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Caps Are Back in It

Well, it's officially a series again.

After dropping back-to-back games at home last week with regular season-level efforts, the Caps finally started playing playoff hockey. The forwards ventured into high-traffic areas. They backchecked. The defensemen played physical. Everyone shot the puck like they meant it. The result? A 4-0 victory over Sean Avery and the penalty-prone Rangers.

The night began with Coach Bruce Boudreau switching his lines (after warmups in a blatant attempt to throw off the Rangers' coaching staff). And it ended with the Capitals' best players being just that, and with Boudreau praising another sublime effort from a rookie goalie who won't turn 21 until next week.

To recap:

Second Line Stars
Boudreau put Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom on the same line and the result was stunning. No other way to put it. After a subpar performance in Game 2, Semin bounced back with a vengeance, finishing with two goals (scored less than five minutes apart) in the first period, both from high-traffic areas.

Backstrom, meanwhile, might have had his best game of the season. He had three assists and four hits and made a couple of the best plays/passes I've seen all season. Yes, young Nicky was that good.

Backstrom's best play likely came on the Caps' second goal. He circled with the puck in the corner, blew up Ryan Callahan with a shoulder check then zipped a pass to Ovechkin, who then fired the puck across the crease to Semin. Goal.

"I don't know if there's words," Boudreau said. "I think the pass he made on the fourth goal was as good as any pass I've ever seen. We talked in the room, the coaches, about it. But he kills penalties, he plays the power play and a regular shift. He was fabulous tonight."

Making His Bid
Regardless of how this series turns out, Varlamov has made a strong bid to be the Caps' No. 1 going to into next season. He has a shutout streak of 112:16 and has stopped 56 of 57 in his first two NHL playoff starts. (We should have a blog post from Slava Malamud tomorrow on Varlamov).

Varlamov was named the game's first star.

"Let's not forget even though he's 20 years old, he's played in the finals of the Russian elite league, which to him is probably like our Stanley Cup," Boudreau said. "He's played in the world championship. And the fact that he doesn't understand a word we're saying probably really helps him."

Ovie Leads by Example
Let's not forget Alex Ovechkin. Though the reigning MVP has yet to score a goal in the series, he still was a force tonight. He had two assists and five shots. He also had arguably the defensive play of the game when he track down Lauri Korpikoski on shorthanded a breakaway (that Ovechkin caused by coughing up the puck at the blue line.)

"You see the effort that he's putting in," Boudreau said. "How can players not just read off that and say, `If he's going to try that hard and make such a great defensive play at a very pivotal point in the game, then how can we not work that hard.' I thought it was a tremendous leadership play and that's why he is who he is."

Turning Point
The turning point came early in the first when Ryan Callahan's shot clanked off the post. The fans thought he had scored. The Rangers on the ice and on the bench thought he had scored. Then, moments later, the Capitals were up 2-0 on Semin's second goal of the night.

"It was a momentum-changer," Boudreau said. "But at the same time, how often does that happen? It's the luck of hockey and the luck of sport. Some guy hits the post on a great opportunity and you go down to the other end and score so instead of 1-1 you've got 2-0 and your team is going in after the first period with a lot of confidence."

Avery Snaps
Sean Avery had a tough night, even by his own standards. He took four minor penalties and was ejected late for sucker-punching Varlamov.

"I thought he was trying to stir it up," Boudreau said. "But he's trying to stir it up with a guy [Varlamov] that doesn't know what he's talking about. So I mean, he did his job. That's what Sean does, standing in front of the goalie all night long. I thought he went over the line a couple of times and got called for it. But that's what he's good at. He's got a lot of courage. It takes a lot of courage to go in front of the net and do what he does. He probably got a little frustrated at the end but he's a guy I worry about every night."

Quotable
I asked Tom Poti about the crowd chanting "Poti sucks!" late in the third period after he scored to put the Caps up 4-0. Poti, you see, wasn't the most popular Rangers defenseman.

"I love it," Poti said with his signature smirk. "Music to my ears."

Odds and Ends
Mike Green had five hits and four shots. ...Chris Drury, who has been nursing an upper body injury, played only 1:34 in the third period and did not take a faceoff the whole game.

