Another Postseason, Tons of Questions
The Washington Capitals, going into Game 7 against the New York Rangers, had a ton of momentum coming off of the 2-1 victory in Game 6. The momentum was simply not enough to motivate the Capitals, after Game 7 started with a little adversity. Within the first two minutes in the game, the one player that has been able to answer the call, time and time again for the Rangers, Brad Richards was able to put the puck past Braden Holtby off of a one-timer.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs came to an end for the Capitals Saturday night, after the Game 7 final score of 2-1. Are there specific Capitals to blame? The simple answer is no. The extended answer is the entire team should be blamed. The Capitals do not lose individually, but as a team. "We had a lot of opportunities but... it is what it is" said Caps forward Troy Brouwer following the game.
There were multiple errors on the Richard's goal by multiple Capitals, including John Carlson simply not moving Marian Gaborik from the screening Holtby, or Nick Backstrom successfully screened his own goaltender before the shot as well. Backstrom's play could have easily included a blocked shot, but perhaps the first two minutes is too early to dive in front of a shot.
Backstrom skating slowly toward Richards before the shot without hitting the ice or skating hard enough to get there before the shot came, not only successfully screens Holtby, but effectively Backstrom took himself out of the play. Certain plays like Backstrom's can be magnified, but the main issue which cost the Capitals the game had to do with the Capitals forwards and the power play.
The Capitals cannot expect to win any game, let alone a Game 7, when the only goal came in the third period off of a defenseman. The forwards like Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin, who get paid to score goals, came up entirely empty against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.
"The effort was there" said Ovechkin in the postgame interviews. However, it did seem quite the opposite in the first period. In the first period, although the shots were even at eight apiece, the Capitals were playing too much hockey in their own zone. Regardless of the successfully killed penalty kill in the first period, the Rangers simply looked much more energized to start the game.
Holtby still had a great game in net besides the two goals he let in, stopping 29 of the 31 shots faced. However, Lundqvist obviously had the better game, stopping 22 of 23 shots faced. The Rangers quality of shots were higher than the Capitals. The Rangers were able to fire off one-timers, control the puck behind the Capitals net, and position at least one player right in front of Holtby.
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#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #4 Nashville Predators
Phoenix deposited the streaky Chicago Blackhawks in 6 games, as I predicted. People often compare Phoenix and Nashville, however this season I view Phoenix much more similarly to Los Angeles, their goalie stole the series yes, but the team is what made that possible. Antoine Vermette, with 4 goals and an assist, was Phoenix’s Dustin Brown. Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Rusty Klesla were all fantastic for the Coyotes from the blue line. The Coyotes were a very balanced offensive team. Every regular in the lineup had at least one point (except Michal Rozsival). And how can we talk about Phoenix’s offense without mentioning Mikkel Boedker, who had two game winning, overtime goals in a row against Chicago. All in all, this is an underrated team that absolutely has enough firepower to make an interesting series with any team.
Nashville beat the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games, much quicker than anyone expected. The addition of Alexander Radulov, Paul Gaustad, and Andrei Kostitsyn has turned this team from a bubbling, good team with a good goalie into a team that is quickly being looked at as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Of course they still have the most solid defense in the league, led by Weber and Suter. Pekka Rinne is a Vezina candidate again this year for good reason, he was spectacular in the short first round against the Red Wings.
Prediction: This series, as it is with both teams, will come down to the goalies. Both of them are playing incredible hockey right now. This will be a tough-nosed, low scoring series. Predators in 7+, overtime will probably be quite common in this series.
By: Stephen London
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer