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How will Ovechkin respond?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Under coach Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals have only lost back-to-back games in regulation once.  That iconic weekend, featuring a late third period meltdown in Boston on Saturday followed by Backstrom scoring on his own netminder in Pittsburgh on Sunday, appeared to sound the death knell on the Caps’ playoff hopes.  Obviously we all know how that turned out.

Resilience.  That’s the word that defines the 2007-2008 Washington Capitals.  It all started with a change in the coaching staff, and it has permeated the entire hockey culture in that city.  Who would have thought in September that we’d see playoff hockey in Washington?  And not only that – a sea of red filling the Verizon Center.  So it wouldn’t be surprising to see a resurgent club in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, bouncing back from Sunday’s shutout.

In addition to executing their game plan perfectly, the Flyers kept Alexander Ovechkin off the score sheet. Probably not what NBC wanted for its weekend matinee.  And I’m sure they would like to repeat that performance at the Wachovia center.  But it won’t be easy.   

Ovechkin was held scoreless 18 times during the regular season.  In games directly following pointless nights, Ovechkin averaged 2.06 points per game.  Compare that to his overall average of 1.37 PPG.  Even if we remove the 18 scoreless games – 112 points in 64 games – his average comes to 1.75 PPG.  The Great 8 knows how to rebound in style during the regular season.

Now fast forward to the playoffs.  Ovechkin was clearly frustrated by the end of Sunday’s game, slamming his stick on the ice when Mike Green received a penalty with about 5 minutes remaining in the third.  His team couldn’t break through the Biron wall, and he couldn’t find a way to save them.  The penalty put the final nail in the Capitals’ coffin.

Statistics and personality suggest Ovechkin will come out flying Tuesday in South Philly, throwing everything he has at the Orange and Black.  It’s paramout that the Flyers continue pressing on the Caps’ defense and putting bodies and active sticks in the passing and shooting lanes.  They also need to stay out of the penalty box – the Caps won’t hit the posts and glass forever.  Marty Biron will have to stand on his head yet again. 

If the Flyers can limit Ovechkin – and his teammates – in Game 3, then they will prevent the Caps from stealing moment and regaining an ounce of confidence  And I’m not sure that such a young team as Washington will have the inner resources and experience to concoct a recipe for resurgence under that level of pressure.

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