Chimera's Fight Keys Washington's 4-3 Overtime Victory
Brooks Laich scored in the 3rd period for the Capitals in a 4-3 overtime win over the Blackhawks at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, March 13, 2011. Alan P. Santos/DC Sports Box file photo
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Sunday’s matinee matchup between the Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks featured the two teams many observers expected to challenge for the Stanley Cup last season. While Washington flamed out in the first round the Blackhawks went on to win the Cup, and their skill was on display at the Verizon Center. Whereas the Blackhawks rely on speed, the Caps rely on their size, and players like Jason Chimera taking advantage of that size was what keyed Washington’s 4-3 overtime victory.
 
In particular crashing the net was clearly one of Washington’s primary strategies on Sunday, a game plan they executed to near perfection. Frequently Caps forwards barreled their way to the front of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford’s net, occasionally ending up in the rookie’s goal crease in more than one occasion.

In the waning moments of the second period, several minutes after Matt Hendricks drove to the net with the puck and bumped Crawford in the process of taking a shot, Chimera did the same thing. Replays showed that Crawford embellished the hit but there was no question Chimera did make a little (legal) contact with the goalie Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook took offense to the play and drilled Chimera behind the net. Chimera challenged Seabrook to a fight, and the two engaged in a brief fight, the third of the season for Chimera and fourth for Seabrook.

Linemate Brooks Laich called Chimera a “real big factor” in Washington’s win and offered a few additional words of praise after the game, saying: “He was the one that sort of instigated that little rhubarb there and he does a good job and takes one of their top defenders off the ice. I think he had a good night.”

Not only did the fight energize Washington coming out of the second intermission, it also kept half of Chicago’s top defensive pairing off the ice for the first quarter of the third period. Seabrook and Chimera were still in the penalty box waiting for a whistle when Laich scored at 13:37 of the third to give the Caps a 3-2 lead.

Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said it was “no secret” that his players taking advantage of their size was a key to the win. “I think we’re a bigger, fairly strong team…so we have to play to our strengths to succeed.” Chimera, at 6’2” and 216 pounds, matched up evenly with Seabrook (6’2”, 218 pounds), but in terms of team size it was an average-sized Capital throwing down with Chicago’s third-biggest skater.

Not only did the fight energize Washington coming out of the second intermission, it also kept half of Chicago’s top defensive pairing off the ice for the first quarter of the third period. Seabrook and Chimera were still in the penalty box waiting for a whistle when Laich scored at 13:37 of the third to give the Caps a 3-2 lead.

Seabrook’s absence was exacerbated by an apparent injury to Brian Campbell, who remained on the bench but didn’t touch the ice after the midway point of the second stanza. Jonathan Toews’s power play goal at the end of the third sent the game to overtime while putting a further strain on Chicago’s defenders. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville had little choice to roll his five remaining defensemen, in particular rookie Nick Leddy, whose 20:42 of ice time in the game was six minutes over his season average. Duncan Keith, Seabrook’s Norris Trophy-winning partner, spent over half an hour on the ice Sunday afternoon and had been on the ice for 74 seconds when Knuble scored the game-winner in overtime to give Washington a 4-3 victory.

“Good play by [Knuble]. Just at the end of our shift there, it’s late in the game. It’s tough going,” said Keith, who was clearly exhausted on the ice in the overtime period.

Chimera didn’t earn any points on Sunday and wasn’t one of the game’s three stars, although Laich said his teammate deserved one. The way his effort was identified by several teammates as a key to the victory demonstrates, however, that a little fight can go a long way toward a win in the NHL.