Power Surge – The Washington Capitals have scored a total of just five power play goals in their 11 postseason games this spring, contrast that to 2008 when they were 8-for-35 (22.7%) with the extra man in their first-round playoffs series – a loss in seven games – with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Mike Green’s power-play goal with 5:48 left in the third period was the difference in Saturday’s colossal 3-2 win over the New York Rangers, a victory that evened the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the two teams at two games apiece. Green’s goal was the fifth of those power-play strikes this spring, and it came in Washington’s sixth playoff win in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Green’s goal was also the fourth game-winning power-play goal the Caps have scored in those six wins. All four came in the 39th minute of the game or later – three of them in the third period – and all four were the last goal scored in the game.
“I knew that I had some time to wind up and shoot,” says Green of the game-winner. “Their forwards collapsed to the other side and Dennis [Wideman] made a great play over. I just had to wait out that [defenseman] for the block. He came across, I just held onto it and was lucky enough to get it through.”
The Caps and Rangers traded goals in Saturday’s Game 4, some 60 hours after New York had prevailed in a 2-1 triple-overtime win in Wednesday’s Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead. If there were any lingering after-effects from that Wednesday loss, the Caps didn’t show it. They roared out of the gates in the first on Saturday, outshooting the Rangers 14-3 and blocking nine New York shots.
“It’s mentally important I think,” says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom of the win, “Especially after that long game the other night. We came back. We started off aggressive I think, and it’s real important that we got this win.”
Washington grabbed a 1-0 lead on Alex Ovechkin’s fourth goal of the playoffs at 12:43 of the first. Ovechkin fired a Chris Kreider giveaway high to the glove side on New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist, and the puck glanced off his glove and fell behind him into the net.
The Rangers answered early in the second when a Dan Girardi point shot got through the Washington defense and came to Rangers forward Artem Anisimov, who had snuck behind the Caps’ defense. Anisimov calmly put the puck into a yawning cage behind goaltender Braden Holtby, who had gone down to play the Girardi shot.
Washington bounced back at 11:54 of the second on a brilliant individual effort from Backstrom. Protecting the puck in the right wing corner of the Rangers’ zone, Backstrom fought off Anisimov by dropping him to the ice, then he deflected a half-hearted check from New York blueliner Anton Stralman. At that point, Backstrom sent the puck behind the New York net and went to the slot.
No one picked him up, and seconds later Backstrom fired high to the glove side on Lundqvist, beating his fellow Swede off a strong feed from Jason Chimera.
New York’s Marian Gaborik – who scored the triple-overtime game-winner on Wednesday – tied the score late in the second when the Caps were lulled into thinking an icing call was impending. Anisimov got to the puck first, and threw it in front where Gaborik scored from virtually the same spot where he had struck in Game 3.
The two sides grinded their way through the third, and it seemed like another overtime session might be in the offing. But New York’s Carl Hagelin was whistled for slashing Caps defenseman John Carlson at the Washington line. Twenty-seven seconds later, Green took a pass from Dennis Wideman and drilled it past Lundqvist for what would prove to be the game-winning tally.
Holtby needed to make only 18 saves to earn the win.
Washington’s skilled players scored the goals and forged a one-goal lead for the team three times.
“We needed that tonight,” says Holtby of the contributions from the Caps’ star players. “In the past, we’ve kind of been relying on our character guys. It’s great to see those guys have a good game, especially Greenie. He’s been working hard and doing all the little things right. To see him rewarded on the stats sheet is huge.”
As was the case in the Capitals’ first-round series against Boston, Washington won Game 4 to even the series, force a Game 6 in the District and shrink the set to a best-of-three.
Game 5 is in New York on Monday night.
Redemption – The Caps’ checking line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer and its top defensive duo of John Carlson and Karl Alzner have all performed at the top of their respective games throughout the 11 games of the postseason to date. Those five players were on the ice for Gaborik’s game-winner on Wednesday, but that goal was more due to excellent execution on New York’s part than on a mistake or lack of coverage on Washington’s part.
Still, it stuck in the craw of those players that they hadn’t been able to prevent that goal. On Saturday, they gained a measure of redemption.
From the time Green’s goal gave the Caps a 3-2 lead with 5:48 remaining, Hendricks played 3:24, Beagle played 3:16, and Brouwer skated 3:10. Alzner logged 4:17 in the game’s final 5:48 and Carlson 3:42.
Hendricks blocked a shot and won three draws in that span. Beagle won two defensive zone draws in the final minute.
“It was just a little bit of redemption,” says Beagle of being a key factor in protecting Washington’s late lead today. “That third overtime goal [on Wednesday], I took it upon myself. To be out there at the end and get the win for the guys was a great feeling.”
With the game on the line, New York had two shots on net in the final 5:48 and the Rangers had another six shot bids blocked.
“We’re grinding everything out right now,” says Holtby, “as the last five minutes or so showed. We had a goal tonight and we accomplished it.”
Just like in Game 4 of the Boston series, Hunter’s skilled players forged a lead, and his foot soldiers protected it to even the series.
