Postseason Notebook -- April
The last in a seven-part series that looks back on the Caps' '07-08 season
The Eight Train – Coming into Game 6, Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin had but one goal in the series, the game-winner in Game 1. Although he went without a goal for the next four games, he made his presence felt in other ways: making plays, picking up assists, laying the body, creating screens in front of the net. And as always, making more room for his linemates.
Anyone who has witnessed even part of his first three seasons in the league knew his goal-scoring prowess would not remain dormant for long.
Biron made a nice stop on an Ovechkin bid early in the first period of Game 6, and Ovechkin finished the first frame with two shots on goal. He had another two blocked.
In the second, Philly’s continued insistence on putting their best defenders out against Ovechkin (who can blame them?) finally began to work against the Flyers. Washington’s second line of Backstrom with Laich and Semin worked the Flyers for a pair of goals to dig the Capitals out of a 2-0 hole.
And then the Eight Train left the station with a head of steam.
Taking a perfectly feathered feed from Viktor Kozlov, Ovechkin broke free of Flyers defensemen Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen – the two Philly blueliners who had been so effective at keeping him in check for five-plus games. He put the moves on Biron and beat him to give Washington its first lead of the night at 3-2.
Just under eight minutes later, he found himself all alone in the high slot on a Caps power play. Fedorov put on a burst to beat a Flyer to the puck along the wall in the Philly end. He chipped it to Laich, who spotted Ovechkin and teed him up for a one-timer.
The Double-E – John Erskine and Steve Eminger comprised what was ostensibly Washington’s third defensive pairing. During the regular season, Erskine skated an average of 15:43 in 51 games and Eminger averaged just 11:08 in only 20 games played.
The duo was solid in Game 6. Erskine laid five of Washington’s 17 hits on the night, and led all skaters on both sides in that department. He also picked up an assist on a key Washington goal, a tally that tied the game with less than two minutes in the second period. Erskine skated 19:10 in the game and was plus-3 on the night.
Eminger was mysteriously buried on the Caps depth chart for most of the regular season, but he stepped up and played some very good hockey for Washington when it mattered most. His perfect tape-to-tape breakout pass fueled the rush that led to Washington’s first goal of the night, and the prettiest of the game by either side.
Eminger was also a plus-3, and his 17:36 of ice time was the most he had skated in any regulation length contest since the tail end of the 2006-07 season.
Late Thunder – In a game that featured multiple turning points and plot twists, one of the biggest goals of the season went criminally underappreciated.
Backstrom put what he later termed “my first big hit in the NHL” on a tired Derian Hatcher, who had been on the ice for a while, futilely chasing the Caps around in the Philly end of the ice.
Erskine got the puck and put in on net. Biron did an Edward Scissorhands bit with his glove hand, and Semin scooped up the rebound and deposited it into the yawning cage. In a series in which Phialdelphia has made a habit of scoring goals late in periods, the Caps got one of their own with just 1:57 on the clock in the second period.
That goal was the difference between going into the third period down 2-1 or being even at 2-2.
First Kick at the Cup – Few of the game’s superstars of the last few decades have fared well in their first playoff voyages, at least from the standpoint of team success. Ovechkin fared quite well from an individual standpoint, and he can take some solace in the Elias Sports Bureau tallied up a look at how each player did and how his team fared in that series (in parentheses):
Gordie Howe – 1947 vs. TOR; five games, no points. (Lost 1-4)
Bobby Orr – 1968 vs. MTL; four games, two assists. (Lost 0-4)
Guy Lafleur – 1972 vs. NYR; six games, one goal, four assists. (Lost 2-4)
Wayne Gretzky – 1980 vs. PHI; three games, two goals, one assist. (Lost 0-3)
Mario Lemieux – 1989 vs. NYR; four games, three goals, two assists. (Won 4-0)
Sidney Crosby – 2007 vs. OTT; five games, three goals, two assists. (Lost 1-4)
Alex Ovechkin – 2008 vs. PHI; seven games, four goals, five assists. (Lost 3-4)
Three years after his maiden playoff voyage, Howe got his name etched on the Stanley Cup for the first of four times. Two years after Orr’s playoff debut, he won the first of his two Cups with the Bruins. Lafleur won the first of his five Stanley Cup championships in 1973, a year after his first taste of playoff hockey.
Four years after Gretzky’s playoff debut, he won the first of his four Stanley Cup titles. Two years after Lemieux cut his playoff teeth, he won the first of his two Cups. Crosby is now in his second go-round in the playoffs, and his team is on the verge of its first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 15 years. The smart money has Crosby winning multiple Cups before it’s all said and done.
The Backbreaker – Many will point to the Flyers’ second goal as the one that doomed the Caps in Game 7, but Philly’s first goal might have been more preventable in retrospect.
In the latter stages of the first period, Washington’s fourth line of Donald Brashear, Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr were on the ice and dominating the Flyers in the attack zone. They were cycling, laying the body, and doing the right things, the necessary things to do against an aging defense playing its second game in as many nights.
Even more noteworthy, they were doing so with Philly’s top blueline pair of Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen on the ice. In the midst of this dominant shift, the Caps were able to get fresh troops over the boards and on the ice. That unit was the Laich-Backstrom-Semin trio. They briefly picked up where their predecessors left off, but soon lost possession of the puck.
The weary Flyers began to break the puck out, but before they could get to the neutral zone they were hampered. Semin hooked Mike Richards, who had been on the ice for a minute and a half straight at that point. He wasn’t looking to rush the puck up ice for a scoring chance; all he was looking to do was gain the red line and dump it in so he and his mates could get off the ice. There was no reason to hook him.
Naturally, Philly’s Scott Upshall scored on the ensuing power play. That goal tied the game at 1-1, and only four minutes of brilliant penalty killing – with two of Washington’s best penalty killers in the box – by the Caps kept it that way heading into the second period.
Nick of Time –Backstrom scored his fourth goal in as many games to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead in Game 7. Each of Backstrom’s four goals in the series was also Washington’s first goal of the game.
Five in a Row – Laich’s longest regular season scoring streak is three straight games. He finished up the playoffs with a point or better in each of his last five contests.
5-on-3 – Backstrom’s first goal was Washington’s third 5-on-3 goal of the postseason. The Caps had three 5-on-3 goals during the entire 82-game regular season.
Game 7 Blues – Washington is now 1-5 all-time in Game 7s. The Caps are still seeking their first playoff series win since taking the Eastern Conference Finals from the Buffalo Sabres in 1998 on their way to the lone Stanley Cup finals appearance of their history.
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