A very determined Washington Capitals team came out and put “a good ole fashioned spanking,” as Rangers Coach John Tortorella called it afterwards, on New York on Monday night in a 4-0 victory that cut the Blueshirts playoff series lead to two games to one. Game 4 is Wednesday night at 7pm at Madison Square Garden (Note: Please come out to the Silver Spring Mining Company in Hunt Valley for another WNST Rock the Red party on Wednesday.)
Rookie Simeon Varlamov was great in goal for the Caps stopping 33 shots and getting help from the post on the one occasion when he really needed it en route to his first career shutout and playoff victory. Varlamov was exceptional and the Caps defense was outstanding as well as Washington blocked 13 shots (the same number as the Rangers on this night) and did not allow the Rangers room in front of the net. Defensemen John Erskine and Brian Pothier had arguably the best games they have played all season.
On the offensive side of the ice, Washington went to the front of the goal with much more vigor and it resulted in four tallies on 40 shots on Henrik Lundqvist. Alexander Semin, who struggled in game two, was my number one star of the night (with Varly a close second) as he scored the first two goals and set up the third one by Brooks Laich. #28 was superb all evening and he had eight shots on goal, two takeaways, no giveaways, no penalties, and was a +2.
The Great #8 had another very good game, despite not scoring a goal with five shots and five others that also missed the net, but he had two assists and made a couple of great defensive plays, including incredible hustle and a great poke check on what looked to be a shorthanded breakaway by Lauri Korpikoski. Ovechkin still could not get the puck by Lundqvist but you have to think that with all of the chances he is generating it is just a matter of time before he breaks through.
Lots of guys were very good for Washington tonight including Nicklas Backstrom (three assists), who made a great play on the boards to get the puck to Ovechkin, who then fed Semin for the Caps second goal. That tally came right after the Rangers thought they had tied the contest up at one but Ryan Callahan hit the post with a wide open net allowing the Caps to go the other way and get the 2-0 lead. Backstrom’s pass at the end of the game to set up Tom Poti’s fourth goal was one of the best I’ve ever seen and the young Swede also went 8-6 on face-offs.
Here are some other thoughts on the game:
The NHL is supposedly cracking down on so-called “message” shots late in playoff games when the contests are decided. If that is the case, then the Sean Avery punch to Simeon Varlamov’s head with 2:48 left certainly warrants a one game suspension. Avery, who played well in games one and two, was a head case tonight taking four penalties, two of which were boneheaded plays (the punch on Erskine and then the one on Varly), and Tortorella can’t be happy with that. Personally, I think Avery is a detriment to the league and when he does some of the dumb stuff he did tonight he not only hurts his hockey team but he hurts the NHL. I fully expect Colin Campbell to suspend Avery for Game 4, the league can’t have mental cases punching rookie goalies when the outcome of the contest is decided. Boudreau commented on Avery and his punch on Varlamov, who doesn’t speak english. “He is trying to stir it up but he is trying to do that with a guy who doesn’t understand what he is saying,” said Boudreau. Erskine also did a good job of not retaliating on Avery and Boudreau added, “The bench jumped up and patted John on the back.”
Tortorella was clearly upset after the contest and he summed this one up pretty simply. “I thought they played very well defensively and I thought we stunk defensively,” said the 2004 Stanley Cup winning coach. When asked about all of the penalties the Rangers were called for the savvy coach took a backhanded swipe at officials Dave Jackson and Kelly Sutherland. “Penalties were called, I’m not sure what they were, that really wasn’t an indicator of how we played, we simply stunk, period,” finished Tortorella, who then left the interview room.
Special Teams totals for Game 3: Caps 2 for 6 on the power play; Rangers 0 for 6. The Caps did a better job on the power play although it still did not look fluid at times but the ice at Madison Square Garden looked bad, just like it was at the Verizon Center on Saturday. Washington went to the net much more often and it paid off with Laich’s tally (#21 is the one Caps constant in front of the opposing goalie).
Tomas Fleischmann had a few quality scoring chances tonight and he was robbed by Lundqvist in the second period with the game 2-0, and then later in the period he had a golden opportunity in front on the power play and missed the net. #14 has got to start burying some of these chances.
In summary, this was an effort that Washington needed big time and they are now back in this best of seven game series. But if they don’t play with the same energy, grit, and passion in game four they will be right back in trouble. The Rangers will likely play much better on Wednesday than they did tonight so we’ll see how committed this Caps team is to playing playoff hockey on a consistent basis. Tonight was a good start with the season on the brink.