The Washington Capitals: Playoffs Against Rangers, Brashear's Suspension, More

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The Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir previews Game 7 and discusses the possibility of Chris Clark making his series debut Tuesday night at Verizon Center. Video by washingtonpost.com

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Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 28, 2009; 3:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer and Capitals Insider blogger Tarik El-Bashir was online Tuesday, April 28, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the suspension of Caps enforcer Donald Brashear and more Caps news as they head into Game 7 against the Rangers.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Well, folks, this is it. In about seven hours the Caps will either be headed to the second round for the first time since 1998, or headed home for the second time in two years. In the meantime, we've got some time to kill. So how about we have a little chat?

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Charlottesville, Va.: Tarik:

Thanks for the great coverage. Re Brashear hit -- hypothetical -- same hit, same circumstances, except it's Ovie who hits Betts and not Brash. What's the discipline - do you think he even gets a game?

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great question, and one I've heard at least a dozen times the past 24 hours. Before the NHL hands out a suspension, Colin Campbell takes everything into account, including the offending player's history, whether his intention was to injure, whether the victim was hurt badly, etc.. So I have to think that Donald Brashear's checkered past -- and Blair Betts' broken orbital bone --worked against the Caps' enforcer in a big way.

That's a long-winded way of saying that Alex Ovechkin would NOT have received a five-game suspension for the same hit. I do think he would have received some sort of punishment. Maybe a game.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Hi Tarik,

How do the Caps view their goaltending depth chart for the future? Has Varlamov surpassed Theodore for next season, and if so, where do Neuvirth and Johnson stand?

Tarik El-Bashir: It's too early to say that Simeon Varlamov has definitely surpassed Jose Theodore on the depth chart. But I have to imagine that it will be an open competition in training camp -- with Varlamov holding a slight edge already.

The other thing you have to consider is whether the Caps will trade Theodore or whether he will request a deal. I'm not sure he'll be happy as a backup or with splitting time.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Tarik,

Thanks for all your coverage this year. Do you think the Rangers actually believe any of the charges being levied against the Caps (fans/biting/etc.)? Or is this just their way to try and take the focus off their faltering team to get the Caps to think about something besides winning Game 7?

Tarik El-Bashir: You've nailed it. Is there a better way to take the focus off your struggling team than causing a distraction off the ice?

First, the Rangers made public a letter complaining about the lack of security at Verizon Center. Then they complained quite loudly about an alleged biting incident.

It worked. That's almost anyone talked about the past two days.

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Richmond, Va.: Tarik,

Don't try to appear "fair and balanced" and make a middling prediction. You and I both know the Caps will just ROLL the Ranger's tonight..and badly. Go against the grain and let your true feelings out...it will make you feel better.

Tarik El-Bashir: I just want to see a good game. Preferably one that doesn't go to four OTs. Although those are fun, too.

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Edmonton, Alberta: I'm so worried the Capitals will go into tonight overconfident, which in my opinion would be a bad thing. What kind of vibe did you get from them today? Are they thinking this win is in the bag, or do they acknowledge and know this will be the hardest win to get all season? I personally feel Lundqvist won't have 3 bad games in a row.

Tarik El-Bashir: I completely agree with your last point. Henrik Lundqvist probably hasn't had three bad games in a row since Mini Mites. To expect him to have another off night might be asking too much.

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Section 420 at VC: Sure there will be security behind the Ranger's bench, but as long as the fans are within the rules (no foul language, not saying things), they can yap all they want. Do you see the fans getting to Tortorella again?

Tarik El-Bashir: No way. John Tortorella won't turn around once tonight. Doesn't matter what is said (or thrown). He's already cost his team one game.

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Santa Monica, Calif.: Tarik -- It's the alleged "headhunting" aspect of Brashear's hit that I just don't see. His arm came up a bit on the follow-through but it looked like contact was made at the shoulder.

