April 22 vs. Boston Bruins at Verizon Center
Time: 3:00 pm TV: NBC Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at noon, John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at noon on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (42-32-8), 92 points
Boston Bruins (49-29-4), 102 points
Game 6, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series (Capitals lead series, 3-2)
On four occasions in their 37-year history, the Washington Capitals have had the unique and difficult task of ousting the defending Stanley Cup champion team from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Four times they have failed, with the most recent of those four times being the 1998 Stanley Cup final when the Detroit Red Wings swept them for their second consecutive Cup crown.
On Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center, the Capitals will seek to take out the defending champs for a fifth time. By virtue of its 4-3 win over the B’s in Boston on Saturday afternoon, Washington has taken a 3-2 lead in its Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Bruins.
“Every game has been tough with these guys,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter of the Bruins. “They’re a good team. They are not going to quit. They play hard out there. They have some real good players. I think every game is a tough game against these guys.”
Sunday, the Caps and Bruins go head-to-head in the only set of games on back-to-back dates that any two teams will play in the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Our goal is to win the next game and try to move on,” says Caps right wing Joel Ward. “There’s no secret about that. Obviously, [the Bruins] want to extend it to a Game 7. But we’re focusing on what we’re doing and we’re excited about the position we’re in right now. But we’ve got another hard fought game [Sunday]. Our first 10 minutes is going to be key, and trying to get some momentum from there.”
For the fourth time in five games in this series and for the fourth consecutive game, the Caps drew first blood in Saturday’s Game 5. After the two teams played a scoreless first period and right after some mid-game forward line adjustments from Caps bench boss Dale Hunter, Caps winger Alexander Semin netted his third goal of the series of a rebound of a Dennis Wideman shot.
Minutes later, the Capitals forged the first two-goal lead either team has enjoyed at any point in this series when Jay Beagle’s wrist shot glanced off the glove of Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and fell into the net.
As has been the case with most leads during this series, that one proved to be short-lived. Boston came right back with two goals just 28 seconds apart from Dennis Seidenberg and Brad Marchand in evening the game at 2-2.
With the momentum seemingly on Boston’s side, the Caps’ fortunes turned again when 39-year-old former Bruin Mike Knuble beat Thomas on a rebound of a Joel Ward shot early in the third period. But once again, the Bruins responded quickly. They drew even on a Johnny Boychuk power play goal – the first power play goal for the Bruins in the series – and a third overtime game seemed like a possibility.
Boston forward Benoit Pouliot took a pair of unadvised stick hacks at Caps center Nicklas Backstrom late in the second period. It was a borderline call, but Pouliot didn’t help himself by helping himself to a second whack, and he was sent off for slashing.
As has been the case so frequently in this series, the ensuing Caps power play looked out of synch and out of sorts. But as has been the case three times now in this series, Washington’s beleaguered extra-man unit found a way to get the job done.
Caps right wing Troy Brouwer cruised down the right side and let a wrist shot fly. The shot beat Thomas short side, glove side, and the Caps had their third lead of the game.
Most importantly, perhaps, they had that lead late in regulation. The Bruins only had 1:27 in which to mount a response and were unable to do so. Washington got out of town with a second win in three games in Boston and a 3-2 series lead.
“We’ve got a lot of people who probably thought we wouldn’t be in this position,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “It’s just from desperate hockey. We’re working hard and we’re getting a lot of good breaks, and guys are scoring when we need to score goals.”
Thomas is a week past his 38th birthday. Including a Game 7 win in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs against Montreal, Thomas has started both ends of games on back-to-back dates nine times since the start of the 2010-11 season. He is 6-3 in those nine games, with a 2.71 GAA and a .920 save pct.
One of those wins in the second of back-to-back games came against Washington On Feb. 5, a 4-1 victory at Verizon Center. Although he is 6-3 in such situations over the past two seasons, Thomas has lost each of the last two games in which he has started games on consecutive days. Thomas lost to the New York Rangers on March 4 and to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 11. In the Pittsburgh game, Thomas was pulled after allowed three goals on 10 shots in the first period.
En route to their first Stanley Cup title in 39 years last spring, the Bruins picked up loads of vital experience in long series. Three of Boston’s four playoff series went the full seven games, and the Bruins won it all by taking out the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup final.
Just like the Caps right now, Vancouver owned a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6. The Bruins took the last two games and the Cup.
“Well there’s certainly lots of guys in that dressing room that have gone through that and there’s some others that are new to our hockey club that have to manage that as good as they can,” says Bruins coach Claude Julien. “A guy like [Boston forward Brian] Rolston, he’s got some experience so our guys that we’ve gotten are experienced guys so I don’t see that as an issue.
“We’re down 3-2 in the series and most people will tell you, until they win four games, that’s when the series is over. So we’ve got an opportunity [Sunday] to get back into this series and create a Game 7 and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”