Los Angeles Kings One Win Away From First Stanley Cup

  • Monday, June 4, 2012 9:13 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


Tonight at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, the black-and-silver clad Kings dominated the New Jersey Devils 4-0 to put the franchise one game away from their first ever Stanley Cup with a commanding 3-0 series lead.

If the Kings hoist the Cup on Wednesday, there is no doubt 26-year-old goalie Jonathan Quick will be awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP. Quick is putting together one of the greatest netminding performances in NHL history. And so many of his teammates have taken their game to another level during the Finals. Head coach Darryl Sutter took over mid-season when General Manager Dean Lombardi fired Terry Murray. Sutter has this No. 8 seed team playing with poise, confidence and a swagger that has them seem effortless and methodical in their domination of the top three Western Conference seeds in the Canucks, Blues, Coyotes and now the Devils.

If Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, and former Flyers Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were not household names before this playoff run, they are Hollywood stars now. With Kobe Bryant and the Lakers out of the playoffs, the Kings are the toast of Tinseltown as they should be. The City of Angels is enamored with its hockey team and there is no doubt that if the Kings hang on for the Cup and hold that parade downtown, the entertainment capital of the world will put on a production like there has never been seen before in NHL history.

There hasn't been this excitement surrounding the Kings since 1982's Miracle on Manchester at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, when L.A. mounted the largest comeback in NHL playoff history after being down 5-0 to Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers. The Kings won the game 6-5 in overtime. And who can forget when Gretzky, who was in attendance tonight with his buddy Mark Messier and dropped the ceremonial puck, put Southern California on the hockey map when he was traded in 1988. Gretzky took the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993 when they lost to Patrick Roy and the Montreal Canadiens.

Who could have predicted that the Kings would be one win from the Cup all these years after the late Hamilton, Ontario native Jack Kent Cooke was awarded the expansion franchise in 1966 (Cooke also owned the Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Lakers and built the Forum). I lived in the Los Angeles area for nine years and having attended many games at the Staples Center the past several years, I certainly couldn't have predicted this magical playoff run. The Kings always seemed to be missing those intangibles that separate good teams from championship teams. The Devils certainly know what that is given their glorious Stanley Cup-winning history.

I was living in Southern California when the hated cross-town rival Anaheim Ducks won the Cup in 2007. For Kings fans, when the former Disney-owned franchise based on a corny kids movie won the first Cup ever in the state of California, it was a punch in the gut. When I was in L.A., the Kings missed the playoffs from the 2002-2003 season to the 2008-2009 season (2004-2005 was a lockout year). They finally made the playoffs the next two years only to lose to the Canucks and Sharks in the first round.

The Kings of California are about to be crowned Stanley Cup champions and this former Angeleno is enjoying this magical postseason run.

Go Kings Go!

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Caps Should Hold Heads Up High

  • Saturday, May 12, 2012 10:10 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


NEW YORK -- The bad guys won. It happens. You don't always get what you deserve and justice isn't always served. The Yankees of hockey, the New York Rangers, paid big money for Brad Richards and he delivered. And arrogant head coach John Tortorella finally beat the Washington Capitals after three tries. It only took Game 7 at home at MSG in a tight 2-1 game that went down to the wire.

The Rangers won't win the Cup this year, as much as their obnoxious fans chant "We want the Cup!" after they barely survived the Caps. The New Jersey Devils will beat the Rangers, if not in a sweep then close to it. Sorry, Rangers fans. This isn't 1994.

Caps fans deserve better, we always do. But there is a lot to be proud of this season and I'm so happy that we made it this far. We earned a ton of respect thanks to Dale Hunter's defense-first system. Every player bought in and the Caps were able to defy the odds by beating the Boston Bruins in Game 7 at TD Garden, and then taking the Rangers to the limit in a thrilling game seven in New York.

As disappointing as this loss is, and believe me, Caps fans are used to these heartbreakers through the history of this franchise, there is a lot to build on and the future looks bright in Washington. The Caps finally have an identity that will eventually push them over to a deep playoff run and a shot at the Stanley Cup. In less than a season, they transitioned from a run-n-gun, offense-first team, to a defense-first, shot-blocking machine (the most shot blocks in the postseason) and a team that set an NHL record in the first round with seven straight one goal decisions and then another NHL record in the second round by becoming the first team to win four straight times following an overtime loss.

