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.
- 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.