April 15 vs. New York Rangers at Verizon Center
Game 2, Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series (Caps lead, 1-0) Time: 7:30 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM, 1350AM, 96.5FM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 pm on washingtoncaps.com
New York Rangers (44-33-5 in regular season)
Washington Capitals (48-23-11 in regular season)
Two nights after taking 2-1 overtime decision in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series with the New York Rangers, the Capitals host the Blueshirts in Game 2 on Friday at Verizon Center.
Washington came out strong in the first period of the series opener, but New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist was more than up to the task himself. Lundqvist made some stellar stops, and the Caps also rang a couple shots off the iron behind him.
The Rangers responded better in the second frame, but the contest stayed scoreless into the third.
Making his Stanley Cup playoff debut, Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced to earn his first NHL postseason victory.
New York’s Matt Gilroy – also making his Stanley Cup playoff debut – put the Blueshirts in front when he beat Neuvirth at 1:56 of the third. It took Alex Ovechkin’s lunch bucket goal – it looked as if he jimmied the puck through Lundqvist with a crowbar – late in the third to send the game into the extra session.
Although they squandered some scoring chances and fell behind 1-0 in the third, the Capitals are generally happy with their opening game performance. They should be. They controlled the play for the most part, limited scoring chances effectively, used their big bodies to wear down the Rangers’ defense, and blocked more shots (32) than the Rangers managed to get on net.
While the Rangers leaned heavily on their top defensive duo of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, the Caps spread the minutes around more evenly among their six defensemen, and especially among their top five.
Staal skated 33:48 on the night and Girardi got 32:50 worth of ice time. Scott Hannan paced the Caps at 28:39, and each of Washington’s top five defensemen in terms of ice time logged at least 23:42.
“I thought our forwards did a great job of coming back hard,” says Hannan. “Always having a high guy and reading the rush well. And our D did a good job of standing up. When we had to, we blocked shots. We got in front of them when shots came from the point or came down the wall. And when [Neuvirth] had to make a stop, he did.”
The Rangers defense blocked 12 shots while the six Washington blueliners blocked 24.
“It was a good team effort,” says Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz. “It was a good group effort blocking shots and sacrificing the body. As a group I thought we played well in sticking together and keeping tight gaps, really limiting their time and space in the neutral zone.”
At the other end of the ice, the Caps were successful in getting pucks deep and wearing down the New York defense, half of which was tasting postseason play for the first time at the NHL level.
“It’s territorial,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble. “We want to play in their end. You could tell what they were doing; they want to cycle the puck. Get it, just it in our end and try to cycle it around our net. But we played very well in front coming back in front of our net as a group, creating turnovers and going he other way.
“I thought at times the game was pretty wide open, especially in the second period. There was some back and forth play and we haven’t played that style of game lately. I think we did what we needed to do, just played our style this year.”
While Washington can take comfort in having the played the style of game it wanted to play in Game 1 and – more importantly, of course – coming away with a victory, New York must now make adjustments.
The Rangers have to find a way to generate more scoring chances and to get more shots through to Neuvirth.
New York and the Capitals were both 0-for-2 on the power play in the series opener. Neither team was particularly prolific with the extra man during the regular season, but Washington ended the campaign on a bit of a roll (5-for-10, 50%) with the extra man in its final four games.
The same can’t be said of the Rangers. Including Game 1 of the current series, New York is 1-for-29 (3.4%) with the man advantage in its last 10 games. Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan scored 10 of his team’s 49 power play goals on the season, but Callahan is sidelined with a broken ankle. His absence leaves Marian Gaborik (seven power play goals) as New York’s top power play goal getter in the lineup.
The Rangers practiced on Thursday at Verizon Center, and New York bench boss John Tortorella juggled his forward lines in an effort to generate more offense. New York scored 17 goals in its four regular season meetings with Washington this season, including a 6-0 win over the Capitals at Verizon Center on Feb. 25.
After that loss, the Caps were successful in clamping down defensively. Washington allowed two or fewer goals in 14 of its final 20 games of the regular season.
New York will attempt again on Friday to wrest away home ice from the Capitals, and Washington knows it will have to at least replicate its Wednesday night performance in order to take a series lead to Manhattan for Sunday’s Game 3.
“The series is going to get harder and harder every game we go in,” says Hannan. “We know that. We’ve got to refocus here. That’s one win, but we’ve got to win four. That’s the game plan here; we’ve got to refocus, look at some of the stuff we did [Wednesday] night and work through that [Friday] night.”