I watched the game at The Standings, a Caps bar in the East Village, and was glad to be among my fellow Caps fans in the heart of New York City. Caps fans are the best fans in professional sports. We will be rewarded in this lifetime and all the heart breaks will lead up to the moment of glory.

So the most arrogant organization in the NHL can think they have the Cup. And believe me, from Torts on down they won't give the Caps credit for battling hard to the end. But I know every Caps fan will be rooting for the Devils to dismantle the Blue Shirts and every Caps fan should be proud of our boys from D.C.

Hold your heads up high, boys. The future is brighter than ever.

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Capitals Force Game 7 Against Rangers

  • Wednesday, May 9, 2012 8:32 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


Tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. the Capitals set an NHL record by becoming the first team ever to win four straight times following an overtime loss in the playoffs. That is a team with a hell of a lot of character in that dressing room. The resilient Caps won 2-1 against the New York Rangers in an elimination game to force a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan on Saturday evening.

Captain Alex Ovechkin scored the first goal and Jason Chimera scored the second goal. Goalie Braden Holtby put in another brilliant performance. Holtby is composure personified. Nothing rattles the young one from Saskatchewan. And how could he lose with his mom Tami in attendance?

Both teams battled hard and deserve credit, but of course you will never hear that from Mr. Negativity John Tortorella. This guy doesn't know what positive reinforcement means. All he does is brow beat his players and call them out when they do something wrong. Dale Hunter is more subtle about telling players when they make mistakes. Case in point, Joel Ward, whose four minute high sticking penalty cost the Caps game five. Hunter put Ward back into the action in game six and he was rewarded with a gutsy performance.

I will be heading up to NYC and plan to watch Game 7 at The Standings, a Caps bar in the East Village. I'll be rocking the white. Win or lose Game 7, I'm so proud of the Capitals for battling the No. 1 seed Rangers and taking this series to the limit. Let's go, Caps!

Capitals Face More Adversity

  • Tuesday, May 8, 2012 6:41 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella won't give the Washington Capitals credit for battling hard and hanging tough. But this Caps fan will give the Rangers credit for winning Game 5 at Madison Square Garden in stunning fashion. The Caps were up 2-1 when Joel Ward took a four-minute high sticking penalty and Brad Richards tied it up with 6.6 seconds left in regulation.

With the Caps still shorthanded at 1:35 of overtime, Marc Staal scored the game winner to send the sellout crowd at MSG into a frenzied celebration and break the hearts of Capitals fans.

So, kudos to the Rangers for their relentless forecheck and never-say-die attitude. They are a great team. That said, every Caps fan knows the history of our team choking in the playoffs and being unable to get over that second-round hump.

We want to believe this year will be different after dethroning the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in overtime of Game 7 at TD Garden (thank you, Wardo, for the biggest goal in Caps history). But with all the adversity the Caps have faced this season, including a triple-overtime loss to the Rangers at Verizon Center, tonight's defeat is perhaps the toughest to take and the toughest to bounce back from.

The Caps were so close to taking the 3-2 series lead with the chance to end the series in D.C. on Wednesday. Now the Caps are in the familiar territory of trying to salvage the season and defy the odds. I don't think many pundits gave the Caps a fighting chance in this series, and they have surprised a lot of people by battling the Rangers this hard. Everyone to a man has been sacrificing and giving 110 percent so you can’t fault the effort. Tonight Captain Alex Ovechkin played a whale of a defensive game by blocking shots and being responsible with the puck in his own zone. Ovie earned a ton of respect from his mates when he went down to block a shot late in the third period. When the leader of the team is sacrificing his body, it motivates the rest of the team to give that extra effort they didn’t think they had in them.

