We’ll get to Boyd Gordon’s remarkable shorthanded, late second period heroics in a minute. But first, you can see the way this whole thing in the East is setting up, can’t you? The Caps are all but certain to move on, vanquishing the 8th seed and drawing next the 7th — Philly — in a bid for a berth in the Eastern Conference finals. Could you draw it up any more benignly — going through an 8 and a 7 to enter hockey’s final four?
Actually, you can, because on Wednesday word arrived that the Flyers’ best player, Jeff Carter, was donesy for the duration of the postseason. And Simon Gagne — admittedly only a fraction of his once lethal presence on the wing, is shelved for weeks. Both will undergo surgery on Friday.
And looking out just a little further, it’s difficult imagining the offense-challenged Bs taking down Pittsburgh in round 2, meaning, of course, you know who versus you know who again in a spring fling of high hatred — but with the Eastern conference crown at stake. That’s assuming of course that the Caps can manage to do what the New Jersey Devils cannot this spring — hose down the white-hot Dan Carcillo. And so the Caps’ progression this postseason very well could offer a dreamy takedown of tormentors past — both Pennsylvania franchises.
Such showdowns would make some in the league hierarchy happy, don’t you think?
I watched game 4 last night in the delightful company of my blogger buddy Pepper downtown. We agreed in mid-pitcher that a you-know-what earned through the trials of persevering against you know who would make a late spring celebration all the sweeter. Inspired by even more intake, we also agreed we’d make a pilgrimage to Western Pa. this summer solely for the purpose of publicly urinating on their new rink.
But we mustn’t look too far ahead; a suddenly rejuvenated Flyers’ team won’t be an easy out (or put another way. . . sans Carter, Gagne and a netminder, it will). But with each passing day this postseason I become more and more convinced of the claim that Al Koken made on ‘Washington Post Live’ the other day — that only the Washington Capitals can take down the Washington Capitals in the East.
Wednesday night’s game was very much in doubt deep in period two, with the Habs leading 2-1, and the Caps took a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty in the waning moments of the frame, affording Montreal’s dazzling power play an opportunity to break the game open a bit. Instead, Boyd Gordon gathered a clearing pass off the near boards from Tom Poti, led a shorthanded charge up the ice on a two-on-one with Mike Knuble, and deftly delivered a crossing pass onto the tape of Knuble, somehow eluding the stick of a sprawled out Josh Georges, which Knuble banged home to knot it up at 2 with just 6 seconds to play in the period.
For the second consecutive game in the series Boyd Gordon was a shorthanded catalyst, and at a critical juncture in a game.
All of Montreal’s surging momentum stopped in that instant. A frenzied Bell Centre crowd was hushed. Foreboding set in. The second intermission wasn’t a time so much for the Habs to regroup as it was a respite for a suddenly prosperous Capitals’ club to identify a final frame’s opportunity to head home up three games to one in the series. They’d been outshot 21-9 in the middle period and yet escaped in a deadlock. The third was a must-prosper period for the hosts, all the pressure squarely on their sticks.
“Again, we played great short-handed and Gordo, what can I say about him? He’s a hard-working guy and when he makes a play like this it means a lot for our team,” Ovechkin said afterward.
If Gordon swung the game’s momentum with his shorthanded playmaking, it would be Ovechkin, again skating every shift to a chorus of boos in Bell Centre, who would ignite the series-swinging surge. He’d already staked the Caps to a 1-0 lead in the first, removing the albatross of an O-fer power play to date in the series. Picking up a drop pass from Alexander Semin, he powered in against Hall Gill and lasered a wrister past Carey Price’s right pad before either Gill or Price knew what hit ‘em.
The very next shift the Capitals’ fourth line would deliver breathing room, Matt Bradley making like a 60-pt. setup guy and sheer-willing his way with the puck through an amalgam of Habs behind Price’s cage. He found Jason Chimera (strong again) on the far side of the low slot, and Price had no chance. 4-2 Caps, game, set, and series.
Semyon Varlamov, a hero in game 3, was actually more impressive in game 4. He stopped 36 shots on the evening, his once much-maligned glove hand his best defense throughout much of the Habs’ 21-shot attack in the second period. He is again in spring staking a strong claim to being the Capitals’ foundation of the present and future in net.
“He was the difference,” Knuble noted.
A series that started in so sour a fashion for the Caps suddenly can end as quickly as commonly forecasted Friday night. Closeout games are the hardest to win, and every game in this series has been fiercely contested. But there appears no satisfactory answer in net for the Habs against these high-flying Caps. The Habs are without hope, and 22,000 exited Bell Centre last night knowing it.