Water In The Desert – Caps winger Alexander Semin was the poster boy for Washington’s first-round playoff exit last season. The Caps’ inability to score is what led to their premature departure after taking a 3-1 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series, and Semin went without a goal in the seven-game series despite leading the Caps with 44 shots on goal in the series.
Semin was also held without a marker in the Caps’ final seven games of the 2009 playoffs, so he entered tonight’s Game 1 with the New York Rangers owning an onerous 14-game goal drought.
The drought is no more. Semin lasered home a one-timer from the high slot at 18:24 of overtime to complete a Caps comeback and push Washington to a 2-1 win and a 1-0 lead in their ECQS.
Semin’s overtime game-winner halted a streak of 67 straight shots on net without a goal in Stanley Cup playoff competition.
“We’re not going anywhere without him,” says Caps right winger Mike Knuble of Semin. “That was pretty obvious last year when he had some offensive struggles. But he chipped in on both goals today, and he’s a game-breaker guy. He breaks games for you and you’ve got to have a guy like that going or else you’re going nowhere.”
As for the Rangers, they must be asking themselves, “What drought?” Semin’s last playoff goal before tonight came in Game 7 of the 2009 ECQS between the Caps and the Rangers. Semin now has six goals in eight career postseason games against New York.
Semin’s overtime goal was the first extra-session goal for the Capitals against the Rangers in a Stanley Cup playoff game in more than 20 years. Dino Ciccarelli scored an overtime game-winner vs. New York in Game 5 of the Patrick Division finals on April 11, 1991.
Sticking To The Plan – A significant key to this series for the Capitals is to use their big-bodied forwards to exact a physical toll on the young and somewhat inexperienced New York defense.
“Our fourth line especially is probably our most physical line,” says Knuble, “so they’re out there grinding. Alex and Nick and I like to play in the offensive zone, and we’re strong below the circles, too.
“You just keep going. As a player, you keep going and keep throwing it in their end, make them go back for it and finish what you can.”
The Caps laid 14 hits on the New York defense, and the Rangers’ top tandem of Marc Staal (33:42 in ice time) and Dan Girardi (32:50) were New York’s ice time leaders. Both players were on the ice for both Washington goals, and Staal’s pass up the left wing boards late in overtime was intercepted by Caps center Jason Arnott, who fed Semin perfectly for the game-winner.
That play is one that a fresh and crisp Staal likely wouldn’t make early in the game, so Washington’s continuous work in the offensive zone over the 78-plus minutes played tonight may have had somewhat of a cumulative, draining effect on the New York defense.
“You can see I think in overtime they were a little bit tired,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “We were fresher. They made a couple mistakes in overtime and one mistake cost them a goal.”
Tight Night – Given that Washington finished the regular season fourth in the NHL in goals against and the Rangers fifth, this series figures to be a low scoring set.
Tonight’s game was scoreless after 40 minutes. New York’s Matt Gilroy staked his team to a lead with a one-timer that beat Washington netminder Michal Neuvirth early in the third.
The Capitals hit posts, missed open nets, and otherwise squandered glorious scoring opportunities early in the game, especially in the first period. New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was clearly at the top of his game as well, and tonight’s tilt was beginning to remind more than a few folks in these parts of the last three games of last spring’s series with the Habs.
Shortly after Gilroy’s goal, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau made his first lineup tweak, flipping Brooks Laich and Marco Sturm on the left sides of their respective units.
Just past the midway point of the third, Boudreau moved Semin up to the right side of a line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Mike Knuble moved down to line up with Arnott and Laich.
The Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin trio was on for its second shift when Lundqvist stopped a Semin shot, only to have the puck lay loose in front of him. Ovechkin, who admitted later that he couldn’t see the puck, hammered away until the disc oozed through the New York goalie and into the net.
A video review was required to verify it, but the Caps had the equalizer.
“I’m never confident because people that have followed us would know that every time there’s been one of those,” begins Boudreau, “it’s gone against us somehow, some way. You could tell the puck was in the net but the two things I didn’t know was whether the whistle was blown and whether the net was off from the angle we were looking at the [video scoreboard]. That’s why I was asking the linesman, ‘Did he call it a goal on the ice?’ I think that was an important thing. He came back and said, ‘he called it a goal on the ice. I felt a lot more confident then.”
“Sometimes you need a greasy goal like that. It sparks your team.”
“It looks like the ref is looking to blow the whistle,” says Rangers coach John Tortorella of the play, “but I am not sure what his thinking was. They called it a goal.”
Net Man – Neuvirth stopped 24 of 25 shots he faced to earn the win in his Stanley Cup playoff debut. In the last two springs, Neuvirth was 8-2 in overtime games in Calder Cup playoff games at the AHL level.
