Lesson Learned – A year to the day after a lethargic first 10 minutes cost them a series win in a 2-1 Game 5 loss against the Montreal Canadiens at Verizon Center, the Capitals firmly clamped both hands on the collective throat of the New York Rangers in Saturday’s Game 5. Washington squeezed the life out of the Blueshirts with a 3-1 win, advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinal Series and ending New York’s season in the process.
“I thought we came out like a ball of fire,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson. “In front of our fans, they’ve been so good to us in the playoffs and the regular season. It was good to get out to a lead and not sit on it but keep pushing forward. I thought we did a great job of that.”
Washington now has a few days to rest. Each of the other three Eastern Conference series are guaranteed to go at least six games, and there are four different possibilities as a second-round opponent for Washington going into Sunday’s NHL activity.
New York had very little going on in the first period. The Rangers’ best scoring chance might have come on their first shift of the first period. Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth was down on the ice with the puck loose in front of him, but Washington forward Brooks Laich corralled it and cleared.
Rangers defenseman Bryan McCabe tripped Caps center Marcus Johansson along the right wing wall at 5:42, giving Washington its first power play of the afternoon.
Just 17 seconds after McCabe was seated, Caps defenseman Mike Green beat Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to give the home team a 1-0 lead.
Lundqvist and the Rangers managed to keep the hole from getting deeper, escaping the first down just a goal at 1-0 despite the Capitals teeing up 36 first-period shots to 12 shot tries for the Rangers.
“We wanted to go after them,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of Washington’s first-period strategy. “Instead of sitting back, we wanted to play with the lead. We were as aggressive as we’ve been offensively in the first period, rather than letting the pace of game [dictate how we played].”
New York regrouped a bit during the first intermission, but to no avail. The Caps kept the Blueshirts at bay, and added to their lead when Alex Ovechkin took a pass from Scott Hannan and wheeled his way around and past Rangers defenseman Marc Staal before delivering a high backhander past Lundqvist.
That would be all the offense the Capitals would require on this day.
Johansson set up an Alexander Semin goal on a 2-on-1 late in the third period to seal the deal. Johansson’s four points in the 2011 playoffs rank second only to San Jose’s Logan Couture (five) among NHL rookies.
Rangers coach John Tortorella pulled out all the stops, pulling Lundqvist with more than three minutes left in the third. It was only then that New York was able to end a pair of notably lengthy offensive droughts on a Wojtek Wolski goal at 19:28 of the third period.
New York scored twice in a span of seven seconds late in the third period of Wednesday’s Game 4 at Madison Square Garden to take a 3-0 lead in that game and inch closer to evening the series at 2-2. Who knew then that the Blueshirts wouldn’t score again until Wolski’s meaningless goal in the final minute of Game 5?
The Wolski goal ended Neuvirth’s shutout spell at 118:17 over the Rangers since Brandon Dubinsky’s goal at 13:47 of the second of Game 4.
Wolski’s goal was just the second for the Rangers in the three games on Verizon Center ice in this series; Neuvirth had held the Rangers off the scoresheet for 155:56 of consecutive hockey dating back to Matt Gilroy’s goal – the first goal for either team in the series – in the third period of Game 1.
“They had the puck,” observes Tortorella of the Caps. “We had problems getting the puck away from them. You’ve got to give them some credit.”
Man Down – Green left the game after taking a Matt Gilroy shot off his helmet in the first period. After the game, Boudreau said Green was okay and could have returned to the game had the Caps needed him to do so.
Green spent most of the remainder of the game on the bench and occasionally came out to skate a bit during television timeouts.
Best Players –Boudreau talked a few days ago about the need for his team’s best players to be its best players. Today, they were.
Ovechkin had a goal and an assist and was a force all afternoon.
“Today was his best game, easily,” says Boudreau of his captain. “And I mean complete. The other games he’s had flashes of brilliance and then he’s been not so visible. Today, I thought he was very visible. He was on the ice doing the right things. I thought his goal was spectacular.”
