Capitals Advance by Rangers

 

By Dion Johnson

Special to the AFRO

The Washington Capitals will now face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the NHL playoffs. (Courtesy Photo/Washington Capitals)

(April 29, 2009) – Sergei Federov, Simeon Varlamov, Matt Bradley and Tom Poti.

These are names most casual NHL observers wouldn’t recognize. But without the extraordinary effort by those players, the Washington Capitals would not have been able to become only the 21st team in NHL History to come back from a 3-1 series deficit and pull off the seven game Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers, winning, 4-3, in their first playoff series victory since 1998.

New York won the first two games in Verizon Center on the strength of the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, while Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau made quite possibly the biggest decision in his two seasons as coach, benching the incumbent starter Jose Theodore, who was awful in game one. Theodore was benched in favor of rookie Novice Simeon Varlamov for game two.

Even though the Rangers won the second game, the rookie was outstanding in defense and would go on to only give up seven goals in six games to lead the whole NHL in goals against average for the first round of playoffs.
Washington fought back and easily won game three in Madison Square Garden, 4-0, as Varlamov held the Rangers to a shutout. Behind two goals from Alexander Semin, and a goal a piece by Brooks Laich and Tom Poti, the Capitals outplayed the Rangers from start to finish and momentum seemed to swing back in Washington’s favor.

But in game four, Lundqvist again was outstanding with a career high 38 saves in a 2-1 win for the Rangers and all Capitals hope seemed to be lost.
Game five back on home ice turned into the Matt Bradley show early in the game with two goals in the first period and that sequence seemed to deflate the Rangers for good as the Capitals won in front of a raucous Verizon Center crowd, 4-0.  Besides the fact that Varlamov recorded his second shutout in three games, Rangers Coach John Tortorella’s altercation with fans on the opposing bench which lead to a one game suspension made this game one of the most memorable in Capitals History.

Game six was back at Madison Square Garden but that didn’t matter to the suddenly hot Capitals, who seemed to have figured out Lundqvist, who was benched in the third period for the second consecutive game. Goals by defensemen Milan Jurcina, Mike Green and Tom Poti, plus another highlight worthy goal by Victor Kozlov, made it a 5-1 game by the end of the 2nd period. The final two goals by the Rangers were virtually meaningless.

Game seven didn’t start off well for the Capitals, as the Rangers played their best overall game in the series holding Washington without one shot on goal for the first 11 minutes of the game and jumping out to a one goal lead. Although back on familiar ice, the Capitals seemed to be a little tentative early but as the game progressed, they regained their confident swagger, especially after a goal by Semin to tie the game up late in the first period.

The Rangers played great “keep-a-way” defense for the whole second period, giving the Capitals very little chances to score and it took all the way until the five minute mark in the final period where former league MVP Sergei Federov scored one of the most memorable goals in team history to complete the comeback and give the Capitals and its fans a huge 2-1 victory.

As the celebration started on the ice and on the streets of Chinatown, D.C., word had started to spread that the next opponent for the Capitals will be Sydney Crosby, and the hated Pittsburgh Penguins. This is the dream matchup everyone from the fans to the commissioner’s office has been waiting for. Game one will be at the Verizon Center on Saturday at 1 p.m. and will be shown on national TV on NBC.

Capitals Give Fans Best Season Ever

Capitals Give Fans Best Season Ever
By Dion Johnson
Special to the AFRO

Alex Ovechkin has been the Capital’s main scorer this season. (Photo / junksweb.com)

It’s hard to believe, with the up and down nature of the way the Washington Capitals played the second half of the regular season, that it still will be known as the greatest season in team history.

In the 33 years of the Capitals’ existence, they have never amassed as many points (108) and tied a team-best record with 50 wins. With that accomplishment, they have earned the second seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs and will face the New York Rangers in the first round.

The Capitals success revolves around its star, Alex Ovechkin, who led the team in goals (65) and points (100) and continued to rack up numerous action highlights, winning fans across the nation. But this team hasn’t been a one-man show.

Breakout seasons from Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Brooks Laich helped Washington make history as well.

Green led all defensemen in the NHL with 31 goals, while Backstrom had a team-high 66 assists, along with 88 points. Semin added 79 points on the season, while Laich had 53 points, proving that the Capitals will make you pay if you devote too much attention to Ovechkin.

Washington also benefited from the sturdy goaltending of Jose Theodore, and found solid veteran leadership and professionalism in players such as the team’s lone African American, Donald Brashear.