That's it from me. I'll check in from MSG at noon.

By Tarik El-Bashir  |  April 21, 2009; 12:16 AM ET
 
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Next: Morning Reading List: Game 3 Aftermath

Comments

first! wonderful game.

Posted by: DER27 | April 21, 2009 12:20 AM | Report abuse

Overall an outstanding effort by all on the ice. Varly deserved the #1 star. I wonder what he thinks of Avery. He probably went to OV and said, "who is that idiot and what did he say to me"? LOL!

So who's in who's head now?

Posted by: pokerface1208 | April 21, 2009 12:23 AM | Report abuse

as I said -bring back the bash with Brash!
Great game. 1 down 3 to go.
Rangers are getting hammered out there.
Wearing thin.
everytime the hit us the bounced off (except for Fleishmann @ the end - ugh).

As Kenny B said a long time ago - great big ppl beatup average little ppl.

Varly is a world class talent.
GMGM knew what he was doing doubters in '04!

Bandwagon is revving up again.

Posted by: Rocc00 | April 21, 2009 12:24 AM | Report abuse

Great game, finally, I was hoping I wasn't growing this beard for nothing. Let's get it done on Wed. night and bring it back home. Great job by all players tonight... Gotta love the media praise of Erskine!

Posted by: SZALACH7 | April 21, 2009 12:28 AM | Report abuse

Backstrom looking Forsberg-esque.

Semin finding the net.

Our Defense actually playing defense.

Varlamov standing on his head.

Ovie being Ovie.

Win.

Posted by: richmondphil | April 21, 2009 12:28 AM | Report abuse

OV is hockey's MJ. HOF. royal highness. GOD.
Green is playing awesome defense to make up for a lack of offense.
But he is showing why he is the modern day Paul Coffey.

I am so jacked up about playoff hockey.
There is no feeling like it.
I've never been to CONCAF or Euro Cup soccer, but this has got to be just as good for the fans.

Posted by: Rocc00 | April 21, 2009 12:29 AM | Report abuse

Some of you Erskine haterz can go eff a cow.
the dude does what he's supposed to do.
He's Tinordi of this Caps' vintage.

Schulz could learn to play like him.

Posted by: Rocc00 | April 21, 2009 12:31 AM | Report abuse

and I've commented on the Poti hate up in New York early in the season. They hate him up there, but it's good to see he feeds off it.

and I forgot to give big props to Erskine, establishing his presence in our crease, letting people know that a price will have to be payed for standing there.I loved the media love for him as well SALACH7.

Posted by: richmondphil | April 21, 2009 12:31 AM | Report abuse

Green played a good 1st and 3rd period, but he looked lost there in the 2nd. But I'm not going to pick hairs here, he recovered on the plays he needed to recover on and threw his body around.

Posted by: richmondphil | April 21, 2009 12:32 AM | Report abuse

Ovechkin passed to ovechkin Woah that guy is good!

Posted by: Ovechwin | April 21, 2009 12:34 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Ovechkin passed to Ovechkin? I know he's good, but is he that good? Can I help copy edit the blog?

Posted by: BigMogilny | April 21, 2009 12:36 AM | Report abuse

From previous thread:

@CTCapsPhan (or anyone else who was at MSG):

1 - What did the Rags fans throw on the ice? Was it before or after the final horn blew?

2 - I read on another board that after the Rags left the ice, Ovie and Backstron went to center ice and "saluted" the crowd, much like the Rags do when they win. Did you see that? Did it happen? The Rags did that last year when they won in the playoffs at the Prudential Center in NJ.

