(Since it’s the end of a series, instead of droning on about other aspects of the game, let’s maybe do an impromptu…TOP SIX!)
For much of the season, Joel Ward’s massive $3 million contract for a third/fourth-line player has been a questionable move by General Manager George McPhee.
His six goals and 12 assists this season are by no means staggering and throughout the Capitals first round series with the Boston Bruins he was largely invisible.
The postseason magic he conjured with the Nashville Predators last season (seven goals and six assists in 12 games), was nowhere to be found.
None of that matters now because on Wednesday night Ward scored a $3 million goal to advance the Capitals past the Boston Bruins and into the second round of the NHL playoffs.
For all the disappointment and failure to live up to lofty expectations this season, Ward cashed in when it mattered most.
Now, in the spirit of Top Six’s past, a playoff Top Six for you Caps fans.
1. Alex Semin – three goals, 16 shots, one game-winning goal
I’m putting Sasha up here as an apology for an earlier mishap. At the end of the season Top Six, I placed him around seventh and eighth on the team opting that though he had a good season, others went above the call of duty.
In the postseason, Semin went above the expectations we’ve set for him based on past performances. He’s one goal shy of last year’s goal total in nine games and he’s been a careful defender, taking only four PIMs in a physical series.
Good Sasha indeed.
2. Roman Hamrlik – three assists, plus-five rating
Hamrlik’s season went from being the clear square peg in the round hole of the Capitals, to beginning a bit of a rebirth under Dale Hunter only to find himself sliding back into the doghouse and earning a seat in the press box for extended periods of time.
There was even talk he was sick of Washington and wanted out at the trade deadline. Now after the first playoff series of the postseason, he’s the Capitals top defender and logged nearly 20 minutes of ice time a game.
Hamrlik was brought over the summer to be a calming, veteran defensive presence and though it wasn’t always there in the regular season, his play is one reason the Capitals have moved on past the first round.
3. Braden Holtby – four wins, .922 save percentage, 2.49 GAA
You didn’t really think I would let him fall this far down, did you?
There’s an argument to be made that Holtby should be the No. 1 in this Top Six, and I accept that, but at the same time I believe that Holtby can be even better than he was in this series.
His rebound control is still atrocious and his over-aggressive play can sometimes put the Caps in bad situations.
Despite all that, he made incredible saves when needed, showed a cool head and for a 22-year-old with only 21 games of NHL experience that’s impressive.
Just don’t start the Cam Ward comparisons yet, please.
4. Brooks Laich – one goal, three assists, four points
There are a few players you can count on when the Capitals reach the postseason. It starts with whatever rookie goaltender is in net, then Ovechkin and Laich always finds his way into that mix.
So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Laich is on this list. His two-way play came in handy during a physical series and you can only hope that his warrior mentality doesn’t fade in the second round.
5. Nicklas Backstrom – one goal, three assists, one game-winning goal
Aside from his costly Game 6 turnover, Backstrom did what he didn’t do in last season’s postseason – produce.
His four points may not seem like much, but in an ultra-defensive series one point might as well be two or three.
It’s likely that whoever the Caps play in the second round will try to keep games tight, but there’s few teams that will play a similar grinding style as the Bruins and that could spell big things for Backstrom in the second round.
6. Alex Ovechkin – two goals, three assists, five points
Forget all the benching talk – chalk that up to line matching and the fact that the Boston Bruins defense presented a considerable challenge for No. 8.
Instead, let’s just focus on the fact that even though the Seidenberg and Chara combination seemed to keep Ovechkin in check, he managed to lead the team in scoring in the first round.
There may not be a more imposing defensive pair Ovechkin will face this postseason. So let’s just leave it at that.