That’s A Wrap – The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers traded wins in their 2012 Eastern Conference semifinal series. New York won the odd-numbered games and the Caps the even-numbered contests. The Rangers finished the Caps on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, winning a 2-1 decision in Game 7.
The Rangers move on to face the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference final series while Washington now faces its off-season and starts looking ahead to the 2012 NHL Draft and the 2012-13 campaign.
“The effort was there,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “It’s hard right now to say something. All of the guys worked hard. I don’t know what to say right now. We just lost the series. It’s a great group of guys. Everybody fights and everybody works hard. We had pretty good momentum in the second period but we didn’t use it. And we lose.”
“I thought we should have won,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “We didn’t play like we should have won, I don’t think. We definitely didn’t play our best game. We didn’t have enough fight, enough grit. Didn’t battle for pucks enough. We had a power play that was awful. It’s really too bad that in a game of this magnitude, we stunk the bed pretty much. It was not good enough for us.”
New York scored on its first shot of the game, a Brad Richards one-timer from the left circle at 1:32 of the first period, and the Rangers never trailed the rest of the way.
The Caps had difficulty getting their shot attempts through to New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist all night, but especially early and late in the game. Already facing an early deficit, the Caps managed to get just two of their first 11 shot attempts of the game on goal.
Washington had chances in the second, but Lundqvist poke-checked Alexnder Semin on a breakaway and flashed his right pad to deny Mike Knuble on the doorstep. The Caps had a sustained stretch of offensive zone pressure in the second, but were never quite able to generate a strong enough chance – or second chance – to beat Lundqvist.
For the first time in their 14 games played in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Caps went into the third period trailing. But they were only down by a single goal, and they were playing against a New York team that was an unfathomable 0-3 in games in which it had led after 40 minutes.
As close as the game was, and with their season on the line, the Caps simply couldn’t muster enough offense in the game’s final 20 minutes to get the job done.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin had two strong chances in the third, but missed the net both times. He missed by inches low to the far side after Nicklas Backstrom won an offensive zone draw with 13:47 left. Minutes later, Matt Hendricks forced a turnover at the New York line and passed to Semin on the far wing. Semin hit Ovechkin with a feed in the high slot, but the captain’s slapper from 36 feet was nowhere near the mark.
Less than half a minute after that second Ovechkin miss, Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto scored to make it 2-0. That tally came just past the midway mark of the third.
With 9:17 left, the Caps were once again only down by a goal.
Seconds later, the Caps got the opportunity they needed. New York’s Ruslan Fedotenko was whistled for a delay of game (puck over the glass) infraction, and Washington’s power play – fifth best in the NHL in the 2012 playoffs coming into the game – had its first chance of the evening.
Although Washington had the fewest power play chances per game of any of the 16 playoff entrants this spring, the Caps’ power play had chimed in with several key goals late in contests. On this night, the Washington extra-man unit had nothing. They were out of synch and completely lacking luster.
With 22 seconds remaining in the lone Washington power play of the night, Caps center Nicklas Backstrom took an offensive zone slashing call that abbreviated the team’s best chance for an equalizer. Washington’s power play produced three giveaways and not a single shot attempt, let alone a shot on goal.
“We had a bit of momentum at that point but we weren’t able to get anything on that power play,” laments Laich. “But still, when that was done we went shorthanded but after that there was still time on the clock where we could get our goalie out and get a sixth attacker. We just weren’t able to get a goal.”
With the game and their season on the line in the third, and needing just a goal for all but 38 seconds of that time, the Caps managed just four shots on goal while New York had 11. Worse, the Rangers had 19 shot attempts to a mere 11 for the Capitals in the final frame. The Caps had managed to tee up at least 20 shots in each of the game’s first two periods.
From the time Hamrlik scored to make it a 2-1 game – a span of 9:17 – the Caps took a total of just four shots, getting two on net. Hendricks got a 42-foot slapper on Lundqvist with 6:34 remaining – a shot that came while Washington was shorthanded – and Semin had a 64-foot wrist-shot on the New York net with 32 seconds remaining. Two other shot tries – from Alzner and John Carlson – were blocked.
“[Lundqvist] was pretty solid tonight,” says Brouwer. “He made big saves for his club, timely saves. We had some good pressure; we had a lot of good shots and a lot of good looks and weren’t able to get by him.
“We had another good push in the third. I know we didn’t have a lot of shots in the third, but we still had a lot of good opportunities. It is what it is.”