All coach Dale Hunter asks of the boys is to work hard and battle. And they have been doing that the whole series. That is why as disappointing as it will be for Caps fans if the team doesn’t win the next two games, and as frustratingly familiar it will be to exit the playoffs early, there is a lot to be proud of this season with all the adversity the Caps have faced. They barely made the playoffs when no one gave them a chance, including me. They beat the Bruins when no one gave them a chance, including me. They are taking the Rangers to game six when no one thought this would be a long series, including me.

Maybe the Caps have another miracle coming on Wednesday and on Saturday. I do know the Caps will battle to the bitter end. They will never give up. It's called mental toughness. Here's to a great series and hopefully a win on Wednesday night. Let's go, Caps!

Rangers Win Marathon Game 3 In D.C.

  • Thursday, May 3, 2012 7:36 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


In what is shaping up to be an epic series, it is perhaps fitting that Wednesday night's Game 3 at the Verizon Center had to be decided in triple overtime. The New York Rangers defeated the Washington Capitals 2-1 when Marian Gaborik ended it past midnight off a feed from Brad Richards. Gaborik scored his first goal in nine games and Rangers fans have to be thrilled that the drought has ended for their star forward.

When a game gets into the third overtime session, what is there to say except both teams put forth heroic efforts and left everything on the ice. Caps goalie Braden Holtby stopped 47 shots while Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist turned aside 45 shots. Both goalies were brilliant. Blood was on the ice, on the jerseys, and on the faces of warriors like Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi and Mike Knuble. That is what happens when two teams full of heart and character collide. They both want to win so badly that they will sacrifice their bodies to get any type of advantage over their opponent.

Alex Ovechkin had a glorious chance to win the game in the first overtime when his shot beat Lundqvist but clanked off the right post. The Caps and the Rangers traded chances until the game winner by Gaborik.

The Caps have a chance to bounce back after this tough loss and even up the series on Saturday afternoon. Both teams will have a couple of days to rest and heal and they will need it after that intense battle last night. And if the Caps are looking for ammunition, they need look no further than Rangers head coach John Tortorella's post-game comments. He did not give any credit to the Caps at all and instead said his team was mentally tougher:

"When you get into that many hours of playing, it becomes a mental game," Tortorella said. "I felt if the game got longer and longer, our team was at an advantage."

Really Torts? Kudos to the Rangers, but mentally tougher? They are playing against a team that defeated the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in a record seven straight one goal decisions, including three overtime games and one double overtime game. And game seven was won by the Caps in overtime at TD Garden.

So again, how can Tortorella not give any credit to the Caps for battling and then say his team is mentally tougher? Juxtapose this press conference with Caps coach Dale Hunter, who every time win or lose gives the other team credit for battling.

"It's a long game and both teams are in the same boat. They're battling and it's whoever gets the break and they got a break behind the net, a pass out and it ended up in the net."

Those are wise words from a classy and humble individual. Hunter is smart keeping any negative or boastful comments close to his vest. He doesn't want to give any ammunition to the other side.

Well, Tortorella opened his big mouth and the Capitals should post his comments in the locker room. I guess we'll see who is mentally tougher on Saturday.

Ovechkin Nets Game Winner At MSG To Tie Series

  • Monday, April 30, 2012 9:09 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


Buckle up for another intense battle in the second round between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. These two teams needed seven games to win round one, and seven games will likely decide this fierce battle. Tonight the Caps held serve and got the split at Madison Square Garden thanks to a game-winning goal by Captain Alex Ovechkin to make the final score 3-2. The series now heads to the Verizon Center 1-1.

There were many question marks regarding rookie goaltender Braden Holtby after a shaky game one. How would the 22-year-old respond to his first bout of adversity in his first playoff experience? It's so important to have confidence in your netminder. With that confidence shaken how would the team respond? Well, Holtby had a strong performance against the Rangers and was back to the same goalie that outdueled veteran Tim Thomas in round one. Holtby is back in a big way and that is good news for Caps fans.

You also need puck luck in the postseason. On Saturday afternoon the Caps hit the iron four times. Nothing went their way. Well, tonight the Rangers banged the post twice, including a Michael Del Zotto rocket near the end of the game that would have tied it up.

