was written about how Marc Staal and Dan Girardi would get the lion’s share of the time against Ovechkin. Then, it was Redden and Roszival. Meanwhile, Morris has been on the ice for six of the 12 goals the Caps have scored in this series.

- Need support scoring? OK…Ovechkin and Semin got goals; Mike Green and Backstrom got assists. The Caps have to have that. But the Caps also got two goals and four assists from players not featured on a group poster. Matt Bradley (two goals), Tom Poti (an assist), Boyd Gordon (an assist), Brooks Laich (an assist), and Sergei Fedorov (an assist) chipped in nicely.

- It was a measure of how badly the Rangers played that they could score nothing despite the rather cavalier way the Caps handled the puck. 22 giveaways (the Rangers had but seven) against a team with a stronger offensive pulse could have ended this game a lot differently for the Caps.

- He didn’t register on the score sheet, but we did like Eric Fehr’s compete level last night. And this is the conundrum in terms of his ice time. He can play the role that, let’s just say, a Tomas Fleischmann can’t – he can be an energy guy along the boards and on the forecheck that Fleischmann can’t be. Fleischmann might get some PK time (1:07 last night), but is essentially a guy who can get, and only get, top six forward kind of ice time. Fehr can assume, to use today’s term of preference, “greasy” roles. It might help him down the road, giving him an education in the knocks and pings a power forward has to endure, but for now it appears to relegate him more to fourth line ice time.

- Did the Caps want this? They had 21 blocked shots to 11 for the Rangers, 12 takeaways to five for the Blueshirts.

- Does Simeon Varlamov know these are the playoffs? We’re not so taken up in the romance of “20 year old goalie with 15 seconds of experience shuts down NHL team in playoffs” angle to realize that some of those rebounds he’s leaving would be red meat to a guy like, say, Evgeni Malkin. But on the other hand, those are technical issues that can be corrected. You don’t teach the sort of innate aggressiveness he possesses to challenge shooters, the uncommon quickness he has, or the confidence that belies his age. Some goalies are meek in style and temperament. Others have presence. Varlamov has the latter.

- For all the ink expended on the absence of Sean Avery and what that did to the Rangers last night, we thought Aaron Voros did more than a passable impersonation in Avery’s stead – 12 minutes in penalties, minus-2, no points (Avery doesn't have any, either). Yup..it was “Averyesque.”

The Caps live to skate another day. It is Groundhog Day, or rather “Groundhog Year.” Last year, they were on the brink, won a hard-fought game five, went to Philadelphia and vanquished the hosts in game six amid a sea of orange in one of the most difficult buildings for a visitor to win a game in the NHL.

Last night, the Caps were on the brink, won a hard-fought game five, and will now head to Madison Square Garden – another of the league’s most difficult venues for visitors – and battle a team supported by the blue-clad insane who descend upon Manhattan for the afternoon.

Been there, done that.

Well, do it again.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Anything you can do...


...I can do better.

Tonight's lines for the kiddie goalies...


In the Ranger series, Varlamov is 2-2, 0.76, .969 and two shutouts. Meanwhile, Neuvirth closed out the Philadelphia Phantoms tonight, going 4-0, 1.50, .945, with one shutout.

Do you know what kind of game it's going to take?

...to win Game 5, that is?

Rewind back a year, to Game 5 of the Caps-Flyers series. We'd kind of like to rewrite this one later this evening...

And here is the event summary from that game. 44 hits...they hit anything in a white jersey that moved.

Talking Game Five With...Carl Spackler


This being a special day and special circumstances, we went to visit an old friend to get his take on what the Caps need to do to snare a win and keep this series against the Rangers going another couple of games. Here are some highlights from our conversation with the esteemed sports legend and golfing commentator, Carl Spackler...

Carl, thanks for sitting down with us before game five of the Caps-Rangers series. I knew you were a legend in the golfing world, but I never knew you were such a hockey fan. You even met the Commissioner recently, didn’t you?