All three Washington goals were supplied by “Young Guns.” Neuvirth was the game’s first star, followed by Ovechkin as the second and Laich as the third.
“Ovi scores a really nice goal and I thought Michal was great in net all night,” says Laich. “If we were ever in trouble, he made the save and then covered it up. Nicky [Backstrom] plays a lot of minutes. I thought the guys in the back end did a great job picking Greenie up when he was gone.
“It’s a well-deserved win by the guys.”
Ovechkin finished the series with three goals and six points in the five games. He now has 23 goals and 23 assists in 33 career Stanley Cup playoff games.
First in First – Green’s goal was the first first-period tally of the series. The ECQS between the Caps and the Rangers marks just the third time in NHL history that a Stanley Cup playoff series has gone as many as four games without a first period goal.
The Rangers and Montreal Maroons played four games without scoring in the first frame in 1928 and Anaheim and New Jersey did so in 2003.
The last team to go five games without allowing a first-period goal was the 2007 Anaheim Ducks, who went on to claim the Stanley Cup that spring.
What King? – Heading into this series, many (mostly those in the New York media) were trumpeting the Rangers’ Lundqvist as having a decided advantage over rookie Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
Neuvirth outdueled King Henrik in this series, leaving the heralded New York netminder with a 15-20 career record in Stanley Cup playoff games, five straight losses in postseason overtime games, three straight series losses and just two wins in six career series.
After Neuvirth was nicked for a short side power play goal and a late game-winner in Game 3, more than one member of the New York media speculated that those goals would turn the tide for the Rangers against the rookie Washington goaltender.
New York sent big Brian Boyle (6-foot-7, 244 pounds) at Neuvirth twice in the first period of Game 4 for the only two goaltender interference calls Boyle has incurred in 87 games this season, but that also failed to rattle the young netminder’s cage.
“He didn’t give them a chance,” says Boudreau of Neuvirth. “He was great. And then he’d cover pucks up, he wouldn’t allow rebounds and then we’d get chances to change [personnel] and slow it down when we wanted to do that.
“A lot of people don’t know his name too much outside of our circles, but he’s a heck of a goalie.”
Boyle, Dubinsky, Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan all scored 20 or more goals for New York during the regular season, as did Ryan Callahan who was injured and didn’t play in the postseason.
New York’s four 20-goal men combined for three goals on 56 shots on goal in the series, giving Neuvirth a .946 save pct. against the Rangers’ top snipers.
Lundqvist was good (1-4, 2.25 GAA, .917 save pct.). Neuvirth (4-1, 1.38, .946) was a lot better.
Seven Up – Beginning with Alexander Semin’s goal early in the third period of Game 4, the Caps broke through offensively and clearly took ownership of what had been a tight, low-scoring series. Washington scored the next seven straight goals of the series from that point forward, sending the Rangers home for the summer in the process.
Game 5 – Washington’s Game 5 ouster of the Rangers marks just the second time in franchise history the Caps have bounced a team in a five-game series (they’ve never swept a best-of-seven set), and
Washington is now 9-19 all-time in Game 5 and is 3-7 in games in which it had a chance to end a series in Game 5.
The last time the Capitals won a series in five games was the 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinal series against Ottawa.
Not Up In Here – The Capitals and the Detroit Red Wings are the only two teams that have yet to lose on home ice in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Washington limited the Rangers to just two goals in the three games played on Verizon Center ice in the series for a stingy 0.61 goals against average on home ice.
Special Delivery -- New York managed just one power play goal in the five games, going 1-for-20 against the vaunted Washington penalty killing outfit. The Caps operated at a kill rate of 95% in the series against New York.
Washington’s power play was an efficient 3-for-16 (18.8%) in the series, scoring goals at crucial points along the way.
By The Numbers – Carlson led the Caps with 26:31 in ice time and five blocked shots … Staal paced the Rangers with 22:51 and six blocked shots.
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