Lastly, Ovechkin played arguably the best game of his career in the playoffs. Earlier in the day he was quoted in the Washington Post saying that he needs to make better decisions and be smarter on the ice. That shows self awareness and a new found maturity that's been often lacking in Ovie's career, thus the reputation as having a low hockey IQ. Tonight Ovechkin looked like a man determined, someone serious about his responsibility on this team. When Ovie scored on the power play late in the third period to retake the lead after New York had fought back to tie the game, it lifted the entire team. Everyone seemed to work just a little bit harder. Gave of themselves just a little bit more. And the Caps hung on for the victory.

Ovechkin upped his game. Holtby bounced back. But the Rangers are relentless. They never give up. And plus they are blessed with Henrik Lundquist in goal so they are always assured of being in the game and having a chance. This is going to be a close series that both teams are comfortable playing. It will be tense for Rangers and Capitals fans, but for hockey fans it is going to be another wild ride from two great teams.

Washington Capitals Knock Out The Champs

  • Wednesday, April 25, 2012 8:18 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


The Washington Capitals put to bed playoff failures of the past Wednesday by eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in Game 7 at TD Garden in Boston. Joel Ward scored the overtime winner on a rebound off Tim Thomas at 2:57 of the extra session. To beat the Bruins, the Caps needed a rookie goalie phenom in Braden Holtby to come up huge and needed to set an NHL record with seven straight one goal decisions.

For longtime Capitals fans used to being on the losing side of these games, the result is stunning and simply unbelievable. The Caps are just not supposed to come out on top of these types of games. But the script has been rewritten and all the negativity, doubt and dread lifted like a red balloon in the second it took Ward to bury the puck in the back of the net and shock Thomas, the Bruins, their fans, the city of Boston, the National Hockey League and the entire sports world.

There are so many intangibles that decide a season and a playoff series. So many ups and downs. Many Caps fans, including myself, wanted General Manager George McPhee fired after being convinced the season was lost following a few late season collapses. I was 100 percent convinced the Caps would miss the playoffs and that McPhee's offseason pickups were busts. Well, with the most important goal in franchise history, Ward proved the critics wrong. Now McPhee looks like a genius for paying so much for Ward after his excellent postseason with Nashville last year.

And then there is the mid-season coaching change from Bruce Boudreau to former Capital tough guy and franchise hero Dale Hunter. He implemented a more conservative, grinding, defensive style that was very hard for many of the offense-first stars like Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nicklas Backstrom to adjust to. There were times when the Caps just looked lost out on the ice under the new system. How could this team try to be the mid-90s New Jersey trap defense team? Well, it took until they barely made the playoffs as a seventh seed and drew the defending champs for every player to buy in and boy did they buy in. The Capitals beat the Bruins at their own game. The Bruins kept punching and the Caps kept fighting back, surprising the Bruins. They must have been thinking, "who is this team?" Hunter did what I thought was impossible -- turn a run-n-gun regular season powerhouse and perennial playoff failure, into a team capable of beating the defending Stanley Cup champions.

I also have to mention the selfish move Thomas made when he snubbed President Obama during the Cup celebration last January at the White House. Was it karma that the man who disrespected the nation's first black president was beaten by a black man? There will be many questions in the offseason about Thomas' divisive political statements.

This win was for all the long-suffering Caps fans. Enjoy it everyone. It's OK to smile and relax until round 2.

Yes, we did beat the Bruins!

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Capitals And Bruins Battle To A Game 7

  • Monday, April 23, 2012 7:57 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


History was made Sunday night in the first-round series between the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins. The 4-3 overtime final in favor of Boston marked the first time ever that all six games of an NHL playoff round have been decided by one goal. That's how close it's been, folks. These are two evenly matched teams battling for every inch of ice and for hockey fans and sports fans in general, this is the first-round series to watch.

The Bruins' Tyler Seguin scored in the extra frame to force a Game 7 Wednesday night at TD Garden in Boston. It has been a roller coaster series with everything you expect from two teams that never say die -- hard hits, intense battles on the boards, creative play making, chirping, lucky bounces and great goaltending.