"Uh, yeah…I jump ship in Manhattan and make my way over to midtown, and I get in the NHL offices as a blogger."

A blogger?

“A blogger, you know, a windbag, a know-it-all, a blogger. So, I tell them I'm a blogger, and who do you think they let me see? The Commisioner, himself. Twelfth son of David Stern. The tailored suit, the weird smile, weaselly...striking. So, I'm in the office with him. And do you know what the Commish says? ‘Gunga galunga...gunga- gunga lagunga.’ So we finish our little talk and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, ‘Hey, Commish, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know?’ And he says, ‘Oh, uh, there won't be any quotes for the media, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.’ So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.”

About this series, some folks think that Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist is in the players’ heads on the Caps. If you’re sitting there getting ready for the game, how do you prepare?

“I got to get into this dude's pelt and crawl around for a few days. Who's the goalie’s ally. His friends. The harmless squirrel and the friendly rabbit.”

You mean Sean Avery and Marc Staal.

“Yeah, or maybe just the harmless squirrel and the friendly rabbit. Goalies are weird, man.”

Do you have any visualizations of how you’d face up to playing against a Lundqvist?

"You beast... You savage... C'mon, bark like a dog for me… I will teach you the meaning of the word ‘respect!’"

How about the Rangers? What will you be thinking about them? Sean Avery in particular…

“How 'bout a nice cool drink from this water bottle, varmint. Scum. Slime. Menace to the NHL. You’re a disgrace to the varmints. Your one of the lowest members of the food chain, and you'll probably be replaced by the rat. Well, I have been pushed. It's about time somebody teaches this varmint a little lesson about morality and about what it's like to be a decent, upstanding member of a society! Come to Carl, varmint. -- I guess we're playing for keeps now. I guess the kidding around is pretty much over. I guess it's just a matter of pumping about five knuckles into your face to teach you a little bit of a lesson. Is that it? I think it is!”

Last, Carl…the Caps have a lot of young guys who for the second year are facing a 3-1 deficit, playing a tough team trying to close it out here in Washington. If you’re visualizing your performance, trying to shut all that out, what are you thinking?

"What an incredible Cinderella story! This unknown, comes out of nowhere, to lead the team to a win at Verizon Center. We’re in the final minute. He's skating out of from behind the net about 455 yards away, he's gonna hit about a 2-iron, I think. Oh, he got all of that. The crowd is standing on its feet here at The Phone Booth. The normally reserved crowd is going wild... for this young Cinderella who's come out of nowhere. He's got about 350 yards left, he's going to hit about a 5-iron, it looks like, don't you think? He's got a beautiful backswing on his slap shot... that's- oh, he got all of that one! He's gotta be pleased with that! The crowd is just on its feet here. He's a Cinderella boy. Tears in his eyes, I guess, as he skates in for this last shot. He's got about 195 yards left, and he's got a, looks like he's got about an 8-iron. This crowd has gone deadly silent... Cinderella story, out of nowhere, former beer league player, now about to be the hero. It looks like a mirac- it's in the net! It's in the net!!"

Well, thanks Carl. Hopefully, the Caps will take some of this advice…

“...if you ever want to rap or just get weird with somebody...”

Not Getting It

The Caps have played in 11 post season games in the last two years. In those games, they have scored a total of 28 goals (27 by players on this year's roster, Steve Eminger having departed). Of that number, 24 have been scored by players aged 25 and under.

Four goals by "veterans" -- David Steckel (27), Donald Brashear (37), Sergei Fedorov (39), and Viktor Kozlov (34). Except for Kozlov's goal, the other three were scored in the Flyers' series last year.

It's one thing to rely on young talent, and the Caps certainly have an abundance of such talent. But the veterans need to chip in more than they have. We're not looking for a lot from David Steckel, whose talent lies more in preventing other teams from scoring, and less from Donald Brashear (who has only dressed for two games in this series).

