Actor Michael Douglas takes in the game with his daughter Carys (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett)

Sigh. (Photo credit: Kathy Willens)

This could be the pivotal game in the series. Up 2-0 Washington had the chance to all but put the Rangers away. But all it took to derail those plans, however, was one bad bounce off Karl Alzner’s shoulder.

The first period was scoreless and fairly even with Caps holding a 5-4 advantage in scoring chances. Despite not having a lead after 20 minutes of play the frame had to be considered a positive for Washington after killing off New York’s one and a half minute five-on-three power play late.

The Rangers opened the scoring at 5:30 in the second period when Erik Christensen threaded the needle, firing a sharp-angle wrister from the corner over Michal Neuvirth’s shoulder on the man-advantage. The Capitals remained down by one until Bruce Boudreau juggled the lines, putting Alex Ovechkin, Jason Arnott and Mike Knuble together. It would pay dividends just minutes later when Arnott fired a shot from the corner before Ovechkin potted it home to tie the game.

Eight minutes into the third, Vinny Prospal gave New York a 2-1 advantage, putting the rebound from Eric Marc Staal’s blast from the point into the back of the net. But when in comes to scoring gritty goals in front of the net, no one can outdo Knuuuuuuuble, as he whacked home the loose puck after Nicklas Backstrom’s one-time rocket on the power play. You might want to stop reading now.

With just 1:39 remaining in the game Brandon Dubinsky fired shot on Neuvirth, hitting Alzner. Before Neuvirth could react, six ounces of vulcanized rubber were in the back of the net. The Czech netminder hung his head in dejection and Ovechkin lay face down on the ice. Rangers shock Caps, 3-2.

  • The biggest key of the game was obviously all of the penalties called against the Capitals. The Rangers were awarded seven power plays — the Capitals would only receive three — and went to a two-man advantage twice. When Bruce Boudreau was interviewed during a break of play in the second period by NBC’s Darren Pang, the frustrated coach told the former NHL goalie, “We have to stay out of the penalty box. Though those are some pretty ticky-tack calls for a playoff game.” And he was right. While New York was getting away with some rather unsportsmanlike plays, Washington was getting called for some questionable infractions. The normally reserved Nicklas Backstrom told the media after the game that, “it wasn’t me, it was the ref” regarding his third period penalty. The calls kept the Capitals best players off the ice and it kept them from finding their offensive mojo.
  • The Rangers game plan Friday was to finish every check and rub out any Caps player that they could, including targeting Mike Green’s up high. That didn’t work, so today they tried to do anything and everything they could to get into Michal Neuvirth’s head. The lowlights were Brandon Prust’s bump of Neuvirth as he skated to the other side of the ice during a stoppage in play, Sean Avery’s punch in the head after a save in the second and Avery getting in the rookie’s face after a whistle in the third. There were at least five more instances of dirty play after the whistle between these two players and Neuvirth, yet the officials refused to make a call. Boudreau even revealed after the game that “[the officials] kept on warning [the Rangers] at the bench not to do it. And then they didn’t call it. So they continued to do it.” The officials did an absolute abysmal job of calling this game. But I suppose that’s hockey sometimes.
  • This is a joke.
  • Maybe I’m being a bit nit-picky, but when Eddie Olczyk brought out the telestrator to diagram how NHL Official Chris Rooney hurt himself, I found it to be both classless and unnecessary. All you have to do is say, “he tripped over the net” and show the replay. You don’t have to humiliate him by circling him with your pen and then using graphic arrows to show where he fell down. Rooney, who bravely tried to skate the injury off, was later diagnosed with a broken fibula and declared done for the season. Yes, even officials are gamers in the playoffs. We here at RMNB wish Chris a speedy recovery.
  • Alex Ovechkin is the captain and the team’s leader for a reason. He has either scored or assisted on four of the Capitals seven goals during the playoffs. Today, he chipped in the game-tying goal (at the time) by rushing the net like a bull and he also doled out five hits. The Russian Machine even took the blame for his blown coverage in front of the net on the Rangers game-winning goal. I would be hard-pressed to blame only him on the play — ::shakes fist at hockey gods:: — but nonetheless, it shows leadership to put the loss square on his own shoulders considering everything that he contributed offensively.
  • The Rangers were .2 seconds away from scoring a back-breaking tally at the end of the second period.