“He played great, just like Lundqvist,” says Boudreau. “I thought both goalies were outstanding. That’s how I knew Michal would play.”
“It’s an amazing feeling right now,” says Neuvirth of his first Stanley Cup playoff game. “It’s a big win for our group. It wasn’t an easy game, but we stayed with it. We hit the post a couple times in the first period so I knew right away it wasn’t going to be easy to score on Lundqvist tonight.”
“The NHL is the NHL. It was an unbelievable crowd tonight and I enjoyed the whole game.”
Back In The Saddle – Caps defenseman Mike Green was back in the lineup for the first time since Feb. 25 when he was felled by an elbow to the head from Rangers forward Derek Stepan.
“I thought his first period might have been as good as he’s played in a playoff game,” says Boudreau of Green’s return to the ice. “I thought it was outstanding for a guy that hasn’t played in six weeks to come back in a game like that.”
Green led all Caps defensemen in ice time after the second period, and he finished with 26:30, third among Washington blueliners. He had four shots on goal, blocked four shots and assisted on Ovechkin’s goal.
“I felt great,” says Green. “It’s just one of those things about getting your feel back for the game and your position. But overall I felt good.”
Useless Stat Of The Night – Tonight’s 2-1 overtime win over New York was Washington’s first playoff win by that score since April 28, 2009 when the Caps ousted the Rangers in Game 7 of the 2009 ECQS.
Prior to that, the Caps’ previous playoff win by a 2-1 score also came against New York, way back on April 27, 1990. That one was a series clincher, in overtime, with John Druce (naturally) supplying the game-winner.
Since Druce scored that goal to win for Washington nearly 21 years ago, the Caps have gone 2-15 in playoff games decided by a 2-1 score, with both wins coming against the Rangers. The Capitals are 4-19 all-time in 2-1 hockey games in Stanley Cup play. Three of those wins have come against the Rangers, the other came against the New York Islanders in 1985.
Working Overtime – Tonight’s game marks the Caps’ first Game 1 overtime win since a 5-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils in the Patrick Division Semifinal Series on April 5, 1990.
The Caps have won consecutive overtime playoff games for the first time in 13 years. Washington won Games 3 and 6 of its opening round series with Boston in overtime in 1998.
Game 1 – Tonight’s game marks the sixth time in Washington’s last seven Game 1 situations that the contest has been decided by a single goal.
Washington is now 21-12 all time in Game 1 and it is 14-6 in Game 1 on home ice. The Capitals are just 6-14 all-time in series when they win the first game, however. The last time Washington won Game 1 and went on to win the series was the opening round of the 1998 Stanley Cup playoffs against Boston.
Two more Caps – Eric Fehr and Tom Poti – who were in the lineup for that series opener two years ago are still with the organization but did not suit up for Game 1 of the 2011 ECQS.
Only four members of the Rangers – Brandon Dubinsky, Girardi, Lundqvist and Staal – who dressed for the 2009 series opener were in the lineup again for the Blueshirts tonight.
New York forwards Sean Avery (healthy scratch) and Ryan Callahan (broken ankle) did not suit up tonight but played in that series opener two years ago. Rangers captain Chris Drury was a scratch for Game 1 in the 2009 series, but was in his team’s lineup tonight.
Gilroy Was Here – Playing in the first Stanley Cup playoff game of his NHL career, Rangers defenseman Gilroy made his mark on the game early in the third when he shot a one-timer past Neuvirth to stake New York to a 1-0 lead.
The Ex-Files – Each team had a former member of the opposite team watching the proceedings from the press box. Caps defenseman Tom Poti is a former member of the New York Rangers and Blueshirts blueliner Steve Eminger was drafted and developed in D.C.
By The Numbers – The Capitals outhit the Rangers 35-31 on the night, getting nearly half of those hits (17) in the first period of the game … Caps center Nicklas Backstrom led his team with 28:56 in ice time. Scott Hannan paced Washington defensemen with 28:39 … Each team went 0-for-2 on the power play … Marian Gaborik led New York forwards with 26:17 worth of ice time on the night. Gaborik also led the Rangers with four shots on goal … Laich was 13-for-18 (72%) in the face-off circle, tops on both sides … Ovechkin led the Caps with six shots on net. He also had seven tries blocked and missed twice. Ovechkin led all skaters on both sides with six hits … Brandon Prust led the visitors with five hits … Washington teed up 80 shots (33 on net, 28 blocked and 19 missed) to New York’s 65 (25 on net, 32 blocked and eight missed).