- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2012

BOSTON — Dale Hunter likes when his team blocks shots. That’s no secret. But Thursday’s performance in Game 1 of the first-round series with the Boston Bruins was a whole different level for the Washington Capitals.

They blocked 22 shots in the 1-0 loss, a concerted effort that had Bruins coach Claude Julien talking about the need to adjust.

“The one thing that they did well, to their credit, is I thought they did a lot of shot blocking, more than I’ve seen them do in the past. But that’s playoff hockey, right?” Julien said. “You see guys get out of their comfort zone and do things that they don’t always do during the regular season and I thought they did a great job of that.”

What the Caps did was not only lie down in front of pucks to help out rookie goaltender Braden Holtby but get into shooting lanes based on what they saw on video from the Bruins.

“We see what they like to do and where they like to shoot from,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “You kind of expect that it’s going to be coming and just stay in that lane and wait for it to come.”

Roman Hamrlik blocked five shots Thursday, not surprising given that this is his speciality. At 38 years old, he doesn’t have the offensive punch or the speed, but he can put his body in front of rubber flying at 90-plus mph.

“I think everybody’s doing a good job to block shots. When you see a wrist shot or anything that’s not a heavy shot, you try to block it,” Hamrlik said. “That’s part of the game and I think lately everybody’s doing a better job with that. We try to help the goaltending to block it and it’s a huge plus for the team when you block shots.”

That’s the Hunter philosophy, too.

“We’ve been sacrificing a lot down the stretch here. We block a lot of shots,” the coach said. “It hurts and stuff, but the guys are doing it to save so many shots on net. It’s a good sacrifice by the guys.”

Blocking shots is something that amps up around playoff time, though teams like the New York Rangers make a habit of it all season long.

But the Caps getting in the way of so many shots in Game 1 was designed to try to reduce the pressure on Holtby in his playoff debut.

“We wanted to help him out. We didn’t want him to have to face a ton of shots his first game, and high-quality shots and ones through screens,” Alzner said. “Anything we could do to help him was something that we were talking about: not only block shots but try to move guys out.”

That worked well, as Washington limited chances to the outside and prevented Holtby from having to make a lot of crazy saves.

Plus, it doubled as a frustration builder for the Bruins, who saw so many scoring chances eaten away by blocked shots.

“It’s a pain. It’s a big-time pain,” Alzner said. “There’s very few things that are worse than that is when you have a Grade-A chance and sometime comes out of nowhere and blocks it, or gets a stick in there or anything like that.”