But for Fedorov and Kozlov -- a combined 2-8-10 in 11 playoff games the last two years (a combined 1-1-2, -2 in four games in this series) -- more isn't needed, it's to the point now where it is required.

edit: As reader Blanket points out, we missed Tom Poti in this little scribble, but it doesn't really affect materially the argument that the Caps aren't getting a lot from the vets. At the risk of making the usual (and usually abused) comparison, the Penguins have gotten two goals and eight assists from the veteran quartet of Bill Guerin, Sergei Gonchar, Chris Kunitz, and Matt Cooke through five games of the Flyer series that they lead, 3-2.

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 5: Caps vs. Rangers


The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

OK, Caps fans, with the boys down three games to one, it’s time to break out all the good luck charms you have lying around or any you find, for that matter. So, if you’re out and about today, enjoying the fine spring weather, look out for…

Acorns. For those of you familiar with Norse folklore, the acorn brings good fortune. A lone acorn is also thought to ward off lightning when placed in a windowsill. OK…save that one for next year when the Caps play Tampa Bay.

Stray Eyelash. As the story goes, if a stray eyelash should fall upon your cheek, place it on your finger and make a wish. Then blow the eyelash away. Your wish will come back to you. No word on if plucking eyelashes works…we might see hundreds of “lashless” Caps fans tonight.

Coins. If you see one lying on the sidewalk, look at it before you pick it up. If it’s “heads” up, pick it up – it’s a sign of good luck to come. If it’s “tails” up, leave it be – that’s a bad luck sign.

Crows. One is bad, two are a sign of luck, three signifies health, four – wealth, five means illness, six is death. No word on seven, maybe a hat trick.

Wood. Know where that whole “knock on wood” thing comes from? Seems there is a long history of believing that spirits live in trees, and knocking on them or touching them would bring good fortune, or (in the case of Celtic tradition) thank spirits for a bit of luck. Go forth and find a tree, Caps fans.

As for the game, we have that 3-1 deficit thing to think about. The last time a team down three games to one came back and won a series was in 2004. Montreal turned the trick against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. In game five of that series, Montreal was faced, not only with having to crawl out of a deep hole, but they had to do so after an especially bitter game four.

In that game four, Montreal gagged on a 3-1 lead that they took not two minutes into the second period. Mike Knuble scored a goal in the last minute of regulation for the Bruins to send the game into overtime, and the Bruins won in a second overtime when Sheldon Souray and Alex Kovalev collided in the neutral zone, allowing Glen Murray to skate in alone on – gulp! – Jose Theodore for the game winning goal.

Forward to game five. Beaten, beat down, and having to go on the road to Boston, Montreal got a masterful performance from, that’s right – Theodore – in holding off the Bruins while building a 1-0 lead after one period and a 2-0 lead after two. The Bruins cracked, and Montreal poured in three goals in the third on their way to a 5-1 win that featured 43 saves by Theodore.

Montreal won game six at Bell Centre, 5-2, then traveled back to Boston to close out the Bruins in shocking fashion – a 2-0 shutout by Theodore.

The point of all of this is that, as the great Senator John Blutarsky famously put it, “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”

But deciding it’s not over and making it so are two different things. To achieve that, some things are going to have to change. So far, the “young guns” have been good. Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green have a combined four goals and 16 points in four games -- four points a game. But each member of this foursome averaged more than a point a game this year in the regular season. The Alexes have averaged more than a point a game in this series (five points apiece), but all four must be better than good. In game three – a 4-0 win – they combined for eight points. Split the difference – the Caps need six points out of this group.

The Caps have received almost nothing from anyone else in this series. Outside of the “young guns,” no Cap has more than one point. Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Kozlov, Brooks Laich, Sergei Fedorov…you guys have one point apiece. That simply isn’t going to do.

Mike Green has had a difficult series. He just doesn’t seem himself, frankly. He’s been on the ice for four of the seven goals scored by the Rangers and has only two assists at the offensive end in compiling a team-worst minus-3 rating (tied with Eric Fehr). If Green doesn’t snap out of it, this isn’t likely to end well for the Caps.