    Overall, the Capitals held a 16 to 14 advantage in scoring chances but doubled the Rangers up, 14 to seven, at even-strength. They also limited New York to only one even strength chance in both the first and second periods. In the third, however, the Rangers looked like they wanted the game more and out-chanced the Capitals five to three. Sure Dubinsky’s goal was flukey, but crazy things happen like that when you crash the net hard.
  • Mike Knuble echoed that sentiment after the game. After answering the Rangers second tally with a goal from his office, the right winger told the media that, “we can do a lot more around the net. It seems like that’s going to be the only way people are going to score.”
  • An interesting factoid: the Capitals lost in regulation for the first time with Jason Arnott in the line-up (12-1-1) since acquiring him at the trade deadline.
  • Speaking of Arnott, after being used primarily as a defensive cog by Bruce Boudreau during the regular season, he only took three of his twenty face-offs in the defensive zone today. Nicklas Backstrom took five. Clearly Boudreau was doing all he could to generate some more offense today.
  • Alex Semin had a tremendous game. Despite the Capitals being whistled for eight penalties, Sasha Minor stayed out of the box and kept his stick to himself. Bravo! He was also on the ice for eight scoring chances for and one against. Semin also led the team with six shots on goal.
  • After Brandon Dubinsky scored on what would eventually reveal itself as the game-winning goal, Michal Neuvirth dropped his head to the ice in frustration. But Neuvy has nothing to be frustrated about. The rookie netminder kept his team in the game all day long, didn’t retaliate when he was unfairly targeted by the Rangers and made 32 big stops. Sure, the sharp-angled shot Erik Christensen scored over his shoulder probably should have been stopped somehow someway, but those goals are going to happen sometimes. Neuvy needs to rebound from the defeat and continue his strong play. The Caps were slow out of the corners and at times had terrible coverage in front of the net. There was nothing he could have done more.

It may only be one game, but the Rangers are now back in this series. The Caps better come out hungry on Wednesday or risk making this just like four of five best of sevens in the Boudreau era — a 2-0 lead before a total collapse.

One down. Three to go. But feel free to avoid doing that, Caps.

Additional reporting by Chris Gordon and Neil Greenberg.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian

    Here are the video highlights from the game:

  • Caps STH

    NBC commentators are almost as much in the tank for the Rangers as they are for the Pens. Their unrequited bromance with Crosby is on ice until he comes back so they sublimate with — Avery???

  • BobbyG

    The Caps could have put a strangle hold on the Rangers and taken complete control. The game was definitely winnable. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be the pivotal game, I hope the Caps recover from the loss and come out hungry Wednesday night. The Rangers, suddenly given new life, certainly will come out hungry and desperate. The Caps have to match them if they are to regain momentum and hopefully put away the Rangers for good at Verizon Center on Saturday.

    I have no complaints about Neuvirth’s play. He has been superb and should rebound strong for Game 4. If the Caps play smart, avoid mistakes, and stay out of the penalty box, they should be fine.

    I also continue to be impressed with Ovie, both with his play and leadership. He really has grown into his role as Captain, and I credit a large part of that to the team overcoming a lot of adversity this season, but also to the veteran presence of Jason Arnott. If the Caps go all the way to Stanley Cup glory, IMO Arnott should get an honorary MVP award.

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  • MARKYMARK

    It might because I’m a newish fan but I honestly don’t understand why you guys were giving praise to Carlson for not turning around and beating the crap out of that douche Prust who was on his ass all night. Also, I love the slap that green gave to avery after his high hit.

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  • Liz

    Avery punched Neuvirth in the head?! He’s a dead man.

  • Anna

    @MarkyMark
    It was a good thing that Carlson showed restraint for a number of reasons. One being if he earned a fighting major, we’d be down to 5 D for 5 minutes (missing one of our best D at that). Another being he could’ve been hurt because of a fight (think Erskine in his last fight where he messed up his hand and missed a game). Then we would’ve had to put Sloan back on the ice.

    On a personal bias, I’m glad he didn’t fight back because I wouldn’t want any of the Caps to respond to the douchebaggery of the Rags. Regardless of the outcome of a fight, the Caps responding would’ve swung the momentum of the game completely on the Rangers’ side. Better to take revenge with clean hard hits and highlight-worthy goals rather than proving Rag’s purposeful agitating was getting under their skin.

    If any Cap decided to fight tonight, I would’ve preferred it to have been Brads or Hendy.

  • Jim

    I definitely think it was the penalties. Yes, most of them were BS, but at some point you just have to realize they are calling it tight against you (for whatever reason) and be careful. Coming into this game the Caps had the fewest penalty minutes of any team in the playoffs. Now, not so much.

    Disciplined hockey.

  • Tim

    Markymark, if Carlson had tried that, he’d have been the one getting beat up. Prust is an experienced middleweight fighter, and Carlson has never been in a NHL fight. We really don’t need him getting hurt doing something like that. However, I do wish Hendricks or Bradley would step up to Prust.

  • K4

    Caps STH – could not agree more. Case in point: If you watched the 2nd period highlights, you would have thought the Rangers were ahead 1-0. If guess that’s the price to pay for having a Pierre McGuire holiday, I guess I’ll take it.

