Economy – Caps captain Alex Ovechkin didn’t get as much ice time as he does most nights in Monday’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with the New York Rangers. In fact, his 13:36 for the night was the lowest of his 46-game Stanley Cup playoff career.
Ovechkin made the most of his limited time, firing seven shots on net – the most of any skater on either side – and supplying the game-breaking and game-winning power play strike with 7:27 left in the third period. That goal gave the Caps a 3-2 win and enabled Washington to even the series at 1-1.
Game 3 is at Verizon Center on Wednesday night.
Washington got off to a somewhat choppy start in Monday’s game. New York’s forecheck was relentless for much of the first frame, as the Rangers were hell bent on getting the game’s first goal and retaining home ice advantage in the series.
The Blueshirts were tenacious in the corners and along the boards in the Washington zone, and they made life miserable for the Caps’ defense. The Rangers outhit the Caps 21-10 in the first period; the two teams were virtually even in that department the rest of the way. Ten of New York’s first-period hits were leveled against Washington defensemen.
It was Washington’s fourth line that eventually turned the tide.
Caps right wing Joel Ward picked off an errant Stu Bickel pass in the Washington end and skated the puck through neutral ice on a 3-on-2 rush. Ward gained the line, then passed to Keith Aucoin in the high slot. Aucoin went right back to Ward, who one-timed a perfect feed to Mike Knuble, who was parked at the doorstep on the right post. Knuble tapped it in to give the Caps a 1-0 lead at 12:20 of the first.
Just under five minutes later, Washington’s third line scored to give the Caps just their second two-goal lead of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. Jason Chimera’s speed accounted for the goal; he beat New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist to a puck behind the Rangers’ net and flipped it in front. Matt Hendricks took a shot at the open net, and Chimera finished by tapping it in from the same spot where Knuble had scored earlier.
Getting that early lead was big for Washington in enemy territory in Game 2.
“There was just a little more urgency today,” says Knuble. “We got two. One of them was a little misplay by the goalie, and then a bouncing puck we turned into a three-on-one. I feel like it really took the building down a lot. They were starting to come on and they were buzzing a little bit and they had really changed the game at that point. It settled things down for us.”
The Caps owned a brief (2:54) two-goal lead in Game 5 of their first-round series with Boston. Tonight’s two-goal advantage didn’t even last that long.
With Washington’s John Carlson and New York’s Marc Staal in the box for coincidental minors late in the first, the Caps were again victimized for a 4-on-4 goal on a pretty passing sequence from Marian Gaborik to Brad Richards. Richards’ goal came in the final minute of the frame, and it meant the Caps were up 2-1 instead of 2-0 after the first 20 minutes of play.
After a scoreless second, the Rangers pulled even on a Ryan Callahan power-play goal at 6:58 of the third. Callahan’s goal was just the third power-play strike surrendered by Washington in nine playoff games this spring.
The Caps had two power plays in short succession in the middle of the third. They failed on the first, but needed just four seconds of Richards’ holding minor to cash in for the winner. Nicklas Backstrom won the offensive zone draw back to Ovechkin, who skated the puck to center point and fired. Caps winger Troy Brouwer screened Lundqvist in front, and the puck had eyes.
“Nicky wins a face-off and I kind of turned and felt like I was going to have some pressure,” recounts Ovechkin. “But when I turned I saw nobody come to me. Brouwsie did a great job going to the front of the net. It was kind of a lucky shot.”
The Caps dodged a couple of bullets – Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto hit a pair of posts in the third – and Caps goalie Braden Holtby stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced to help the Caps win a squeaker.
“You battle back as hard as we did to tie the game,” laments Rangers coach John Tortorella, “you can’t take four minutes in penalties. You’re not going to win a hockey game that way.”
“We really wanted to push back and get the win,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “We weren’t pleased with our effort the last game, and we wanted to push back and definitely get a split at least leaving here. But they’re going to raise their play another level and we have to do the same on home ice.”
Occupy – After winning the offensive zone draw that led to Ovechkin’s game-winner, Backstrom managed to occupy New York pivot Brian Boyle for just a second, long enough to leave Ovechkin’s shooting lane open.
