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CAPITALS: Alexander Semin’s Power Play Winner Tie Series With Bruins
WASHINGTON – Alexander Semin didn’t look at all fazed by the situation. The Washington Capitals were tied late in the second period against Boston, and on the power play, if there was any time to score a goal, it was now.
He did just that, making it look as easy as it sounds. Semin flicked a wrister past Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who set a perfect screen, and into the top corner of the net, giving the Capitals the 2-1 advantage and scoring the eventual winner in Game 4 of the teams’ first-round Stanley Cup playoff series Thursday at Verizon Center.
“You approach and play every game different,” Semin said in Russian, speaking through a translator. “Today I just decided to shoot it. And I made the shot and I scored.”
The shot evens the series, perhaps the most balanced of the postseason thus far, at two games apiece. It also ensures the Capitals will have another home game, hosting Game 6 on Sunday.
Marcus Johansson also scored for Washington, putting the Capitals on the board just 1:22 into the game on a one-timer from Brooks Laich, and rookie goalie Braden Holtby was again solid in net, stopping 44 of the 45 saves he faced.
Semin’s goal changed the course of an otherwise balanced game, breaking the tie 18:43 into the second period. He took a pass from Keith Aucoin along the halfboards and moved into the faceoff circle, staring at the 6-foot-9 Chara and waiting for the opportunity.
Chara looked to his left, albeit momentarily, and Semin struck. The puck blew past the defenseman and the upper right shoulder of goalie Tim Thomas. It was the second power play goal in as many games; the Capitals entered having converted just one of their previous 36 opportunities at home over the final 13 games of the regular season.
“He’s got great skill, Alex, and he just showed it there,” Capitals head coach Dale Hunter said. “They’re working the puck around and the left him open for a second, and his wrist shot – it was a laser and right in the corner. It was a great shot. Thomas didn’t have a chance.”
The Capitals were playing the game without center Nicklas Backstrom, who had his automatic one-game suspension upheld after his cross-check to the face of Boston’s Rich Peverley following Game 3 drew a match penalty.
Backstrom, one of the best centers in the league, had been one of the Capitals’ more productive players through the first three games. He scored the double-overtime winner in Game 2 in Boston on Saturday and also assisted on Laich’s tying goal late in Game 3 on Monday, and his presence on Washington’s top power play unit also helped clear the way for Semin to score the first goal in that back-and-forth, 4-3 contest.
Physicality reached its peak in that game, with the teams combining for 16 penalties and 40 penalty minutes. That, along with the chippiness and aggression exhibited throughout the first round of the playoffs, led players on both teams to expect a tightly called game from the start and more disciplined play by each side.
That’s what happened, with only one penalty, slashing on Peverley late, called in the first period. There were few post-whistle scrums – the most notable a shoving bout between John Erskine, back in the lineup replacing Jeff Schultz, and Boston’s Shawn Thornton.
In all, four penalties were called – three on the Bruins, one on the Capitals’ Mike Knuble – leading to a smoother game.
“It was more of a hockey game, and I think both teams wanted that – just to go out there and play and not worry about that stuff after,” said defenseman Karl Alzner. “There was very few close to be incidents of guys pushing each other. Just little ones. We want to play hockey, play a nice playoff game, and not get caught up in the extra stuff.”
Peverley got his measure of revenge, knotting the score 13:12 into the first period when a two-on-one rush led to a shot between Holtby’s legs.
The Bruins had plenty of opportunities – they had 24 shots in the first 26 minutes – but couldn’t score. They even had a bit of extra time, with the Verizon Center clock not starting after the final whistle for nearly five seconds.
The series now devolves to a best-of-three, and it guarantees the Capitals will return home on Sunday for an always-pivotal Game 6. Avoiding a 3-1 series deficit was crucial for Washington, which, aside from coming back to beat the New York Rangers in the first round in 2009, has won only two of seven series when in that hole.
“We can breathe a little bit, but I think it makes them think over there that it’s not gonna be easy,” Alzner said. “They’re gonna have to go through a tough team. We’re playing tough. We’re playing hard. We’re doing whatever it takes.”
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