Beagle's dogged determination bolstering Capitals

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally
Center playing big role against Bruins' top line, on penalty kill

Capitals center Jay Beagle played himself into a prominent position with his team weeks ago after finally shaking post-concussion symptoms. Now he has become a force in the postseason, too.

Beagle has effectively anchored Washington's third line throughout its Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series with the Boston Bruins. Often matched against the opposition's top forwards, Beagle and his linemates have been on the ice for just one of Boston's 14 goals through the first six games. That was the game-winner in overtime of Game 1 on April 12 at TD Garden when Chris Kelly scored. Otherwise, Beagle's record is pristine.

"With the opportunity to play more, it's a chance to step up and just try to come out and play your best and just really try and help my team win every night," Beagle said.

That's a modest view and one Beagle's teammates are more willing to expand upon. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Alaska Anchorage, Beagle, 26, appeared in a combined 41 games over the previous three seasons as he tried to establish himself as an NHL regular. He was a healthy scratch throughout last spring's postseason but came into camp after a summer of training as a favorite to win a roster spot as a fourth-line winger.

"Even last year I remember my conversation with the coaching staff when the season ended, and I said that one of the guys that really impressed me and I think can play on this team is Jay Beagle," teammate Brooks Laich said.

Laich spent some time on a line with Beagle during the regular season in 2010-11. He has watched as Beagle returned from an Oct. 13 concussion, played his way back into shape and then took advantage of injuries and ineffectiveness by others to earn a crack at a third-line center spot.

"[Beagle] doesn't cheat. He's one of the guys that's gonna give you every ounce that he's got every single game," Laich said. "He's been amazing for us. He's done a great job on the defensive side of the puck, and then he has abilities to score goals, too. He's been an unsung hero for us."

Beagle was twice robbed by Bruins goalie Tim Thomas early in the series, including in overtime of Game 2, before scoring a critical goal in Game 5, an eventual 4-3 Washington win. Beagle has become a key part of the Caps' penalty-kill unit, which has fought off 18 of 20 Boston power plays in the series.

More impressive, he has been a revelation in the faceoff circle. In three previous seasons, Beagle had taken 149 draws in his career. This season, in 41 regular-season games, he took 215 and won 124 (57.7 percent). That has carried over to the playoffs against elite competition. Beagle has won 53 of 86 faceoffs against the Bruins, including 13 of 21 against Boston center Patrice Bergeron, who was second in the league in faceoff percentage during the regular season (59.3 percent). Beagle's 61.6 percent postseason mark ranked third among all NHL players with at least 66 draws entering play Monday.

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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Brian McNally

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner