Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, when talking about goaltenders, always likes to say “I don’t care how many goals they give up but they need to make the big save at the right time to allow us to win the game.” Tonight Caps goaltender Jose Theodore did not make the big save when needed, and at the other end of the rink, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding stopping 32 of 35 shots and was my number one star of the game (officially, he was not chosen for any of the three stars afterwards) in a Rangers 4-3 win. New York leads the best of seven series 1-0 with game two set for Saturday at 1pm at the Verizon Center.
This was a game the Caps should have won tonight as they dominated most of the game, except for a bad spell in the second period, but poor goaltending and a couple of defensive zone miscues cost them. Oh and there were a couple of missed interference calls on the Rangers first goal by Scott Gomez, who was great tonight with a goal and two assists. The Rangers only had 21 shots but scored four times something that really bugged Boudreau after the game.
“We allowed 21 shots and five power plays. I thought we did a great job defensively. I don’t know how many chances to score they had, I haven’t figured that out yet, but I don’t think it was a lot. They scored four goals. That’s crazy. I thought we played a great job defensively,” said the disappointed Capitals head coach.
Actually the Rangers only had four power plays and I didn’t think the team was great defensively, I’ll give them a grade of good or a B+ and you’ll see why it wasn’t an A when I go through the Rangers goals below:
Goal 1 (tied the game at one): Gomez carried the puck up ice and behind the play Ranger forward Nik Antropov knocked Cap forward Tomas Fleischmann to the ice (missed interference penalty #1) and then Sean Avery clipped Caps defenseman Mike Green’s skates at the blue line (missed interference penalty #2) allowing Gomez to go in alone on Theodore, who badly played #19’s shot, and was beaten upstairs over the blocker.
Goal 2 (put Rangers up 2-1): On a Ranger power play (John Erskine high stick), Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn breaks his stick (I can’t stand these new sticks, bring back the wooden/fiberglass ones!) making it practically a five on three and Nik Antropov scores from the right wing boards up high as Theodore is down in a butterfly. This was one Theodore definitely should have had.
Goal 3 (put Rangers up 3-1): On another Rangers power play (Sergei Fedorov called for delay of game – puck over glass), Marcus Naslund receives a nice drop pass from Gomez inside the blue line, who then skates by defenseman Tom Poti and to the net, and while Poti is in no man’s land backing up into Theodore, Naslund fires a wrister into the top shelf. Theo could have had this one but I put most of the blame on Poti for not challenging Naslund on the play.
Goal 4 (game winner with 8:17 remaining): Caps defensemen Jeff Schultz, on a two on two play, tries to take the body on Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky and #17 absolutely abuses him cutting to the inside while #55 fell towards the boards. Dubinsky then had an open lane to the net and Green took Naslund to cut off the pass and allowed Theodore to take the shooter, but #60 once again could not make the big save getting beaten short side by Dubinsky.
So while Theodore should get the majority of the blame, Poti and Schultz didn’t put him in good situations on two of the four goals (and the zebras owe Washington one too for missing the interference penalties that set the table for Gomez on the first goal). Boudreau wasn’t in the mood to take any of the heat off of Theodore either after the game and Theo said himself that he cost the team the game.
“He’s right. There’s times when you sit there and you can say that I didn’t make the save that was needed. But I’m sure he’s going to bounce back. He’s a professional and he’s played this game long enough. I’m sure he feels bad enough,” said Boudreau.
As for Washington’s skaters, Alexander Ovechkin had the best game of any Capital with 13 shots on goal, two assists, six hits (many of them big ones and on Avery too!), and drew three penalties. Two of those penalty calls were the result of strong defensive plays by the Great #8. The first one he backchecked hard to take the puck from Naslund who quickly hauled him down and the second one came after he intercepted the puck just inside the Rangers blue line and was tripped by Dan Girardi. Both of those penalties resulted in Washington power play goals. Ovechkin, who logged 26:07 of ice time, was the best Washington player on Wednesday and was a +1. But Lundqvist was the difference tonight.
“We’re going to need it. As I said, goaltending was a key part tonight and if we’re going to compete, we’re going to have to get good goaltending,” said Rangers Coach John Tortorella.
“I thought we played all right. We played a tough game. We played physical. As long as we keep that play up, the goals will come. I thought their goalie played really well tonight and won the game for them. We still feel the same way – we can win the series and nothing’s really changed,” added Green, who had two assists in 30:47 of ice time but was -2 overall (tripped by Avery on first goal and on ice with Schultz on winning goal).
Here are some other notes and tidbits from game one:
The Caps top line was really good tonight. I mentioned Ovechkin already but he, Viktor Kozlov (first ever playoff goal in 22 games) and Nicklas Backstrom (great play and pass to set up Kozlov’s goal) seemed to control the play and the puck nearly every time they were on the ice. Backstrom also continued his excellent home face-off streak going 13-5 from the dot.
As well as the Ovechkin line played to go with a fairly decent game from Alexander Semin (had a power play goal, however, he missed the net on some good scoring chances), the Caps didn’t get much help elsewhere offensively. The secondary scoring will need to show up for Washington to win this series. Fleischmann had a goal tipping Ovechkin’s shot to give the Caps the lead and came close to getting some other quality scoring chances. Brooks Laich had a decent game going to the net but Washington will need him to score and guys like Fedorov, Eric Fehr (only 9:18 of ice time), and Michael Nylander need to help offensively, too.
The Caps dominated the scoreless first period outshooting the Rangers, 14-4 but the Swedish netminder was the difference. “First game in the playoffs, we knew they would come really hard. I think just for us to have a tie after the first [period was good]. We knew as the game went on we would improve our game,” said Lundqvist.
The sold out Caps crowd (18,277) was very loud and into the game and Tortorella made mention of it afterwards. “I thought the building was tremendous. It’s great to see the people in the building in Washington,” said the former Tampa Bay Lightning and Stanley Cup winning (2004) coach who took over the Rangers bench from Tom Renney in late February.
Overall the Caps were 46-20 (70%) on face-offs. The Caps were two for seven on the power play while the Rangers were two for four. Advantage: Rangers.
Jim Schoenfeld, who was the Caps head coach from 1994-1997, has been with the Rangers organization for several years and is assistant GM to Glen Sather. “Schoeny” has been doing double duty as the only assistant coach behind the bench helping out Tortorealla since he assumed head coaching duties.
Naslund had a goal and an assist for the Rangers but he also took three penalties. “I don’t know how many penalties we took. It was too many. It’s just too dangerous with that group they put out there. I felt the penalty killers did everything they possibly could – especially at the end, the last two penalties they had to kill – to keep that puck out of the net,” finished Tortorella.
The Rangers were without forward Chris Drury, who has an undisclosed injury, but I watched him very closely in warmups and he did not skate well, barely crossed over, and seemed to be favoring his right leg. He didn’t look good and it will be interesting to see how long he will be out.
In my Caps/Rangers series analysis and prediction blog I said this would go seven games, with Washington winning. Boudreau said the team will make changes, if necessary, and they’ll move forward.
“I didn’t think we were going to win in four straight games. You always have the desire to win the first game, but we won the first game last year and it didn’t do us any good. So, we’ll just have to go a different route. Just like New York that they stole one here, we’re confident that we’re a pretty good team and we’ll play pretty well on Saturday,” said Boudreau.
“What can I say? It’s the playoffs. It’s seven games. You can’t concentrate on one game. It’s seven games. It’s one week. It’s ok. It happens. We can’t win all of our games right away,” ended Ovechkin.