Posted by: DevilsCapsGal | April 21, 2009 12:39 AM | Report abuse

@BigMogilny
Way to steal my gag

Posted by: Ovechwin | April 21, 2009 12:40 AM | Report abuse

Haha well Ovie did have a nice pass to himself earlier this season, but I don't think that's the one Tarik talking about here ;)

Posted by: snakegriffin | April 21, 2009 12:53 AM | Report abuse

I have nothing negative to say, the caps were as beautiful as ever...thanks for nyls, theo and schultz out, and brash, varly and pothier in...but if you watch the highlights on nhl.com, which were shown on versus...it would only make the caps fan mad and furious...how can such biast people commentate??? For no caps goal didn't they show the least bit of excitement/emotion nor did they show that they were following the game...they were so loud when they thought the rangers had scored(they hit the post) and i just think that's plain disgusting...i hope that they burn from the inside out...freakin losers...
WAY TO WIN CAPS...(Winning is called not being lucky and winning by several goals/skill)
GO CAPS!!! I HOPE GAVERY GETS SUSPENDED FOR HIS CHILDISH BEHAVIOR

Posted by: masterx09 | April 21, 2009 12:58 AM | Report abuse

This team just doesn't show the passion or grit needed to succeed in the playoffs. We rely too much on individual skills, players like Ovechkin/Semin/Backstrom don't perform in the playoffs, and we don't have the goaltending to make a deep run. Oh...wait.

Yeah, what actually happened was exactly what I said would happen. We out-shot them...again. We carried the play for the most part...again. We put 3+ behind Lunq...just like we did in Game 1. Truth of the matter is this series should be 2-1 us, looking in much the same manner as the experts originally predicted it to go. We are the better team, and for the Rangers to win Lunq would have to steal games. That happened in Game 2. In Game 1, we played well enough to win, but Theo blew the game.

That Semin guy sure is a waste of time isn't he SC07?

I predicted 5-2, but 4-0 is close enough...didn't expect Varly to shut them down that well. Honestly Lunq kept the score down some, even with us putting 4 behind him. Semin could have had 2 more, Ovie probably should have buried at least one tonight, but Lunq did make some big saves.

If they play like that all the time, I'm all in favor of Ovie/Back/Semin on ice at the same time...they combined for 2 pretty goals and looked great most of the night. Laich with the dirty goal. Shocker. Backstrom's assist on Poti's late tally was just silly good.

Yeah, anyways, I told you so. I know we're still down 2-1 but all the pressure has to be on NY at this point. It's not us that needs to find answers...Game 2 was just one of those playoff 1-0 game aberrations. It's the Rangers who have a goaltender in their head at this point...not us.

Posted by: Davethecapsfan | April 21, 2009 1:00 AM | Report abuse

They had NO answer for us tonight!

Varly = Caps #1 netminder from today.
Ovie was a monster at each end of the rink.
Semin was on fire.
Backs is the new Forsberg.
And nice game Avery. You're a tool.

Posted by: CAP-lanta | April 21, 2009 1:01 AM | Report abuse

Also the play Backstrom made to get his stick on that shot that went off the post that turned into a rush up ice that Semin ended up burying to put us up 2-0 cannot be over-emphasized in importance.

Also not shockingly (to me at least because I have common sense) Ovie made 2 fantastic defensive plays back-checking while manning the point. I know the idea that you'd be the first guy back when you're playing D vs. when you're the high guy on the forecheck...but we'll let the haters work that logic out on their own.

Posted by: Davethecapsfan | April 21, 2009 1:03 AM | Report abuse

hmmm....so maybe Avery was just trying to one up Ovechkin....didn't like the attention OV was getting yesterday morning showing up at their game day skate like that. I guess a (most likely) 1 game suspension should cure his cause...plenty of media attention there!

Who knows, if he is suspended, maybe a game with Avery off the ice is just what Mike Green needs to get his O game going...

Plenty of hockey left to play, I know this is far from over, but I just like that we are making a series out of it. The first two losses did not feel like the Rangers beating the Caps as much as it felt like the Caps were beating themselves...

Puck possession next game will be key. Caps need to have fire, but they need to play calm enough that they are accountable for all their actions on the ice. First game they had great puck control, domination and patience (often waiting just enough to set up a play)...second game I felt they played with a little too much desperation off the get go, resulting in too many long shots, cross ice passing which lead to many giveaways...

Anyway, looking forward, next game is huge and I think the Caps def. have great momentum going into it!

GO CAPS!

Posted by: The_Stanley_Caps | April 21, 2009 1:04 AM | Report abuse

@Dave,

I said after game 2 we'll win this series in 6 and I still believe that. We ARE the BETTER team and we will win. It's amazing how you can change 3 people out (Shlitz, No's, and The Odore) and we look like a completely different team. No offense but is Tonya Harding available? We could use her to ensure our lineup stays the way it was tonight!