Let's discuss the goaltending for a moment. The Caps' 22-year-old rookie netminder Braden Holtby has come of age in this series. He is mature beyond his years and his confidence and composure against the defending Stanley Cup champions is magnificent to watch. Holtby is the main reason the Caps are in this series, as he has stonewalled the Bruins' relentless offensive zone pressure time and again. Win or lose this series, the Caps have their goalie of the future, and it is a very bright future indeed for young Holtby. And let's give credit to Tim Thomas. Yes, his off-the-ice political statements have tarnished his reputation, but Thomas is still one of the best goaltenders in the league. The reigning Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup winner has made some spectacular stops in this series and kept the Bruins in it.

History has not been kind to the Capitals in Game 7s during the Oveckhin era, earning the Caps the unfortunate reputation as choking when it counts the most, of coming up small in the big games. Game 7 losses to the Flyers, Canadiens and Penguins have not instilled the confidence in Capitals Nation that this team will pull off a major upset against the Bruins on Wednesday. On the other hand, Boston has come up clutch in Game 7s. Last year Boston beat Montreal 4-3 in OT and Tampa 1-0 at TD Garden and then defeated the Canucks in Vancouver 4-0 to win the Stanley Cup.

So, the Boston Bruins should be heavily favored to beat the Washington Capitals Wednesday night. Order will be restored. The champs will move on after a scare from a seventh seed and the NHL playoffs can move on without those curious Caps. But maybe, just maybe, Washington can prove the critics wrong and reverse decades of playoff failure that have come to define this franchise. It's unlikely, but crazier things have happened. All it takes is a lucky bounce.

Caps Going To Make Bruins Earn It

  • Sunday, April 15, 2012 8:19 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


Washington Capitals fans are humble. Crushing defeats (see Pittsburgh 2009), epic playoff collapses (see Montreal 2010) and stunning sweeps (see Tampa Bay 2011) will do that to a fan base. So Caps fans are realistic about the team's chances against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. They know the battle won Saturday is a small victory in a war that favors Boston. The Caps beat the Bruins in Boston 2-1 in double overtime, thanks to a game-winning goal from Nicklas Backstrom and another brilliant 43-save performance in the net from 22-year-old goaltender Braden Holtby.

The Caps split the first two games on the road, and by doing so made a statement to Boston that they are going to have to earn their ticket to the second round. If anyone thought Boston was going to steam roll over the Caps, the past two games have proven that Washington is mentally and physically tough and is prepared for a long series. But these are still the defending champs. They have been through the hard fought battles. They have won the wars of attrition. They will not back down. And they are still the favorites to win the series.

Win or lose this series, there is a certain pride Caps fans can take in finally watching their team turn into a playoff hockey contender, instead of the regular season powerhouse and playoff pretender of the past few years. There was even a point in the broadcast when NBC commentators Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire were comparing the Caps' stifling defense to the mid-90s New Jersey Devils. A long way from the run-n-gun Caps of a few years ago, isn't it? Credit for this transformation goes to head coach Dale Hunter, who has instilled a more playoff-type system, and we are seeing the wonderful results of that the first two games. The Caps are dancing with the big bad Bruins, matching their work ethic and intensity, and it is a pleasure to watch. The odds are still very much stacked against the Caps winning this series, but they have shown their fans and the hockey world that they will not go quietly into the night. That they will fight to the bitter end.

Game 3 is at the Verizon Center on Monday night and if the first two games are any indication, it's going to be a whale of a hockey game between two tough teams full of heart and character. This Caps fan can't wait for the puck to drop. Who knew the playoffs could be this much fun?

Will Shea Weber Be Suspended For Zetterberg Head Slam?

  • Thursday, April 12, 2012 8:28 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


The National Hockey League playoffs are under way, and the first test of the NHL's more aggressive action in enforcing the rules against hits to the head occurred in the waning seconds of Nashville's Game 1 victory over Detroit at Bridgestone Arena. Preds defenseman Shea Weber, his team shorthanded and clinging to a one-goal lead, slammed Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass twice.

Luckily, Zetterberg didn't appear to be seriously injured by the malicious attack. But regardless, this is a big test for the NHL's head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. Does he suspend Weber for one or two games to send a message that pro wrestling moves won't be tolerated in professional hockey? But this isn't the regular season. This is the playoffs where every game matters and the loss of a key player on the blue line for even a game could cost the series for the Predators.

