One common hockey cliche is: “The most dangerous lead, is a 2 goal lead.” I suppose the same is true for a playoff series. The Washington Capitals head into today’s game against the New York Rangers with a 2-0 series lead, after winning both home playoff games.
The Cap’s “lock em down” and “defense first” commitment is the reason they won both games. Michal Neuvirth continued to amaze, leading the Caps by stopping 46 shots in the first two playoff games while allowing only 1 goal.
But then, there’s that old hockey cliche… the true meaning of which is simple… if a team has a 2-0 lead, all the attention to detail can slip, momentum can still change a game, and mistakes can cost a lead, and ultimately, the game. Many hockey purists say that once the lead is cut to 2-1, players start thinking and stop playing. Errors tend to happen more readily, as players grip tighter and tighter on their sticks (trying not to make a mistake).
Such was what happened in game 3. In the end, it was a fluke bounce (caused by momentum?) that gave the New York Rangers a 3-2, late third period win. Brandon Dubinsky drove in from the low wall, and shoved the puck towards the net…the puck seemed to suspend in mid-air, before clunking off of Karl Alzner’s helmet, and bounced into the cage. Five Caps players surrounded Dubinksy in disbelief.
Yes, the Caps battled back (down 1-0, 2-1 to tie the game), but the Rangers were the team who took full advantage of their unique opportunities. The first of which came on a power play goal by Erik Christensen. His off-wing, tight angle wrister beat Neuvirth. The shot looked incredible, in live speed. The shot found the slightest of spaces over Neuvirth’s left ear. It was the kind of goal that can send a message…
So the questions have to start being asked… How will this game affect the Cap’s, mentally? Will they return to a game of confidence, or start thinking too much? Will they play not to make mistakes, or play to win? Will they start gripping their sticks too tightly?
It’s an interesting situation for the Caps. In years gone past, their care-free, free-wheeling, and scoring mantra could look right past such adversity. However, the Caps have shifted their priorities to “defense first.” Frankly, the Caps don’t have a long history deploying such a system. From where I sit, the Cap’s new found style hasn’t been playoff tested and NEVER has the system had a 2-0, now 2-1, playoff series lead…
About the Author
Written by Dennis Patchett
Huge NHL and soccer fan! Love Columbus, Ohio sports! Buckeyes, Crew, Blue Jackets! Also, the Washington Capitals are my new adopted NHL team!