Game 6. Elimination Game. In every Game 6 a team is facing the end of the road to a championship. For the Caps, it will be the 12th time in franchise history in which they have entered Game 6 facing elimination. They have a record of 5-6 in those games so far. But it is the recent history that interests us today and that might be relevant to this game.
The Caps have played in three Games 6 on the short end of a 3-2 edge in games won since the lockout. This is relevant in that five of the players who played in each of those games – arguably the most important skaters on this team – will be dressing on Wednesday night: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin, Mike Green. In each instance – 2008 and twice in 2009 – they won those games. Is there anything in them that might be instructive here? Let’s take a look at them…
April 21, 2008. Capitals 4 – Flyers 2
Talk about your bad news coming early. Mike Richards scored 3:49 into the game on a power play, and Danny Briere did the same 1:18 into the second period to put the Flyers up, 2-0, and the Caps in a deep hole. But before that second period was out, Nicklas Backstrom scored (Semin and Laich with the assists), and Semin tied the game with 1:57 left in the period. That left the third period to Alex Ovechkin. It took Ovechkin only 2:46 to give the Capitals their first lead of the game, and Ovechkin cemented the win with a goal 10:41 into the period.
Things to ponder…
-- After Ovechkin’s score the Flyers managed only five shots on goal in the last 10:41, only two in the last five minutes and none in the last 2:20, despite having their goalie pulled in the last 1:10.
-- The Fab Five finished a combined 4-3-7, plus-7. They accounted for 23 of the 40 shots on goal for the Caps. They had only three giveaways.
-- The Caps allowed the Flyers goals on their first two power plays but slammed the door after that, shutting out the Flyers on three power plays, including 49 seconds of a 5-on-3 Flyer power play and 35 seconds of a 4-on-3 power play.
-- The Caps were 1-for-5 on the power play.
April 26, 2009. Capitals 5 – Rangers 3
The Caps did things the “right” way in this one, getting out to a lead 7:09 in on a Milan Jurcina goal. The trouble was, they gave it back barely a minute later on a Scott Gomez power play goal. But then, the Caps broke down the Rangers and, in particular, goalie Henrick Lundqvist. Mike Green started the process with a goal at 13:58 on a power play. Tom Poti followed it up with a goal just over three minutes later, and the Caps had a 3-1 lead at the first intermission. Viktor Kozlov and Alex Ovechkin (power play) added goals in the second, making it four goals on 13 shots against Lundqvist. He was pulled in favor of Steve Valiquette, but the damage was done. The Rangers got a couple of cosmetic goals in the third period (one with six seconds left…sound familiar?) for the final margin.
Things to ponder…
-- Sometimes, scoring comes from, if not odd places, unexpected ones. Tom Poti had a four-point game for the Caps (1-3-4). David Steckel had a pair of assists. Shaone Morrison was a plus-3.
-- Each of the Big Five recorded at least one point: Ovechkin (1-0-1), Backstrom (0-1-1), Laich (0-1-1), Semin (0-1-1) and Green (1-0-1).
-- The Caps were 2-for-2 on the power play.
May 11, 2009. Capitals 5 – Penguins 4 (OT)
This game was much like the series itself between the Caps and Penguins, back and forth. Bill Guerin started the scoring with a goal 5:55 into the first period for the only score of the first period. To that point, the team scoring first in the series lost four of the first five games, so scoring first was not an especially big deal for the Penguins. It took a while, though, for the Caps to knot things up. Viktor Kozlov did the trick 6:27 into the second period. That was followed up with a Tomas Fleischmann goal at 14:42 to give the Caps a 2-1 lead. Pittsburgh erased that lead late in the second period with a power play goal from perhaps the unlikeliest of sources. Mark Eaton scored what would be his first NHL career playoff power play goal (it would be his last) with 34 seconds left in the period to even things at 2-2.
The Penguins regained the lead on a power play goal by Kris Letang 4:40 into the third period, but the Caps knotted things back up less than a minute later on a goal by Brooks Laich with the Caps on a power play of their own. Viktor Kozlov put the Caps in the catbird seat with a goal just 29 seconds after Laich’s score, but Sidney Crosby tied things up one last time with just 4:18 left in regulation. That left things to overtime, and it was the little things and a bit of grit that made the difference for the Capitals in the end...
-- David Steckel won a faceoff in the Penguin end to Brooks Laich.
-- Despite being tripped by Ruslan Fedotenko (small world), Laich nudged the puck down to Matt Bradley on the half-wall.
-- Bradley chipped it off the wall over Fedotenko’s stick to Laich at the point.
-- Laich flipped a harmless looking shot toward the Penguin net.
-- It would have been a harmless shot, but Steckel, having won the faceoff, went to the net. He deflected Laich’s shot past Marc-Andre Fleury, atoning for his miss of an open net in overtime in Game 5 and giving the Caps their third straight Game 6 win when facing elimination.
Things to ponder…
-- The lead changed hands four times in this game.
-- The Big Five was heard from. They were a combined 1-7-8 (only Mike Green did not get a point, but he had seven shot attempts and was credited with four hits).
-- Secondary scoring was in force – Viktor Kozlov with a pair of goals, assists from Matt Bradley (on the game-winner) and Shaone Morrisonn.
-- The Caps were 1-for-4 on the power play.
What do we see in these elimination games that might be important on Wednesday night?
1. Big players play big. The Big Five, almost without exception, put crooked numbers on the score sheet in these Games 6. These are the games for which they earn the big bucks. They have to be heard from.
2. Someone you don’t expect can be a hero, if only for one night. A Tom Poti with a four-point night, a David Steckel with a game-winning deflection. The Big Five have to be heard from, but anyone can be a hero. If there is justice, given his effort in this series, watch for Matt Hendricks to play an important role.
3. You have to make the other guy pay on the power play. Power play goals played important roles in these games, either to provide insurance (in the wins over the Flyers and Rangers) or to erase a lead (tying the game at 3-3 against the Penguins). The Caps can win if they take an o-fer, but getting a goal will be large in pushing them to a Game 7.
4. Treat no lead as safe…yours or the other guy’s.
5. Do the little things well and with attention to detail. Good things won’t happen all the time, but they might happen often enough, even if it is just once.
It is a formula that the Caps have, in fact, used this playoff season. It will serve them well at least one more time.
Capitals 3 – Rangers 1