May 7, 2012
Caps: The new kids on the block
By Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
As part of his preparation for each game, Washington Capitals coach Dale Hunter usually will highlight the guys who are leading in blocked shots.
Now, like a group of proud school kids, every Capital apparently wants to hear his name read out by the headmaster.
"At the end of the night, they look to see how many they have and they if they did the job, or forced them not to shoot," Hunter said Monday morning. "It's a commitment to be made, and for them to do it, it hurts. It does not feel good to get hit by a puck when it's going as hard as shots are coming in now."
The Caps, of course, will keep throwing their bodies in front of rubber. They lead the NHL in the Stanley Cup playoffs with 244 blocked shots, and it's a tactic that helped them draw even at 2-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal against the New York Rangers. It has been just as much of a factor for the Rangers, who are second with 232 blocks. Consider that the Philadelphia Flyers are third in the playoffs with 177, and you get the picture of what kind of influence shot-blocking has had in the Rangers-Capitals series.
Don't expect much to change in Game 5 on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
"It's a tight series," Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "A mistake here or there, each game that might be the difference. We know how important this game is."
The series has not had a lot of after-whistle skirmishes. But the fight for every inch of ice has been done through attrition.
You want tight? Just one of the first four games was decided by more than one goal. There's no reason to believe that will change in the next three games, provided three are required to determine the series winner.
"All series take on a life of their own," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "This has, to me, been even a harder series to play. This has been a straight-ahead, hard series and, in most facets of it, harder than the Ottawa series."
Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, who did not face any disciplinary action over his hit on Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi in Game 4, knows he will hear it from the intense Rangers fans at MSG.
Washington will do everything it can to score first, as it is 6-1 in the post-season when that happens.
"When we score first, we feel comfortable," Ovechkin said. "But it doesn't matter, it's still a 60-minute game. The momentum can change quickly.
"I can't wait. It's always nice to hear when fans boo you or cheer you. On the ice, I don't hear it. On the bench, I hear it."