Perhaps the Washington Capitals got the message when they crash and burned in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year. Or maybe they’ve finally bought into the message Dale Hunter has been pounding into them for the past four months.
Whatever the reason is, the Capitals have become a shot-blocking, hard-hitting, space-taking team that is built to win in the playoffs.
“This is how it’s going to be. For you, maybe it’s boring. But for us, it’s fun.” – Nicklas Backstrom
Backstrom scored the double overtime winner in Game 2 of the Capitals series against the Boston Bruins on Saturday to tie the series at one apiece as it heads to the nation’s capital.
Through the first two games, the Capitals and Bruins have combined for 146 hits – 70 for the Capitals and 76 for the Bruins – and just four goals. Part of that though has come from the outstanding goaltending from Braden Holtby and Tim Thomas.
Although Holtby has allowed two goals on 74 shots, and leads all playoff goalies with a .973 save percentage and a .83 GAA, he also had 49 shots blocked by his teammates in Games 1 and 2. Holtby says that the commitment to team defense might be the biggest difference between this year’s team and the ones that have burned out early in the playoffs in years past.
Since Dale Hunter arrived on November 28 to replace Bruce Boudreau, he has tried to convince his players that a sound, risk-free defensive system would work in the playoffs. And for long stretches after his arrival there were doubts that the Capitals would even make the playoffs. But now that theyr’re there, the Capitals have gone toe-to-toe with the defending Stanley Cup champions, matching their physical intensity along the boars, in front of the net, and in battles for loose pucks.
“You know, they just sit back. They play a patient game. They sit back and get into their 1-4 and if you want to get cute in the neutral zone, you’re not getting pucks in.” – Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien
What’s that? An opposing coach is praising the Capitals for their patience? This must be 2012.
For the past four years, playoff hockey has never extended past early May in Washington D.C. If the Capitals continue to pay the same price they have in the first two games of this series, that could change soon.
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