2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Recap
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 2 - Washington 2, N.Y. Rangers 0 – Capitals lead series, 2-0
The easy inclination when talking about the 2011 Washington Capitals is to view them as the 2010 version, only with one more year of age and experience. However, whereas the 2010 team was a scoring machine, this year’s Caps are far more focused on defense. After two games of playoff hockey against the New York Rangers, it has to be said that Washington’s excellence is showing at its own end of the ice more than anywhere else.
Yes, this is a Washington team intent on getting work done in the playoffs, a marked contrast to 2010 and all the other previous seasons in which the Capitals owned championship-caliber skills but lacked the Spartan will needed to break through in the spring. When the blossoms emerge and the flowers burst into color, the Caps have typically wilted in the face of gritty and determined opposition. Such was the case last year, as Washington faltered in the face of Montreal’s brilliant goaltending and scrappy defense. So far in the 2011 playoffs, it’s not as though the Capitals are lighting the lamp a lot of times; they’ve scored just four goals in two games. However, they own a two-game lead over the New York Rangers because of their newfound commitment to the defensive side of the sport.
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Yes, Washington – despite throwing a playoff rookie, Michal Neuvirth, between the pipes – has allowed just one goal in its first 138 minutes and 24 seconds of playoff competition. Having played nearly seven full periods against the Blueshirts from the Big Apple, Washington is proving to be nearly impenetrable on defense. Sure, the open-ice excellence of Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin hasn’t been in evidence against the Rangers and their formidable goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, but it’s a testament to the Caps and their new point of emphasis under coach Bruce Boudreau that they’re up 2-0 in a series bereft of offensive fireworks.
It was talked about in the offseason and then implemented on the ice: Washington knew it needed to become a stronger and more resolute defensive team in the 2011 playoffs – not just to withstand scoring droughts but also instill a new and more resilient mentality throughout the locker room. Washington has fairly and legitimately been tagged as soft in past postseasons, with 2010 definitely being one such instance. Therefore, this shutout win over the Rangers – the fruit of two goals scored in the first 4:08 of the second period – speaks volumes about the transformation that’s in progress for Boudreau’s boys. If this transformation can continue, the New York Rangers won’t have much of a shot at Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4.
The rest of the Eastern Conference will have reason to be worried as well.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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