It was the worst of times, then it was the best of times. The Washington Capitals totally took the middle period off on Wednesday night and it nearly cost them the game and perhaps the series against the New York Rangers. But somehow this resilient Caps crew got refocused in the intermission, came roaring back in the third period to tie the game at three, and then sent the game to overtime. After a scoreless first overtime, one that included Alexander Ovechkin not converting on a clean breakaway, the game went to a second extra frame. At the 12:36 mark the Rangers miscommunicated on a puck that was thrown towards goalie Henrik Lundqvist (49 saves) and Jason Chimera, who was hustling on the play, got the biscuit after the Blueshirts Marian Gaborik knocked it into him by the right post and #25 tapped it home for a miraculous 4-3 Washington victory!
For the Caps, the game four win pushes their best of seven game series lead to three games to one, a familiar place we can talk more about on Thursday and Friday, but for tonight we’ll focus on a contest in which Washington took over once they started skating and being aggressive. It had to be mind boggling for Capitals fans to watch that second period, the worst since the Rangers 6-0 victory in DC on February 25th. The Caps stopped moving their feet and even worse, their play away from the puck was downright atrocious. Every one of the Rangers three goals came because Washington was caught looking at the biscuit and not looking around and covering open Rangers players. As a result Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth (36 saves), who was fabulous in this tilt, was hung out to dry too often. It was almost like Washington went brain dead because they had skaters in position on defense but the Capitals players became puck memorized.
In the past, the Capitals might have been run out of the rink in the final frame but this club is different. Alexander Semin turned it up several notches and his goal 2:44 into period three gave Washington some reason to believe. Just 57 seconds later some hard work by Brooks Laich in the corner resulted in him finding Marcus Johansson at the side of the net for a tap in to make it 3-2. MJ90 would then get the tying goal by going to the cage once again and Carlson’s laser, just after Sean Avery’s slashing penalty against Ovechkin expired, hit the young Swede in the pants and went into the net with 7:53 remaining in regulation. The Rangers and their normally boisterous crowd were stunned.
Here is the rest of the analysis and some quotes from a win for the ages for this young Capitals team:
– I did not like at all the way Washington was sitting back in the first 40 minutes. The Caps have a major speed advantage on this physical Rangers team so I was happy to see the Capitals get more aggressive in period three. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s message of getting pucks deep was finally heeded from the 40 minute mark on and Washington dominated. The Capitals started moving their feet and when they do that New York just can’t keep up.
” If we play the same way, no one can stop us — the way we played in the third period and overtime,” said Ovechkin after the victory (h/t to Tom Gulliti of the The Record for that quote via Twitter).
– Young players make mistakes, no doubt, and Carlson made several in the first 40 minutes. Johansson also wasn’t playing well either. But the great thing about these rookies is they have no memory plus their youth allows them to get stronger as the game goes on. Both #74 and especially #90 played big roles in the comeback. Boudreau said afterwards that he thought the line of Johansson-Chimera-Eric Fehr was his best and freshest unit in the extra frames and that their skating helped them take over (h/t Comcast Sports Net). MJ90 and #16 were both +3 on the night. Chimera started on the top unit with Ovechkin (-2) and Nicklas Backstrom (-1) and was moved down so he ended up -1.
– For the most part, Washington looked like the fresher team in the overtimes while the Rangers looked gassed. The Caps are a better skating team and perhaps the weight of blowing a 3-0 lead on home ice with the crowd going crazy caught up with the Blueshirts? New York relies heavily on the d-pair of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal and those guys had the highest ice times of any other players on either team at 39:45 and 36:55, respectively.
– Neuvirth was fabulous and he made some big saves to keep the Capitals in this game. One of his best stops was on Gaborik in the overtime when Carlson was caught a little flat footed. #30, who was run into twice for penalties by Brian Boyle, didn’t let the Rangers get him out of his game and he is on the verge of going 15 for 15 in North American playoff series.
– So here we are again, a 3-1 Capitals series lead, this time after an incredible comeback. We all know this situation too well and this series isn’t over yet. Will this year be different and Washington finally learns to put the dagger in their opponent in game five? I’d like to think so but we’ll get into that more on Thursday and Friday. For now just enjoy a tiring yet thrilling and exciting victory for the Caps.
Notes: Carlson logged 34:50 to lead the Caps in ice time…Washington won the faceoff battle, 46-44. Jason Arnott was 12-8 and Boyd Gordon went 8-5…Washington was 0 for 4 on the power play but the game tying tally came just seconds after Avery’s slashing penalty ended…the Caps killed off all seven Rangers power plays. The trips on Gordon (second one) and Mike Green were bad and the interference called on Marco Sturm in the first period was atrocious. Backstrom did get away with a crosscheck on Staal in the 2nd OT…the zebras were Paul Devorski and Steve Kozari and let’s just say I could do without seeing either of them again in the playoffs…down on the farm the Hershey Bears lost, 3-2, in game four in Charlotte. The Bears and Checkers will play game five on Friday night in North Carolina. Game six will be at the Giant Center on Sunday at 5 pm. Game seven, if necessary, would be Monday night at 7 pm in Chocolatetown.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on at 715 am on Thursday talking Capitals hockey with Drew Forrester on the Comcast Morning Show on WNST 1570 AM Baltimore. Listen Live at WNST.NET.