Except when so many are going the Washington Capitals’ way at the moment, it feels like something is happening, something beyond heart and perseverance.
When Knuble, an all-but-released veteran winger, emerged from the coach’s doghouse at age 39 to put in a go-ahead rebound goal in the third period, when Holtby, a 22-year-old kid goalie, who was actually pulled from an American Hockey League game, oh, last month, outduels the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in net — when the Capitals withstand another gantlet of 108-mph slapshots from Zdeno Chara, medieval Shawn Thornton hits and breathtaking Tim Thomas saves, yet somehow never surrender the lead after the defending Stanley Cup champions come back to tie twice — it’s pretty clear:
The gods of grit are with you, and you might as well keep working and grinding so they stick around.
Three games to two, Dale Hunter’s converted dump-and-chasers.
One more win and the Great Eight and his learn-as-they-go grinders knock off a defending champion for the first time in franchise history.
The Caps have pushed Boston to the ledge after an absolute gem of a Game 5 at TD Garden, and now they have their crowd to help send the Bruins tumbling down — toward an early offseason the Capitals have known too well themselves for four years running.
And where to start except with Knuble, who had fallen out of favor with Hunter at the end of the season and only got on the ice this series because Nicklas Backstrom was suspended for Game 4. Former Bruin, former Flyer — a guy who demonstrated what Washington needed to win a series when he stood outside a victorious Philadelphia locker room in Game 7 of the first round at Verizon Center in 2008 and gave a TV interview with blood dripping from a stitched gash under his right eye — he refused to let his career die silently in Washington.
“Nobody likes to not play, nobody likes that at all,” Knuble said as the locker room cleared out. “You can call it the doghouse, you can call it the odd guy out, you can call it the numbers game — any way you want to sugarcoat it. But it sucks not playing. And when you get the chance to get in there, you try and do what you’ve done your whole life. And keep doing what you’ve always done.”
Sick to his stomach that his fourth line had given up a tying goal moments before, he got it back when Joel Ward played the angles and put a rocket off Thomas’s pads from the right side. Knuble cleaned it up for a momentary go-ahead goal.
Then Johnny Boychuk tied it again 8 minutes and 47 seconds into the third, upping the ante in an unbelievably taut game.