Posted by: pokerface1208 | April 21, 2009 1:10 AM | Report abuse

Looking back through all the posts from tonight (was out like I said) I didn't see any sc07 or any other trolls.

I did tell you what was going to happen you guys. If Varly plays Game 1 we're up 2-1 like this series should be. We're still not out of the hole yet, not by a long shot, but the reality of the run of play all series played out tonight. Lunq was both great and lucky in Game 2 to steal it, and Theo cost us Game 1.

Can't wait until Wed...all the pressure on them now. You don't want to come back to VC tied 2-2 with Varly in your heads.

Posted by: Davethecapsfan | April 21, 2009 1:11 AM | Report abuse

Here's To U Johnny E!!

It was the less experienced Caps who showed poise Monday night. Defenseman John Erskine took a punch in the face from Avery 3:07 into the second period and did not retaliate, turning away while Avery got nailed with a roughing penalty. That's the kind of unselfish play that wins you hockey games in the playoffs.

"You know what, the bench jumped up and they all patted John on the back," Boudreau said. "Listen, these are the sacrifices and things you have to do. Because, in the end, it doesn't hurt. But you have to do it if you want to win."

Posted by: Rocc00 | April 21, 2009 1:12 AM | Report abuse

@pokerface

I attended both games here at home and I thought we carried the play. Lunq and the Ranger D stole Game 2 and that is going to happen. We played well enough to win Game 1 but because Theo blew it we had been "shut down" by NY even though we put 3 behind Lunq in G1.

I'm not going to say we're going to win 3 more straight, but we're definitely back in this series now, and it's them that has to come up with answers, not us.

Posted by: Davethecapsfan | April 21, 2009 1:13 AM | Report abuse

Brashear with only 2:35 of ice time (or thereabouts) and I don't really remember a shift after his coincidental minors in the first.

Did he get injured? Did his injury get aggrevated? Was he benched?

Posted by: freakinandpeakin | April 21, 2009 1:28 AM | Report abuse

Brash's 2:35 > any amount of time Circles has put in so far.

Watching highlights it's shocking to see how many more goals we should have had tonight. Flash needs to loosen up some. Ovie needs to shoot high to beat Lunq.

The one person I am still worried about is getting Green going. He's getting shut down pretty well although he is playing well in our end.

Posted by: Davethecapsfan | April 21, 2009 1:32 AM | Report abuse

Backstrom was responsible for both Semin goals AND both of those early chances Semin had right away.

4 hits? BS, I saw at least 6.

Posted by: richmondphil | April 21, 2009 1:37 AM | Report abuse

I will say the caps played well, but more so the rangers didn't show up. They were not covering their men or making good passes, not to say the rangers win if they played sharper, but it would have been a closer game. Also, can the refs have a good game? All 3 games have had things called that even after 3 or 4 replays you still don't see the penalty. And than they let blatant thing go uncalled. Not just for one team but both. I think all 3 games would have been better with proper officiating.

Posted by: rangerfan44 | April 21, 2009 1:40 AM | Report abuse

Brashear with only 2:35 of ice time (or thereabouts) and I don't really remember a shift after his coincidental minors in the first.

Did he get injured? Did his injury get aggrevated? Was he benched?

Posted by: freakinandpeakin | April 21, 2009 1:28 AM

I think BB got wiser. 2 minutes and one penalty was enough .

Posted by: hock1 | April 21, 2009 1:55 AM | Report abuse

Tarik, I know the adverb is a dying part of speech, but sir, you work for a newspaper. The caps didn't play physical, they played physicalLY, and not a moment too soon!

Posted by: capsfansteve | April 21, 2009 2:20 AM | Report abuse

Oh and I hope everyone else got as much of a kick as I did out of Avery the tool talking smack to Varlamov before taking 2 minutes and a game misconduct(and a probable suspension) for smacking him on the head. Apparently, Mr. Avery spends too much time at fashion shows and playing with dolls to know that Mr. Varlamov doesn't speak english. Kinda hard to get in someone's head with your words when they can't understand you, doofus. C A P S CAPS CAPS CAPS!

