In the NHL playoffs, the ability for one team to make adjustments and seize momentum when behind in a series is key to winning and turning things around. On Friday night at the Verizon Center the New York Rangers, who were down 1-0 after losing game one in overtime, came out hard in the first 10 minutes against the Washington Capitals but Michal Neuvirth stood strong in net and then the Caps took over in the second period scoring two goals in the first five minutes en route to a 2-0 victory. Jason Chimera tallied after some hard work by Scott Hannan and Brooks Laich help set up a beauty of a pass by rookie Marcus Johansson to #25 to put the Caps on the board. 117 seconds later Jason Arnott buried a deflected Mike Green shot into the cage on the power play to make it 2-0. The Capitals then went into a defensive posture in the final frame and now lead the series two games to none as this matchup moves to Madison Square Garden for game three on Sunday (NBC, 3 pm) and game four on Wednesday.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game which ended with New York pretty much trying to play rugby:
- The Caps overall team defense was outstanding and that includes everyone from the goalie, to the blue line, and the forwards. Neuvirth had to face 13 shots in the opening frame but there weren’t a lot of quality chances. After that the Rangers only got nine more shots and just six in a third period that Coach John Tortorella felt his team dominated. The best save for #30 came on Marian Gaborik in the slot in the final 10 minutes. In another goal mouth scramble really late, the Rangers fired wide in tight and then a shot destined for an open goal was blocked by John Erskine’s skate. As John Keeley of On Frozen Blog pointed out to me following the contest, Washington blocked 21 shots to only 15 for New York and it is clear that this year’s Capitals team is more committed in their own zone.
“They’ve been buying in since the middle of December. I said it many times, they just want to win. They’ve all said it to a man. I think the important thing is that they get success. We’ve had a lot of guys that have won a lot of awards and that doesn’t mean anything to them now. The success of what could happen is what they want. So when we started changing this a little bit they said if it’s going to work, we’re going to do it,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on Washington’s improved defensive abilities.
An example of that defensive commitment was how Washington countered a major offensive tactic from New York in Friday’s game. The Rangers repeatedly tried to get the puck behind the Caps net, have a forward go one way in an attempt to drag Neuvirth and the Washington defenders in the direction the player was going, and then backhand the biscuit behind them to a teammate at the back post for an open net. Tortorella’s crew used this play in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 times with no sale. In fact, the Capitals routinely had a defensemen or a forward covering the back post and centers Backstrom and Johanssson were superb at snuffing that play out. Green pointed out the forward support as a big reason why the Caps were able to blank New York on the scoreboard.
“[That play] was just something we picked up throughout the game. You just have to be in the right position as a d-man or else you are going to get caught. Not only that our forwards were helping collapse down to the net so even if they did get a chance they didn’t have much time,” said Green on how they stopped a play New York clearly thought would bring them success versus the Caps.
- Washington has a speed advantage on New York and they used that in period two to dominate the game and get the lead. The Capitals did a good job of getting pucks deep in that middle frame and they didn’t make the big turnover in the neutral zone or inside the offensive blue line that can lead to odd man rushes. The Rangers may have had one or two of those type of breaks all night, if that. The second period dominance by the Caps came from Washington using their speed to create offense in transition. It is something the Caps must continue to do to win this series.
- The advantage of having a 2-0 game lead heading into the third period for the Caps is that Coach Bruce Boudreau could pretty much roll his lines and keep everyone fresh. The Washington ice time leader was Hannan with a modest 21:34 and he played just 18 seconds more than Karl Alzner. #27, who appeared to get knicked on his first shift, was a beast in this game. He had three more team leading blocked shots (tied with John Erskine and Nicklas Backstrom) in game two and has 11 total in the series. He was superb at getting the puck out of his zone and it was his heads up long bomb off of the boards that gave Alexander Ovechkin a breakaway in the third period. Henrik Lundqvist (16 saves), however, made a big sprawling stop on the Great #8 to prevent the roof from being blown off of the Verizon Center. For the Rangers, Tortorella once again relied on his top d-pair of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi and both played roughly 23 and a half minutes. Those two have to be wearing down.
- Green, in his second game back since a long absence due to a concussion, was the target of several Rangers hits. He played just 16:27, took a high stick from Ruslan Fedotenko in period two, and late in regulation Brandon Dubinsky hit him hard up high in the Washington zone. But #52 told me that #17′s hit was not a penalty and he was just finishing his check. Green also said he was fine and he talked to the media for over seven minutes after the contest, which is far above the norm.
- So the Caps have a 2-0 series lead and their mettle will be heavily tested by a desperate Rangers club at The Garden on Sunday at 3 pm. Washington has done a good job of playing this series one shift at a time so far. They were a little complacent in the third period on Friday night and as a result, Tortorella felt pretty good about his team’s efforts despite the loss. In his mind, he thinks they have some momentum but need to score to feed off of that. But as Mike Vogel and I discussed after the post game press conferences, the Blueshirts only had six shots in the 3rd and the Caps had two quality chances with the Ovechkin breakaway and Backstrom’s steal and wraparound chance. So I am not sure that New York has much momentum but let them think that. Washington has a chance to put New York in a serious hole and will need to play more like they did in the middle period of Friday’s tilt when they really had the Rangers on the ropes. If they find a way to keep the momentum on their side then they have a good chance to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Notes: Semin’s hard work off of the faceoff allowed him to get the puck to Ovechkin (1 assist), who then fed Green for his shot that fortuitously clipped Matt Gilroy’s stick and went orthogonally to Arnott for the power play tally. The way the puck went right to #44 was lucky, but you need that to win in the playoffs…#28 did take a bad hooking penalty late in period two but Washington killed that one and the other Rangers man advantage…the Caps PP goal stopped a playoff streak of 20 straight advantage situations without scoring (h/t to Ted Starkey of The Washington Times for that stat)…the NHL Off Ice official tallying hits on Friday night had a very busy evening in this physical game. The Caps won that battle, 38-35…John Carlson logged 20:25 but he was in the locker room for about eight plus minutes of game time in period one. #74 took a shot off of the right leg, went to the bench at the whistle, and then ran down the tunnel. My guess is it was either an equipment problem or he got cut and needed minor repairs. Either way he came back and played a strong final 50 minutes… Johansson was +1 and had an outstanding night. His play in his own zone is top notch and the pass to Chimera on the game winning goal was of the elite variety…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 29-28 with Boyd Gordon going 8-4 while Laich won 6 of 9 draws…Rangers super pest Sean Avery tried to stir things up in a third period in which he received nearly six minutes of ice time. At one point, #16 tackled Semin after a whistle and didn’t receive a penalty. He did do a good job of forechecking and he had three shots on goal…Defensemen Dennis Wideman skated on his own for about 15 minutes today at Kettler Iceplex, which is very encouraging news. He could be back faster than originally thought.