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Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Caps starting to reverse playoff trend

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- By the time Jason Chimera was likening his double-overtime goal to getting married and the birth of his children, you could almost forget the Washington Capitals looked more than a little lost at times Wednesday night.

And in their being able to erase what might have been the worst period of postseason hockey the team has played since the lockout, in being able to erase a 3-0 third-period deficit to steal a 4-3 victory, is it possible we have seen something of the character we have been waiting for from this team?

"It's up there in your life," Chimera said of his game winner at 12:36 of the second overtime that gave the Washington Capitals a 3-1 series lead and a chance to close out the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon in Washington, D.C.

"Kids are No. 1," Chimera added. "But this is pretty up there. It's awesome. There's no better feeling in the world when you're a hockey player. You want to have the game on your stick. [It was] just nice to get that goal."

Jason Chimera
Jason Chimera's double-overtime goal gave the Capitals a 4-3 win and 3-1 series lead.

There was something kind of karmic about Chimera's big goal, a marker that came about when Marian Gaborik tried to poke away a loose puck in front of New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist but instead poked it into Chimera, who swung the puck into the open net.

In the forgetful second period, in which the Capitals allowed three Rangers goals (including two in a 7-second span), it was Chimera and his linemates who were on the ice for those two quickies.

"I was telling myself, 'I want to make amends for it,'" Chimera said. "It was nice to get it back. We can't get scored on like that back to back, that's for sure."

At that point, with Rangers fans giving it to Washington coach Bruce Boudreau for his ill-advised comments on Madison Square Garden earlier in the week, it looked like history was about to pay another visit to the Caps, the kind of history that defines a team as being unable to get the job done.

In last season's first-round series against Montreal, Boudreau seemed to lose his cool, sensing perhaps his team was losing its traction against the underdog Canadiens. This postseason, the Caps opened up a 2-0 series lead playing the kind of shut-down defense that has marked their play in the second half of the season. But penalties were a contributing factor in a 3-2 loss in Game 3. And when they gave up the three-spot in the second period Wednesday, well ...

But for the second straight night, an NHL team defied the odds in erasing a big lead and emerging victorious. In fact, Boudreau reminded his players of San Jose's 6-5 overtime win over Los Angeles, a game in which the Kings led 4-0.

Boudreau told his team to be patient.

"You get one and you never know," he said.

Defenseman Scott Hannan, sporting a nasty cut over his right eye thanks to an errant puck, played for many years in San Jose, where not getting the job done was a rite of spring. He said there was no panic in the Caps' dressing room after the second period, even though they were 20 minutes away from blowing another 2-0 series lead.

"It's just one of those things. You never know what can happen in the playoffs," Hannan said. "You wanted to try and change the momentum of the game. They were kind of taking it to us there for five minutes. They got those three goals, and we were sitting back on our heels. But it's not good to feel sorry for yourself and sit back and mope. That doesn't do us any good. We proved that going into the third. Everybody played; everybody contributed."

Boudreau has shown a deft touch in guiding his team to a more defensive mindset, even if that had to be abandoned in the face of a three-goal deficit. He also is not afraid to admit he makes mistakes. Boudreau acknowledged he might have erred in making candid comments about Madison Square Garden and Rangers fans. He also acknowledged he erred in keeping the Chimera line on the ice after it allowed the second Rangers goal in the second period.

"I made a mistake and I should have changed lines right away because they came to center ice and they looked really down. And I said, 'I'm hoping they're mad,' and left them on," Boudreau said.

By the time overtime rolled around, though, Boudreau found his coaching legs, and instead of trying to press too early for the winning marker, he went to his bench, and his bench rewarded him with a significant victory.

"We were rolling 12 forwards and six defensemen," Boudreau said. "When we shortened the bench in the third period, I told them in overtime, 'We're rolling four lines, so just go quick and keep doing what you're doing and hopefully they'll make a mistake.' And they did."

Skeptics will say this game reveals the Caps are truly an offensive wolf masquerading in New Jersey Devils' clothing. Critics will suggest that no matter how often the Caps say they are one thing -- a team committed to defense -- they are something completely different. But that would be to deny the Caps won two, hard-fought, low-scoring games to open the series.

That the Capitals blew the doors off the Rangers with three third-period goals in less than 10 minutes before winning it in double overtime suggests they perhaps have that rare ability to simply change personalities as opposed to needing to play with just one.

"They haven't forgotten that they scored a lot of goals last year, and we play a little differently when we are behind," Boudreau said. "But I believe that they believe because they're a great character group."

"That's a big part of it," Hannan added. "We can sit there and we can grind it up when we have to, when we have to play defense. And then when we need to open things up, we've got the talent on this team that can run and gun with anybody. It's nice to have those things."

Now, one might think a team that could do that kind of thing -- play it tight, open it up -- would be formidable come playoff time. One would think the Caps might have done what they have struggled to do in the past: put a dagger in the heart of an enemy.

Boudreau will have none of that.

"That was a fabulous hockey game, and like I said it in here the other night, two warrior teams going at it and leaving nothing," Boudreau said. "This has been a hell of a series so far, and I don't anticipate anything different on Saturday.

"There's no doubt in my mind, with two days off, they're going to regroup, and if we think we've got this won by any stretch of the imagination, we're in deep trouble," he added. "I think we were in this situation a little while ago."

Sounds almost like the voice of a team that finally gets it.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.