Blog Entry

Backing off the wall

Posted on: April 19, 2008 4:43 pm
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And all along we thought it was because Bruce Boudreau was pushing the right buttons.

Made sense too since the Washington Capitals turned their season around after Bourdreau took over as coach at Thanksgiving and then quickly recovered from a big setback in March to finish on fire and steal a division title.

No doubt Boudreau has had a lot to do with the Capitals success, but after watching them avoid elimination by beating the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 this afternoon, it's fair to wonder if having their backs to the wall isn't really what motivates this team the most.

Washington came home down 3-1 in the series and written off in many quarters, much as the Caps were after dropping back-to-back games during a crucial March weekend. Back then Washington responded by just huffing and puffing and blowing down everyone in its way during a remarkable fun that saw the Caps win 10 of the 11 last including the final seven in a row. On Saturday, they did a lot of the same to possibly turn this series around.

Washington wasted little time setting the tone against the physical Flyers, taking the body hard at every opportunity and keeping the visitors hemmed in their own zone with aggressive forechecking. The Capitals kept things relatively simple and avoided mistakes and penalties, but could only end the first period leading only 1-0.  And yet while Philadelphia was able to hang around, the Flyers were getting a pretty good idea of frustrated Washington goalie Cristobal Huet was going to make them.

Huet has been the individual star of the series for Washington, which isn't a bad thing although the Capitals might prefer Alexander Ovechkin to hold that distinction. Still, Ovechkin, who played on a line with Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov had his best 60 minutes of the series. He created more space form himself than usual against the Flyers solid shutdown team of d-men Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn, and factored in as a distraction in front of the net even if he didn't score.

It's the next best thing for Washington if Ovechkin doesn't put pucks in the net, although if the Caps are to come back and win this series, he will have to break loose at some point. Meanwhile, the Caps will try to do do what they did during their run to the playoffs last month by building on a big win when the series shifts back to Philadelphia on Monday.

But it's a lot harder to maintain momentum at this time of season. Especially when you are facing a team like the Flyers, who will get to feed off the emotion of the home crowd and the fear of letting series return to Washington for a Game 7 decider.

A team, in other words, that will be playing like it has its backs to the wall.

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Category: NHL
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