Tarik El-Bashir: Blair Betts's head was down a bit, but Donald Brashear went high with his shoulder and delivered a late hit to an unsuspecting opponent. I wasn't convinced that it was worth a suspension until I watched the whole play in slow motion a few times.

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What happens ...: to you, Tarik, when the season is over? Do you get some time off, assigned somewhere else or what. BTW: you've done a great job and seem to be really knowledgeable about the sport.

Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks. Depending on how far the Caps go, I could have some playoff duty, then I have the awards ceremony in Las Vegas and draft in Montreal. The season for me officially ends about a week into free agency, after the Caps are done signing players.

August is really when the NHL shuts down. Reporters, GMs, players, everyone just goes away for about a month.

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Cap Hill: How many WP staffers will be at the Phone Booth tonight? I think Wilbon mentioned on PTI yesterday that even he will grace us with his presence (despite his general negativity toward our local teams).

Tarik El-Bashir: The press box is going to be packed with Posties. Me, Lindsay, Jon D., Wilbon, Boz, Wise, Steinz and a photographer.

Wilbon isn't negative toward the Caps. He's just been around a long time and remembers covering lots of playoff disappointments.

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D.C.: The Rangers look defeated. The Rangers are a circus soap opera. The Rangers goalie is rattled. The Caps have found their game and are surging. Nobody thinks the Rangers can win tonight.

This kind of narrative scares me to death. The Rangers are gonna pull it together and be a very tough out tonight.

Tarik El-Bashir: I agree with everything you said, except sentence No. 3. Henrik Lundqvist is the X-factor tonight. If he's great, the Caps could be in trouble.

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New York, NY: Re: Brashear suspension

You kinda hit the point earlier, but the lack of consistency in suspending players for headshots is disgusting. It just can't be reputation. Eight time suspended player Chris Pronger has gotten only 1 game suspensions for elbows to the head in the past. I also bet Cory Perry gets nothing for his elbowing last night in the Anaheim game.

Just like with refereeing, just want consistency and to know what to sorta expect.

Tarik El-Bashir: The biggest complaint I hear from players, coaches and GMs is about consistency. Consistency when it comes to officiating (from game to game, regular season vs. playoffs) and when it comes to discipline. The problem is when you're dealing with humans, calls are going to be missed and bias will come into play.

Could it be better? Yes. Will everyone be happy all the time? No.

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New York, N.Y.: Hey Tarik, I'm not so sure Clark is the right choice to fill in tonight. Yeah he'll give an emotional lift, but that'll only last a few minutes and he's got to be rusty. Don't you think Aucoin, who has seen regular game action and has proven himself in the short amount of time he's spent in the pros is the better choice? I think its more likely he'll actually contribute in this do or die game.

Tarik El-Bashir: You have to remember that when Coach Boudreau makes these decisions, he takes everything into account, especially how it will affect the dressing room.

Here's your captain, your leader, a very popular player in the room. He's ready to go, itching to get in, practicing hard and you go and call up Keith Aucoin? I'm not sure that's the right move, either.

Trust me when I tell you that scenario had something to do with Boudreau's decision.

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D.C.: What did Varly do to celebrate his B-Day?

Tarik El-Bashir: The Caps don't allow goalies to talk to reporters on game days. That said, judging from the way he looked this morning, I can assure you that he wasn't out late. He looked sharp and focused.

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New York, N.Y.: Tarik, isn't Lundqvist's play in this series being a bit overblown? He has had two great games and the rest have either been middling or poor. The Caps have scored 3, 0, 4, 1, 4, 5 on him in this series. If not for Theo's dud in game one this series would have ended on Sunday.

Tarik El-Bashir: Huh? Lundqvist won a game 1-0 and 2-1. He's the only reason this series is still going on.

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McLean, Va.: Obviously, in a Game 7, you don't want to take stupid penalties and hurt your team. Having said that, is there a revenge factor for the Rangers tonite for Betts? Should the CAPS be fortunate enough to make it to the last 10 mins. with a 2-3 goal lead, will the Rangers start taking cheap shots?

