Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Caps Sweep Pens

In their last regular season game at the Igloo, the Captials looked to sweep rival Penguins for the first time in franchise history. And as they have so many times this season, this team re-wrote that history. They took a convincing 6-3 win that saw Captain Ovechkin finally break out of his scoring slump with two goals, and balanced scoring from all four lines. Knuble and Ovechkin scored for the first line, Semin and Fleischmann scored for the second line, and Bradley got the fourth line on the board on a nice feed from Laing. The third line was also dominant for stretches of the game, worked the cycle well, and got quite a few chances it was unable to convert. Varlamov finished with 26 saves.

Tonight was a reminder of just how good this team can be when it is motivated and team-oriented. They got balanced scoring and spectacular goaltending when needed (though I'm sure Varly wanted that second goal back). Ovechkin scored four seconds into the Caps lone power play opportunity for his first goal since the game against Calgary last Sunday. His second goal, however, will inevitably cause some uproar among his critics. He slid the puck into the empty net with just .2 seconds left with his team already up by two. They will say he is selfish. They will say he only cares about individual awards. They will say he is a bad sport. And they will most certainly be wrong.

Ovechkin had been going though a slump, and he needed that goal to help get his rhythm back. His coach, recognizing this and knowing that Ovi is a go-to scorer who can ice the game, put him on the ice. His teammates realized this too, and tried to get him the puck so he could climb back into ties for both the race for the Art Ross (with Henrik Sedin at 106 points) and the Rocket Richard (with Crosby at 48 goals). What is wrong with that? These guys are professionals, they are competitive, and there is not a single player in the NHL who wouldn't have put that game away. I doubt Ovi knew exactly how much time was left. Even if he did, he still would have put the puck in the net. He is a scorer. It is what he does. It is his job. He also did something that the Caps have been criticized for not having enough of: a killer instinct. Caps critics often point out how the team has had trouble putting opponents away late in the third and not taking their opportunities. So I guess it's only fitting that Ovi takes heat for correcting that tomorrow.

This game no doubt meant more to the Pens. They are now two points back from New Jersey for their division lead and the second seed in the conference. Also, and perhaps more importantly, it puts them winless against both Washington and the Devils this year, and they will have to go through at least one if not both of those teams in order to repeat as Eastern Conference Champions.

The regular season battle, as it did last year, goes to the Capitals. Now all they have to do is take the inevitable playoff battle too.

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