If the Washington Capitals’ secondary support ever fully engages, it might be easier to score their games in touchdowns.
Nicklas Backstrom, defined as a “secondary” player only because he plays on a team with Alex Ovechkin, was huge for the Caps in their 6-5 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens, completing the hat trick in extra time for the Game 2 victory that gives us a 1-1 series heading back to Montreal.
Four-point nights for Ovie and Backstrom overshadowed the great work of 20-year-old John Carlson, who’s the Caps’ best defenseman right now. Carlson tied the game late in regulation, providing the offense Washington thought it could count on from Mike Green.
So far, all the Caps can count on from Green is a bizarre mix of timid and tenuous play. He’s completely lost track of high gear and is doing more harm than good for Washington.
Alexander Semin isn’t quite in the same class, but he’s now gone nine playoff games without a goal; Green has one in his past 20.
With Ovie clearly fired up and responding the way a star player needs to after a loss and Backstrom showing why he might be the most underrated superstar in the league, imagine where Washington will be if Green and Semin locate their games.
As for Carlson, he looks like a seasoned pro out there and the Caps will need more of that from him because, though they got a win in Game 2, the theory that they can be done in by bad defense and goaltending hasn't exactly been disproved.
Jose Theodore’s post-season lasted 7:58 longer than it did last spring, when Semyon Varlamov replaced him after a Game 1 loss to the Rangers. This year, it was only after Andrei Kostitsyn gave Montreal an early 2-0 lead that Varlamov spelled Theo and while he didn’t look bad in relief, Varlamov wasn’t lights-out, either.
Where Washington really outshines the Canadiens is in the dirty areas, particularly in front of the net. The Caps’ big bodies gave Jaroslav Halak fits all night and he legitimately had a goalie interference case or two to make. That said, this is playoff hockey and, especially if it isn’t being called, teams that make owning the front of the crease a priority usually end up on the happy end of the score.
Speaking of the Montreal goal, it has to be said that Halak didn’t do his team any huge favors in Game 2. You never catch a break when you’re a goalie and Halak certainly didn’t have much idle time in the contest, but both the game-tying and game-winning goals were saves the Habs need to get to have any chance in this thing. That’s not to say they were soft goals, it’s just that when you’re trying to topple the league’s fiercest offensive outfit as a lowly No. 8 seed, you need your goalie playing out of his mind and making those crucial stops.
Will we see Carey Price in Game 3? I doubt it. But if the Habs don’t win that one, coach Jacques Martin has to play that card in Game 4. Halak has been terrific for Montreal this season, but Price – for all his ups and downs – is a much bigger goalie who might be better able to peak around the inevitable traffic jam Washington is intent on creating. The Caps are also onto the fact that Halak isn’t nearly as strong stopping high shots as he is down low, so maybe giving them a different look would do Montreal well.
I expect there’s an odd feeling on the Habs’ flight home knowing they let a three-goal lead slip and coughed up another goal late in the game, yet still have the split they were after. The 2010 playoffs will get another magical moment when the Canadiens hit the Bell Centre ice on Monday night, because no place is quite like Montreal in the post-season; especially when the hometown supporters sense their team might have a shot at an upset.
Right now, that could still be in the cards. But if a couple more of the Caps’ top players find their ‘A’ game, this could yet be a very short series.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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