Tarik El-Bashir: In the regular season, yes. Tonight, with the whole season on the line, no.

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Ocean City, Md.: Kozlov has been having a nice series that seems to have been a bit under the radar. That undressing of Stall and the roofer on the King was a thing of beauty.

Tarik El-Bashir: That was a pretty goal. Marc Staal is/will be a great defenseman. But, man, did Kozlov make him look bad on that one.

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D.C.: What do you think the odds are of a fight/retaliation right off the opening faceoff... say Colton Orr squaring off against Chris Clark?

Tarik El-Bashir: I don't see that happening. I'm not even sure Colton Orr is going to play tonight.

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Arlington, Va.: Tarik -- you never responded to the first part of Edmonton's question -- what has been the mood in the Caps' locker room? Are they overly confident, nervous...how would you describe it?

Tarik El-Bashir: As I wrote on my blog this morning, the mood was very serious. Not much joking around at all. That's either focus or nerves. Or a little of both.

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Navy Yard: Have you seen the supposed bite mark of Dubinsky's arm? Talk about a circus that whole thing is just plain strange. Tetanus shots and antibiotics?

Tarik El-Bashir: I have not. I spoke to a reporter who was in NY yesterday and he said that Dubinsky was wearing a bandage on his right wrist. So no one, apparently, has seen the bite marks.

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Chicago, Ill.: Excluding Varlamov -- who on the Caps do you think has stepped up their game the most? Who is making the most impact? The least impact? I'm not just talking about the score sheet -- I want to know who you think is stepping it up and who is leaving something on the table?

Tarik El-Bashir: After Varlamov, I think Brian Pothier has been a huge surprise. John Erskine has been playing well too.

On the flip side, I want to see more from Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann and that MVP guy. Ovechkin has been good in stretches, but he hasn't been dominant yet.

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Arlington, Va.: Why was there no talk of Dubs being suspended for a blatant boarding call that would probably draw a suspension in the regular season. I thought this was a point of emphasis.

Tarik El-Bashir: That's a great question. It was a dangerous hit from behind. But there was no hearing between Dunbinsky and the league about that, as far as I know.

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washingtonpost.com: Capitals Insider

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Fairfax, Va.: Tarik- Plain and simple. Who you got tonight?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm out of the prediction business. After picking the Caps in five, I fired myself.

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Washington, D.C. 20005: How's the ice looking today? Any thoughts on how that might affect the game?

Tarik El-Bashir: I haven't gotten over there yet. But it's not like this warm spell has caught anyone by surprise.

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D.C.: Are the teams reseeded after each round?

Tarik El-Bashir: Yes.

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D.C.: Hi. Please take a question from a long time Red Wings fan (born and grew up in Detroit during the time of Gordie Howe and Terry Sawchuck and the rest). I think the Wings will take Stanley home again this year, although it will depend on the goaltending. Osgood can be fabulous, and he can be, well, 'not.' What do you think?

Also, I'm happy about the Caps, and I will support them unless and until they meet the Red Wings -- then I know who my team is!

Tarik El-Bashir: I love watching the Red Wings. So much skill and discipline. it's truly beautiful hockey. That said, Osgood is the weak link.

If I were a 'Wings fan, I would be worried about Roberto Luongo and the Canucks.

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D.C.: Who do we need to watch out for tonight aside from Henrik? Friday night Dubinsky looked like the best Rag on the ice, but somehow I don't foresee that tonight.

Tarik El-Bashir: Keep your eye on Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. Both are playoff tested vets, and they've been under a lot of fire to step up their game. Drury (wrist) is also much healthier than he was earlier in the series.