Posted by: capsfansteve | April 21, 2009 2:25 AM | Report abuse

Bells rocked. Hope Ovie takes in Rangers practice again.

Posted by: Davethecapsfan | April 21, 2009 2:25 AM | Report abuse

Wrote a quick article for Bleacher Report about Varly entitled Simeon Varlamov's Success Not Surprising To Those In The Know

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/159698-simeon-varlamov-success-not-surprising-to-those-in-the-know/page/3

Posted by: ranndino | April 21, 2009 2:30 AM | Report abuse

LOL avery won't get suspended. And he didn't get a game, it was 10 min. I know I'm a ranger fan, but if Avery had ahold of another players jersy like eskine(sp) had his he would have gotten a penalty for it. And if it wasn't avery varlamov would have had a slashing penalty in that sequence. Say what you will, but a objective fan would see the rules are differnt for avery, and no matter what you think of him as a player or person, as far as the rules go they are saposed to be the same for evry player every shift.

Posted by: rangerfan44 | April 21, 2009 2:39 AM | Report abuse

from the NHL.com - The last sentence says it all, and yet they are many, including some reporters, who just love to go on and on and on and on ....

"History lesson
04.20.2009 3:15 p.m. ET

OK, so the New York Rangers lead 2-0 in this series heading into tonight's Game 3 at Madison Square Garden.

Let's talk history. It's beautiful for the Rangers when they lead 2-0 in a series, but it isn't so pretty for the Caps when they trail 2-0.

The Rangers have won 19 of 20 series' in which they won the first two games. The Capitals, meanwhile, have trailed 2-0 in a series four times and have NEVER come back to win the series.

However, history has proven it is possible for teams to pull out of the 0-2 hole. Just look at the Caps for cryin' out loud. They are only 3-4 in series' in which they jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

Heck, in 1996 and in 2003 they won the first two games on the road, but went on to lose the series. Hey, didn't the Rangers win the first two games of this series on the road?

Yes they did.

So, this is a six in one, half a dozen in the other theory I guess.

That being said, when the Caps fell behind 2-0 to the Rangers in the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinal, they went on to lose the series in five games. I don't think that means anything, but some history buffs and stats folks think otherwise.

Got all that?

So, what does it all mean?

Um, well, after wasting my time looking it all up, not all that much to be honest."

-- Dan Rosen

Posted by: hock1 | April 21, 2009 2:53 AM | Report abuse

Completely blown I missed this game. The last thing I remember last night was seeing the clock tick over to 0100 and attempting to crawl across the room and press play on the computer. I woke up on the floor with a pizza box blanket nervous to click NHL scores.

After reviewing highlights, this was the game we all knew the caps could play. If the Caps Clear this next game, I think they will end this in 6. Otherwise they will win it in 7(well trivially since they would have to)

Posted by: trunkenmath | April 21, 2009 2:55 AM | Report abuse

Today was simply an example of what our team can be like with a proper NHL level goaltender instead of a night stand (if the puck accidentally hits it it doesn't go in).

I was clamoring all year (since even before the season started) to put Varly in there for Theo (in fact I didn't think we even needed to sign anyone after we lost Huet) and no one was listening.

Fortunately, Theo pulled such a complete stinker in game 1 that he left Boudreau no choice. And about time because I was so desperate to get a much superior goalie in there that I was close to doing my best Tonya Harding impersonation on Theo.

Once the switch I've been dying to see all season happened I predicted that we're now in business of being able to compete with anybody.

Game 3 came to me in some weird day dream and I posted my prediction of us rolling over the Rangers after breaking through Lundqvist early and Varlamov stopping everything he should and some things he shouldn't at the other end. That was downright creepy.

My crystal ball now shows me us coming back to win this series and going all the way to the finals, where we will unfortunately lose to Detroit. Let's see how crystal my crystal ball really is.

Varlamov molodets!

Posted by: ranndino | April 21, 2009 2:57 AM | Report abuse

@Ranndino

You got me on the Varly call, I wasn't sure he was ready and still think Theo is better than his Game 1 performance but not on the level that the kid is showing off right now. Ice water in his veins.

