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Mike Wise: This Year, the Caps Show Their Grit Before an Elimination Game

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By Mike Wise
Tuesday, April 21, 2009

NEW YORK

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It's unclear whether the NHL's highest-paid scout gleaned any tips from watching a portion of the Rangers practice Monday morning, a breach of puck etiquette that got Alex Ovechkin booted from Madison Square Garden by an unnerved ankle-taper from the other side.

But what chutzpah, no, spying on the enemy on their own ice? What moxie, toying with a team's psyche after they've already gotten into your head. What a tremendous omen for Washington's once-reeling Stanley Cup playoff team.

Several hours after Earth's most famous hockey player was tossed from a building marketed as the world's most famous arena, the enigma known as Alexander Semin recoiled his stick with malice and scored twice in the first period. Donald Brashear returned with force from injury, mixing it up with John Tortorella's assigned cretins moments after his first shift. The Capitals, in the inimitable words of their coach, Bruce Boudreau, "were committed."

Suddenly, Game 3 was on, a series finally born in the middle of Manhattan, in the middle of the Garden.

Somewhere between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Monday, the Capitals found the serrated edge of a hard-featured, Carnegie Deli waitress of maybe 50. They found the same defiant competitive streak that makes these throaty people roar for the hungry team that went up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference first-round series over the weekend in Washington.

Facing the prospect of a 3-0 deficit that would have done everything but end its season, fighting its one-and-done demons from a year ago against the Flyers, Bruce Boudreau's reinvigorated club found the commitment its coach spoke of when talking about the Rangers on Sunday.

What did those training-camp T-shirts say? "Good isn't good enough, that's basically what Bruce told us," David Steckel said afterward.

Ovechkin, patting his chest in a corridor leading to the locker room: "No excuses this time. Tired of the losses. We just had to play with more heart."

The Caps had a resilient bounce-back game trailing Philadelphia by two games a year ago, but by then it was 3-1 before they grasped how grit and guile make lesser-talented players take out aesthetically superior teams still trying to find their character.

They needed this game more than they needed Game 5 against the Flyers a year ago for a simple reason: expectations. They lose that series, four games to one rather than in seven games, and the book on the Caps is they're still a year away while finding out the hard way what playoff hockey means.


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