But while Shanahan needs to be aware of the consequences for Nashville, he could also want to send a strong message to the league that these antics simply won't be tolerated. The fact that Weber is a repeat offender could weigh heavily on the decision. Weber was fined $2,500 last October for a boarding penalty on Vancouver's Jannik Hansen.

What makes the head slam even more curious is the fact that Weber is a recent concussion victim. He suffered a concussion this past December after a hit to the head from Dallas Stars defenseman Mark Fistric and was sidelined four games. Now Weber might sit out as the perpetrator instead of the victim. You would think Weber would have learned a lesson about how dangerous hits to the head can be, but apparently not. Weber and his team might pay a heavy price for his unsportsmanlike play Wednesday night.

Caps Clinch Playoff Berth

  • Friday, April 6, 2012 6:58 AM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


What a night in Chinatown. Wow. I was rocking the red with more than 18,000 Washington Capitals fans at the Verizon Center in a must-win game for the Caps in the second-to-last game of the regular season. When the night began, the Caps held a very tenuous lead for the eighth and final playoff spot with Buffalo breathing down their necks. The Caps and Sabres were tied at 88 points with the Caps owning the tiebreaker. The Caps played the Panthers while the Sabres played at Philadelphia.

Many anxious Caps fans were wondering which team would show up. Would it be the desperate team that eked out recent shootout wins against Boston and Montreal? Or would it be the team that laid an egg against the Sabres 5-1 at home and blew a lead late against the Lightning and Steven Stamkos? The Caps started strong with goals by Jay Beagle, Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich to take a 3-0 lead and chase Panthers goalie and former Capital Jose Theodore out of the net. Curiously, only minutes later Cats coach Kevin Dineen put Theodore back in the game. A very curious coaching decision not keeping Scott Clemmensen in the game.

Then a freak accident injured Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth as a Panthers player seemed to have fallen on Neuvirth's leg. Neuvirth was in obvious pain as he was helped to the locker room. In a season of adversity for the Caps, this was but another chapter. Number one veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun is already out for the season and now the Caps would have to rely on backup netminder Braden Holtby to keep their posteason hopes alive.

The Cats clawed their way back into the game, and after scoring an early goal in the third period to make it 3-2, Caps fans were nervous given the history of the Caps blowing leads and choking in big time games. The Panthers also have a recent history of taking games into overtime. But 18,000 plus fans at the VC had one eye on the ice and one eye on the out of town scoreboard, so when the Sabres-Flyers game became final with Philly winning 2-1, a thunderous roar came up from the stands and the Caps players definitely noticed.

Did Caps fans will their team to victory? Perhaps. All I know is that the energy in the building was amazing after finding out the Sabres had lost with about seven minutes left in the Caps game and a 3-2 lead. The Caps players seemed to have fed off the energy because they survived some great chances by the Panthers and then Alex Semin scored the biggest goal of his career with a backhand shot top shelf over Theodore's shoulder as four Panthers stood and watched helplessly as Semin worked his magic.

As the seconds ticked down, the Verizon Center was rocking as Caps players saluted the fans at center ice and celebrated an improbable playoff berth in this roller coaster season. Buffalo had a great run and they will be competitive for years to come. But tonight the Caps showed heart and character, two words not usually associated with this team.

Congrats to the Panthers, who also clinched a playoff spot because of the Buffalo loss. On Saturday the Caps have a chance to win the Southeast Division by beating the Rangers at MSG and the Panthers losing to the Hurricanes at BankAtlantic Center in regulation. Either way, the Capitals and Panthers will be dancing into the NHL playoffs.

Here is video of the sights and sounds from the end of the game last night at the Verizon Center as the Caps and their fans celebrated the team's fifth straight posteason berth in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Saturday Night Results: Eastern Conference Playoff Race Tightens?

  • Saturday, March 31, 2012 7:56 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


Tonight was huge for the two teams in the Eastern Conference locked in a fierce battle for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres both came into their games tied at 86 points with four games left to play in the regular season.