If that Montreal-Boston series from 2004 is instructive, the best players need to step up in a big way. Montreal scored 12 goals in the last three games of that series. Richard Zednik had three; Alex Kovalev, Yanic Perrault, and Saku Koivu had two apiece. Koivu led the scoring with seven total points in those games. Zednik had five points. Perreault and Kovalev had four apiece.

But there were also the chip-ins. Darren Langdon and Jan Bulis had goals. Sheldon Souray and Andrei Markov contributed a pair of assists apiece from the blue line. And there was the goaltending.

That series provides an eerie echo to what is going on in the Caps-Rangers series. Montreal could not solve Bruin goalie Andrew Raycroft in the first four games, beating him only seven times in 134 shots (a .948 save percentage for Raycroft). Goaltending (yes, by Theodore) was not the problem, having allowed Boston only 11 goals in those four games, two of which went to overtime – Theodore had a .912 save percentage in those first four games.

But in the last three games, the Habs found their stroke, beating Raycoft on 12 of 79 shots (.848), while Theodore bettered his early series numbers in the last three games (97 saves on 100 shots faced). And here's the thing...it was the first time in the storied history of the Montreal Canadiens that they recovered from a 3-1 series deficit.

This isn’t, as they say, “rocket science.” The Caps need to get more out of their best, get something – anything – out of the next wave of players, and keep stuffing the Rangers’ offensive chances. Do that three times, and there is hockey in May in Washington, after all.

229 teams have faced a 3-1 deficit in Stanley Cup playoff series. 20 of them have come back to win those series. If the Caps are to be the 21st, they have to win one before they can win another, and that starts tonight…

Caps 4 – Rangers 1

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 4: Rangers 2 - Caps 1


Well, there is no longer any question about what has to be done by the Caps in this series.

Talk about Sean Avery (who has been an incomprehensibly selfish liability to the Rangers in this series) or Henrik Lundqvist, or the phases of the moon, and it all comes down to this now…

Win.

That’s what the Caps are left with, as for the second year in a row, they are faced with having to claw out of a 3-1 deficit in games after the Rangers’ 2-1 win last night.

Looking back over the game, the Caps did almost everything right…

The right guys got the shots on goal – Alex Ovechkin had 11, Nicklas Backstrom had five, Alexander Semin had three, Mike Green had a pair. 21 shots on goal by the young guns, and only one made it through (Ovechkin).

The Caps had power play pressure – 11 shots on goal in six power plays…but no goals.

They hit with the Rangers – the Caps had 24 hits to 27 for the Rangers.

They had fewer giveaways – five versus seven for the hosts.

They withstood an early rush by the Rangers in which the blueshirts had six shot attempts on goalie Simeon Varlamov (four shots on goal) before the game was four minutes old and before the Caps had so much as attempted a shot on goal.

But for all the things that the Caps did right, for all that will be said about Henrik Lundqvist this morning (deservedly so), and for all the words that will be devoted to Fate hating the Washington Capitals (and you have to wonder), it was what a lot of folks think is a little thing that started the Caps off on their voyage of despair last night.

Faceoffs.

If you decompose the faceoffs, it goes like this…The Caps lost 39 of 58 draws last night (32.8 percent winning percentage). They were worse in the defensive zone, winning only five of 17 draws (29.4 percent). But the unkindest cut of all came down to one faceoff and two players who had interesting (if unfortunate, for the Caps) turns of fortune in the circle in this game.

David Steckel came into the game having won 15 of 29 draws in the series (51.7 percent). Brandon Dubinsky came in having won 24 of 54 (44.4 percent). They met for the first time in the Caps’ zone at the 13:52 mark of the first period. To that point in the game, Steckel and Dubinsky had faced off twice, the two having split the draws. On this occasion – on Steckel’s only defensive zone faceoff taken in this game – Dubinsky won it cleanly, and three seconds later Paul Mara scored (more on that in the “Fate” portion of the show, later).

