Get Me Rewrite – Before the opening face-off of Tuesday’s clash between the Capitals and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the story was the return of Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin after missing six straight games with an injury, more contests than he had missed in his first four seasons combined. By the time Tuesday’s tilt was in the books, however, a couple of lesser lights had taken the spotlight from their returning teammate.
Washington won the game, 4-2. It got great effort up and down the roster, but two players sacrificed significant blood and sweat so that the Caps could bring home two points from this two-game road trip.
The Caps fell behind early as the Rangers stormed the Washington end and grabbed a quick 1-0 lead on Marian Gaborik’s goal at 1:16 of the first. New York was buzzing early on, but Washington was able to avoid falling into a deeper hole.
“They were flying for the first 10 minutes,” says Caps defenseman Brian Pothier. “We expected that; we knew they were going to do that. But it’s hard to contain. They have so much speed. With their coach, we knew they were going to come hard and they did.”
The Caps settled down a bit, but still seemed a bit sleepy until Matt Bradley aroused them midway through the first.
Bradley squared off with New York’s Aaron Voros in a lengthy, entertaining and mostly even bout that left Bradley with a lot of blood on his face and Voros with a lot of blood on his right hand. Bradley got stitched up and was back on the ice by the beginning of the second frame.
Energized by their teammate’s efforts, the Caps evened the score on an Ovechkin power play goal in the first. Washington gained a 2-1 lead on Brooks Laich’s power play goal in the second, but the Rangers came back and squared it in the third on Gaborik’s second of the night, also on the power play.
Before Gaborik’s second goal, Caps left wing Quintin Laing laid out to block a Michal Roszival shot, but took the puck hard off the left side of his face. Laing was helped off the ice, and it was learned later that he has a broken jaw and will miss several weeks.
The performances of Bradley and Laing were honored after the game by their teammates.
“He could have shut it down,” says Laich of Bradley. “His night could have been over and he comes back and scores a huge goal in the third period. Everybody is going to talk about Ovechkin’s return but I think we should scrap that headline. Tonight’s game was about Matt Bradley and Quintin Laing.”
Asked about his own goal, Laich wouldn’t discuss it.
“I don’t care about my goal,” he says. “It was a greasy goal. There are other things to talk about tonight: the job Quintin Laing did and the job Matt Bradley did. I don’t know what to say about it. I haven’t seen stuff like that in a long time.
“Quintin Laing blocks one with his face. It’s humbling. Guys are blown away in the locker room. The locker room is quiet. Just a tremendous amount of respect for that guy. The Ovechkins and Backstroms and Greens are the backbone of this team. But the Bradleys and the Laings and those guys are the guts. And that’s I think why we win.”
Laing was left behind in New York, marking the second time in eight months the Caps left the gritty winger behind for medical treatment while they flew off to another city without him. Laing suffered a torn spleen in a game against the Lightning and was left in a Tampa hospital while the Caps continued on to Carolina.”
Bradley, who scored twice against New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the Caps and Rangers last spring, used his speed to get past one defender and his strength to ward off another. Then he snapped a sharp wrist shot that beat Lundqvist for the game-winner with just under five minutes remaining.
“The job Brads did in the first period,” says Laich, “we’re not really in the hockey game at that point. And he gets us going. After that, Ovi scores a goal.
“If you asked Ovi, if you ask Nicky, Greenie, they have a tremendous amount of respect for those guys. And when they do the job like that, they’re the first guys on the bench to stand up and give them a pat on the back. They’re the first guys in the locker room to go shake their hand and say, ‘Great job. You helped us win tonight.’”
Pothier iced the contest with an empty-netter. Dating back to last season, each of Pothier’s last four goals has been scored in the third period of a game. Pothier was also effusive in his praise of Bradley.
“I thought he was our MVP of the night,” says Pothier. “He was our best player. He had a fight that changed the momentum of the game, he scores the goal that seals the deal for us and every time he had the puck he was doing something with it. And when he didn’t he was hitting somebody. I thought he was great tonight.”
Hardhat – Tonight’s tilt produced a few obvious hardhat candidates from the visiting side. The bucket was issued to Bradley, but he graciously passed it off to Laing. The sacrifices both of those players made in the name of two points will not soon be forgotten by their teammates or coaches.
“I don’t know what to say,” says a clearly humbled Laich. “I haven’t seen an effort like Lainger’s and Brads’ tonight. I haven’t seen that in a long time. And they’re both a treat to play with.”
John Erskine also turned in a hardhat worthy performance, making Ranger pest Sean Avery pay the price for parking in front of the Washington net, and, on one occasion in the third dropping Avery after the New York winger punched Varlamov.
“Great job,” says Pothier of Erskine’s performance. “Avery is a good player. He does his job really well. And Ersk does a good job against him. It’s always a nice battle and I get to be on the ice and kind of watch it. It’s always fun.”
