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For Caps, this line has been just fine

Tuesday, 05.12.2009 / 3:43 PM / Conference Semifinals: Washington vs. Pittsburgh

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"We're hard working guys that take pride in defense, and now we know for our team to be successful everyone has to contribute offensively. Stecks and Brooks have done a great job and I'm just happy to be playing with those guys."
-- Matt Bradley

ARLINGTON, Va. -- David Steckel and Matt Bradley combined for 13 goals during the regular season, but in these playoffs Washington coach Bruce Boudreau pairs the two hulking forwards with Brooks Laich when he's searching for offense.

That doesn't sound like it makes much sense, but it again paid off like gold for the Caps late Monday night when the trio combined for the biggest goal in recent Capitals' history 6:22 into overtime to force a Game 7 against Pittsburgh Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS).

When Boudreau has them together, the Capitals are 6-1. When they're apart, they're 1-5.

"I think we're basically the same type of player," said Steckel, whose third goal of the series was the overtime winner Monday. "We keep things simple, get pucks deep and we have great chemistry together. We work hard and we're defensively sound."

Boudreau put the trio together starting with Game 5 against the Rangers. Bradley scored two goals at Madison Square Garden that night and the Capitals started a five-game winning streak.

After they lost Game 3 against the Penguins, Boudreau shook up his lines, moving Laich (23 goals during the regular season) up to play with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin and Chris Clark up to play with Steckel and Bradley.

The Caps lost another two games.

It wasn't until they were outshot, 18-5, and outscored, 1-0, after the first period in Game 6 that Boudreau put them back together.

"We were down and we weren't having any offense," Boudreau said. "I thought if they could rekindle it and I knew we had Gordo (Boyd Gordon) as the 10th forward. Sometimes it works out."

The result has people scrambling for tickets to Game 7 Wednesday night.

"They're very easy guys to play with," Laich said. "They're north-south guys, which mean they just go up and down the rink. They're predictable to their teammates so to speak. There is a lot of communication and a lot of short passes, short good plays. It's fundamental hockey and it worked out tonight."

Boudreau has the option of taking them apart because Laich is sort of a chameleon in that he can adapt to any line. When he put him with Backstrom and Semin, he was clearly trying to get Semin going offensively.

It didn't work, but Gordon joined Steckel and Bradley on the third line for Game 5 and they played better.

"Sometimes one of your other players isn't going very well and Brooks can play anywhere," Boudreau said. "On the other hand, sometimes Boyd Gordon is playing so well and you don't want him as the 10th forward, you want him in the top three lines. That's the way I've been looking at it the last three games."

It's easy for Boudreau to go back to the trio of Laich, Steckel and Bradley because all three guys are close friends and they sit next to one another in the dressing room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the team's practice home. They're chemistry is obvious.

Capitals/Penguins Playoff Gear Penguins Gear Capitals Gear "We're hard working guys that take pride in defense, and now we know for our team to be successful everyone has to contribute offensively," Bradley said. "Stecks and Brooks have done a great job and I'm just happy to be playing with those guys."

Bradley and Laich were simply ecstatic that one of their own scored the winner Monday.

"Dave is a guy that works so hard and he does so many little things, sacrifices and penalty kills, a lot of gloryless things," Laich said. "For him to get rewarded and you see him in that pile after the game, it was nice to see. All the attention goes to (Alex Ovechkin) and (Alexander) Semin, so it's nice to see a hard hat guy like Dave get the winner."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com


Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp