- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2009

Counting the first four games of this postseason, Matt Bradley was averaging about a point every eight contests this season for the Washington Capitals.

Since receiving a promotion to the third line, Bradley has four points in four games - more than he had in the previous 42 for the Caps. Clearly, playing with David Steckel and Brooks Laich has been a good fit.

“Every year since the playoffs have been in existence, someone has stepped up that doesn’t usually step up or is [not] known for scoring,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If it is Matt Bradley, there’s not a better person for it to happen to because he works so hard for this team and he doesn’t get rewarded, so it is nice to see him get rewarded.”

Bradley has spent most of this season on the fourth line, often with some combination of Steckel, Boyd Gordon and Donald Brashear. His past four games have been a revelation for the Caps, who were desperately seeking scoring help from someone not named Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin or Nicklas Backstrom.

The 30-year-old grinder from Stittsville, Ontario, started the team’s rally from a 3-1 series deficit against the New York Rangers with the first two goals in Game 5. Then he made an outlet pass to Sergei Fedorov late in Game 7, and seconds later the Caps had scored one of the most important goals in recent team history.

“I have a rule: If I ever have a chance to pass it to a Russian on our team, I do it because good things will happen,” Bradley said. “That pass - [Fedorov] was yelling for it, and it was because of him I passed it. I wouldn’t normally try a pass like that, but he let me know he was open and he did the rest.”

Bradley also played a key role in Washington’s first goal of this series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. His sharp-angle shot didn’t go in, but the rebound went off Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and to Steckel.

It isn’t just Bradley; the third-line trio has combined for 10 points - Steckel and Laich have three each - since being united.

“I played with Dave quite a bit during the season, and with [Laich], we all kind of play the same style - just hard-working and responsible defensively,” Bradley said. “Usually when you do that, you get rewarded offensively, and obviously it is nice to contribute.”

Bad transitions

The Caps did not allow any goals on odd-man rushes in Game 1, but if they continue to yield as many as they did, that will soon change.

Washington’s defense did an admirable job of limiting Pittsburgh’s chances once the Penguins were set up in the offensive zone, but the Caps gave up too many opportunities off the rush - and many were of the odd-man variety.

Another problem for the Caps that led to chances was turnovers in the neutral zone. Too often the Caps tried to carry the puck through the defense instead of dumping it into the attacking zone.

“We’ll have to be better,” Boudreau said. “They’re so quick and so good in transition. We’ve just got to make better plays, or it will end up burning us.”

Uneven officiating?

The Caps outscored the Penguins on special teams in Game 1, but they also only had two opportunities with the extra man while Pittsburgh had five chances, including two in the final period while down a goal.

Members of the Caps made it clear they didn’t feel the officiating was equitable.

“They only had two penalties, but I think they had more,” Ovechkin said. “[Tyler] Kennedy broke [Viktor Kozlov]’s stick with a slash, but it wasn’t called. [Matt Bradley] was tripped, and it was not called. It happens sometimes. Maybe the referee didn’t see it. They can’t see everything.”

Boudreau was less diplomatic.

“I don’t think they were disciplined - I just don’t think we got the calls,” he said. “A minute before [John] Erskine’s call, they tripped Bradley in the corner. I don’t know if it was because it was [Evgeni] Malkin or what. A few minutes before that, [Ovechkin] got interfered with behind the net by [Kris] Letang. I thought they definitely got the benefit of the calls.”

• Corey Masisak can be reached at cmasisak@washingtontimes.com.

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