I called this statement win too, the signs were there. Game 2 was just one of those playoff games when an opposing goalie and team can pull off sometimes. We need to play a strong game Wed night but if we can come back home even at 2-2 I think we have this one.

Posted by: Davethecapsfan | April 21, 2009 3:16 AM | Report abuse

I may have been wrong about putting Varly in too early but I certainly was right about this teams depth of young talent. When you look at this team and see the overwhelming number of young studs it has at the NHL level and then add in the ones still down in the system it adds up to something very special. I'm not going to say they will come back and win this series (I do like their chances) but man, they are going to be scary good in the very near term. I've been a fan since Bernie Wolfe and Ron Low were tending the net so I've seen a lot of good and bad hockey/teams through the years. Let me tell you this. Ladies and gentlemen we have hit the hockey lottery and a lot of good things are coming our way.

Posted by: croftonpost | April 21, 2009 5:14 AM | Report abuse

I hope everyone realizes that this series is far from over. The Caps have demonstrated some of the heart that is needed to win in the playoffs and maybe being on their opposition's ice allows them to re-focus from all the hype in the
DC and get down to playing playoff hockey. It is very important to grab game 4 and really put the Rangers back on their heels. If you go back to DC 1-3 it could be difficult to overcome.

Posted by: diner99 | April 21, 2009 5:28 AM | Report abuse

yeah whats up with the versus announcers givin the caps no love but every time the rags did anything halfway desent they just bout creamed there panties.the caps are gonna win this thing and then those guys can suck a fart out of my arss!

Posted by: gratefuldid | April 21, 2009 5:31 AM | Report abuse

@Davethecapsfan

Love your first post of this blog! Oddly enough, while Ovi wasn't generally on the line with Backstrom and Semin last nignt (according to the play by play sheet on the Caps site), when he was, that's when the goals happened.

Posted by: CapsFan75 | April 21, 2009 6:35 AM | Report abuse

@ gratefuldid, that was freakin hillarious!!!!!

Posted by: TracyMD1 | April 21, 2009 7:19 AM | Report abuse

Good to see the real Caps are back. Hope they stick around a while.

Posted by: CapsChick | April 21, 2009 7:23 AM | Report abuse

Be careful listing the caps as a shoe in to come back and win this thing. Remember it all depends on which team shows up. Yeah thay all showed up tonight and played great, but whether they show up the next game and do the same thing on Wed night is another story.

And for the Rangers fan that commented above, Yeah Avery does do a good job doing what he does. Thats not the point. The point is that you shouldn't be a poor sport and a whining a$$ baby and take a cheap shot with 3 minutes left in a game you have already lost. If the script was reversed and Erskine hit Lundquist with 3 mins left you all would be saying the same thing. So the rules are the same.

Posted by: CapsFan44 | April 21, 2009 7:50 AM | Report abuse

What luck tonight - and coming from an unexpected source - NY. Our official "6th man" on the ice, back by popular demand, none other than Sean Avery.

Thank you Sean!

Posted by: dogdaze | April 21, 2009 8:08 AM | Report abuse

SEAN-B-GONE Avery Pest T-Shirts:

http://www.zazzle.com/rockthered

Posted by: rockthered21 | April 21, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

am i the only one that saw backie with the big back check and get the stick check on callahans open net shot that hit the post. everyone keeps talking about how callahan had open net layup and hit the post...but no one seemed to notice that backie was there and got a stick on callahans at the last possible second and i think its the reason that didnt hit the middle of the net...

then he comes down the other end, circles in the corner with the puck...lowers a shoulder on callahan and drops him like a wet rag...retains possession and slides it on down to ovie who centers it for semin and a game changing 2-0 lead...

and his 3rd assist...SICK!!! as ovie would say..

the little guy was a monster out there last night...player of the game if you ask me...wow...just...WOW!!!

and how come no one is talking about the speak to the neck avery put on one of our defenseman after a scrum on the ice in front of the net? i think it may have came on the same play that he drew the goalie interference penalty...anyway...it was pretty blatant adn totally overlooked by the refs, the announcers and everyone else i guess...

just like the backstrom stick check on callahans open net poster...

Posted by: deadskin | April 21, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

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