Familiar Territory – The New York Rangers took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between themselves and the Washington Capitals today, jumping out to a 1-0 series lead. This is right where Washington was after the first game of the first round, down a game on the road to a higher seed.
The first 20 minutes of today’s game looked like 20 minutes of hockey from two teams that had just played seven-game series against difficult foes and were coming back on short rest. Two elements were distinctly lacking, room and excitement.
The Rangers and Caps similarly slogged their way past the middle of the second, with Washington having the best chance to draw first blood. The Caps had four power play chances in the first 28 minutes of play, and the last two of those came in short succession, giving Washington an extremely rare (more on that later) two-man advantage for 34 seconds.
Washington could not cash in on any of those extra-man opportunities, the last ones they’d get for the game.
Less than three minutes after the Caps’ last power play expired, it was the Rangers who jumped on top. Artem Anisimov curled around the back of the Washington net and snapped a shot past Caps goaltender Braden Holtby to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 advantage.
When Washington’s Jason Chimera converted a brilliant Brooks Laich feed on a 3-on-2 with 3.5 seconds left in the second period, the Caps seemed to be in great shape. They had drawn even, and they had limited the Rangers to a meager eight shots on net in the game’s first 40 minutes.
The Caps made two mistakes near the midpoint of the third, and the Rangers made them pay for both in a span of just 90 seconds. After failing to score on a rush of their own, the Caps lost track of Rangers rookie Chris Kreider in transition. Kreider got past Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik, and partner Mike Green came back toward the play after first going to the bench for a change. As a result, Kreider got loose and let go of a blast inside the Washington line that beat Holtby and put the Rangers back on top at 2-1 with 13 minutes to play.
Ninety seconds later, the Caps were unable to corral and clear the puck in their end. New York’s Brad Richards won a puck battle along the left wing wall and moved toward the net, unchallenged. He fired five-hole and threaded it through Holtby to complete the day’s scoring.
“[Kreider’s goal] was kind of a breakaway and it was a good shot,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “Greenie wanted to go change, but they made a good play and gave [Kreider] almost a full breakaway. It was a hard shot. [The Richards goal] we didn’t put the puck in the neutral zone and they scored a goal.”
Although they limited the Rangers to just 14 shots on net – a single-game franchise low for shots by a road opponent in Washington’s Stanley Cup playoff history – the Caps squandered that stingy defensive performance in a Game 1 loss.
“We had our chances,” rues Caps coach Dale Hunter. “We didn’t bury them. We hit a few posts. Their goalie was good, and we lost the game.”
New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced, but the Caps made it easy on him, too. They hit three posts and a crossbar on the day, and they didn’t make the 2011-12 Vezina and Hart Trophy finalist work very hard.
“He’s good, but we made him good, too,” laments Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. “We’ve got to create traffic in front of the net, especially when we had that 5-on-3. We’ve got to score on the power play, too.”
Shots Fired – Washington had 49 shot attempts for the game to New York’s 47. The Caps had 18 shots on goal, one more than they had in a 1-0 Game 1 overtime loss to the Bruins in Boston in the first round.
Each team had 15 shots blocked. The Caps missed the net 16 times, including three or four bids that rang the iron behind New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist. New York missed the net 18 times.
New York’s forwards attempted 30 shots on the day, and managed to get only eight of them on net. But three of them went in.
Washington blueliners were able to get only five of their 25 shot tries on the day through to the net.
“We just have to create more opportunities to find a rebound and make some traffic in front of the net,” says Ovechkin. “They play tight, and our defense has lots of space and lots of time to see what happens out there. If we have time to go out there and make traffic, we have to go there. He’s a pretty good goalie. If he sees it, he’s going to save it.”
Speed In The Clutch – Today’s goal was Chimera’s second of the playoffs, and it was similar to his first. Both came off the rush, with the Washington winger using his speed to barrel down the left wing and finish with a tap-in at the far post.
Both of Chimera’s goals also came in the waning seconds of the second period of afternoon games, and both tied the score. Last Sunday in Game 6 against the Bruins at Verizon Center, Chimera converted a feed from Nicklas Backstrom to score with 42 seconds left in the second period and pull the Caps even with Boston at 2-2.
Two Down – It took nearly 500 minutes of postseason hockey, but the Caps finally fell into their first two-goal deficit of the postseason when Richards scored to make it 3-1 at 8:30 of the third period.
New York enjoyed a two-goal lead for 11:30 in today’s game, or nearly four times as long as any team held a two-goal lead (2:54) in the Capitals’ first-round series with the Bruins.
Special Teams – With their 0-for-4 performance in today’s game, the Caps’ power play unit has dipped to 3-for-23 (13%) during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The only teams with fewer power play goals than Washington (Boston, Chicago, San Jose) have already been eliminated.
The Caps were a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill in Saturday’s series opener. They are 25-for-27 (92.6%) on the kill in these playoffs, tops among all 16 postseason entrants.
Rare 5-on-3 – Prior to today’s 5-on-3 power play opportunity, the Capitals had gone 42 straight games without a single two-man power play opportunity.
Washington had just one 5-on-3 power play chance (totaling 19 seconds) in its last 61 games before today.
Big Kid Comes Up Big – The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Kreider is a 20-year-old rookie who joined the Rangers this spring after helping Boston College to the 2012 NCAA Hockey Championship earlier this month.
New York’s first-round pick (19th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Kreider has now scored two goals – both of them game-winners – in his six career Stanley Cup playoff games.
He is just the third Rangers’ player to ever score a goal in Stanley Cup playoff competition before scoring his first regular season NHL goal.
The previous Rangers to score in the playoffs before they scored in the regular season: current Capitals general manager George McPhee and Lauri Korpikoski.
“He’s a good player,” says Hunter of Kreider. “He was a first-round pick. He can skate, and he knows the game. It’s good for him.”
Kreider took seven shots in the game, getting just one on net – five were blocked and one missed. He made that one shot count.
By The Numbers – Each team had a dozen shots on goal at even strength in the game. The Caps outshot New York 6-2 with the man advantage … Karl Alzner led the Caps with 23:33 in ice time and three blocked shots in Game 1 … Alexander Semin had three shots on net to lead the Caps … Backstrom won 10 fo 16 (63%) face-offs and Matt Hendricks won four of six (67%) … Hendricks led the Caps with five hits … New York outhit Washington 35-28. Ryan Callahan led the way for the Rangers with eight hits … Richards led all forwards on both sides with 23:16 in ice time.