Caps Show Their Dominance In the East
The Washington Capitals showed last night why they are the top team in the Eastern Conference, and the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. They did so in a 4-3 shootout win over the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals improved their record to 49-14-10 and have an amazing 17 point lead in the Eastern Conference. Despite their advantage in the East, Washington is still playing their best hockey and last night showed why this could be their year in a big way.
The Capitals tallied first last night, just a minute into the 2nd period. Their lead was short lived though, as the Penguins tied the score just over a minute later. Pittsburgh then took the lead late in the 2nd period with a power play goal by winger Bill Guerin, and it looked as though Pittsburgh might get their first win against the Capitals this season. But Washington wasn’t about to disappoint their fans, by laying down against their biggest rivals at home.
As the third period began, Pittsburgh was still in control with a 2-1 lead. With about 5 minutes gone by the Pens were on a power play and threatening to score again, when Alexander Semin literally took the game over single-handedly. Semin stole the puck deep in the defensive zone, and staked the length of the ice before putting his wrister in the back on the net, past Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fluery. With the exception of the fact that there were about 14 minutes left in the game, Semin’s play could have been something out of a movie. He went through the Pens power play unit, like a hot knife through butter, and you just knew when he took that shot that it would find net. Semin’s Hollywood goal would get upstaged later, but it brought the Caps back to life.
The momentum factor began to swing the Caps way. And Washington took full advantage two minutes later when Eric Fehr knocked in a Mike Green shot to put the Capitals up. Pittsburgh came back to tie it in the final minutes of regulation, sending the game into overtime. Neither team was able to score in the overtime period, leaving the game decided the High Noon, old fashion way, a shootout. What could be more appropriate to decide the winner, then a shootout between the teams with the best offensive stars in the game? Luckily for the Caps they still had some ‘Hollywood’ magic left in the tank.
The Penguins first two shooters both scored, and the Caps first shooter (Backstrom) was stopped cold. Any goal or save by Pittsburgh, and the Penguins would win, but it was Alex Ovechkin’s turn and he made up for his quite night in a big way. Fluery didn’t have a chance on Ovechkin’s goal, and still was probably looking for his puck when he had to face Semin a few minutes later. With the shootout score favoring Pittsburgh 2-1, Semin had to find the net if the Caps were to win. Again it seemed like destiny (and great for television ratings) for Semin to be the hero and keep the game alive. After Jose Theodore stopped Chris Kunitz, the Capitals turned to the veteran Mike Knuble to bring them home the win. The only problem with that is that Mike Knuble had never scored a shootout goal, much less a game winner. There is apparently a first time for everything, as his shot sailed past Fluery to give the Caps perhaps their biggest win all season.
Washington has now answered all questions about their team, and whether or not they can beat the other top teams in the league. While this series usually gets broken down into a match-up between the stars, Washington showed they have too many weapons for another team to focus solely on Ovechkin.
As for Pittsburgh, this loss raises serious questions about their ability to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. They are now 0 for the season against both the Devils and Capitals. The two other teams with Stanley Cup caliber teams in the East. Although last night’s game can be somewhat forgiven since they were without two of their top players, Malkin and Gonchar, they still haven’t won when those two were in the lineup. Yes they were able to take Washington to overtime in their two losses in DC, but they still didn’t come away with a W. There are no bonus points for losing in overtime when the playoffs start. Once again the Capitals proved that the road to the Stanley Cup goes through our nation’s capital, and they will defend their home ice from anyone. I think we will likely see a playoff match-up between these two teams again, but this year looks to be Washington’s year.