No team has given the Washington Capitals more trouble this season than the New York Rangers. Those 6-0 and 7-0 shutouts pushed some Caps fans into spiritual desolation, broke up several marriages, and probably killed a house cat or two. Fitting then that the Caps and Rags should meet in this first round of the playoffs. You know that old Klingon proverb, right? Revenge is a dish best served by two guys from Russia named Alex.
We were scoreless through two periods when Rangers newbie Matt Gilroy caught a pass from Brandon Prust and beat Michal Neuvirth. With only six minutes and change left in regulation, Alex Ovechkin’s repeated swats forced the puck past Henrik Lundqvist’s pads. And then, after nearly nineteen minutes of overtime hockey and with fatigue setting in, Jason Arnott intercepted a bad clear from Marc Staal and set up Alex Semin for the game-winner. It took damn near eighty minutes, but the good guys pulled it out: the Caps beat the Rangers 2-1 (OT) and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
- Tip your hat to bench boss Bruce Boudreau, who managed shifts in this marathon match capably. No Capitals player clocked over 29 minutes (but Nicky Backstrom came darn close with 28:56) . That might have made the difference when you consider it was the gaffe of New York’s own ice-leader, Marc Staal (33:48), that led to the OTGWG.
- Thanks in large part to a dominant first period, the Capitals led scoring chances 21 to 14.
- The Rangers recovered to put some rubber against Michal Neuvirth eventually, but he turned away nearly all comers as if this weren’t his first post-season NHL appearance. 24 saves. That’s certainly good enough for another start if we’re still talking about such things.
- Neuvirth speaking to CSN about the win: “We just had fun out there.” Now isn’t that a much better credo than “Stay Angry”? Joy leads to success more than crankiness does, and I’m saying this as a professional cranky person.
- Mike Green‘s first game since the late eighties was a success, but he was on ice for half of the Rangers’ scoring chances and the Rags’ only goal. Still, @GreenLife52 at 100% health in the postseason is a sight we’ve not seen before now. Look out for this guy on Friday.
- Brooks Laich went 13-for-18 on the faceoff, but he was perfect until I jinxed him. My bad, Brooksy. Owe you a coke.
- There are few players that combine size and grace like Jason Chimera. If only he could add shooting accuracy to his arsenal. Chimmer had three pristine scoring chances: each missed by a country mile.
- The “Crash the net” refrain isn’t just something cute and gimmicky to shout; it’s a battle plan. NYR goalie Henrik Lundqvist is apparently immune to long bombs, so close combat was the only way to win this one. Alex Ovechkin‘s contribution to the history of crashed nets was a greasy, smash-mouth, ugly mess– but didn’t it just bring a tear to your eye? The video review and delay– they were just theatrics to enhance the story you’ll be telling all day tomorrow.
- When Ovechkin nailed Brandon Prust up high after that goal, disaster loomed. But these aren’t the Capitals of old, and the penalty-kill unit has learned one important new skill: THE SHUTDOWN.
- And then there’s Alex Semin. Bad Sasha, Good Sasha. He committed a hooking penalty so typical, we might think he were caricaturizing himself– like he had been watching old tapes of Andy Kaufmanor something. But under the kindly tutelage of Jason Arnott, Alex Semin found redemption. That game-winning goal was his first post-season marker in two playoff series, since the last time the Caps met the Rangers (which was back in the early eighties).
There’s so much more to talk about from this super-sized game: Nicky Backstrom’s ever-lengthening drought, Jason Arnott’s underrated forecheck skills, how John Erskine is liable to kill a human being on national television at some point during this series– but we’re gonna leave it there for now. After all, it’s going to be a loooong post-season.
The Capitals played 80 minutes of gritty, character-revealing hockey. They didn’t get lazy and reckless when they reached exhaustion. Their best players were their best players (whatever that means), and they secured a meaningful victory. I’ve just marked the first of many tallies on the big board. 15 to go.
The Caps now lead the quarterfinal series 1-0, and the Red Army has another battle scheduled for Friday night. Russia’s finest expats will be there, in heart of the nation’s capital, flanked by their brosephs and cheered on by 20,000 unshaven crazy people.
Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg.