If the Washington Capitals somehow find a way to pull out this best of seven series after trailing three games to one against the New York Rangers then Matt Bradley’s shorthanded goal to put the Caps up 1-0 tonight will be forever remembered as the turning point in this series. Bradley then scored another goal just over seven minutes later from a bad angle on the seemingly invincible Henrik Lundqvist to give the Caps a 2-0 lead and they never looked back in a 4-0 dominating win at the sold out Verizon Center in game five. Game six is Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden at 2pm on NBC and once again a Rangers win eliminates the Caps. Friday night though, was about Bradley and his two goals.
“It’s not every game Brad[ley] scores. I was real happy for him. He works so hard…He’s an unsung hero. Whether he plays four minutes or seven, he’s a still a component in the room and when he can get rewarded like that that’s great,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.
Bradley’s second goal stunned not only him but Lundqvist.
“Brooks [Laich] made a great play… I’m not going to lie. I was just throwing it at the net and luckily it went in. You don’t get many of those against a great goalie like that,” said Bradley.
“I made a bad decision and tried to stand up and cover the five-hole but my pads are not built like that to cover that well so I have to go down on one knee, but I didn’t. I thought it would be good enough to stand up like that but it went through…it was a bad decision. That’s on me, that goal. No question…I don’t know if we can learn so much from this game, we just have to move on and get ready for next time,” said Lundqvist, who had held the Caps to just eight goals on 149 shots in the first four games of this series. On Friday he gave up four goals on 14 shots and he would sit out the third period (replaced by backup goalie Steve Valiquette) to rest for game six and the Caps expect King Henrik to be back on Sunday.
“Every great goalie every now and then makes a mistake. The thing that worried me about that was when I saw it go in, I said ‘ Oh, he’s going to be great the next game.’ Usually they bounce right back so I anticipate him being great on Sunday,” said Boudreau on Lundqvist.
“I’m sure he’ll [Henrik Lundqvist] will bounce back and have a great game on Sunday,” added Bradley on Lundqvist.
Alexander Semin scored the Caps third goal off of a Nicklas Backstrom face-off win and then Alexander Ovechkin had a highlight reel goal to make it 4-0 with 29 seconds left in the second period. Ovechkin went through two Rangers (Chris Drury and Derrick Morris) and while falling to the ice slid the puck under Lundqvist’s pads on the backhand for his second goal of the series. Ovechkin downplayed the goal calling it “a lucky shot” and mentioned that he is “terrible on his backhand.” Lucky or not, the goal was incredible and if Ovechkin can work on his backhand shot in the off-season and have the ability to go around defenseman either on the forehand or backhand there is no limit to the number of goals he could score in a season. But to improve his backhand the Great #8 would likely have to decrease the amount of curve he puts on his stick. Alexander the Great now has six points (2g-4a) in five games in these playoffs.
Back to game five, the Caps got some very good goaltending from rookie Simeon Varlamov who made 20 saves, including a great one on Brandon Dubinsky with 3:10 left in the first period when the game was still in doubt. Boudreau was asked about Varlamov and if he is giving him any advice.
“I’m just going to keep letting him go. I don’t want to get into his head. I don’t want to talk to him,” said Boudreau. Varlamov recorded his second career playoff shutout,and he has now stopped 95 of 98 shots for a 0.76 GAA and .969 save percentage. He is the third Capitals goalie to record multiple shutouts in their playoff career (Olie Kolzig and Don Beaupre) and the second goalie to record multiple shutouts in the same playoff season (Olie Kolzig, 1998, four shutouts).
For Washington, one of the problem areas going forward is still the power play, which was better as the game went on with Laich being put in front of the net on the first unit, but it still did not convert going 0 for 7 and is now 0 for 13 in the last two games. Granted Boudreau did not use Ovechkin, Semin, and some of the other top players on the late man advantages (Ovie did not play the last 8 plus minutes at all) but the Caps will need to start making the Rangers pay for some of the silly penalties they are taking if they want to win this series. Rangers Coach John Tortorella certainly recognized that his team’s play in that area was a key for his team.
“We got enough practice tonight with it, didn’t we? And that is what is keeping us above water right now.” said Tortorella on his penalty killing unit.
Having watched all five games in this series it is pretty clear that the Rangers strategy is to force the Caps into turnovers in the neutral zone or at the Rangers blue line. With Washington being a highly skilled team they have a tendency to always want to carry the puck into the Rangers zone and New York has used that to their advantage in their wins by intercepting errant cross ice passes and going the other way in transition. The Caps need to do what they did best in games three and five, and that was to get the puck in deep in the Rangers zone and outwork the New York defense. Mike Green (1 assist in 25:09 of ice time) talked about getting the puck in behind the Rangers defense on NHL Live on Thursday and when the Caps have done that in this series they have had success.
“That’s what all teams try to do because once you take the puck in you can make some plays and do some damage. So we’ve just been trying to get it deep and outwork them. It’s the same philosophy every team has, try and get it deep and wear down the D,” said Caps defenseman Tom Poti on the Rangers stacking the blueline against them and Washington’s approach to the game.
In game three many of Washington’s goals came when they worked the puck from behind the net out and that made it tough for Lundqvist to know where the shots were coming from. So I asked Poti if the secret in game six will be for the Caps to simplify their game and dump the puck behind the Rangers goal line and pound New York’s defense.
“I think so, we are going to try and come out and have the same effort we had tonight and if we do so we’ll be okay,” finished Poti.
The Caps also have to be careful not to blindly throw the puck out into the slot with two Caps behind the net as the Rangers are collapsing their players into that area and are waiting to go in transition. On Washington’s breakout from their zone New York is jamming the boards so the Caps did a good job of chipping it up the center of the ice to a forward or hard off the boards around the Rangers defense. Minimizing mistakes and winning the little battles will be the key to a Caps victory on Sunday and would prevent Lundqvist from single handily deciding the series.
“After you play a team for five games, you know what to expect out of them. It’s just a matter of winning the one-on-one battles and competing. That’s the only way to win games,” finished Caps defenseman Brian Pothier.
Notes: The final shots on goal were 21-20 for Washington, the lowest combined total in the series. The Caps won the face-off battle 28-21. John Erskine had another strong game on defense and was +3 in 17:07 of ice time. Sean Avery, who has taken several bad penalties in this series, was scratched but with New York losing you can expect him back for game six. Chris Drury was -3 in 7:21 of ice time for the Rangers. The game got chippy at times tonight and the Rangers were taking some runs at Washington in the third period. I asked Ovechkin if he thought this game was more physical than the others and he said “every game has been just as physical.”