“Everybody has their roles and you’ve seen the guys blocking shots,” says the Caps coach. “The big guns scored some big goals and the foot soldiers blocked shots. We played good defense.”
Still Going – Holtby has extended his streak to 27 straight starts without losing back-to-back NHL starts in the playoffs and the regular season. The streak dates back to November of 2010, weeks after he made his NHL debut.
Getting In The Way – The Rangers were fourth in the league with 1,338 blocked shots during the regular season while the Caps were close behind, sixth with 1,302.
Washington blocked 26 shots today – eight more than Holtby saved – while New York blocked seven.
Coming into this series, the Rangers led all NHL teams in postseason blocked shots. As of today, the Capitals have overtaken them by a 244-232 margin in that department.
Young Guns Blazing – Today marked the 48th postseason game in the Capitals’ “Young Guns” era, since the foursome of Backstrom, Green, Ovechkin and Alexander Semin played in their first NHL Stanley Cup playoff game on the same night in April, 2008.
Today marked the eighth time in those 48 games that Washington has gotten as many as three goals from the Young Guns in the same playoff game. The Caps are 7-1 in those games.
Today marked the third time in those 48 games that any three different Young Guns have scored in the same playoff game. The Caps are 3-0 in those games.
“Young Guns, yeah,” says Green sarcastically. “We’re not so young anymore. We needed to step up. It was important that we got a win tonight in our building and we’re the guys who need to start scoring.”
First Strike – For the first time since Game 3 of their first-round series with the Boston Bruins, the Capitals scored the game’s first goal in a home game on Saturday afternoon. The Caps are now 6-1 in games in which they score the first goal in the 2012 playoffs. They're 0-4 when the opposition strikes first.
Team Win – Six different Caps were involved in the scoring of Washington’s three goals today. Eleven different players blocked at least one shot, and 11 players delivered at least one hit. Washington win 30 of the 55 face-offs on the day, with Hendricks winning all nine he took to lead the way.
“The wagons got the job done with blocked shots at the end,” says Green. “Just a great team effort.”
Positive Touch – Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik was a plus-2 on Saturday. He is now a team-leading plus-8 in 11 postseason games, tied for tops in the NHL with the Kings’ Dustin Brown and the Predators’ Francois Bouillon.
Making The Most Of The Least – Caps right wing Joel Ward picked up an assist on Backstrom’s goal, his fifth point (one goal, four assists) of the postseason.
Ward has averaged 10:45 per game in ice time, last among the 16 Capitals that have played in at least 10 playoff games this spring. But Ward’s total of five points is tied for third on the team in the playoffs.
Six Pack – Green became the sixth different Capital to supply a game-winning goal this spring, joining Backstrom, Semin, Brouwer, Ward and Ovechkin on that list.
Climbing The Ladder – Ovechkin’s goal was the 29th of his Stanley Cup playoff career and it came in his 48th postseason game. He is now one goal behind Peter Bondra (30 goals in 73 games) for the all-time franchise lead in that department.
Ovechkin now has 57 career playoff points (29 goals, 28 assists), one more than Bondra had. Ovechkin ranks third on Washington’s all-time playoff scoring list behind Hunter (72 points in 100 games) and Mike Ridley (60 points in 76 games).
Special Delivery – Both Washington and New York had two power play chances in Saturday’s game. The Caps fired seven shots on net with the extra man, with Green scoring on the last of those. The Rangers had just two power play shots on goal.
In the first of their power play chances, the Caps had six shots on net and made 17 offensive-zone passes. Only Lundqvist’s stellar work in the crease kept them from finding the range.
“We’re trying to get pucks to the net more than usual,” says Hunter of the Washington power play. “Tonight we only had two [chances] but we worked it around and had some good scoring chances on it.”
The Capitals are now 2-for-12 and the Rangers 2-for-13 on the power play in this series.
Easing Off – In Game 2 of this series, New York defensemen Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal each played at least 25 minutes. In Wednesday’s marathon game, each of those three and Girardi skated at least 43 minutes.
Coming into Saturday’s Game 4, both Girardi and McDonagh were averaging better than 28 minutes a night in the postseason while Staal was at 25:34 and Del Zotto at 23:14. Fifth defenseman Stralman was at 17 minutes while No. 6 Stu Bickel was at 4:35. Bickel played just three shifts – none of them after the second period – in Wednesday’s 114-minute, 14-second affair.
Rangers coach John Tortorella used Stralman for 17:55 and Bickel for 7:02 in Saturday’s game. It was the second-highest ice time Bickel has had in 11 games in these playoffs and the third highest for Stralman.
McDonagh played 21:54, his lowest figure of the postseason. Girardi played 22:46, his second-lowest total of the postseason.
By The Numbers – Alzner led the Capitals in ice time with 22:09 … Ovechkin and Semin led the way with four shots on net each … Jeff Schultz led the Caps with nine blocked shots in 14:25 of ice time … Semin led the Caps with 10 shot attempts … The Rangers outhit the Caps 33-24 … Washington had 17 giveaways to New York’s six.