Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Caps 4 Thrashers 2

It was a little ragged a times (what else is new?) but the Washington Capitals are now a win or a New Jersey loss from locking up the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference after a 4-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Caps looked like they were going to turn this one into a laugher early on, as they picked up right where they left off in the 3rd period of Sunday's game against the Thrash. But in the 2nd period, they reverted back to the inconsistent group they were in March before turning up the defensive intensity again in the 3rd. Thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who beat New Jersey 4-1 tonight, the Caps are 4 points up on the Devils with 2 games to play.

The importance of that 2nd seed cannot be overstated. It makes the difference between facing a team like Montreal, who just lost their two top defenceman, or facing a red-hot team like Carolina or Pittsburgh. As a Caps fan, getting that #2 seed would work out beautifully. Not only would they get to face a weaker opponent like Montreal, New York Rangers or Florida (although Pittsburgh could concievably fall to the 7 seed) but it would mean two of the following four tough rivals would be out in a 2nd round matchup: Pittsbugh, Philly, Carolina and New Jersey. Personally, I'd love to see Pittsburgh and Philly knock each other out and then New Jersey and Carolina play a tough, seven game series.

Hangar Observations:

- Simeon Varlamov was the player of the game tonight. He kept the Caps in this game in the 2nd period when it looked like the Thrash had the Caps on their heels. The kid may not be there yet, but its clear to see he has a very bright future in this league. His athleticism and rebound control are better than Jose Theodore's. He made a great save on Atlanta sniper Ilya Kovalchuk on a 2 on 1 look easy. The only thing Varly lacks Theo's experience and puck-handling ability. I'm sure many Caps fans will see an effort like tonight and want to give the kid the nod over Theo. But unless Theo bombs, there's no reason to risk the kid's confidence and turning Varly into a basket case like Carey Price in Montreal.

- After Varly, I'd say Nicklas Backstrom was the next best player on the ice. The pass that led to Viktor Kozlov's goal was a thing of beauty and splitting him up from Alex Ovechkin helps open up the secondary scoring opportunities for others. Backstrom is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. You can always rely on him and his game is so understated, you don't notice that he's a top-10 scorer in this league. Plus, the weakest part of his game, faceoffs, is rapidly improving.

- Craig Laughlin said it best on Tomas Fleischmann's goal: "Just put it on the net and anything can happen." Flash did that and the puck went in off Atlanta's Marty Reasoner for the Caps first goal. With goals in two straight games, let's hope Flash is finally back on track. Somebody else is going to need to score in the playoffs.

- I'm glad to not have to see Kovalchuk until next year. He put a move on Jeff Schultz that just undressed the Sarge. Kovalchuk is like Ovechkin-lite, anytime he touches the puck, something can happen. If Kovy played in New York, Toronto, Chicago or L.A., he'd be doing silly car commercials, just like Ovie. If Gary Bettman had any sense, he'd get this guy out of the hockey wasteland that is Atlanta.

- For once, it was nice to see the Caps make a quick response to another team's goal. After Rich Peverley scored to tie the game for Atlanta, Kozzy and Backstrom teamed up 30 seconds later to take the lead back.

- As a hockey player myself, I'm often very jealous of the pros. These guys can do some things that are just unbelievable. And if I were to want one thing that a pro hockey player has, I would give my right arm to have Alex Semin's stickhandling ability. That curl-and-drag move of his is lethal.

- Dirty Al Koken was filling in for Joe B. on the play-by-play and it was nice to see Dirty Al with an homage to his old broadcast partner Mike Fornes with his "Shot...and a GOAL!" call. Not quite as emphatic as Mike used to do but I'll applaud the effort.

- Mike Green's penalty for playing the puck with a broken stick might be one of the dumbest plays I've seen a pro hockey player make.

- The Caps really took command of this game after getting an insurance goal by Sergei Fedorov in the 3rd. The defense clearly stepped things up and suffocated the Thrashers offense. That killer instinct is also going to be needed in the playoffs.

With that, here's the highlights from NHL.com

So, only two more games left in the regular season before the most wonderful time of the year: playoff time. But for now, let's call this one more...for the good guys.

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