One could spend time talking about the flubbed glove save on the part of Varlamov that led to what would become the winning goal by Chris Drury early in the second period – and it was precisely the sort of error that one would worry about with a young goalie – but the object of the exercise for the Caps in this one, as it was in Game 3, was to get a lead. When Mara scored, the game tilted toward Henrik Lundqvist, and that is a position the Caps have not found to their liking so far.

But then there is the matter of Fate, and the perverse sense of glee it seems to take in tormenting the Caps, no matter who wears the sweater. Last night, Fate outdid itself, and it manifested itself in two plays.

The first took place on that faceoff between David Steckel and Brandon Dubinsky. Yes, Dubinsky won the draw cleanly back to Paul Mara, and the Ranger defenseman sent the puck on its way toward the Caps net with a harmless enough looking shot. But the puck, steered by Fate, looked to have struck Ranger Nikolai Zherdev, then the stick of John Erskine, before popping behind Varlamov. The puck changed direction more than a tourist at the Smithsonian Metro station exit.

Alex Ovechkin came into this game having failed to notch a goal in 24 shots on Lundqvist. It hadn’t kept him from reloading and firing again. But there was one play on which he didn’t take the shot (a faint echo of a situation in Game 7 against the Flyers last year) that gave Fate its chance to enter, stage right.

With 3:50 left in the first period and the Rangers nursing that 1-0 lead, Ovechkin swiped the puck from Scott Gomez at the top of the Caps’ zone and sped off the other way. As Dan Girardi backed off Ovechkin entering the zone, Gomez pinched down to provide support. In a hundred – no, a thousand similar circumstances – Ovechkin (by this time at the top of the left wing circle) would have snapped a wrister, perhaps through Girardi’s legs, at Lundqvist. He would, in fact, do precisely such a thing later in scoring a goal.

But this time he left a perfect drop pass that Sergei Fedorov – trailing the play – stepped into and launched toward the net. Lundqvist, who was angled to receive the shot from Ovechkin that never came, was beaten cleanly by Fedorov’s drive. Fate, however, nudged the shot a little high, where it slammed into the crossbar and off into the corner, leaving Ovechkin behind the net raising his arms in celebration of a goal that wasn’t scored.

Fate is still cackling.

The series is now four games old, and it could be said that the Caps have “outplayed” the Rangers in each of them. But this isn’t figure skating, there are no style points at this time of year. They’ve done 98 percent of what they needed to do, that last two percent being “put the puck past the goalie.” If you had told us that the Caps would have held the opponent – any opponent – to three goals in the last three games of this series, we’d have assumed that the Caps won all three games. That the Caps have lost two of them is the stuff of legend of the sort that characterizes this franchise over the past 25 years of playoff hockey.

You can talk about shooting more, shooting less, getting bodies in front, doing better on the power play, this, that, or the other thing. But now the task becomes much simpler. Fail to perform it, and it’s golf in May again. Given the way the other goalie has played in this series, you can’t expect that Henrik Lundqvist is going to lose three games in a row. The Caps have to beat him.

They have to win.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 4: Caps vs. Rangers

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

It’s game 4 of the Eastern QF, and the Caps are trying to tie a series that was almost given up for dead last Saturday night.

"Did you know that the Caps have won five straight games 4 after winning games 3, dating back to the 1990 playoffs and 6-2, all time?"

Why it's sports gaming whiz Dwayne Allan Boot. Long time, no see. Any other tidbits you’d like to share?

"You mean that I’m 267-0 in predicting Stanley Cup playoff games played under a crescent moon under partly cloudy skies?"

I didn’t know that…

“And that’s documented!”

Documented?

"You bet…and if you call my service right now, I will give you – FREE!! – my super guaranteed documented pick of the year in the Game 5 of the Peoria-Houston series in the Calder Cup playoffs tonight."

Don’t know that we have a lot of demand for a pick on that game, big guy…

“Why do you think I offer it for FREE?!?!”

But what about the Caps?

