Hockey is a game of bounces. For as much skill and talent that is involved, it is usually a bit of luck that ultimately decides a game.
Michael Del Zotto’s second-period shot was not meant to pinball off of John Carlson’s left skate and Matt Hendricks’ right thigh on its way to the net. It was not supposed to fall right at the feet of Ryan Callahan in the crease, either.
When Carlson danced through the offensive zone just a few minutes later, Marc Staal successfully pokechecked the puck away from him, but it hit Carlson square in the chest. Carlson was then able to corral and settle the rolling puck before beating Henrik Lundqvist. That was surely not part of Staal’s original plan.
How apropos, then, that a game that lasted nearly five hours was decided in a matter of seconds by just one fortuitous bounce. Perhaps if Carlson does not block Brad Richards’ shot attempt as he entered the offensive zone late in the third overtime, then Richards does not get a second chance to redeem himself behind the net by assisting on Marian Gaborik’s game-winning goal in a 2-1 triple-overtime win. That is the way the puck bounces, sometimes.
“We had our chances,” Hendricks said. “We had some really good opportunities, a couple of posts. We just didn’t find the back of the net and they got the last bounce.”
Many exasperated and exhausted Caps fans will wonder “What if?” What if Alex Ovechkin’s shot in the first overtime that clanked off of the post was just a smidge to the left? What if Callahan did not scramble to block Jason Chimera’s one-timer later in the first extra session? What if Dennis Wideman’s shot, which ricocheted off several bodies in front before hitting the post, would have had the same luck as Del Zotto’s?
Yet, that same puck luck has benefited Washington just the same. What if Mike Knuble’s rebound did not squirt right in front of Joel Ward in overtime of Game 7 against the Boston Bruins? How about Chimera’s goal Monday? What if Brian Boyle was not towering over Braden Holtby as Mike Rupp shot towards what should have been an open net? Sometimes, something extraordinary is made out of something ordinary. The Caps, who have had half of their 10 postseason games extend into overtime and nine games decided by one goal, are used to that by now.
“We’ve had so much experience and so much comfort in the one-goal games that we’re comfortable with it,” Troy Brouwer said. “Moving forward here, I’m assuming that most of our games are going to be tight. Just the style that we play is very patient, very defensive. When we get our opportunities, hopefully we capitalize. We had quite a few opportunities. [Ovechkin] hit the post, [Wideman] hit the post. I had a good chance, it just rolled over my stick. The chances were there, we were creating a lot. We just have to find one to get past them.”
Despite talk of bounces, the Caps must stay grounded. As Karl Alzner said Wednesday, “[we] can’t let [ourselves] get too high or too low.” Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom. The most important bounce for Washington will be bouncing back.
“We weren’t able to get the goal, but no reason to hang your head and pout,” Brooks Laich said. “We were right there. We’ve gotta rebound.”