He’s Baaaack – There was a great deal of anticipation over Ovechkin’s return to the lineup after an absence of just over two weeks during which he missed half a dozen games. Ovechkin skated 19:23 in his return, about three and a half minutes shy of what has generally constituted a “normal” night for him since the start of the 2007-08 season.
Physically, Ovechkin appeared to be in top form. He led the Caps with seven hits in the game and was flying all night, hurtling his body with his customary fervor. Despite spending most of his power play ice time down low in front of the net instead of at his usual point position, Ovechkin was on the ice for 5:48 of the Caps’ 6:52 in power play time on the evening.
If there was an area of Ovechkin’s game that appeared to have some rust, it might have been his radar. Ovechkin’s only shot on goal for the night was a bomb from center point that beat Lundqvist clean for the Caps’ first goal of the game. But two other Ovi shot tries were blocked and four more bids missed altogether.
No matter. He made his presence felt every time he was on the ice and showed no visible, lingering after-effects of the upper body strain that sidelined him. He was named the game’s No. 1 star.
A Dozen For Varly – Caps goaltender Semyon Varlamov made 18 saves to run his career regular season record to 12-1-1. In doing so, he became just the sixth goalie in NHL history to win 12 of his first 14 decisions in the league.
The others: Patrick Lalime (12-0-2), Ken Dryden (12-0-2), Wayne Thomas (12-1-1), Bob Froese (12-1-1) and Sean Burke (12-2-0).
Flash Point – Tomas Fleischmann notched an assist on Ovechkin’s first-period goal to run his scoring streak to nine straight games (seven goals, four assists). It is the longest streak of Fleischmann’s career, the longest run by a Capital this season and it’s tied for the fourth-longest in the NHL in 2009-10.
Help From Hershey – Last February, the Caps recalled center Jay Beagle from Hershey and he played in his first NHL game at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 11. On Tuesday, the Caps recalled Beagle to help fill in a depleted Washington lineup and he delivered.
Beagle set up Bradley’s game-winning goal on Tuesday, earning his first NHL point in the process. He was also instrumental in a key cycling shift midway through the third period, a shift that appeared to give Washington some life and momentum after New York had evened the score.
Fastest First – Marian Gaborik’s goal at 1:16 of the first period in tonight’s game was the fastest first goal of the game the Caps have surrendered this season. Washington allowed a goal at 1:02 of the first period to the Islanders’ Matt Moulson last Wednesday night, but that goal came after Alexander Semin had already staked Washington to a 1-0 lead just eight seconds after the opening face-off.
Letterman – With his former college and Swedish Elite League teammate Mike Knuble on the sidelines with a broken finger, veteran Caps center Brendan Morrison had his sweater adorned with the alternate captain’s “A” on Tuesday in New York.
Century City – Tuesday’s win was the 100th victory of Boudreau’s NHL coaching career and it came in his 164th game (the exact equivalent of two full NHL Seasons) behind the bench. Boudreau is the fourth-fastest coach ever to reach that plateau.
The only coaches to reach 100 wins faster were Boston’s Tom Johnson (138 games), Philadelphia’s Mike Keenan (152 games), and Calgary’s Terry Crisp (158 games). Boudreau slots into that list just ahead of Brent Sutter (167 games with New Jersey and Calgary) and Marc Crawford (168 games with Quebec-Colorado).
In this salary cap era, Johnson’s record is likely to stand up for a long, long time.
Cap Killer – Gaborik has scored four of the Rangers’ six goals against Washington this season. Prior to this season, Gaborik had zero career goals in seven career games against the Capitals.
House of Horrors – The Caps have not had a great deal of success at Madison Square Garden in recent seasons. New York came into Tuesday’s game having taken at least a point in each of the Caps’ last nine visits. The Rangers were 8-0-1 in the Caps previous nine regular season trips to Manhattan. Washington’s only win in that span was a 5-4 overtime triumph last Dec. 23, a game in which the Caps came back from a 4-0 deficit to win, 5-4.
Tuesday’s win over the Rangers was Washington’s first regulation, regular season victory at the Garden in more than five years. The last such win for the Capitals came on Jan. 28, 2004, just five days after Washington swapped right wing Jaromir Jagr to New York. The Caps prevailed 2-1 on that night.
Even Up No More – The Rangers came into tonight’s game all even against their former Patrick Division rivals from the nation’s capital. New York stood 80-80-18-5 in the first 183 NHL meetings between New York and Washington.
By The Numbers – Rookie Caps centers Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle each went a perfect 4-0 in the face-off dot in the first period. The Caps were 13-8 (62%) as a team in the first … Both teams had more shots that were blocked and that missed the net than they had shots on goal … The Caps scored multiple power-play goals in a game for the fifth time this season on Tuesday. Washington is 4-0-1 in those games … One game after the Caps registered just eight hits in a 5-2 loss at New Jersey and had no player with more than one hit on the night, Washington combined for 37 hits against the Rangers. Fourteen players recorded at least one hit in the game and 11 players had crooked numbers in the hit column.
1 - 0 NYR
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 WSH
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 WSH
4 - 2 WSH