"Did you know that Sergei Fedorov is fourth among active players in playoff plus-minus, and if you act now, you can get my members-only documented guaranteed pick in the Bakersfield-Las Vegas tilt in Game 6 of the ECHL Kelly Cup first round..PLUS…"

Plus??

“Well…plus something.”

Let us know when you get that figured out.

"You bet, Peerless, but in the meantime, did you know that Alex Ovechkin is the all time NHL playoff career leader in shots on goal among players whose last name begins with ‘O’ and ends in ‘vechkin?’”

I’ll bet that’s a short list.

“Not as short as the completely satisfied members who signed up for my service and called in to get the FREE!... GUARANTEED!!... DOCUMENTED!!!... F√§rjestad win over HV 71 last Sunday in the Elitserien playoffs."

Elitserien?

“That’s right, Peerless, the Elitserien…I think that’s in Manitoba or somewhere in Greenland.”

What about the goalies?...Simeon Varlamov has looked really good in two games.

“Ah, but did you know, Peerless, that in the ten playoff seasons preceding this one, 27 rookie goalies have taken the ice, and of that number, only three have won at least ten games. And if you were a member of my Platinum Members Club, you’d know who those goalies were…”

I could go to NHL.com and find out that they were Cam Ward, Ryan Miller, and Brian Boucher.

“Sure, but are those goalies DOCUMENTED?”

We’re going to go out on a limb and say “yes” on that one. So what are the keys to this one?

"The second period."

The second period?

"Yup…17 teams have taken a lead into the second intermission so far in the first round, and 17 teams with that lead have won those games."

Hard to beat those odds.

"Speaking of odds, it won’t be a gamble if you call me right now and subscribe to my Super Duper Diamond Member service, and I’ll give you…FREE!...my guaranteed, lead-pipe cinch pick in the Boston University versus Miami of Ohio national championship final…"

Psst…Boston won.

"That’s why it’s guaranteed, Peerless."

How about Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green. That’s 87 regular season goals between them and oh-for-33 in shots so far in three games in this series. What’s your prescription for getting those two off the schneid?

"Keep shooting!...Like Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, just like you’ll miss out on 100 percent of my documented picks if you don’t call. So Alex…keep shooting. And all you readers out there, keep dialing."

What about Henrik Lundqvist? He’s been spectacular at times. Can he shut the door on the Caps tonight?

“Well, Lundquvist is 4-0, 1.50, .948, with one shutout in games 4 of the playoffs in his career.”

Sounds ominous for the Caps.

“Not as ominous as you’re sitting by the phone wondering if you should call me, when I have a 193-0 record on picking Stanley Cup first round winners on Wednesday nights in April.”

Documented?

“Lock, stock, and documented!”

If Ovechkin and Green need to get going, goal-scoring wise, where is the help going to come from?

“Look to Sergei Fedorov. He is the active career playoff leader in assists, with 118.”

I guess it’s going to come down to whether Simeon Varlamov has another big effort in him, and Ovechkin and Green can solve Lundqvist.”

“Right you are, Peerless, just as I’ve been right 316 times in a row when picking Stanley Cup playoff winners on Earth Day.”

I didn’t know there were that many Earth Day playoff games.

“That’s why I’m the king of sports prognosticating, Peerless.”

So, do you have a winner for tonight?

“Well, after you factor in the rookie goaltender versus the cagey battle-tested veteran, the Caps gunners versus the Ranger defense, the visitors’ power play versus the home team’s penalty kill, the game will end up going to the team that manages to score more goals than the other one.”

Yup, you’re the king alright…

Caps 3 – Rangers 2

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What to get the pest who has everything


...if he wants to be understood by certain goalies, anyway.

The Curious Code of Playoff Hockey


While Caps fans have been enthralled at the performance of Simeon Varlamov, a curious dynamic is unfolding in another Eastern Conference quarterfinal, that between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins won game 1, escaped with an overtime win in game 2, then went to Philly and had their hats handed to them in game 3. It is in that game 3 that something interesting took place.

