Since he has become the Washington Capitals head coach, we have come to trust Bruce Boudreau's hunches. From sticking with Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann when they were struggling to Fleischmann's move to center, to playing Alex Semin and Nick Backstrom on the penalty kill, Boudreau has shown time and again why he is the best hockey coach alive. So when he sent Mike Knuble out in the shootout, we knew he had his reasons.
A good timeout by Boudreau with 2:35 left after an icing got the Caps to overtime, and eventually the shootout. The shootout began with Penguins defenseman Kris Letang using a move that shouldn't be allowed in polite society on Jose Theodore. Gotta hand it to Theo on that, most goalies would have fallen down like a moron long before he did, and Theodore had been standing on his head (figuratively, not literally) with some amazing saves on chances the Penguins had all rights to bury. Letang used a nasty move to get Theodore moving and open up his pads to put the Pens up 1-0. After a miss by Backstrom, Sidney Crosby used a nice move to pot one. Down 2-0 halfway through the shootout, Alex Ovechkin did what he does best, he came through in the clutch. Ovechkin and Semin put goals past Marc-Andre Fleury after failed pokecheck attempts and Jose Theodore shut the door on Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz to set up the final shot.
Knuble, who was 0-for-4 in his career in the shootout before tonight, had scored earlier in the game. It was the kind of garbage goal he is known for, but it was a thing of beauty all the same. After scoring several goals over the past few games that had been disallowed, Knuble saw his chance, a puck that fluttered into the air. He waited for the puck to drop below the crossbar, and a he was being checked from behind, kept his skates off the puck and didn't knock the net off its moorings. He let the puck hit the ice, and, standing behind the goalie, tapped the puck in from less than a foot from the goal line into the vacant corner of the net to open the scoring barely more than a minute into the second period.
Knuble's shootout goal after a head-fake that froze Fleury sent the sellout crowd into a frenzy. The fans had been waiting all game for the Caps to take control, especially after leading 1-0 and 3-2, the last lead courtesy of Eric Fehr, who deflected a shot from Milk Moustache Mike Green. It was a clutch goal against an arch-rival, and it was exactly the kind of thing we expected from Mike Knuble-killer instinct.
This was the kind of chippy game we can expect in the playoffs: lots of scrums after the whistle, tight checking at times, overtime, and lots of penalties the Caps got called for the Penguins got away with, leading to the audible "Refs You Suck" chant. For some reason, the Penguins collapsed and allowed too many chances. The Capitals gave up their fair share of chances, but there was little they could do about the Maxime Talbot deflection goal or a powerplay goal on the umpteenth powerplay in a row for the Penguins. Jordan Staal's goal was a wicked, fastest-gun-in-the-west-type wrist shot released to the top corner barely after touching the puck with two defenders closing in on him. It shows why he should be a #2 center on another team instead of #3 stuck behind two future Hall-of-Famers in Pittsburgh.
Alexander Semin turned a weakness into a strength with a disturbing shorthanded goal. After intercepting the puck in his own end, Semin skated the length of the ice. When the defensemen gave him space, he cut to the middle and uncorked a torqued wrist shot into a place only a mother could love, a nasty release that found it's way into the top corner. Semin had just been on the ice for almost half of the penalty kill, a total of 54 seconds. It goes to show you that he came to play tonight, even if he did overpass in the first period. His conditioning is stellar and he wants to beat the Penguins.
-Congratulations to Nick Backstrom for scoring his 89th point on the season, a new career high. He also had a nice counter-hit in the second period to show off his strength.
-What is it with John Carlson and the post? After two posts before this in a game and one in practice to take Brooks Laich out of the lineup, he clanged another shot off the iron to delay his first NHL goal for another game.
-#needsmorebradley: Matt Bradley was 1-1 for 50% on faceoffs tonight. Backstrom only won 44%, David Steckel won 46%, and Tomas Fleischmann lost his only draw.