The Caps went out with a whimper, and finished the playoffs 0-6 in games in which they gave up the first goal.
Caps goalie Braden Holtby deserved a better fate. He was strong again, stopping 29 of the 31 shots he faced and giving his team a chance to win as he did in all 14 postseason games.
“I’m obviously disappointed,” says Holtby, who allowed two or fewer goals in nine of those 14 games, including five of seven against New York. “We really did believe in here that we had the team to do it all. You look at it, we gave ourselves a great chance. It’s a tough loss. What we can take out of it is that New York is a very good team and we didn’t leave anything on the table.”
Washington won three 2-1 hockey games in its first-round series with the Boston Bruins, including the deciding Game 7 at TD Garden. The Caps were just 1-2 in the three 2-1 games in the series against New York. Washington was unable to close out what should have been a 2-1 win in Game 5. The Rangers scored a power play goal with 7.6 seconds left in regulation and tallied again with the extra man early in overtime of that crucial contest to steal a 3-2 win and a 3-2 lead in the series.
“You think you could have won,” says Knuble. “You think you were right there. You really go home and look in the mirror. Certain times, you get beat in a playoff series and you look in the mirror and you can’t fool yourself. You didn’t have a chance to win that series, ultimately.
“I think our players should be very proud of our effort. We were able to get over the hump against Boston, just couldn’t do it tonight. It was a great run for us and I think all our players should be very proud.”
There were times this season when it seemed unlikely the Caps would even get to the playoffs, and yet they managed to get within a couple of goals of their first trip to the conference final in 14 years. But more was expected of this team when the voyage started last September, and that’s what sticks with Alzner.
“I’m going to view it as an underachieve season in my opinion,” he says. “I know a lot of people don’t feel the same way. The group was extremely good. We were a very good team. A lot of skill, but a good team.
“We didn’t show it during the regular season, but it only mattered come this time, the playoffs. We started playing really well and probably had our worst game in our Game 7, which is very, very unfortunate. We’re probably going to view it as a failure, just because we didn’t do what we thought we could do.”
A Month In The Sun – The Caps’ 2012 playoff run began exactly a month ago in Boston, with a 1-0 overtime loss to the Bruins. The Caps played a total of 14 games in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, going 7-7. Thirteen of those 14 games were decided by the thinnest of possible margins, one goal.
Washington scored 29 goals, and allowed 30.
Somewhat remarkably, the Caps are exiting despite never having lost consecutive games at any point during the playoffs. Washington won consecutive games just once, when it triumphed in Games 4 and 5 of its first-round series with the Bruins.
“It’s tough,” says Laich. “It’s tough to score. You ask [the Rangers] and they would say the same thing. It’s tough to score. It was a defensive series, the same way the first series was and the same way this series was.
“I think you have to play that way to win. I really do. We’ve shot the lights out for three or four years in the past and we haven’t gotten anywhere. This year I think our identity is a lot more conducive to winning what we want to win. That’s why it’s maybe a little more disappointing.”
Start Me Up – For the second straight game, the home team scored on its first shot on goal of the game. Ovechkin scored a power play goal to give the Caps a 1-0 lead they did not relinquish at 1:28 of the first period in Wednesday’s Game 6 at Verizon Center. Richards’ goal came at the 1:32 mark tonight.
Five-on-Five – New York came into Saturday’s Game 7 with just four goals in five-on-five play over the last 367 minutes and 47 seconds of hockey, dating back to the start of Game 2. Both of New York’s Game 7 strikes came in five-on-five play.
The King – Prior to tonight, Lundqvist had lost two previous playoff series to the Capitals, and he was 0-4 in four separate chances to eliminate the Caps from the postseason, including Game 6 of this series.
Lundqvist has now delivered the Rangers to the third round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. New York had not advanced to the conference final since 1997.
By The Numbers – Carlson led the Caps with 24:14 in ice time … Semin led the way with four shots on net … Ovechkin and Hendricks had four hits to lead Washington … Hamrlik had three blocked shots to top the Capitals … Laich won 11 of the 19 draws (58%) he took … Half of the Caps’ total of six giveaways on the night came during the 1:38 in which they enjoyed the man advantage … Marian Gaborik led the Rangers with six shots on net … Del Zotto led the Blueshirts with eight hits … Marc Staal paced the Rangers with five blocked shots … Ryan McDonagh led New York with 29:37 in ice time.