Phil Sheridan over at the Philadelphia Inquirer describes a sequence of events that include Chris Kunitz, Kimmo Timonen, and Scott Hartnell that actually started in game 1 of the series, when Timonen was injured by Kunitz, and ended when (as Sheridan put it), "Hartnell tracked down Kunitz, got his attention, and the two fought near center ice" after Kunitz took another run at Timonen. It was an episode that is part of a broader ethic that dominates this time of year, one described by Flyer captain Mike Richards...

"That's probably our strategy for [Sergei] Gonchar and for [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin. Every chance I get, I try to hit Malkin, I'm trying to hit Crosby, and I'm taking runs at Gonchar, too. It's playoff hockey. That's what you try to do, you try to get them off their game."

It is a code that is understood by both giver and receiver, and those who would be the arbiters of justice who don't wear stripes on their shirts. And it is in that last role where the code of playoff hockey takes a curious, if not wholly unexpected turn. In describing the events that unfolded, it was left to Scott Hartnell -- the player who would exact a measure of payment from Chris Kunitz for his taking liberties with Timonen -- who offered this...

"You can say whatever you want about the hit, but [Kunitz] showed some guts and class dropping the mitts. I just wanted to get there and let him know it's not going to be taken lightly, hitting our best players (emphasis added)."

Only in hockey could you find, in one sentence, recognition of a harm done to a teammate, the intention -- the fulfillment of the code -- that it not go unpunished, and the player applying that punishment praising the perpetrator for standing up and answering for what he did in the first place.


Playoff hockey.


* Photo: Eric Mencher/Philadelphia Inquirer

Back to the Future

It's early -- two games worth -- but this isn't uncharted territory for a young Caps goalie, either. Why, back in 1998...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 3: Caps 4 - Rangers 0


It’s still first to four.

But at least the Caps have one in the books toward that end after a 4-0 shutout of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, or – if you’re a Sean Avery fan – Club Stoopid.

Sometimes, it takes a beat up Saturn to get you where you’re going, not a Lamborghini, and such was the case tonight as the Caps scored four goals from (according to the NHL official play-by-play) a total of 51 feet from the Rangers’ net. The currency the Caps were trading in was to head for the net, and it was just what was needed to make Henrik Lundqvist pay with a good, but not great performance on a night when he was the second best goalie on the ice.

The best goalie on the ice tonight would be Simeon Varlamov. It wasn’t so much the saves, many of which were of the “he did what?!” variety, but his preternatural calm in what was described before the game as “a jungle.” Even when the social director of Club Stoopid decided he’d “send a message” to Varlamov toward the end of the game, Varlamov just looked back with an expression that said, “I have no idea what you’re saying, fashion boy, not because I can’t speak English, but because all you’re doing is spitting out of your mouthpiece.” Varlamov managed to draw two penalties on Sean Avery, one of which the Caps scored on in the ensuing power play. He is the youngest goalie every to record a shutout in a playoff game at Madison Square Garden…he played a lot older.

If you win from the net out in the playoffs, then that’s just what the Caps did. It was a night for the “defensive” defensemen, led by John Erskine, who must have read Stan Fischler’s love note on the “Game On!” blog at MSG.com this morning…

“Be it Tom Poti or Milan Jurcina, nobody on the Caps backline impresses as a DEFENSEMAN. John Erskine gives an effort but we're talking about a fellow who couldn't even last on the Islanders varsity.”

Looked pretty good out there tonight. Maybe you’ll regale us with another story from the 1940’s in tomorrow’s blog.

And speaking of Tom Poti and Milan Jurcina…Poti played 23 minutes of error-free hockey. His score sheet is lily white, but the important column is the plus-minus one…as in, no goals scored when on the ice. The goal he scored was pure gravy.

If Poti was effective in a quiet way, Jurcina was that in a more assertive way. Four hits, usually of the bug-on-a-windshield variety, and he seemed to take instruction well. He was making the effort to change the angle on his shot opportunities from the point, rather than just firing it into the leg pads of Ranger defenders.

