May 7 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 7:30 pm TV: NBCSN Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 3 p.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 3 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (42-32-8), 92 points
New York Rangers (51-24-7), 109 points
Game 5, Eastern Conference semifinal series (Series is even, 2-2)
Four games into the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers, the set is all even. The two teams split the first two games in New York, and they split the last two games in Washington. With the series now down to a best-of-three set, the two clubs are set to do battle again in New York for Game 5 on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
After the Rangers won a grueling, triple-overtime affair by a 2-1 count on Wednesday night, the Caps drew even in the series with a 3-2 win on Saturday. Washington scored the game’s first goal when Alex Ovechkin scored past the midpoint of the first period, and the two teams traded tallies the rest of the way.
Nicklas Backstrom scored for Washington in the second period, and Mike Green won it for the Capitals with 5:48 left in the third. After three of Washington’s big offensive guns struck for the first time in the same game in the 2012 playoffs to give the Caps a lead, coach Dale Hunter entrusted the finish to his foot soldiers, who were more than up to the task.
“Everybody is battling out there,” says Hunter. “[Saturday] we got some big goals from our big guys, and we need that. And we got shot-blocking from the guys and good defensive play and our [defensemen] are playing [well]. That’s what it takes to win; it takes the whole team. You always need your foot soldiers to score big goals and they’ve been doing that. That’s how you win in the playoffs.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby made 18 stops and the Caps combined to block another 26 New York shot bids in Saturday’s win. From the time that Green scored, the Rangers fired eight shot attempts. Only two got through to Holtby, the other six were blocked in front.
“Those are important minutes for guys like us and our role on this team and what we do,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks, who was on the ice for more than half of the 5:48 that remained when Green scored the go-ahead goal.”To get out there and solidify the win along with our defensive core and Holtsy, it’s a great feeling. It’s a great feeling to know that you did your job, you played your role well and it pays off at the end of the game when you’re rewarded with that ice time.”
Holtby has now gone 27 straight starts without losing successive starts, dating back to November of 2010.
“He’s mentally tough,” says Hunter of Holtby. “To play goal and play at this level you have to be. He’s young still, and he’s confident. He’s mentally tough, that’s why he can do what he can do.”
Green’s game-winner came on the power play, and it was just the Capitals’ fifth power-play goal in 11 games in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. But four of those power play strikes have been game-winners. All four came in the 39th minute of the game or later and all four were the final goal of the game.
Among the 16 playoff teams, the Caps rank eighth in power play efficiency with a success rate of 16.1%. Four of the seven teams in front of Washington on that list have already been eliminated from the postseason.
The Caps only had two power play chances in Saturday’s Game 4, but they had six shots on net and numerous chances on their first extra-man opportunity, and then Green cashed in just 27 seconds into the second one.
“It’s a reward for better work on the power play,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “The game before, we did some things that were all right on the power play. But our power play [on Saturday], you could tell from the first power play we had in the game that it was sharp. The passes were direct and there were chances and shots. That first power play looked really sharp. And then we got another one, and we got a goal. It’s a result of better work on the power play.”
Washington also scored the game’s first goal in Saturday’s Game 3, raising its record to 6-1 in games in which it scores first and 2-3 in games played at Verizon Center. The Caps are 0-4 when they give up the game’s first goal and 4-2 on the road in the playoffs this spring.
“I think that’s been our goal every game,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson, “to try to jump out and get the momentum whether we’re at home or on the road and obviously to try to get the first goal. We executed that part of the game plan and everything else just fell into place.”
The Caps have not had an easy time of things offensively in this series. They’ve scored only eight goals in the four games in this series against New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist, a finalist for both the Vezina and Hart Trophies for 2011-12, is second in the NHL with a 1.68 GAA and a .940 save pct. in 11 postseason games. He has surrendered a total of just 12 goals and has allowed two or fewer tallies in seven of those 11 games.
On the other side of the ledger the Caps have permitted just nine goals in four games with the Rangers and just 24 goals in 11 playoff games to date this spring. The Caps have not been able to completely bottle up New York’s top two offensive talents.
Marian Gaborik has had a point in all four games, and he has scored in each of the last two. Gaborik supplied the game-winner in New York’s triple-overtime triumph in Game 3. Like Gaborik, Brad Richards has two goals and two assists in the series.
Washington has been effective at getting in New York’s shooting lanes and blocking shots. In two of the four games in the series to date – including Game 4 – the Caps blocked more shots than the Rangers managed to put on Holtby. Thus far in the series, the Rangers have a total of 111 shots on goal while Washington has blocked 105 intended New York shots.