Crank up Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, the Washington Capitals have overcome the odds and forced a game seven on Tuesday night with a 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden this afternoon. Last season the Caps forced a game seven against the Philadelphia Flyers after being down three games to one and lost in overtime. Can the Capitals, who have waited a year to avenge that game seven loss, pull off the feat this year and give Caps owner Ted Leonsis his first ever playoff series win? If they play like they did in the first two periods of today’s game they should be able to do it as they chased Rangers goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, to the bench after 40 minutes for the second straight game. The Rangers added two goals in the last period, including one with five seconds left to make the score look closer but credit New York for not quitting and with some help from the referees they may have grabbed some momentum those last 20 minutes, however, the Caps clearly quit skating for the majority of that stanza.
This contest had a crazy twist coming in to it with Rangers Coach John Tortorella suspended for the game for squirting water at a fan to start an altercation and then he hit a woman on the head when he threw a water bottle into the stands with 6:33 left in game five. Prior to that game Tortorella, ironically, had preached discipline and composure to his team and had scratched pesky forward Sean Avery in game five for taking some bad penalties in the third period of game four. Avery dressed for game six and former Caps Coach Jim Schoenfeld was behind the bench as Rangers interim coach replacing the former Stanley Cup winning coach (Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup with Tampa in 2004, will be back for game seven).
Washington’s defense was the key today as they produced the first three Caps goals, all in the first period. The first was triggered by game five hero Matt Bradley, who forced an offensive zone turnover with some great forechecking and Brooks Laich and Dave Steckel then set up Milan Jurcina for a blast that beat Lundqvist short side to give the guys in white a 1-0 lead. The Rangers then struck back on a power play goal by Scott Gomez, their first in 19 attempts, to tie it up and for the next couple of minutes the game was looking like it could go either way when Washington received a power play after Paul Mara held Laich.
Washington’s power play had gone ZERO for 13 in games four and five but the Caps finally received a good bounce as Alexander Semin’s shot ricocheted right off of a Rangers skate to Mike Green in the right circle and he roofed it over Lundqvist for his first goal of the playoffs to ignite the Caps. Green apparently has been battling the flu bug and before the game he told NBC’s Pierre McGuire that he was finally getting his energy level back. The Rangers then had another power play chance when Tom Poti put the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty but Washington killed the infraction thanks to some good goaltending from Simeon Varlamov (29 saves). When Poti came out of the box he, Dave Steckel, and Boyd Gordon had a three on one because Mark Staal pinched in the offensive zone and the three Caps passed the puck beautifully around Joe Girardi setting up Poti to stuff the puck over Lundqvist for a 3-1 Caps lead.
In the second period the Caps dominated play by possessing the puck for long stretches of time but with just over nine mintues gone the game’s deciding point came as the Rangers Nikolai Zherdev missed a partially open net that would have made it 3-2 and Washington took the puck down the other way in transition. Viktor Kozlov then abused Staal with a great move and put the puck upstairs past Lundqvist to make it 4-1. Then the Great #8 sealed the deal by deflecting a Poti point pass/shot under Lundqvist with just 3:16 left in the period on the power play. That made it 5-1 and the Caps power play was a perfect 2 for 2 on the afternoon. At that point Washington seemed to not want to take any chances and just get ready for game seven.
Here are some other thoughts on the game:
The Caps power play did get a lucky bounce on the first goal but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau switched things up a bit putting Poti on the point with Green and moving Ovechkin down low several times and that opened things up for Washington’s defense to shoot and create.
Poti, one goal and three assists, was outstanding today and hopefully his creaky groin is okay for game seven. He may have tweaked it late in the contest.
Washington clearly was trying to beat Lundqvist high glove side and they were successful doing that today. Because of the size of Lundqvist’s pads he is tough to beat on the ice unless you get him moving. The question now is can Washington find a way to force King Henrik into a third straight bad game? Lundqvist has never lost a first round playoff series.
Varlamov was a little shaky in the first period giving up some rebounds but he takes up a lot of net and was very solid when he had to be. He could not be faulted on any of the three New York goals (the Rangers second tally was on a 5 on 3 power play after John Erskine was incorrectly, in my opinion as well as Mike Emrick’s (NBC play by play man), called for a holding penalty on Nik Andropov on a clean check).
Washington took four penalties in the third period and faced two lengthy 5 on 3’s, including one with just over five minutes left and the game still 5-2 but Dave Steckel, Laich, and Poti were outstanding killing it by winning a defensive zone face-off and then ragged alot of time off the clock before firing the puck down the ice.
The Caps did not turn the puck over at the Rangers blue line and did a good job of dumping it deep behind the New York defensemen. If they continue to do this in game seven they will have success. They need to avoid blind passes/careless backpasses that could give the Rangers the ability to get their good transition game going. Today it was Washington’s transition game that was superior.
New York has trouble scoring, they have only 10 goals in this series, so the Caps can’t take penalties, such as Brashear’s late hit on Blair Betts today, that give the Rangers an advantage. Washington is superior at five on five and the only reason this thing is tied up is because of Lundqvist and a bad first game in goal by Washington’s Jose Theodore.
I’m sure the Verizon Center will be raring and ready to go on Tuesday night. The Caps have not come back from 3-1 down to win a series since 1988 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It is time for the guys in red on Tuesday to win one for their owner and for themselves. This will be one tough game and you can bet the Rangers will be ready.