Time for Capitals to finish the job
WASHINGTON -- Through the first two games of the playoffs, the Washington Capitals have allowed one goal, blocked 52 shots, delivered 70 hits and generally choked the life out of the New York Rangers.
So, now what?
Well, for starters, after Washington's 2-0 victory Friday night, the Capitals head to New York for Games 3 and 4 with a chance to prove they have become a team that doesn't just talk about getting the job done, but gets it done.
Two games is not a body of work. It is a snapshot.
And at the risk of dredging up unpleasant memories for the Caps, we have seen these kinds of moments in the postseason before. Moments that seemed to promise something greater down the road, promises that quickly turned to so much sawdust.
Remember the Caps going up 2-0 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009?
At the time, I wrote that we were witnessing the arrival of a new power in the Eastern Conference. Oops. Or not.
The Penguins won four of five to eliminate the Caps and went on to win the Cup.
Last spring, of course, the Caps were up 3-1 on the Canadiens and making jokes about Montreal netminder Jaroslav Halak's shaky glove hand before they went for the high dive and lost three straight.
Nothing should reinforce for this Capitals team that the new defensive game plan introduced by coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff midway through the season might be the path to elusive playoff glory more than the first two games of this series.
"They've been buying in since the middle of December. And I've said it many times, they just want to win," Boudreau said after Friday's victory.
"They've all said it, to a man. I think the important thing is they get success. We've got a lot of guys that have won a lot of awards, and that doesn't mean anything to them now. It's just the success of what could happen is what they want," the coach said.
After coming from behind in Game 1 to win on Alexander Semin's overtime laser, the Capitals withstood a strong start from the Rangers in Game 2, then dominated the second period, scoring twice in a little more than two minutes to put the offensively challenged Rangers on the ropes.
"People still I think identify our team as an offensive firepower, but since December, January on, I think we've been in the top of the league in goals against and shots against, and I keep harping on it that our defensive zone play and our defensive coverage is going to be a key for us, probably the biggest key in these playoffs," Washington forward Brooks Laich said Friday.
As they did in Game 1, the Capitals hit everything in sight in Game 2. They continued to keep pucks from getting through to rookie netminder Michal Neuvirth, blocking 21 Rangers shots.
They got a great goal from their third line after Laich won a battle down low with Rangers defenseman Matt Gilroy and fed the puck to rookie center Marcus Johansson, who found Jason Chimera in front for what would stand as the winning goal just 2:11 into the second period.
"For about five or six minutes there, they surged on us. They scored a goal, we take a penalty, get an unfortunate bounce and that's a big part of the game," New York coach John Tortorella said.
"I thought we played much better than the other night. I thought it was much more the style that we play. We got hurt by a surge tonight. Good teams do it," Tortorella added.
We remember talking to Alex Ovechkin at training camp about the playoff disappointments of the past couple of years. He spoke about the need for the Capitals to end series quickly.
Since 2008, the Caps have lost to Philadelphia in seven, beat the Rangers in seven, and lost to Pittsburgh and Montreal in seven-game sets.
"You say this team. But this team is different than the past teams that we've had," Laich pointed out Friday.
"This is a completely different team. You have your same core players, but now our style, our mindset is a little different. I keep saying it, but we can't try and avenge last year's team and avenge that loss. That's done and gone with. We have to try and win with this team," he said.
They are halfway to a sweep against a Rangers team that has been able to generate almost nothing in terms of sustained pressure.
More than that, though, the Caps are halfway to rewarding themselves for becoming a different, more playoff-ready hockey team.
"By no means, you don't get comfortable in the playoffs," Washington forward Boyd Gordon said.
"It's one of those things where Madison Square Garden is always tough. You know momentum changes quickly in a series, and we definitely know that more than anybody."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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2011 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCENo. 1 Washington vs. No. 8 N.Y. Rangers No. 2 Philadelphia vs. No. 7 Buffalo No. 3 Boston vs. No. 6 Montreal No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay
WESTERN CONFERENCENo. 1 Vancouver vs. No. 8 Blackhawks No. 2 San Jose vs. No. 7 Los Angeles No. 3 Detroit vs. No. 6 Phoenix No. 4 Anaheim vs. No. 5 Nashville
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