    Brads and Hendricks need to take a page from Boyle and Prust….couple of teeth too…

  • Dark Stranger

    @Marky Mark & Anna (and others)

    Actually Carlson has been involved in an NHL fight — against the Devils early this year when the Caps were clobbering the Devils. I believe it was against the Devils’ goon who went after Johansson that day.

    Other bloggers have actually complained about Carlson’s lack of restraint yesterday for letting the Rags get to him and taking 2 costly penalties. You guys are pointing out how he could have reacted a lot worse than he did.

  • Anna

    @Dark Stranger
    I was addressing why he didn’t/shouldn’t fight. Never said Carlson was amazingly reserved; just that it was good he didn’t fight.

    The fight at that Devil’s game you mention ended up more of a pile up than an actual fight. Carlson still isn’t credited with an NHL fight. Prust, however, has NHL Fight experience AND won a number of his fights. That wouldn’t have ended well for Carlson in this game and possibly for the run of the series.

  • http://www.threewireguy.wordpress.com BigNed

    @Anna “…Better to take revenge with clean hard hits and highlight-worthy goals…”

    Amen. What the Rangers have been trying to do in games 2 and 3 is goad the Caps into playing to the Rags strengths and the Caps weaknesses. As much as I love the discipline and determination shown this year by our Boys in Red as they changed their game to a new system, the core of this team is still built for speed and scoring. When they were playing that way, the Rangers killed them twice during the regular season. I suspect that the message from New York’s coaches is “get in their heads and they’ll revert to their old ways…and refs always see the second hit”. Thus cheap shots to Neuvy and Green and a commitment to hits right out of the gate.

    IMO, the Caps need to take the initiative to impose their will in this and future series. If they focus on “not letting the Rangers take them off their game” it’s like focusing on “not thinking about pink elephants.” I bet I know what you’re thinking right now. They need to forget about anything New York is trying to do and focus their minds on being unstoppable. Neuvy is a wall. Ovie is a tank. Every line is a threat. Brads eats Averies for breakfast. BL21 is a handsome man. Green gets goals. Caps kill PP’s and block shots like crazy people. CRASH THE NET.

    That is all.

  • 28ISGREAT

    Im not worried. The Caps will win this series.

    Rangers needed what – 6?, 7? power plays to get the momentum going in their direction. We battled back each time to tie the game up. But for a flukey goal, Sunday’s game was destined for OT – where I don’t doubt we would have converted. (on a side note – its amazing how my confidence in the Caps ability to perform in OT has grown since mid-season!)

    The Thugs in Blue gave it their all yersterday, and we still looked like the better team. Avery and Prust will get their come uppance – and I hope its in the final minutes of Game 5 when we’re coasting to a series win.

    Rangers are toast. Merely a matter of “when” – not “if.”

  • Yuk

    Top skilled players should not fight at all because of high possibility of injury. Look what happened to top prospect T. Hall from Oilers, gone for the season with broken hand. Caps could be devastated if this, for instance, happened to Ovi in his rookie years, not mentioning now. We have plenty of players who can do the job, considering extended roster, and to prevent further abuse, that unfortunately, didn’t happened in case of Mike Green previously.

  • @Caps1426

    @RMNB:

    “Eight minutes into the third, Vinny Prospal gave New York a 3-2 advantage. . . ”

    I do believe that should read: “Prospal gave New York a 2-1 advantage. . . ”

    Anyways, even with all the penalties we battled back. Minus that deflection off of Alzner’s shoulder the outcome could have, better yet would have been entirely different. The Caps have shown the ability to rebound this season and with that I think Wednesday’s game will be most excellent. I excpect to see crisp, smart hockey form the Caps and they WILL NOT let the Rags get into their heads.

    like 28isGreat said: ‘Merely a matter of “when”. . .

    Go Caps!

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian

    @Caps1426 – Thanks, I’ve fixed. I can assure you, Chris and myself will work on learning how to count during this two-day break between games. Hopefully, we’ll have a breakthrough.

  • Nick

    “Eight minutes into the third, Vinny Prospal gave New York a 2-1 advantage, putting the rebound from Eric Staal’s blast from the point”

    Is this a remnant of the wishful thinking that we could have played Carolina?

  • Greg

    The officiating was a joke. I’m not blaming the officials, I’m blaming their shitty calls that caused the Rags to have 1/3 of the game a man up, and they still needed all the luck that any SOB facing the Caps in the playoffs inevitably get.

    Caps had plenty of chances to pull this one out even with the zebras deciding to make a little “History” (thanks for that tweet Neil, I needed a little levity during this debacle).

    Imagine if the Caps had won, though. Rags crying about the disallowed goal after the green light. Would have been unbearable.

  • Greg

    Also, I know the Caps shouldn’t have played into the Rags agitating ways, but they should of harassed Lunqvist the same way that NYR were harassing Neuvy. That was unbelievable.