The Capitals own the tiebreaker with more regulation and overtime wins, but Buffalo had a chance to take a two point lead on the Caps as they faced off against the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Center. Buffalo is banged up on the blue line with Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers both injured and it showed tonight as the Leafs scored four goals to defeat the Sabres 4-3 and deal a big blow to their playoff hopes. And Toronto did it with young goaltender Ben Scrivens, who was called up from the AHL Toronto Marlies because both Leafs starters are injured. It goes to show you never know what can happen on any given night. What an amazing upset by Toronto.

In Washington, the Capitals faced off against the Montreal Canadiens, another team like the Leafs that has had a disappointing season. But just like in Toronto, when the season is winding down, sometimes the most dangerous teams are the ones not making the playoffs that want to be spoilers. The Caps were cruising with a 2-0 lead and their number one center Nicklas Backstrom finally back in the lineup after recovering from a concussion suffered from a cheap shot to the head from then Calgary Flame, now Hab Rene Bourque. But it would be no cakewalk as the Canadiens kept chipping away and tied the game in the second period. Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth made some crucial saves down the stretch and the Caps and Habs went to a shootout. Caps winger Alex Semin scored the game winner in the shootout and the Caps secured two points.

Not only did the Caps gain two points on the Sabres with three games left in the season, but the Caps also put pressure on the seventh place Ottawa Senators, who won their game against the Flyers today in a shootout, and the Florida Panthers, who lead the Southeast Division and are in third place but lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets last night. The Caps are now only two points behind the Sens and Cats, who are at 90 points. The Caps play a tough game at Tampa Monday night, and then it sets up what could be an enormous game against Florida on Thursday night at the Verizon Center in what could determine which team takes the Southeast Division title. The Sabres get a rematch with Toronto and then two tough games against the Flyers and Bruins.

Washington, Buffalo, Ottawa and Florida are now in a heated battle for the playoffs and it sets up an intense and emotional last week of the season for fans of these clubs.

Saturday Night Results: Caps vs. Sabres for Final Playoff Spot

  • Saturday, March 24, 2012 11:24 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


Saturday night's NHL Eastern Conference action provided some clarity in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot as the regular season rapidly comes to a close. With either six or seven games remaining depending on the team, the race for eighth is realistically going to be a battle between the Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals (sorry Winnipeg Jets fans).

The Sabres took a two point lead over the Caps for the eighth spot with a 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at HSBC Arena behind another strong outing from goalie Ryan Miller. The Sabres have won four straight and are peaking at just the right time. The Caps play the Wild on Sunday at 5 p.m. EST at the Verizon Center (I will be there rocking the red and supporting my hometown team) in a game nationally televised on NBC Sports Network. If the Caps win, they will be tied with Buffalo for the eighth spot with 84 points, but own the tiebreaker because they have more shootout wins. This weekend sets up an epic match this Tuesday in Washington between the Caps and Sabres that will be the most important game of the season for both clubs and will likely determine who skates into the postseason and who sits at home.

The Winnipeg Jets lost to the Nashville Predators 3-1, putting them six points behind Buffalo and four points behind the Caps. While not insurmountable, it's going be tough to catch either of these two teams that are fighting for their playoff lives. The Jets have had an amazing season in their return to the 'Peg, and they have overachieved thanks to a huge home ice advantage at MTS Centre in front of their rabid fans. But it looks like the former Atlanta Thrashers will not make the playoffs barring a miracle.

The Ottawa Senators reversed their worrisome slide with a commanding 8-4 victory over visiting Pittsburgh Saturday night. The Sens are now two points ahead of the Sabres and four points ahead of the Caps for the seventh spot with 86 points. The Sens secured their tenuous grip on seventh place with the big win tonight, but with their inconsistent play they could easily drop to eighth or out of the playoff race altogether.

The Eastern Conference playoff race is just heating up and will likely go down to the wire. The next two weeks will provide many nervous and exhilarating moments for Caps and Sabres fans. One fan base will be relieved and excited about entering the postseason while the other will be disappointed and left wondering what could have been. The rest of the hockey world can sit back and enjoy some great hockey coming up.

