Thoughts heading into Friday's Game 5

April, 22, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Here are some musings and meanderings as we approach the first elimination game of this series Friday night in Washington:

1. There's smokin' … and then there's Semin

How dominant has the Capitals' big line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble been? Let us count the ways. The trio has combined for 11 goals, 11 assists and is a combined plus-22 through the first four games of the series.

The other Alex, Alexander Semin, he of the 40 regular-season goals? Not so much.

Semin has one assist in the series, and that was on a play in which the puck dribbled off the end of his stick and Ovechkin ripped home the Caps' goal.

"Well, it was right on the tape, wasn't it?" Caps coach Bruce Boudreau deadpanned Thursday when asked if he thought Semin actually meant to pass the puck to Ovechkin.

Semin was also involved in a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty late in the second period of Game 4 that could have been costly. He motioned for Eric Fehr to come onto the ice and then remained on himself when the puck came near him.

"I think that there's room for improvement. He's definitely hasn't shown the hockey world how well he can play when he's on top of his game," Boudreau said. "I don't know what the reason is. I know he wants to win and he wants to play well. It just hasn't transferred into points and successful scoring opportunities."

2. Don't get angry

Still a little fallout over Montreal netminder Carey Price's rare double unsportsmanlike conducts late in Game 4. He first shot a puck at a group of celebrating Capitals after Jason Chimera made it 4-2 and then made a slashing gesture at Nicklas Backstrom after he scored the final goal of the night into an empty net to make it 6-3.

"I could picture it as frustration," Boudreau said. "He's a pretty reserved man from what I've seen on tape and that. He was probably very frustrated, and the way things happened, there wasn't a lot of malicious stuff. The flip wasn't very hard, and with the stick on Nicky, he would have liked to have hit him hard, but sort of [likely said], 'Ahhh, what am I doing?' So I think it was just out of frustration."

At the Montreal Canadiens' practice Thursday, some of the Habs talked about the need to maintain their cool, something that has been in short supply in the past couple of games. Along with Price's fouls, Tomas Plekanec was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in Game 3 and Scott Gomez was assessed a 10-minute misconduct in the same game, a 5-1 Washington win.

"'I don't think you avoid it; you accept it. You accept that frustration," Montreal forward Mike Cammalleri told reporters before the team flew to Washington. "You don't fight it. You acknowledge it and then do your best to move forward in a productive manner. OK, we're frustrated. We've got a little fire in our belly and let's go play a game where we're not frustrated.'"

3. Varly's time

Boudreau said he wasn't surprised by the sharpness of Caps netminder Semyon Varlamov since coming on in relief of Jose Theodore early in Game 2.

Varlamov, still technically a rookie this season even though he played the bulk of the Caps' playoff games a year ago, has stopped 81 of 88 shots for a .920 save percentage and three straight wins.

"If this was this time last year, say against the Rangers, I'd say yeah, it's surprised me," Boudreau said. "But because he's done it before and he did it before earlier on in the season, this is what we thought we were going to get."

4. Decisions, decisions

No easy decisions for Boudreau given the depth at his disposal. On any given night, he's got to tell four NHL-caliber plays they can't play.

In the past two games, he made David Steckel -- a player who has played for him at various levels on various teams for five seasons -- a healthy scratch in favor of Boyd Gordon.

"I've let him know, he's going to play. His season is nowhere done yet," Boudreau said. "But it was a choice. I told him I thought Boyd was a little quicker than him and we're playing a very fast team that's not very big up front. It just made a little bit of sense, to get another right-handed center because everybody was left-handed. It had nothing to do with Dave's actual play."

When Steckel was in the lineup, veteran center Brendan Morrison was out for a game. Veteran winger Scott Walker, acquired at the trade deadline, has yet to see any action, although Boudreau said Walker will see action at some point this spring.

Having lots of depth is both a blessing and a curse, as players are in a constant competition with each other to get into the lineup.

"I'm sure there is [competition], but they've been great teammates," Boudreau said. "You've never seen animosity on the ice of one guy getting frustrated with another guy because he's playing above him, because our goal is, as 26 guys, is to win, so we all have to be strong for the common goal.

"It was the same thing after the trade deadline when we got all these guys. Just trying to keep them all active and playing, and they all bought in and it made it easier on the coach, I know that."

5. Don't look too far ahead

When a team is up 3-1 like the Capitals are, invariably someone asks if it's important to close out their opponent early.

One day we'd love to hear someone say, "No, it'd be better for us to have more practice games; plus, we're afraid our guys will eat and drink too much if they have to wait too long for the next series to start, so we'd like to play the full seven." But they don't.

Boudreau wanted no part of any discussion about why it might be good to close out the Habs on Friday night.

"We don't even look forward to that, that far ahead," he said. "We want to win Game 5, and let's see where that takes us. When you start looking forward to the next series and the next series, all of a sudden you realize that you're not in that next series. We want to get through this one. This is tough enough right now."

The last word

Cammalleri did say he heard a smattering of boos during the U.S. national anthem in Montreal and thinks it was inappropriate.

"I noticed there was some booing of the anthem, and I would say that we really appreciate our fans, but I don't think it's right that we boo anthems," he said. "I think we should be a little bit more respectful when it comes to that."

Well said.

Scott Burnside

ESPN Senior Writer



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