And speaking of “defensive” defensemen, Mike Green…five hits. Led the team in that category. It wasn’t a vintage Green performance, but this isn’t the time of year when he’s likely to be featured on a lot of pinch-in goals. This was more of the game he needs to play. When the opportunities present themselves on offense, he’s still got the talent to take advantage of them.

In fact, it would be hard to find much fault with any of the defensemen tonight – as a group it might have been the best performance by a six-man group for the Caps this year.

Here might be the most bizarre number of the night – one. That was the number of giveaways the Caps were charged with committing. You can attribute that to the scoring quirks of Madison Square Garden (the Rangers had only four), but the Caps were much better with the puck than they were on Saturday, when the Caps were charged with 24 giveaways.

Back to the defense…it wasn’t as if the defensemen didn’t have help. Boyd Gordon had two blocked shots, a takeaway, and won nine of 13 draws. It says something that he had more shorthanded ice time (4:02) than any other forward. And only David Steckel took more defensive draws.

Nicklas Backstrom will be remembered for two eyes-in-the back-of-his head passes on his way to a three-assist night. But Backstrom had as many hits as Jurcina (four), and it was perhaps the play he made on his secondary assist on the second Semin goal that was his most important of the night. After Ryan Callahan banged a shot off the inside of the post behind Varlamov, the Caps broke out of the zone as Backstrom took a pass at the Capitals’ blue line. He skated down the middle until he gained the Ragner line, then curled into the left wing corner. Callahan circled into the play and was bearing down on Backstrom. Instead of planting a check on the Caps center, though, Callahan was thrown off by Backstrom, who then recovered the puck and fed Alex Ovechkin on the goal line. Ovechkin drew a Ranger aside with a fake that opened up a passing lane and fed Semin for the weakside shot that snuck in behind Lundqvist.

Speaking of Ovechkin, we’ll probably hear tomorrow about his being oh-for-24 on shots on goal. Whatever…tonight he made two superb plays on defense that helped preserve the shutout. One took place when Lauri Korpikoski and Brooks Laich were tangled up along the left wing boards. The puck slowed down enough for Korpikoski to circle out with it and nothing between him and Varlamov but clear ice. Ovechkin dove to try to poke the puck off Korpikoski’s stick and did just enough to upset the Ranger’s rhythm. Korpikoski recovered the puck and spun to his forehand, but Ovechkin was doing his best impression of a speed bump above which Korpikoski couldn’t lift the puck. Ovechkin managed to smother the puck in his legs to prevent a chance on Varlamov.

On the other, Ovechkin couldn’t corral a puck that come off the side boards, one that found a Ranger stick going the other way. Ovechkin raced back on the play and made a diving sweep check of the puck to deny another chance against Varlamov.

Another number of note…13. Much has been made of the Rangers’ capacity to block shots in this series – 50 in the first two games. But tonight, there were only 13 by the Rangers. Why? Of the 40 shots on goal recorded by the Caps, only 18 were from outside of 20 feet. The Caps made the Rangers defend and did not give them the luxury of flopping to the ice in front of shots from the concession stands.

It appears that the future is now. Simeon Varlamov is now the number one goalie. He certainly has the raw talent for the role – keep in mind the only game he’s lost in regulation in his brief NHL career was a playoff game in which he allowed but a single goal. He’s allowed more than two goals in a game only once in seven appearances. But it’s still an uphill climb, and if the Caps are going to crawl back on top, it will be on the sort of combined effort they displayed tonight.

But ominously for the Rangers is a question asked by the gas bag in New York

“Where's Ovechkin? Where's Mike Green? Four goals scored by the visitors and not one from Ovie's stick nor Green's for that matter. What happens if they ever hit the mark?”

Answer: You’ll be asking where a two-game lead went.

And then there is this from Lundqvist on his opposite number…

"He played well. But on Wednesday we've got to put more pressure on him."

You might recall Lundqvist pretty much said the same thing after the Saturday game. Fun time is over. Rock tours are over. Now, it’s pick up your lunch pail, put on your hard hat, and get to work.