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Stanley Cup Journal: Green’s offensive game no longer is ailing

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

NEW YORK

For those wondering whether Mike Green looked a little off for much of the Washington Capitals' playoff series against the New York Rangers, that would be correct.

Throughout the opening five games, it was as if the Caps defenseman was skating in a sandbox. He certainly wasn't exhibiting the offensive skills that made him a Norris Trophy finalist for the NHL's best blueliner.

Following a two-assist performance in Game 1, Green played four games in which he didn't feel right - and the score sheet confirmed it. In Games 2 through 5, he posted only one assist, had a minus-1 rating and nine shots on goal.

Defensively, he was helping shut down the Rangers, but offensively the end-to-end rushes and power-play proficiency were lacking.

"I wasn't feeling myself," he said. "I had no energy, and it's tough to play like that."

But his flu-like symptoms disappeared in time for Sunday's win-or-else Game 6, and Green was back to his normal self. He scored his first goal of the series in the Caps' 5-3 win that forced a deciding game Tuesday.

"Now I know there was definitely something wrong," he said.

Said coach Bruce Boudreau: "He was moving his legs and doing everything a lot better."

And because Green is back to full fitness to go with the Caps' other working parts, the Rangers are likely finished.

The Rangers had the opportunity every lower seed desires - to close out a series on home ice - and they turned in a clunker. The Caps led 5-1 after two periods, sending some of the 18,200 at Madison Square Garden scurrying downstairs to Penn Station.

"If we play like that, we're going to win most nights," Green said.

Because he led all NHL defenseman in goals (31) and points (73), Green has inadvertently raised the bar - he is expected to score most nights, which is foolhardy.

Knowing that, Boudreau has defended Green at every turn. And it's understandable; he's passionate about No. 52's game, knew he was ailing and was correct in pointing out how the Rangers' offense has been anemic since Game 2.

"Whether he's scoring or not, he's still really good," Boudreau said. "Just because a guy doesn't score - it's only five games. It wasn't like he went scoreless for 23 games."

Green broke through with a wrist shot from the right circle in the first period that gave the Caps the lead for good at 2-1.

"We switched up a little bit and changed my position on the power play," he said. "I'm finally feeling better and have a lot more energy. When the puck comes to me, I have some strength to shoot it."

The switch - Alex Ovechkin moved to forward as Tom Poti claimed the other point position - was much needed. Ovechkin has a world-class shot, but the theory here has been that the 225-pound tank would be more effective closer to the goal.

On some of the power plays Sunday, Ovechkin played the half wall and was roaming in the low slot, forcing the Rangers to account for him.

When Alexander Semin's shot hit traffic and deflected to Green, he wasted no time. Who would have thought Poti, Milan Jurcina and Matt Bradley would score in this series before Green?

"He gets the first one, and hopefully he'll start to get more goals," Jurcina said.

Green has played a strong defensive series, teaming with Shaone Morrisonn to shut down the Rangers. Before two New York garbage-time goals in the third period, the Caps were outscoring the Rangers 17-8.

Green's main goal is to help the Caps win their first postseason series in 11 years; his secondary goal is personal - show Team Canada boss Steve Yzerman he's sound enough in his own zone to earn a big role in next winter's Olympics.

"Maybe I've been criticized in the past about my defensive zone play, and I've taken it upon myself to be responsible," Green said. "It seems like when I'm playing well defensively, I get offensive chances."

His defense has been a constant during his series, and the offense returned just in time Sunday.