After losing game five in traumatic fashion and facing post season elimination, the Washington Capitals needed a fast start in game six on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center to stay alive in their best of seven series with the New York Rangers.
Boy did they get just what the doctor ordered.
All series I’ve been talking about the Capitals needing to use their speed to take advantage of a slooowww New York Rangers defense and right out of the gate the Caps did just that. Jason Chimera went flying by Anton Stralman and the Rangers d-man had to haul him down. Out trotted the Caps power play but instead of Alexander Ovechkin at the point, like he typically is, Coach Dale Hunter had Mike Green and Dennis Wideman manning the blue line with the Gr8 down low with Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson. Talk about making the right move at the right time, Ovechkin alertly worked himself into the slot and found himself wide open. Super Swede #19 fed him beautifully and the Gr8 one timed it top right corner past Henrik Lundqvist only 88 seconds into the contest. Verizon Center erupted and Hunter said afterwards that every team plays better with a lead. He also talked about the changed power play configuration, which this team actually practiced before the playoffs began and have used a couple of times this post season, but not much, if at all, in this series.
“It’s just one of those changes we make. We thought that Ovi, with his big shot, could get a shot off. On the play, one of their players fell and really left an opening and a shot from there by Ovi doesn’t miss very often,” said Hunter.
The goal was doubly important because it came on the power play and when you score first and carry the special teams battle, you normally win the hockey game. On this night Washington would go 1 for 3 with the man advantage while killing off all five Blueshirts power plays (10 minutes worth).
Another big key to victory was the play of the Backstrom-Chimera-Alex Semin line. That unit gave the Rangers fits all evening and it was the strong play on the boards of #’s 19 and 28 that allowed the Capitals to get their first two goal lead since game two. Backstrom started it behind the net and then Semin made a strong move off of the wall shedding his Ranger defender. #28 found an open John Carlson on the far boards, who blasted one towards the net. Backstrom had come out to position himself in the prime scoring position and the puck hit him and bounced right to Chimera, who deposited it in the empty cage.
The goal, just a second before the 11 minute mark, was crucial. After that Jeff Halpern, who replaced an injured Jay Beagle in the lineup, took a four minute high sticking penalty and Caps fans everywhere had to be thinking, following the Joel Ward infraction that cost Washington game five, “here we go again.” But the Capitals penalty killing, which started with great goaltending from Braden Holtby (30 saves), was superb and New York lost momentum when the four minutes were up.
In the final frame, the Caps played sound defensively. They counterattacked and had opportunities to score with Ovechkin having two good chances and setting up Johansson for another, but King Henrik (21 saves) stood tall. New York had another late surge and scored with the goalie pulled after a Caps lost face-off with 50 seconds remaining. The Rangers don’t quit, that is for sure, and that late game play is something Washington must improve on if they want to advance. Following that goal, though, the Capitals did win a few draws and Holtby didn’t have to make any big stops until the final horn sounded.
So it all comes down to a pivotal game seven on Saturday night at 730pm. The #1 seeded Rangers playing on home ice have to be the favorites. However, as I said before game seven in Boston, there can be an advantage to being the road team. The home team has distractions with ticket requests and extra pressure being the favored club while the visitors just show up and play a hockey game. It is a nice position for Washington to be in, but don’t get me wrong, there is pressure on this team to win this series as many players jobs are likely riding on it.
Historically, the Caps have stunk in game sevens (3-7), however, most of those (8 of the 10) have been on home ice. They won the last one in Boston on the road, but can they do it again and win on Broadway to finally make it to the Eastern Conference Finals?
We shall see, but it is vitally important that the core of this team, which is Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, Semin, and Brooks Laich, find a way to break through in their fifth straight post-season.
Notes: Karl Alzner and Carlson did a great job against Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, and either Carl Hagelin or Ryan Callahan on their defensive shifts. Alzner told me playing against those guys is “a lot of fun.” A battle on the boards ensues on every shift, it seems, and Alzner says that those guys are so skilled that you have to be sure you move the puck quickly or they can take it back fast…Matt Hendricks said that the Rangers like to come out of the cycle and get the puck into the slot. The Caps cut those attempts off most of the evening…Washington won the face-off battle 38-27 with Backstrom going 10-5…Richards, Callahan, and Gaborik all played over 22 minutes each…the Caps ice time distribution was much more balanced with Alzner leading the way with 23:13 and Carlson logging 22:00.