How do you spell relief? D-E-F-E–N-S-E. The Washington Capitals showed their non-believers that tough-minded defensive hockey, coupled with taking the punishment associated with hanging out in front of the net can and will win hockey games. And, perhaps they showed that Coach Dale Hunter’s ‘system’ can work not only at the NHL level, but in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Although the Capitals had beaten the Boston Bruins three of four times during the regular season, it was clear to everyone that they were the underdog going into this matchup. The Bruins were the reigning Stanley Cup champions, they had home ice advantage, and they led the entire league by scoring 67 more goals than they had allowed during the regular season. Washington, on the other hand, had given up eight more goals than they had scored. And, not to be overlooked, the Bruins had last year’s Vezina trophy winner between the pipes — Tim Thomas — who ranked in the top third of all goalies in both GAA and save percentage entering the playoffs. Washington’s goalie was Braden Holtby, who had played in only seven games prior to game one of the playoffs.
To summarize the seven games in one article is difficult, but perhaps the NHL record set by the two teams is telling. Never before in playoff history had each of the first six games of a seven game series been decided by a single goal. The seventh was no different, and it — like three of the first six — required extra time to determine the outcome. When the ice chips had settled, the Capitals had defeated the Bruins 2-1 to claim the quarterfinals from the champs. And despite the racist comments from some bigoted and classless Bruins fans, the game winning goal was scored by Washington’s #42, Joel Ward, who throughout the season gave 100% during every single shift he was on the ice. He deserved to be the hero of game 7.
While Ward deserves accolades for his goal, Braden Holtby was, without question, the MVP of the series for the Capitals. He held the Bruins to a 2.0 goals per game and had a 0.940 save percentage, both of which are far better than attained by Washington’s regular season goalies and would have placed him in the top five of all the NHL’s net minders.
The Caps have had a brief chance to rest before starting to prepare for the top seeded New York Rangers, who dispatched eighth seed Ottawa in seven games. Washington and New York split their four regular season games, each winning one on home ice and one on the road. There’s no love lost between these two teams, and the only prediction that can be made is that it will another series of physical and likely low scoring games. Having said that, if Washington adheres to the method of play that allowed them to upset Boston, Caps fans can be sure they’ll give the Rangers a run for their money.
Let’s Go Caps!