Controversy arrived very late in last night’s 6-3 Capitals’ triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the final regular season contest between these teams in the Igloo. With just two-tenths of a second left in the game, Bruce Boudreau chose not to have Alexander Ovechkin take the center-ice draw and attempt to miraculously bat the dropped puck out of mid-air and into the Penguins cage for his 49th goal of the season, increasing the Caps’ lead from three to four goals and nudging Ovi past Sidney Crosby and alone in the lead for the Maurice Richard trophy. Perhaps a decision by the bench boss to rest Ovi a bit in the final week of the season?
When weighing sportsmanship versus the opportunity to heap on humiliation to this opponent and its fans, in one of the final games in its mausoleum of a rink, the call here is an easy one: heap it on, baby! Ovi’s sub-one-second-left empty-netter was a wondrous calling card for the Igloo, as if he was saying Here’s a little extra sour cream for your pierogie!
The Igloo as it’s known was the setting of the masterful Jean-Claude Van Damme bit of cinema, ‘Sudden Death,’ and also some hockey, and it has provided the Caps with mostly down moments in its history. Last night’s win however was a team triumph and, we think, a true turning of the page in the contemporary history of this storied rivalry. You just know that the Pens didn’t want to get swept by the Caps on the season, but they were powerless to avoid it, never much gaining control of the game’s tempo. Last year’s Caps went 3-1 versus Pittsburgh during the regular season, winning both games at Mellon, but this year seems different. The Caps are deeper and bigger than their former Patrick division rivals, even though their depth wasn’t on display last night. The Caps were without Brendan Morrison, John Carlson, Mike Green, Eric Belanger, and Scott Walker. Pittsburgh was without Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz.
- Can the Capitals ask the league to recall its just-released 10 Best Games DVD collection so that last night’s game can be included? It was, after all, the final regular season game contested between these teams who loathe each other in Mellon Arena. Oh, and with the win the Capitals swept a season series with Pittsburgh for the first time in team history.
- A sweep for the first time in team history — that speaks volumes of both the Penguins’ past dominance of the Capitals and the noteworthiness of the Caps’ 4-0 run this season. The District’s schools should be closed today in acknowledgment—at the very least the Caps’ accomplishment merits as much attention as the Redskins’ acquisition of another team’s cast-off quarterback.
- It appears that it won’t much matter where the Caps play the Pens, one thing won’t ever change: the Pens will get the calls. For the fifteenth consecutive game in this rivalry the Caps failed to win the tally of the power plays, and in just four of those games have the Caps earned an equal number of extra man advantages. The tally last night was 4-1 against in penalties. Alex Semin takes elbows to the head, Tomas Fleishmann sticks to the throat, and it’s see no evil from the men in stripes. It’s getting to the point where a Presidential Commission ought to investigate. And make no mistake, while the Capitals this season have aptly demonstrated their superiority over this talented Pittsburgh team, should they face them in the postseason there will again be eyebrow- and blood pressure-raising issues with officiating. It is seemingly ever thus in this series, but especially since Sidney’s arrival.
- Anyway, we’re going to keep a sharp eye out for word of the demolition date of Mellon Arena, and work with other Caps’ blogs on organizing a roadtrip work party for Caps’ fans to assist in the endeavor.
- Sarge was Large: Jeff Schultz’s play post Olympics hadn’t matched his pre-break level — well, how could it? — but last night Sarge offered up his best game since play resumed from the February hiatus. He had two assists and skated a +5 on the evening, eliminated some of the giveaways that had crept back into his game, and did an effective job of tying up Pens forwards down low.
- Semyon Varlamov? Super solid. He’s finally rounding into difference-making major league form. He was beaten last night by a Sidney Crosby bullet from the high slot while Capitals’ defenders (Tyler Sloan especially) offered conspicuous deference to him in that area. And Jordan Leopold launched a laser from the point that Shaone Morrisonn deflected by his netminder. Bruce Boudreau has to feel a lot better about his goaltending than he did perhaps two weeks ago.
- Ovi is heating up all right, and the timing couldn’t be better. It seems fair to say that Ovi changed his game of late in responding to all the scrutiny of his questionable hits this season. Now he seems to be more the Ovi of old. It may have been Brian Engblom in the Versus studio last night who suggested that there’s been too much East-West to Ovi’s game in the past month, when he’s at his most dynamic and game-breaking best when skating North-South. We agree.
- Eddie Olczyk sure was a voice of dispassionate analysis on the Versus broadcast last night, wasn’t he, weighing in on everything from the milliseconds of tardiness the zebras took in whistling the game’s lone penalty on Pittsburgh to extolling the virtues of Jordan Staal winning a draw in his own end that Ovi snapped into the back of the Pittsburgh cage two seconds later.