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McKenzie: Capitals used Dale Hunter hockey to upset Bruins

Bob McKenzie

4/25/2012 11:42:47 PM

Some quick thoughts from the NHL on TSN panel on Wednesday:

We've all been waiting so long for the Washington Capitals rock stars to show up and take it to next level. But it wasn't necessarily the rock stars that got them into the second round. It was Dale Hunter hockey.

Jay Beagle played four more seconds than Alexander Ovechkin in Game 7 and it was the line with Beagle, Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera that typified how this team played.

Over the course of the year, if you needed someone to stand up and fight your battles for you, Hendricks did that. If you needed someone to get a game-deciding goal in the shootout, Hendricks was as good as there was in the shootout. He's a big reason why this Capitals team made it.

He was a catalyst on the line, being physical, winning battles, actually trying to be a peacemaker and getting his guys out of the situation with Milan Lucic early in the game. And who gets the first goal and creates offence for them? Matt Hendricks. This guy is a real valuable player.

This is the way Dale Hunter wanted it and he got some buy-in. In the last month of the season, a lot of people wouldn't have given the Capitals a chance to do this. Somewhere between the hiring of Hunter and now, they started buying into what he was doing and it was more of a grinding game and less Ovechkin and less Backstrom. Not that they weren't factors, but the plumbers led the way.

Holtby Factor

Goaltending has been a huge question mark for the Capitals for so many years, so who knew they had it in their farm system all along? Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby was really the story of this series in the early going. The Bruins could have run the Capitals right out of this series early on if not for Holtby.

And a funny thing happened as this series wore on: it became less and less about the goaltending of Holtby. In Game 7, I thought the Capitals showed as much or more jam, winning more one-on-one battles and were full value for the victory.

Motivated Star Players

One of the most shocking things about Ottawa's loss to the New York Rangers in Game 6 was the fact that Senators head coach Paul MacLean chose the beginning of the third period to send a message to Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson.

He was mad at Spezza for something that happened late in the second period. The Rangers were ahead 2-1 when Spezza went for the big wheel, missed it and then stood by the bench. As the Rangers came into the Senators' zone, there was no Jason Spezza and the Rangers' player trailing on the play scored the goal.

In the third period, Alfredsson, along with Spezza, hadn't played for the first five minutes and missed an entire power play and then went ballistic on the bench. Later, he admitted that some of the frustration came from not playing early in the third and not being on the power play.

It's going to very interesting to see the response from those two players. Both Spezza and Alfredsson have gone out of their way over the course of this year to extol the virtues of how MacLean has coached the team and given them some tough love. So I think whatever happened is behind them and we've got two very motivated star players for the Senators going into Game 7.