Remember Sunday afternoon, when the Pittsburgh Penguins had a Grade-A meltdown against the Philadelphia Flyers? The Flyers can thank getting into the Penguins' heads, forcing them to feed into their agitation and physical play, for that loss of control that caused Pittsburgh to lose the game and go down 3-0 in the series. This technique is a common one -- usually on a much lesser scale, but nonetheless common -- and the Boston Bruins have used it in their favor against the Washington Capitals, particularly in Game 3 where they went into D.C. and won, 4-3.
When a team that's not used to playing a physical brand of hockey starts to play that way, it can mess with a players' timing as they try to draw penalties or set the tone with aggression. That can lead to penalties and careless play.
When the scoring opened up due to a little 4-on-4 play in Game 3, both teams were forced to loosen the defensive clamps that held both teams to four goals combined through Games 1 and 2. As the Caps and Bruins got more assertive with the puck, it also meant getting more assertive and aggressive away from the puck. Boston, with the likes of Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, are the types who will agitate or try to get extremely physical with their opponents to either draw a penalty or motivate their teammates. Washington, with the apparent size disadvantage and less agitating style of play, felt they had to match.
Things did not end up well for the Caps by the game's end, despite the attempt to tussle with the Bruins. Late in the third period, as both teams got tied up in front of Braden Holtby with about three minutes left, a little rough stuff between Lucic and Matt Hendricks continued a 4-on-4. Of course, after the scrums and penalty assessment, Boston seemed to have all the momentum, keeping puck possession with all that free space on the ice. A blast from Chara hit Roman Hamrlik's stick and found its way to the back of the net, becoming the eventual game-winner.
The physicality was apparent the entire game. There was the "footsie" battle that Brooks Laich got into with Lucic at the faceoff circle in the second period. Both went off for unsportsmanlike conduct. Jason Chimera's speared Brad Marchand, commencing a penalty parade in the third period. The game ended with five power plays for the Bruins and four for the Capitals, and a match penalty for Nicklas Backstrom.
Backstrom, who missed 40 games with concussion symptoms, is one of the major reasons why the Caps were able to sneak into the playoffs when he returned in the last five games of the season. His offensive presence was sorely missed while he was gone, highlighted by his game-winning goal in Game 2 and his pass on Brooks Laich's third-period goal on Monday night.
Many Caps fans have applauded Backstrom's newfound aggression since his return, but he took it too far trying to rattle the Bruins -- and so did many other Washington players.
This is Boston's type of game, and they found solace in the fact that the Caps deviated from their plan. Washington had to find a new way to stick around with the B's, and they chose to try to agitate them. The Capitals' momentum shifts, however, came from their offensive plays from their star players, like Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. When they got power plays, they had their chances to take shots at Tim Thomas and keep Boston disciplined and in their own end.
Had they tried to keep their legs moving instead of instigating with Boston, the Caps might have been spared the drama and the Backstrom match penalty, which will force him to sit out Game 4 pending league review. With this physical game being Boston's type of game, the B's found solace in the fact that the Caps deviated from their plan.
Will the Caps continue to try to beat Boston at their own game? Will they play differently in Game 4? And will Backstrom even play or will he be suspended? Now would be a good time for Washington to find its own identity...before it's too late.