The Capitals’ efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the fans as the team broke its all-time attendance record, and has already sold out its season ticket packages for next year.

Television ratings are up by 67 percent on ComcastSportsNet (which airs Capitals games) and team merchandise sells are at the top of the league, showing how this franchise has its fans by the collar despite the financial recession.

ComcastSportsNet will continue to cover the Capitals throughout the playoffs, but two of the first round games will be broadcasted on NBC.

It’ll be exciting to watch Washington in the playoffs on national television, but it won’t be easy for the Capitals to advance pass the Rangers. The NHL playoffs are notorious for its lower seeds defeating the higher seeded teams. The Rangers have a great goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, a Vezina Trophy candidate the last three years. New York also rosters Sean Avery, a well known agitator who will focus on distracting Ovechkin. The Capitals must remained composed against Avery’s antics and stay focused on their main agenda, which is winning, surviving and advancing to the next round.

2009 Washington Nationals Team Preview

Washington’s Ready for the Nationals’ Season Opener
By Dion Johnson
Special to the AFRO
The Nationals celebrate after winning the season home opener last year. Nationals fans hope for similar results this season. (Courtesy Photo, Washington Nationals)
(April 8, 2009) – The Washington Nationals opened up last season in an almost fairy tale fashion.

In their first game, played in the new Nationals Park stadium, rising star Ryan Zimmerman ended the game with a walk-off homerun.

Yet it seemed as if that homer “walked-off” all of the momentum for the rest of the season, as the Nationals compiled a 57-102 overall record, good for worst record in Major League Baseball.

This year, most of the same players are on the roster, and they may have something to prove. Nationals manager Manny Acta is in the final year of his three-year deal, and while players love him and his no-nonsense attitude, Nationals fans want to see some positive results. 

Zimmerman, 24, is the star of this team, but to be treated as a star, you must produce like a star.  Zimmerman had a subpar season last year, but now has an advantage he’s never had before.

The Nationals picked up proven power batter Adam Dunn to provide protection in the lineup for Zimmerman. Dunn, a 40 home run hitter, signed a two-year, $20 million deal in the offseason to finally provide the lineup with someone who can strike fear in opposing pitchers with one swing of the bat.

The rest of the team is filled with young, promising talent such as Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes and newly-acquired Josh Willingham (via Florida) to compete for playing time in the outfield with holdover Austin Kearns. 

The infield should receive a jolt of energy from the return of the solid, but oft-injured Nick Johnson at first base. If Johnson is injured again, Josh Willingham can play the position as well.

For the first time since the Nationals moved to Washington five years ago, there is actually some true talent on the bench. Christian Guzman will man the shortstop position and hope to improve on his solid 2008 season, which he was the Nationals’ lone representative at the ‘08 All Star Game.  At catcher, Jesue Flores has finally won over Acta and won the job as the top catcher after failed attempts with veterans like Paul LaDuca.

The pitching staff is again, very young and unproven. Scott Olsen, John Lannan, Sharion Martis, and Jordan Zimmerman are all younger than 25. If Zimmerman, who has top-of-the-rotation talent, can stay healthy, Washington should see much improvement from last year’s staff. Zimmerman is the crown jewel of the “Rotation of the Future,” yet the team’s pitching was still horrible last season.

The Nationals will have the No. 1 overall selection in this year’s draft, and the consensus pick should be San Diego State pitcher Steven Strasburg, who is touted as one of the greatest talents to enter the draft in at least a decade. With a fastball close to 100 miles per hour and a 23-count strikeout game under his belt, it seems that the sky’s the limit for this kid and he may pan out to what the baseball experts believe he can eventually become.

Another big change for the Nationals this season has been the recent resignation of team general manager Jim Bowden.  A series of mishaps, blunders and awful contracts (Dimitri Young, Willy Mo Pena, etc.) lead to his demise and perhaps the franchise can finally move on from being a joke to a viable franchise that this city supports. The fans are thirsting for a winner and proved last season they will not come out to support a loser. If this team consistently plays hard, they could win 20 more games than last season, which would still leave them under .500 record mark.

Of course, they’ll have to play far greater than they did Monday night, falling to the Florida Marlins, 12-6, in the first game of the regular season. Washington fell to the Marlins again on Tuesday, 8-3.

But with all the young talent on the team, this franchise appears to be heading in the right direction and, doing it the right way in building it with young talent and shrewd drafting.