The Washington Capitals are on the brink of elimination trailing by the same 3-1 deficit they faced last year against the Flyers before losing in overtime to Philly and the referees in game seven. This time, however, they will have to try to come back on a much better goalie. Henrik Lundqvist was very good in net again tonight (38 saves) and he got help from the crossbar and post when he needed it in a Rangers 2-1 victory in game four of this best of seven playoff series.
Alexander Ovechkin scored his first goal of the playoffs in the third period to cut the lead to 2-1 and he was all over the ice with a goal, 11 shots on net, and four hits. The Great #8 also hit the post on the power play late in the third period that would have tied the game. Ovechkin, however, needs some help from some of the other players on his team.
Despite rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov giving up a terrible goal early in the second period to Chris Drury, the reason for the loss was Washington’s power play. First, I take issue with the coaches for keeping Tomas Fleischmann on the first unit when Brooks Laich is a much better fit against a goalie who is stopping nearly everything he sees. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau plus assistants Dean Evason and Jay Leach did take Fleischmann off of the top unit after several unsuccessful early power plays but instead of Laich they inserted Sergei Fedorov. As a result the Caps mainly had the puck on the perimeter trying to set up one timers instead of firing the puck and crashing the net for rebounds. 0 for 6 was the final tally on a pitiful power play and I can’t even remember many rebound chances.
Second, defenseman Mike Green was hardly noticeable tonight and prior to the game Caps GM George McPhee said #52 was under the weather for the first three games but he was healthy for Wednesday’s contest. He didn’t look it and seemed to lack energy, at times. The Caps need Green’s booming shot and they need to put a Laich, Eric Fehr, or Viktor Kozlov right in front of Lundqvist. Playoff hockey is about crashing the crease and going for rebounds. The Caps did not commit to that tonight (other than Ovechkin who tried like crazy to will his team to a win).
Alexander Semin, who had a great game three, had some good chances but he did not have that same drive in the offensive zone that he had on Monday. There were several times where he went softly in the corner and didn’t come out with the puck, unlike he did in game three when he was the show. #28 needs to learn that in the playoffs you have to pay the price night in and night out if you want to win (had he come out strong from behind the goal on his wrap around try in the second period he might have scored). The Caps also got too fancy early in the game at the Rangers blue line trying to make some cross ice passes.
The thing that makes the lack of power play success even more stinging in this loss is that the NHL Idiot of the Year, Sean Avery, took two bad penalties in the third period and Washington did not make the Rangers pay for it. Had the Caps tied the game on the power play I would imagine that Rangers Coach John Tortorella or assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld would have gone ballistic on #16, who is doing all he can to help the Caps win with his reckless play.
But Avery, Tortorella, and Schoenfeld can thank Lundqvist, the Rangers penalty killers, and a misconfigured Caps power play for bailing him out.
Game 5 is Friday night at the Verizon Center at 7pm and it is win or head home for the Caps.
Notes: Washington outshot the Rangers 39-21. The first Rangers goal came off of a clean Dave Steckel face off loss to Brandon Dubinsky and defenseman Paul Mara’s shot, that was heading well wide, hit John Erskine’s stick and went right into the net. The second Rangers goal came when Varlamov didn’t handle a weak Rangers shot with his glove and it bounced to the side of the net where Chris Drury buried it to make it 2-0. Varly did make some good saves but giving up that goal really hurt. I expect Boudreau to come back with Varlamov in game five on Friday, though. The Caps didn’t get the breaks tonight but you earn your breaks and had they played playoff hockey and gone to the net this series could have been tied.