Caps Get Big Road Win in Detroit

  • Monday, March 19, 2012 7:47 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


In a must-win late season road game the Washington Capitals came through tonight with a 5-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. The victory gives them a .500 record on a critical five-game road swing and more importantly maintains the eighth and final playoff spot as the Buffalo Sabres kept pace at two points behind the Caps with a thrashing of Tampa Bay tonight. The Winnipeg Jets are now four points behind the Caps and play the Penguins tomorrow night in Pittsburgh in an extra tough game because it is Sidney Crosby's homecoming in his first game back at Consol Energy Center since his most recent return from injury.

After a lackluster performance last night in Chicago, the Caps responded by jumping early and often on a banged up Red Wings team that had lost four straight. Even though Detroit celebrated a record 23-game home winning streak earlier in the season and had only lost four times in regulation at the Joe, the current Wings team is missing Darren Helm, Joey MacDonald, Johan Franzen, Jonathan Ericsson and Nicklas Lidstrom. But even with those injuries, Detroit is still one of the toughest places to play and the Wings made a furious comeback in the third period as the Caps held off the rally.

Goaltending was a big question mark for the Caps as starter Tomas Vokoun is injured and Michal Neuvirth played last night, so young Braden Holtby was called up from the Caps' farm team Hershey Bears for the start. He was shaky at times and had some issues keeping the glove down on the puck that contributed to a couple of Detroit goals, but overall he was confident and made the saves he had to make to secure the victory.

But the bigger story is the resurgence of Alex Ovechkin because as Ovie goes the rest of the Caps go, and the past few games he has been playing with a fire and passion that has been missing at times this season. Ovie scored the first goal on the power play and the Caps kept the pressure on Detroit as former Red Wing Mike Knuble scored and then Ovie added another goal to make it 3-0 at the end of the first period.

The Wings never recovered from the first period and the Caps got a much needed win that keeps them safely in the eighth spot for now. It will be a dog fight the rest of the way between the Caps, Jets and Sabres for the final playoff spot. Every game is a playoff game. Every game is a must win. The Caps play at the Flyers next and then a pivotal home game against Winnipeg where they will be looking for revenge after losing to the Jets in Winnipeg in a hard-fought game. The atmosphere at Verizon Center will be electric as the race for the playoffs heats up.

Red Wings Remind Us Why They Are The Model NHL Franchise

  • Tuesday, May 10, 2011 8:49 PM
  • Written By: Josh Marks


The Detroit Red Wings, who just forced Game 7 after being down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks, might not win the series. But if they do and make history, I wouldn't be surprised. There is a reason the Wings are the model NHL franchise.

They have fought their way back into this series by simply outworking the Sharks in the third period of the past two games after being down two goals in Game 5 and one goal in Game 6. There are not enough adjectives to describe Detroit, but a few choice words come to mind: Resilient, hard working, mentally tough, never say die, team first, disciplined, consistent, character, heart.

And this team defies the stereotype of European players as not caring or not being able to raise their game when it counts in the playoffs. It just goes to show that if you play in a system like Detroit's and for a coach like Mike Babcock, then the country of origin or name on the back of the jersey means absolutely nothing. Sweden, Russia, United States, Canada. It doesn't matter if everyone buys in.

The current roster continues the amazing legacy of 11 Stanley Cups and 20 consecutive playoff appearances. These players perform their best when it counts. They are the envy of every other team in the NHL. Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary, Pavel Datsyuk, Kris Draper, Justin Abdelkader, Patrick Eaves, Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm, Tomas Holmstrom, Jiri Hudler, Drew Miller, Mike Modano, Henrik Zetterberg, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Niklas Kronwall, Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Ruslan Salei, Brad Stuart, Jimmy Howard, Joey Macdonald and Chris Osgood. That is the entire roster. A United Nations of teammates who have all bought in and play as one unit. That is how championships are won.

Like I said, the Wings might lose Game 7, but by fighting back in this series they have proven once again what every other NHL team has known since the Detroit hockey franchise was founded in 1926: The Wings won't go away.

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