“First I saw it, then I didn’t see it, then I saw it,” said Lundqvist of Ovechkin’s goal. “It was a hard shot. It was a good shot. Unfortunately, someone got tied up and he got a free lane. It’s the wrong guy to give that opportunity.”
Backstrom was the guy responsible for someone getting “tied up.”
“I was just trying to win the draw there,” says Backstrom. “I was just trying to go with my normal technique, faster than him. I was lucky there. I got it back, there was a good screen in front of the net from Brouwer. And then we all know [Ovechkin] has a pretty good wrist shot.”
Rebound – After struggling in Game 1 of the series, Holtby had a strong rebound game against the Rangers on Monday.
“Holtby made huge saves in the third and in the second as well,” says Ovechkin. “He kept us in the game. Everybody knows they have pretty good offensive weapons out there and they use them.”
Holtby has now gone 25 straight starts in the NHL – including nine in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs – without suffering back-to-back setbacks.
“It was good,” says Holtby. “It was a big character win. I think we played definitely more our style of game. We got some huge games from a couple of guys, and we came out on top.
Turning Point – With Washington holding a 1-0 lead late in the first period, the Rangers were whistled for a bench minor for too many men on the ice at 14:53. New York sent rookie Chris Kreider to serve the penalty.
Just as Kreider was being sprung from the box, Carlson was caught a bit flat-footed at the New York line. The swift-footed Kreider collected the puck and barreled through the neutral zone and in alone on Holtby. He fired but the Caps goaltender shrugged the puck to the corner to keep the Rangers from drawing even.
Seconds later, the Caps cashed in on a Lundqvist miscue at the other end of the ice when Chimera scored to make it 2-0. Holtby’s huge save had sparked a two-goal swing in the game.
“I just tried to be patient on the breakaway. In the past, I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself in making moves first. I just tried to be patient. I waited him out and he tried to go five-hole. I made a save and Chimmer showed us his fastest guy in the world [speed] there. That’s a huge play for us by a veteran guy, and a great character player.”
Lunch Buckets – In each of Washington’s last two wins, its third and fourth lines have contributed crucial goals. Hendricks and Ward scored the only goals in the Caps’ 2-1 win over Boston in the deciding Game 7 last Wednesday, and Knuble and Chimera’s goals tonight came with those units on the ice.
Those goals aren’t necessarily by design, says Knuble.
“At times when we haven’t scored,” begins the veteran right wing, “we’ve been able to play in their end and kind of rag the puck around and make guys play in their own end. I think that’s your job. We’re not going out there thinking we’re going to score, and that’s a huge bonus when we do. Our job is to tilt the ice. And I think we’ve been pretty clear about that.”
Timely Power – Washington is now 4-for-26 (15.4%) on the power play in the playoffs this spring. With four extra-man tallies in nine games, the Caps have certainly not been prolific in that department. But the four goals they’ve gotten have been big ones.
The first of the four was the game’s first goal in Game 3 of the first-round series with the Bruins, a game the Caps eventually lost. Each of the next three power play goals has proven to be the game-winning goal, and not one of them has been a “cheap” game-winner. All three of those power play goals – from Alexander Semin, Troy Brouwer and Ovechkin – were tie-breaking tallies that turned out to also be the final goals scored in those games.
“We’re scoring them at the right time, I think,” says Backstrom. “We’ve got to keep practicing them, too. The power play is such a big key I think, and you can get confidence from that. We’ve got to keep working on that. Hopefully we can keep scoring there.”
Streak Stopper – Tonight’s win halted the Capitals’ six-game losing streak in second-round Stanley Cup playoff games.
By The Numbers – Washington blocked 24 shots to New York's 14 … Carlson led the Caps with 23:43 in ice time on the night … Jay Beagle led all Washington forwards with 19:58 in ice time and paced the team with five hits … Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on net. He also had three shot tries blocked … Roman Hamrlik led the Caps with five blocked shots … Laich won nine of 13 (69%) draws on the night … Callahan led the Rangers with eight hits … Three New York defensemen – Staal (25:25), Ryan McDonagh (25:30) and Del Zotto (25:08) played at least 25 minutes … Four Rangers – Bickel, John Mitchell, Artem Anisimov and Mike Rupp – played less than five minutes on the night.