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Kingstowne, Va.: On Sunday the NBC commentators went on and on about the pronunciation of Varlamov's last name. I got the distinct impression that they were making fun of him for wanting it pronounced the way he and his family pronounce it. Is their reaction typical of the media feeling on this one? I suppose it's probably different for print journalists for obvious reasons, but I found the NBC commentators' attitude more than a bit condescending.

Tarik El-Bashir: Unfortunately, I did not hear the broadcast. But I pronounce players' names the way they want them pronounced. I typically ask them, and practice saying it until I'm comfortable pronouncing it on TV.

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Syoma!: You said at some point you were trying to get the Post to change how it spells Varlamov's name to Semyon (or something else closer to how it's pronounced). What's the problem with just doing it? Surely Syoma wouldn't object.

Tarik El-Bashir: If Simeon goes to the Caps and asks for them to change the way his name is spelled, I will change the way I write it. Until that happens, however, I have little choice.

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Kingstowne, Va.: Any evidence of vulnerabilities the Rangers may have discovered in Varlamov's game? I'm assuming the two late goals last game were no big deal because of the advantage but the Rangers have missed a few wide open nets this series. Also, any evidence Varlamov may be fatigued? I know he's at the point now where he's got almost as many playoff starts as regular season. Thanks for your great coverage!

Tarik El-Bashir: Those late goals in Game 6 were the result of the Caps taking dumb penalties and letting up. Not Varlamov's fault.

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Baltimore loves Tarik: Brash: a Cap next year?

Tarik El-Bashir: I would say 50-50. His minutes are down and his age is up. He will likely have to take a cut in salary to stay.

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MVP of the Series?: If the Caps pull it out tonight, how about that fan in the white shirt and beard?!

I want to see him on Letterman. It's Jeffrey Maier redux.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not proud or impressed by what the "young fans" were apparently yelling. But if White Shirt is to be believed, his mild ribbing of the Rangers' bench drew a big-time, possibly series-changing penalty.

Can't remember that ever happening in hockey...

Tarik El-Bashir: Did you see Dan Steinberg's story on him in today's Post? If not, check it out.

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Arlington, Va.: OK. So not to jinx anything, but let's entertain this scenario. Say the Caps are able to blow out the Rangers, like the way Game 6 went. Do you see the Rangers starting to take cheap shots on people, for paybacks and to mess up the Caps for their next series?

Tarik El-Bashir: If that happens, it will be the job of the refs to step in and put an end to it. Even if they have to dole out a half dozen misconducts.

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Capcity: Bradley in Game 5, Poti in game 6...Who steps up for the Caps in Game 7?

Tarik El-Bashir: Eric Fehr joked with me earlier today that he anticipates a goal (or two) for the fourth line, which also includes Clark and Gordon.

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Washington, D.C.: Could I get a picture with the entire Post team at the game? And are you guys going to be rocking the red too?

Tarik El-Bashir: I'm rockin' the gray and black, which, according to Stretch, I wear entirely too much. I never really noticed until after he said that. So I looked in my closet the other day. He's right. Everything is gray and black.

As far as the picture, I'm not sure we're going to be in the same spot at the same time.

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Silver Spring, Md. : Let me preface this by saying I am a Rangers fan. What is up with the Caps fans? So much anger? So violent. Game 5 Friday night was atrocious. Fans swearing, threatening and finally, in my case, physically assaulting me. That guy is sorry he did that now and I hope he is healing okay but really, it used to a pleasure to go to Caps games and see the spirit. That spirit seems to have turned very ugly. It won't stop me from going but being hit and hitting back is no fun. Have you noticed this as you make your way around the buidling?

Tarik El-Bashir: I honestly never notice what is going on in the crowd, unless it's right in front of me. But I did hear that there were several fights in the stands during Game 5. Beer, plus rival fans, plus more beer, never seems to mix.

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Tarik El-Bashir: Thanks for joining me this afternoon. I wish I could stick around and answer all of your questions, but I need to get over to Verizon Center. Take care.

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Caps Coverage

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