May 9 vs. New York Rangers at Verizon Center
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 6, Eastern Conference semifinal series (Rangers lead series, 3-2)
Two nights ago, the Caps were mere seconds away from finishing off another one-goal win over the Rangers and taking a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal. That precarious lead fell apart late in the game and in excruciating fashion, and the Rangers roared their way to a 3-2 overtime win.
New York now leads the series 3-2 and is a win away from eliminating the Caps and moving to the third round for the first time since 1997.
The Caps nursed a 2-1 lead into the final minute of Game 5 and seemed poised to head home with a series lead of their own. But then a Joel Ward double-minor led to a tying New York power play goal with just 6.6 seconds left in regulation, and the Rangers won it with another extra-man strike just 102 seconds later in overtime.
Now, the Caps must win the next two games to keep their season alive. The first step is winning Game 6 on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.
“It’s frustrating for sure,” says Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik. “But we have to focus on our next game and that’s [Wednesday] night. I think we had our chances, and obviously it is what it is. We know how to play hockey so we have a chance to win the hockey game and that’s what we’re looking forward to [Wednesday] night.”
The Caps are 3-0 in games immediately following overtime losses in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs, and rookie goaltender Braden Holtby has gone 28 starts without losing consecutive starts, a streak that dates back to November of 2010.
“What I learned from this series,” says Hamrlik, “it’s about competing and staying out of the box. [Monday] night, unfortunately we took a bad penalty and it cost us. So we have to stay out of the box. That’s the most important thing.
“I think when we play five-on-five, we have a chance to beat them. We’ve proved it. This series is really tight. We had a good lead; John [Carlson] scored a big goal on the power play. Unfortunately, [the Rangers] were a little bit lucky. But that’s how hockey goes.”
Hamrlik’s point about playing five-on-five hockey is well taken. New York scored three five-on-five goals in the first 60 minutes of this series, but it has managed just four goals in five-on-five play in 307 minutes and 46 seconds since then. The Capitals have outscored the Rangers by a combined 6-4 in five-on-five play during that span.
However, the Rangers have notched four power-play goals and one four-on-four tally in the last four games, outscoring the Caps by a combined 5-3 in those type of goals over that span.
Although the Rangers held a 33-11 advantage in even-strength shots on goal over the Capitals in Monday’s Game 5, many of those shots came from long distance or from poor shooting angles. Washington had the better of the even-strength scoring chances throughout the game, and particularly in the third period.
While clinging to that 2-1 lead in the third period of Game 5, the Caps had several strong scoring chances that might have enabled them to pad their lead, but they had at least three odd-man rushes that didn’t even result in a shot on goal.
Washington won’t have the luxury of missing out on such glorious chances against a goaltender as good as New York’s Henrik Lundqvist in Game 6. The Caps need to bear down and bury those. Lundqvist has allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his 12 playoff starts this spring. Washington is 3-4 when scoring two or fewer goals in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
“As the game wore on, I thought we got better,” says Caps center Brooks Laich of his team’s Game 5 performance. “And even into the third period we had chances. They had more shots, but we might have had the better scoring chances with Nicky [Backstrom’s breakaway]. Alex [Ovechkin] and Alex [Semin] had a 2-on-1 and then we had a 3-on-1 that I made a bad play on. We’re going to commit to defense again and try to get the offense, and when we do get those chances try to capitalize on them.”
Washington has shown resilience in these playoffs and in this series – in particular when they bounced back to win Game 4 after suffering a triple-overtime loss in Game 3 on home ice – and the Caps will need to display that quality again on Wednesday in order to force a deciding Game 7 in New York on Saturday.
Eleven of the 12 games the Caps have played in the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs have been decided by a single goal, and half of those contests have required overtime. The Caps are 6-5 in one-goal games in the playoffs and they’re 2-4 in overtime tilts.
The Caps didn’t play their best game of the series on Monday, but New York might have.
“We don’t change,” says Laich. “We keep moving forward. We would have liked to have the game, sure. But I thought we played a good game and we were six seconds away from winning. We just did some video today and we’ll rebound and play good on [Wednesday].”
Neither team has been able to win consecutive games in this series, and the Caps have yet to lose consecutive contests in the 2012 playoffs. Washington has won two straight just once this spring – Games 4 and 5 in its first-round series against Boston – but it must do so now to keep its Cup dream alive.
“Two in a row, we have to win that to win the series, obviously,” says Laich. “But we just have to win one game [Wednesday]. Prepare for Game 6 and then after that we’ll look at Game 7. But we’re going to approach [Wednesday’s] game the same way we approached Game 4. We lost Game 3 and we were a desperate, hungry bunch in Game 4, the same way they approached Game 5. They came out and they were buzzing us early in the hockey game [Monday].
“You push and the other team pushes back. That’s what happens when you have two very evenly matched teams. We’re going to look to push back [Wednesday].”
They’ll have to push pretty hard. As much as the Rangers enjoy playing in front of the home folks at Madison Square Garden, they have no interest in hosting a Game 7 on Saturday. It’s up to the Caps to turn the momentum and the pressure around in Wednesday’s Game 6.