No Sweep For You – Going into their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal Series with the Washington Capitals, the New York Rangers knew they’d have to win at least one game in Washington in order to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers came home for Sunday’s Game 3 in an 0-2 hole in the series, but it’s said that you’re never truly in trouble in a series until you lose on home ice.
Brandon Dubinsky’s goal at 18:21 of the third period broke a 2-2 tie and made winners of the Rangers as New York took a 3-2 decision over Washington. The Capitals now lead the series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Wednesday night at Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden.
“They played hard, and we played hard, too,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “It was kind of a tight game. We knew the first two periods that the first 10 minutes of each period they were going to come hard, and we tried to handle it. The results were not on our side.”
“They didn’t do anything different,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “They just worked hard.”
For the third time in as many games in this series, the two teams played a scoreless first period. Washington never played three straight scoreless first periods with its opponents at any point during the 82 games of the 2010-11 regular season.
Only two of the game’s five goals were scored while both teams were playing at full and even strength, and Dubinsky’s game-winner came while the two clubs were skating 4-on-4.
New York’s moribund power play finally showed signs of life at 5:30 of the second period when Erik Christensen rifled a deep angle shot past Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. It was the Blueshirts’ first power play goal since April 3.
Dating back to the regular season, the Rangers are now 2-for-38 (10.5%) on the power play in their last dozen games.
The Rangers enjoyed seven extra-man advantages to Washington’s three in Sunday’s game. New York had a pair of two-man advantages totaling 1:34 and spent 10:33 of the game on the power play.
“We took so many penalties in the neutral zone,” notess Ovechkin. “I think we have to realize we can’t do that. Just forget about it and be ready for the next game.”
Washington scored one of its goals on the power play, too. Mike Knuble’s game-tying tally at 14:48 of the third came with the Caps playing a man to the good. The Capitals had the extra man for 4:28 on the afternoon.
The Caps have now won the first two games of six best-of-seven playoff series during their 36-year history in the league. They haven’t won Game 3 in any of those series and have never swept a best-of-seven series.
“It’s one game,” says Knuble. “We’re still leading the series. Every game has been close. It’s almost a coin flip out there today and it came up for them. You have to give them credit; they just ground out the game and popped one in the last two minutes.
“We’ve got some time here, a couple of days. We’ll rest, get back at it and be ready to play here again Wednesday.”
Line Dancing – At Saturday’s Capitals practice, center Jason Arnott skated with Ovechkin and Knuble while Nicklas Backstrom skated with Marco Sturm and Alexander Semin. Essentially, Arnott and Backstrom switched places from what the norm had been for most of the first two games of the series.
Boudreau downplayed the switch on Saturday, saying the two pivots had simply put on the wrong jerseys.
At the outset of Game 3, Backstrom was centering for Ovechkin and Knuble while Arnott was pivoting for Sturm and Semin. At one point early in the second, Arnott was centering for Ovechkin and Semin.
Immediately after Christensen’s goal at 5:30, Boudreau came back with Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin. And soon after the Rangers’ successive series of power play chances in the middle of the second had passed, Boudreau did go with the lines he had on the ice at Saturday’s practice.
“Sometimes when it doesn’t work, you need to change it up a little bit,” says Backstrom. “We got that goal there in the second period. Sometimes you have to get things going.”
As has been the case with the Caps’ bench boss’ button-pushing so many times this season, the move paid dividends quickly.
Ovechkin scored at the 19-minute mark of the second to tie the game, getting a primary assist from Arnott on the pair’s third shift together.
Big Stage – Ovechkin has six goals and a dozen points in a dozen regular season games at Madison Square Garden. With a goal and an assist in Sunday’s game, Ovechkin now has three goals and six points in four postseason games at MSG.
Clutch – Arnott has tallied a total of 10 points (five goals, five assists) in his 14 games (11 regular season, three postseason) and nine of those 10 points has come on a lead-changing goal. His assist today was his first road point as a member of the Capitals.
Today's game was the first regulation setback the Caps have suffered with Arnott in their lineup (12-1-1).
Ref Down – Referee Chris Rooney was injured early in the second period of Sunday’s game and the contest was delayed for several minutes while Rooney was helped off the ice and standby referee Frederick L’Ecuyer was pressed into service.
Special Teams Festival – Only 42:17 of Sunday’s 60 minutes of hockey was played with five skaters on the ice for both teams. That took several players (those who aren’t featured on either special teams unit) out of the flow of the game and skewed the ice time numbers a bit.
New York defenseman Bryan McCabe played more on the power play (9:01) than he did at even-strength (8:49). The Rangers’ Wojtek Wolski logged 7:56 on the game, with 3:39 of that coming with new York was on the power play.
The Capitals spent 6:10 of the second period shorthanded. Matt Bradley played less than two minutes in the second period and just 7:58 on the game.
“It was kind of a weird first 30 minutes for guys,” says Knuble. “It was tough to get some flow going. Guys were in the box and not everybody can get on the ice at that point. So it was kind of a strange game.”
“You can’t take seven penalties,” says Boudreau, “be shorthanded seven times. You knew they were going to be antagonistic, but we’ve just got to learn how to take it. This is the time of year you take it. In game 10 [of the regular season], you don’t take it.
“I think after every time that there was a scrum in front of our net or something in front of our net, [the Rangers] were hitting our goalie. [The officials] kept warning them not to do it, not to do it. They kept doing it and nothing was done, so they kept doing it. It’s pretty simple.”
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears evened up their first-round Calder Cup playoff series at one game apiece with the Charlotte Checkers at Giant Center on Sunday afternoon with a 4-2 win.
Patrick McNeill, Andrew Kozek, Brian Willsie and Sheldon Souray (shorthanded) scored for the Bears. Rookie defenseman Dmitry Orlov had an assist and was plus-4 on the day. Souray was plus-3 and Keith Aucoin had a pair of assists.
Hershey goaltender Braden Holtby made 22 saves in the nets to earn the victory.
The series now shifts to Charlotte for Game 3 on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
By The Numbers – New York was credited with 41 hits to Washington’s 29 … Alexander Semin led the Caps with six shots on goal … Ovechkin teed up seven shots on the day, but had just one shot on goal, the one he scored on. The Caps’ captain had four shots blocked and he missed the net twice … Ovechkin led the Caps with five hits while Dubinsky paced the Rangers with seven … Dan Girardi led the Rangers with five blocked shots, accounting for nearly half of his team’s dozen blocks on the day … Rangers captain Chris Drury took 19 face-offs in his 22 shifts that totaled just 7:58 in ice time. Drury’s average of just 21 seconds per shift was by far the lowest of the 36 skaters in Sunday’s game. Drury did was hit was called up to do, though, winning 15 of 19 (79%) draws he took on the afternoon … New York’s Brian Boyle led his team with nine shots on goal.