Caps Take On Scorching BruinsPosted on March 29, 2014 by Bryan Adams
By now we're
all aware of last week's outstanding road trip to California in what was
without a doubt the most difficult 3 game stretch of the season for these
Capitals. The team dug deep and mustered a much needed 5 of 6 points out west,
bringing them right back into the thick of the playoff hunt. Equally as
important as last week's road trip was Tuesday night's missed opportunity to
bury the L.A. Kings in Verizon Center. Yes they were lucky to tie the game with
under a minute to play in the 3rd period, but the Capitals squandered
not one, but two 2 goal leads (2-0, 3-1). CRL host and CSN's Alan May said it
best on our podcast the other night when he mentioned that come the end of the
season, that 1 point could mean the difference between the team advancing to
the postseason or ending up on the outside looking in.
Saturday's game against the Bruins is the climax of a brutal March schedule for this Washington Capitals squad. The Capitals come into the game with their head just above water and a 6-4-3 record so far during the March. They find themselves playing arguably their best hockey of the season and in a 4-way "tie" for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs with the only problem being that they own 0 tie-breakers between themselves and the other 3 teams with 80 points in the Eastern Conference.
Now for the bad news. Boston hasn't lost in regulation since March 1st and don't think for a second they've forgotten about the team who beat them and the Washington Capitals. Although the Bruins got revenge just 5 days later in a 3-0 win in Boston, the Bruins are looking to stay red hot and ride their point's streak right into the playoffs. Probably the only good news for Caps fans heading into Saturday’s matchup is that no team in the NHL boasts a better win % against the Bruins over the past 6 seasons than the Caps with .607% (Credit: JapersRink.com).
Does that make you sleep better at night? No, and it shouldn't. On paper, Washington doesn't match up well at all with Boston. But for some reason, when game time roles around the Caps usually dig deep to elevate their game and find some late game heroics against these Eastern Conference Juggernauts. Need I remind you of Joel Ward's Game 7 series-clinching goal in Boston just 2 years ago? Didn't think so!
The Capitals are well aware of the fact that they've got to look at every game as a playoff game. After Tuesday's SO loss to the Kings, the Caps locker room was anything but an excited one. Every player on the roster knew they blew a great opportunity at a much needed two points and a chance to move up in the standings, but that's a good thing right? As fans you’ve all seen players in and out of the lineup whether that be players who have been around a while, newcomers, or even players who have been around for a while, but never been given their fair chance; be the heroes of many a game this season. Dimitri Orlov is finally a mainstay in the lineup, Tom Wilson just played over 12 minutes for the first time this season and Evgeny Kuznetsov is not only with the team, but has 6 points in his last 6 games. The team is playing well and getting contributions from all 4 lines, but more importantly, they're playing well when it matters most. This Capitals team is not only gaining confidence, but they're forcing the teams ahead of them in the standings to take notice while putting the pressure on the likes of Detroit, Columbus and Toronto (Although Toronto is having an epic meltdown, the play of the other playoff contenders certainly isn't helping the Caps sleep better at night).
For the longest time this Washington Capitals team has lacked intensity, heart and that "Killer Instinct" that all of the Stanley Cup Champions possess. Over the past week and a half these "Cardiac Caps" have shown grit and an ability to dig deep to come through in the clutch when it matters (Aside from the two blown games against L.A.), whether it be Kuznetsov's 1st NHL goal with under a minute remaining to tie Tuesday's game or Backstrom's highlight reel Shootout/Game Winner against the Sharks giving the Caps their 1st victory in San Jose since 1993. They’ve got their issues and areas of concern, but there's something about the past week or two that screams playoffs for this up and down Washington Capitals club.
There's no doubt it will be an interesting 9 games left on the Caps schedule and although it isn't necessarily an easy road, what can be more difficult than capping off a Western Conference gauntlet with a side of Eastern Conference leading Bruins club? If they can manage to beat the teams they're better than and find ways to scrape out points against teams like Boston, St. Louis and Chicago, Caps fans should be scrounging to find themselves some payoff tickets.
Capitals (34-27-12 80 points) 5th in Metropolitan (3rd in Wild Card) V. Bruins 50-17-6 106 points) 1st in Atlantic and Eastern Conference
Puck Drop: 1230 pm on CSN or Capitals Radio Network
-Washington Capitals vs. The 2nd Period/Penalty Box
Need I say more? This Washington Capitals squad leads the league in quick response goals and uncomfortably awkward 2nd periods. The Bruins don't have to put up a ton of goals which is the scary thing. They replaced one of the best goalies in the league with a younger, quicker, shutout machine. The Bruins are very comfortable playing in almost any situation except those which involve them playing from behind. If the Capitals can finish the first period with the lead and relatively close stats in all of the other major categories, I don't see any reason to believe that this won't be another down-to-the-wire matchup between two teams that genuinely don't like one another.
Foolish penalties is another key matchup that Boston takes pride in. They're arguably the best in the league at "Baiting" opposing players into taking a trip to the penalty box. If the Capitals can limit Boston's Power Play chances, they can work harder to tilt the ice in their favor.
Injuries, scratches, notes:
- Washington appears to be sticking with the same lines as they've been using which are:
90-83-8. 92-19-20, 25-16-42, 17-67-43 and on D: 27-74, 38-52, 81-56
- After taking a hit close to the benches on Tuesday night, it looks as
though Nick Backstrom will "Absolutely" be back in the lineup against Boston.
Backstrom does it all for the Caps and don’t be surprised if he plays a major
part in the games outcome.
- Brooks Laich may return to the Caps lineup soon. #21 took to the ice before the rest of his teammates as he stated he would. Laich says he feels "liberated" after undergoing surgery on March 17th to repair a groin injury. Brooks has been quoted as saying he will take on all challenges and is hoping to return to the lineup before the regular season ends.
- Mikhail Grabovski has been skating in and out with the Caps 4th line during practices. Head Coach Adam Oates has said that he will continue to be monitored and continue to practice, but that his return date has yet to be determined. Grabovski will be a game time decision.
- Jack Hillen is back on the ice after colliding with Alex Ovechkin. Hillen was skating with his usual line-mate Mike Green during practice this morning. Hillen appears to be good to go after early fears that it was a more serious injury
Let's be honest. Even the Penguins won"t be able to catch the Bruins down the stretch, but that's the least of Washington’s worries. The Capitals have been going toe-to-toe with the NHL's best over the last month and they need to continue the momentum gained over the past week if they want a shot at taking down the Eastern Conference Powerhouse Boston Bruins. The only bright side is that Washington seemingly plays the Bruins better than most.
Prediction: 3-2 CAPS in OT. GWG credited
to Ward. Look for the 1st
period to end in a 1-1 tie with the two teams alternating scores in the 2nd
and 3rd periods. Much to the surprise of Caps fans, I don't think
this game makes it to the shootout as Joel Ward banks a rebound in for the GWG
to send a very prophetic message to all of Boston.