For 40 minutes on Tuesday night in game 7 at the Verizon Center it looked like the New York Rangers wanted this game and playoff series more than the Washington Capitals. However, thanks to some great goaltending by rookie Simeon Varlamov (who just turned 21 on Monday the 27th), some lucky bounces that resulted in Alexander Semin’s game tying goal in the first period, a very spirited third period by the Caps that saw them out shoot the Rangers 13-1, and then a Hall of Fame wrist shot, short side, upstairs by Sergei Fedorov past outstanding Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with just 4:59 left in the game the Caps are moving on to the second round to face the Pittsburgh Penguins after a 2-1 victory. Fedorov, who turned 39 back in December, had the following to say about the goal.
“It was just a regular break out. It was two-on-two in their zone. Not much else going on, so I decided to shoot the puck… I didn’t think too much about it. Entering the zone, make sure the puck went deep. The D[efense, Rangers Wade Redden] gave me some room, when I stopped so I choose to shoot. I knew the D[efense] was giving me short side. I guess Henrik went down and I shot it top shelf.”
This series win is the first ever for Caps owner Ted Leonsis, something that was news to Fedorov until I asked him if he and his teammates knew about it.
“Now we do. I guess it is great, he’s a great owner, he deserves to win. I feel even better that that happened. Ted deserves all of the credit in the world to bring this team together and we are just happy for him,” said the three time Stanley Cup Champion.
This game could have easily been 3-0 Rangers after the first period, if not for Varlamov, as the Rangers came out flying while the Caps looked lost. On the opening shift, Varlamov stopped a streaking Sean Avery, who had an outstanding game for the Rangers on Tuesday, and shortly thereaftet he robbed Nik Antropov with a pad save when #80 had a clear breakaway after taking a great pass from Michael Rozsival which split the Caps defense (John Erskine and Brian Pothier). Later in the period he came up huge on a Derrick Morris point blast with Avery standing right in front of him.
“He is tremendously poised. I still haven’t talked to him since game one. I don’t want to screw him up, so I am leaving him alone. With the way they were coming for the first two periods, for him to have the poise that he did was tremendous. I don’t know what his stomach was doing but he seemed really calm out there,” said Boudreau on his rookie goaltender who only allowed just eight goals in six games, stopping 152 of 160 shots faced (.950) and recording a 1.34 GAA after replacing Jose Theodore after game one. Varlamov made 14 saves in game seven.
Washington did not register a single shot on goal until the 13th minute when they forced Lundqvist to make a save on a Caps power play. The Capitals goal, on their only other shot on net in the first period with 4:28 left, was a fluky one from Semin, who shot the puck right as a hustling and back checking Ryan Callahan came sliding in front of #28 and the biscuit ricocheted twice off of Callahan and then went by a down on the ground Lundqvist (22 saves on the night, some of which were nearly game saving in the third period), who was expecting a cleaner and harder shot. In the previous six game sevens that the Washington franchise has participated in they never have received as fortuitous a bounce as this one.
The Caps came back in this series from three games to one down to tie it up because they stuck to a simple game plan of dumping the puck behind the Rangers defensemen, then beating them to the puck, using Washington’s cycling game to wear out their defense, and generate scoring chances. Alexander Ovechkin’s quote after game six of “we play hard, we play simple” is what Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has been stressing to his highly skilled team to be successful. Tonight the Rangers played the Caps style to near perfection for the first period and a good part of the second period but they lack the offensive ability to finish off many of the strong plays they would make on the boards and even though they dominated territorially, they only mustered 14 shots through two periods.
