The Washington Capitals beat the defending champion Boston Bruins in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs with great defense and goaltending. They didn't score a lot, but they scored enough.
While Braden Holtby was the breakout star for Washington, Joel Ward was the Game 7 hero in overtime and Alex Ovechkin drew plenty of attention for his seven-contest war with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, someone else was quietly the team's best two-way player for most of the series.
Alexander Semin has typically only received attention in the playoffs for what he wasn't doing -- he didn't score a goal in Washington's second-round loss to Pittsburgh in 2009 and followed that up with an 0-for-44 shooting percentage in an upset loss to Montreal the following year.
Semin was solid during the team's 2011 playoff run, but the series against the Bruins might have been his best work in the postseason since the first round in 2008 against Philadelphia. He led the Capitals with three goals against Boston, but he also had a strong series at the defensive end of the ice.
Dale Hunter's Capitals are clearly a defense-first club now, and it was Semin's line, with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson, that was able to strike a balance between creating scoring chances and playing sound defense.
Should Hunter continue with the current setup, Ovechkin will likely see a lot of the New York Rangers' top defensemen, particularly Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who were among the League's best at neutralizing top competition this season. The line with Backstrom and Semin would again be tasked with winning the battle against one of New York's other defense pairings.
Backstrom and Ovechkin have spent most of the regular season playing together since the Swedish center arrived in 2007-08, but in nearly every postseason former coach Bruce Boudreau made the switch and put him with Semin. Hunter began this postseason with them together, and they have connected again.
Another big reason why Semin played so well against the Bruins was his discipline. He has a penchant for taking bad penalties at the worst times, typically in the offensive zone. Semin had only two penalties against Boston, and the Capitals will need him to continue on good behavior.
Ovechkin and Holtby will have the spotlight on them again in the second round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but whether or not this group of Capitals can reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in five tries could hinge on how well Semin is able to supplement the team's efforts at both ends of the ice.