The Washington Capitals are in the unlikely position of being able to push the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins out of the playoffs with a victory in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon.
“What time is the game, cuz?”
It’s at 3 o’clock, Cheerless.
“You’re sure? None o’ that wimmen’s figure skating on TV, cuz?”
Nope…no ladies figure skating…hockey at 3 o’clock.
“No horse racing?”
Not to worry, cousin. The Kentucky Derby isn’t for another couple of weeks.
“None o’ them outdoor shows, like when a couple o’ guys sit in a boat for an hour pretending to fish?”
No fishing shows… no cycling shows… no darts… no travel shows.
“Not even golf?”
Nope… not even golf?
“Rats… I was kinda hopin’ to see the Red Wings and the Sharks on the links.”
Hopefully, the Caps will see their way clear to sending the Bruins to the golf course with a win on Sunday. It will be the 29th time in the history of the franchise that the Caps have had a chance to eliminate a team in the playoffs with a win. As you might imagine, their record is not too good. In their 28 send-‘em-home games to date, the Caps are 10-18. Most of those 28 opportunities have come at home, where the Caps are 7-12 in such games.
Since the lockout, the Caps have had seven send-‘em’home games, six of them played at home. They are 2-4 in those home games. And if there has been a common theme in those six games it has been an inability to score goals. Only once in the six games did they score more than two goals, last year’s 3-1 first-round series clincher against the New York Rangers. What else has been happening in those home elimination games?
-- It’s not as if the Caps have been leaky in their own end in these games – they have allowed only 15 goals in those six games, six of them coming in a 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semi-finals.
-- One problem has been getting behind the eight-ball early. In the six elimination games played at Verizon Center the Caps have been outscored by a combined 7-4 in the first period and allowed the first goal four times.
-- Special teams have been the undoing of the Caps in these games – 2-for-18 on the power play (11.1 percent), 17-for-22 on the penalty kill (77.3 percent). They allowed at least one power play goal in three of the four elimination game losses, while they blanked their opponents on the power play in both wins (having a total of only three shorthanded situations in the two games probably didn’t hurt).
-- Secondary scoring has been lacking in these games. Of the 11 goals scored by the Caps in the six games, Alex Ovechkin has four of them, and Alexander Semin has a pair. Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green have one apiece for a total of eight for the core four. Brooks Laich has a pair of goals, and Sergei Fedorov had one. That’s it.
-- Alex Ovechkin has stepped up in these games to the tune of four goals and three assists. He had a hand in seven of the 11 goals scored.
-- The Caps have enjoyed a whopping shot advantage in these six games, outshooting opponents by a 203-140 margin (33.8 – 23.3). But whereas the Caps had a 5.4 percent shooting percentage, opponents had a 10.7 percent shooting percentage. Twice the Caps had more than 40 shots in a game (and scored only three goals); twice the Caps allowed fewer than 20 shots (and allowed a total of three goals).
And it is this history that brings us to…
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Boston: Tim Thomas
Tim Thomas opened this series with a shutout in Game 1, but cracks have appeared in his façade as the series has worn on. He has allowed nine goals on the last 79 shots he has faced (.886 save percentage). And now, he has to recover from a 4-3 loss by taking the ice less than 24 hours after that loss. Thomas played in four back-to-backs this season. He split the first two of those back-to-backs. In the first of them he lost the first game against Pittsburgh and won the second against the Caps on February 3-4. He repeated the results on February 14-15 when he lost to the Rangers, then beat Montreal. In the last two back-to-backs, Thomas dropped both ends, losing to the Islanders and Rangers on March 3-4, then dropping games to the Caps and Pittsburgh on March 10-11. His record has not been good in these situations lately, but it will be on his shoulders that the Bruins’ hopes now rest.
Washington: Jason Chimera
Jason Chimera has yet to score a goal in this series after potting 20 in the regular season. What hurts his production is having recorded only five shots on goal in the five games played so far. It is not so much Chimera, per se, but what he represents. It is the same problem that the Caps had last spring – getting any contributions from down the roster. In Game 5 the Caps did get some of that contribution from Mike Knuble, Troy Brouwer, and Jay Beagle. If Chimera can put up a crooked number, it might be a signal that the Caps are getting some scoring balance from their roster.
1. Score first. Put the Bruins behind the eight-ball. They won’t give up, certainly. Champions don’t do that. But having to come from behind in a game they are playing less than 24 hours after a loss, plus travel, is just that much higher a hill to climb.
2. Pucks to the net. Thomas has proven vulnerable in the last three games. The Caps need to take advantage of this early and often. So far the Caps have been wildly inconsistent in this regard with shot totals of 17, 39, 32, 21, and 32 in the five games. They have nine goals in the three games in which they have gone north of 30 shots.
3. Cash in. The power play has showed signs of life after struggling quite a bit with flow early on in the series. Making the Bruins work on special teams is another way to take advantage of the back-to-back angle.
In the end, this could be the end for the Bruins. Road teams have won three games in this series, so no one should think this will be anything but difficult. But here is what it comes down to. In his four sets of back-to-back games this season, Tim Thomas is 2-6-0, 3.21, .880 in those games. In the second half of the back-to-backs he is 2-2-0, 3.24, .880. His save percentage in the first game of this latest back-to-back was .875. It is the kind of consistency the Caps can take advantage of to move on to the second round.
Capitals 4 – Bruins 3