NEW YORK | They're the Capitals. What can you say? At times, it seems, nothing about them makes sense. They blow a 3-1 series lead as the top seed in the East to the last-to-qualify Montreal Canadiens, and then they do what they did Wednesday night: climb out of a 3-0 hole in the third period of Game 4 against the New York Rangers — at frothing-at-the-mouth Madison Square Garden — and ultimately win, 4-3, 12:36 into the second overtime on a Jason Chimera goal.
And who is Jason Chimera? Oh, just the guy who took Mike Knuble's place on the Alex Ovechkin/Nicklas Backstrom line when Knuble was scratched with an undisclosed injury. (That is, until Bruce Boudreau shuffled the deck with his team desperately behind.) That's all.
Just so utterly, completely, unpredictably Caps-like.
So often in the past, this unpredictability has brought bad tidings. But on this night, it produced one of the greatest victories in franchise history, a victory that gave the Capitals a 3-1 lead in the series and a chance to close it out at Verizon Center on Saturday.
Even now, after the dressing room has emptied, it's hard to come to grips with this game. Just when you thought the Caps had forgotten how to score — and were letting the series slip away after taking the first two games at home — ka-boom! Goals by Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson 57 seconds apart made it 3-2 early in the third period, and another score by Johansson, the 20-year-old prodigy, with 7:53 left in regulation sent it into overtime ... and rendered the Garden crowd speechless.
"You get one (goal)," Boudreau said, "and you never know. When we got two goals really quickly we knew we were in it."
What brought all this on, you ask? Who knows, really? Maybe the Rangers relaxed a bit with such a big cushion. Or maybe it's just another example of the Capitals needing to be tied to the railroad tracks before they play up to their abilities. (We've certainly seen that before.) Or maybe, after 3 2/3 games of searching, they finally found their offensive rhythm. If it's the latter, these hostilities could be over by the weekend; but if it isn't, strap yourselves in, folks. There's no telling how this will end up.
Boudreau isn't making any assumptions, that's for sure. "If we feel we've got this won by any stretch of the imagination, we're in trouble," he said. "We're trying as hard as we can, and we're winning in overtime and double overtime. It's not like (the Rangers) have to find another gear."
Indeed, it's hard to believe this series doesn't have a few twists and turns left in it. Consider what happened in Game 4. Before the Capitals erupted for three goals in the third period (more than they had scored in any of the previous three games), the Rangers broke loose for three goals in the second period (as many as they had scored in any of the previous three games). Heck, as things got worse for the Caps, you began to wonder if they weren't headed for another 6-0 or 7-0 drubbing — like the two the Rangers handed them in the regular season. It was all but in the books — and then suddenly it wasn't. Suddenly a game that looked blowout-bound was bound for overtime instead.
The Capitals at this point were riding a tidal wave of momentum, and they continued to force the issue in OT. Eleven minutes into the first extra period, Ovechkin went in all alone on Henrik Lundqvist — as clean a breakaway as you'll ever see — and Lundqvist, great all night, swallowed up Ovie's wrist shot with his glove.
Then, with 5:16 left in the period, the Capitals got a second Big Break when Derek Stepan, the Rangers' 20-year-old center, was hit with a delay penalty for flicking the puck over the glass. But again they came up empty, despite keeping the puck in the New York zone almost the entire time. Blocked shots and — who else? — Lundqvist, foiled them.
Still, you thought to yourself: If the Capitals' enviable talent doesn't pull them through, then surely their youth will. I mean, half their roster is barely old enough to vote. The longer the game went on, you figured, the more it should favor them — especially with their rookie goalie, Michal Neuvirth playing out of his mind (20 straight stops in the third period and OT).
(More and more, it's looking like the coach chose the right netminder for the playoffs. Neuvy has just been stellar, hasn't he?).
The sellout gathering was so engrossed in the action that it completely forgot about giving Boudreau a hard time. Bruce — being Bruce — had stirred up Rangers Nation with some comments on a radio show earlier in the week. In addition to badmouthing the venerable Garden (it's "reputation is far better than the actual building," he said) he claimed that it was "not that loud in there" (or at least, not as loud as "our building").
This will get the fans going, and they were certainly ready for Boudreau on Wednesday night. They started taunting him with chants of "Bou-dreau!" (or is it Boo-dreau?) — and hurling various and sundry other unpleasantries at him — before the game even began.
When the home team went up 3-0, they serenaded him with even greater gusto. But then the Capitals launched their rally, and for a few stunned minutes, Boudreau was right: It wasn't "that loud in there."
And then, in a blink, it was over. Chimera, flying down the right wing, saw his shot blocked by defenseman Bryan McCabe, but followed the puck to the net. Somehow, McCabe, winger Marion Gaborik and Lundqvist failed to corral it, and Jason knocked it across the goal line.
Before each overtime period, Chimera said, he told himself: "Just make a difference." That was his mantra. "Be the guy that wins it for your team." And in the end, he was.
"There's no better feeling," he said.
No? How about finishing off the Rangers in five — and avoiding, for the first time in the Boudreau Era, a Game 7? Wouldn't that feel pretty good, too?
Undoubtedly. And if the Capitals really are a different club this season, if they really have grown up, they won't mess around. Let's face it, the Rangers are there for the taking. Besides, two overtime games — and three overtime periods — is more than enough drama for one series.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.