April 23 vs. New York Rangers at Verizon Center
Game 5, Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series (Caps lead, 3-1) Time: 3:00 pm TV: NBC Radio: 1500AM and XM and Capitals Radio Network
New York Rangers (44-33-5 in regular season)
Washington Capitals (48-23-11 in regular season)
A year to the day after they lost a 2-1 home ice decision to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series, the Capitals host the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the 2011 ECQS. Washington has a chance to close out the series on Saturday at Verizon Center in a matinee match against the Rangers.
Over the last five days, the Capitals and Rangers have played just one game in their best-of-seven set. But what a game it was.
New York roared out to a 3-0 lead late in the second period of Wednesday’s Game 4 as the partisan Madison Square Garden crowd roared its approval. But three Washington goals in the third period silenced the throng, and Jason Chimera’s overtime game-winner put the Caps in the exact same spot they were in a year ago, heading home with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to close out their first-round opponent.
Rookie Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth was victimized for two goals in a span of seven seconds in the second period of Game 4 in New York, but he shut the door tightly on the Rangers thereafter, giving his teammates a chance to rally.
“We were lucky in the second period that we had Neuvy,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “because they had eight quality scoring chances in the second period alone. Sometimes great goaltending can skew the way you really think of how well you’ve played. But it was like every game in the series, it was a tough game right to the end.
“There’s very little margin for error in this series. Both teams are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.
“At the same time, it’s not just neutral zone play where they’re dumping it in. I think both teams are being very aggressive, but very conscientious about making mistakes. In the end, it comes down to who makes the last mistake at the wrong time.”
The Rangers faced a must-win situation simply to get into the playoffs two weeks ago. On the final Saturday of the regular season, the Blueshirts were faced with a win-or-go-home situation in a home ice game against division rival New Jersey. New York won that game by a 5-2 count, then gained the eighth seed when Carolina lost to Tampa Bay later that evening.
“They’re going to come out and play hard again,” says Chimera. “It’s been a tight series. They’ve been really good; [New York netminder Henrik] Lundqvist has been good. It’s been back and forth. They’ve worked extremely hard and I wouldn’t expect anything different in Game 5 and we’ve got to come out and match that. If we match it, we’ve got a good chance.”
The Capitals have owned the lead in just one of the four games of this series; two of their three wins have come in overtime. Washington has owned the lead for a grand total of 37:49 in this series while the Rangers have been up for 60:27.
That means that approximately two-thirds of the 291 minutes of hockey in this series to date have been played with the score tied.
“I don’t mind it,” says Neuvirth, of playing in this spotlighted vise-grip of a playoff series. “I think I can handle the pressure and I’ve got no problem with playing under pressure. I think I can handle these situations pretty well. But nothing’s over, and we’ve got to be ready for [Saturday].”
“It’s one of those series that you always think every shift something could happen, something could change the tide,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “There are nerves I think for a lot of guys every time the puck’s in either one of our ends because there have been goals that have bounced in weird, there’s been times when you think you’re going [good], but the other guys are just finding plays, making good plays against you and there you go, it’s in the back of your net.
Although New York hairballed a 3-0 third-period lead to lose Game 4 in excruciating double-overtime fashion, the Caps know the Rangers will come out hard and fast, just as Montreal did in Game 5 last season when it forged a quick 2-0 lead on the Capitals in the first 7:01 of the first frame.
Along with teammates Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Caps right wing Mike Knuble was on the ice for the two first-period Montreal goals last April 23. The trio was victimized for goals against twice within its first four shifts of that game last spring. While Ovechkin and Backstrom will be on the ice for a shot at redemption on Saturday, Knuble will have to settle for watching. An injury has relegated him to spectator status for a second straight game.
“Just playing how we’ve been playing,” offers Knuble, when asked how the Caps can close this series out. “The games are so close. You have to face the fact that the game Saturday is going to be just like – most likely – what the rest of the series has been and be prepared for that. It’s not a team that’s going to roll over and have Game 5. They’re going to fight tooth and nail.
“It’s a great chance for us. You talk about vindication and recovering from the season before, now you’re in the same situation and what are you going to do about it?”
As tight as the series has been, and as crucial as fortunate bounces have become in multiple games, the Caps could just as easily be down 3-1 in the series as up 3-1.
“Both teams are being pretty dangerous out there right now,” says Alzner. “It is tense out there. On the bench, no one really wants to give too much and get too emotional or too down. That last game was a pretty big rollercoaster for everybody, including the fans in that rink there. We’re happy we came out on top, because it would have been real tough to bounce back.”
With their backs against the proverbial wall, New York figures to have amnesia as far as the pain and heartbreak of Game 4 is concerned.
“I guarantee the New York Rangers have forgotten about it,” says Boudreau, “like we forgot about Game 3 and everything is brand new. Everything is just starting brand new, one on one, team vs. team [Saturday].”
“In the playoffs, you have to play the full 60 minutes,” says Caps right wing Matt Bradley. “We’ll definitely have to do that [Saturday] because I think that will be their best game.”