“For most of the game I thought we did a really good job of keeping the puck. It was probably the most we kept the puck all series. We couldn’t develop good scoring chances even with the puck and during the [third] period I think they turned it up a notch and we ended up backing up a little bit and they had the puck more than we did. It was still a game to be had. Who makes the next big play. They did, we didn’t. They win the game. I’m not frustrated with the team. I appreciate how hard they worked tonight. There were a lot of things during the past few weeks going on around this club and playing against a very good Washington Capitals team. That’s a good hockey team. I thought we checked our [butts] off tonight. We’re not an offensive juggernaut and that comes back and bites us. We’re just not developing enough offense. We knew we had to close down the neutral zone and we did that very well for two periods. But they amped it up, again we’re still in it, but they make a big play, we don’t get enough offense in the third period to get some scoring chances,” said Rangers Coach John Tortorella after the game.
In the third period it was all Caps as they were the ones playing the simple game and outworking the Rangers, who seemed to have expended all of their energy in the first two periods (throughout the entire third period during breaks in play I noticed several of the Rangers were hunched over and leaning on their sticks while the Caps were upright and appeared fresh).
“It’s just one of those things. That’s a great club over there. We stuck to our game plan and in the third we were right there, one shot a way. [The Capitals] did a great job; give them credit. In the third they took the play to us. It’s just one of those things. We still thought we had it though. Just one shot – that’s all we kept saying,” said Rangers forward Scott Gomez on the close game seven and New York’s approach.
“They played a great game. We had a little bit of trouble moving the puck out of our zone because their forwards are so fast and our D also seemed to be under pressure. After two periods we knew we had to get our work level up and our talent would eventually come out on top. We really simplified our game, actually, and our forwards had the puck ahead of them and forechecked really well on their defense. I think that is how we won in New York [in game six] and how we won in the third period,” said Fedorov.
Another big factor in this game was the Washington fans and the energy in the building, especially in the third period. When the Caps started playing better in that final stanza the crowd began getting into it more and the Washington players seemed to feed off of it. Then after the best video clip the Washington marketing crew offers at each home game was played on the big board (“Unleash the Fury”), the noise level kept rising and did not stop. I have NEVER been to a Capitals game where the crowd has been louder, it was unbelievable to be a part of, especially after the Fedorov goal where the fans kept cheering until the horn sounded.
“My ears are still ringing. It was loud. It was like going to a rock concert. It was awesome. It built up and built up. After that “unleash the fury” and after [Fedorov] scored the goal it didn’t quiet down,” said Captain Chris Clark who returned from a wrist injury to play his first NHL game since January.
“It was very loud, especially in the third. I think the fans felt that we were trying to make a push. We were trying to put the puck behind their D[efense] and forecheck as hard as we can. They were really cheering hard. They really want us to do well. They really wanted the victory. It was a great atmosphere. I’m sure any player that can play in an atmosphere like that would enjoy it and play hard. It was an amazing experience,” added Fedorov.
“I don’t know what Chicago is like as far as building, other than the National Anthem, but that was the loudest five minutes after we scored. They never sat down, they never stopped cheering. If you look at the energy we had just in checking; the people brought that out of us. They wouldn’t let us not continue skating, not continue anything, it was really a thing to watch,” finished Boudreau on the crowd. It should be noted that because of Washington’s great fan aided forecheck, the Rangers were not able to pull Lundqvist for an extra attacker in the closing minute.
That is it for tonight but please check back late Wednesday night when I bring you some more analysis of the game and series win plus more quotes from the players and coaches (Mike Green and Tom Poti provided some good insight on the improved, since game six, Washington power play). On Thursday I’ll preview the Penguins series and provide my second round predictions (btw, I went 7 for 8 in round one, with the only loss being President’s Trohy winning San Jose’s six game defeat to Anaheim). The complete playoff schedule with the Penguins has been announced and it is as follows:
Saturday, May 2nd at Washington (1pm on NBC)
Monday, May 4th at Washington (7pm on Versus)
Wednesday, May 6th at Pittsburgh (7pm on Versus)
Friday, May 8th at Pittsburgh (7pm on Versus)
*Saturday, May 9th at Washington (7pm on Versus)
*Monday, May 11th at Pittsburgh (TBD on Versus)
*Wednesday, May 13th at Washington (7pm on Versus)
* – if necessary