After losing game two last Friday night, New York Rangers Coach John Tortorella said he felt his team was close and that they had some momentum heading into game three despite trailing their best of seven series, 2-0, to the Washington Capitals. The Caps talked about the storm they’d likely face from the Blueshirts in game three and their ability to be able to weather it. Well, Washington managed to survive a first period that included killing off an 85 second five on three Rangers power play, but in the final two periods they got into penalty trouble, had some sloppy shifts in their own zone, and lost on a Brandon Dubinsky tally with 1:39 remaining in regulation. The 3-2 New York victory cuts the Capitals series lead to two games to one with game four set for Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Here are the highlights and analysis from a blown opportunity to take command of this series by the Caps:
– Plain and simple, the Rangers outworked the Capitals in this contest. New York wanted this one more and it showed on the ice. The Blueshirts talked about getting more traffic and presence around rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) and they did just that. Two of their three tallies were the result of storming the crease and they missed by less than a second on getting a fourth at the end of period two in similar fashion. The only thing that saved Washington there was the green light going on as the puck was on the goal line. Tortorella’s crew made a concerted effort to drive to the net this entire game, often times taking liberties with Neuvirth. But with the officials not calling those type of infractions and clamping down on the stick work, the Rangers had things refereed in their favor, but more on that later.
– Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist, -1), after game one, mentioned that if you make a mistake in your own zone it is likely going to end up in the back of your net. The Caps did that too often on Sunday afternoon. Both of the last two Rangers goals were the result of the Caps being out of position defensively. On goal two, a rebound tally by Vinny Prospal, Jason Arnott and Ovechkin appeared to switch positions on the ice and Matt Bradley got caught too low off of his point man, Marc Staal. Karl Alzner got tied up with Marian Gaborik in front, so Neuvirth didn’t get a good look at the shot from #18, and the biscuit hit #30 then fell on the doorstep where #20 slammed it home eight minutes into period three. After Mike Knuble tied the game up on a power play with just over five minutes to go, Dubinsky scored the game winner in a four on four situation where Ovechkin, Scott Hannan, and Alzner each had chances to stop #17’s progress to the net. Ovechkin fell to the ice in the left wing corner, Hannan got tied up with Ruslan Fedotenko allowing Dubinsky to get a lane below the goal line, then Alzner hesitated a hair in front of the net, and #17 banked the biscuit off of #27 into the goal for the game winner. Sloppy defense and hard work by New York led to the two goals and that was the difference in the hockey game.
– Neuvirth played well for the most part, especially with Sean Avery and Brandon Prust in his face or hitting him all night. Both #16 and #8 violated the rules but referees Chris Rooney, Tim Peel, and Frederick L’Ecuyer, who replaced Rooney early in the second period when #5 was injured (broken fibula per Jeff Marek of HNIC), chose to allow that stuff to continue despite pleas from the Capitals bench to put a halt to it. #30 was superb on the Rangers 1st period 5 on 3 and he made numerous big stops, but the first goal he gave up to Erik Christensen from a bad angle on the power play cannot go in. Neuvy got caught cheating and #26’s super laser found the top of the cage short side to give New York another jolt of energy. Neuvirth is a fierce competitor and needs to come back with a strong game four.
– Washington scored their second power play goal of the series to tie the game as Knuble banged home a rebound of a Backstrom shot after Ovechkin made a super pass that split the Rangers PK box. The Caps other two PP opportunities were a mixed bag. Brooks Laich got some point time again and while, in general, I like that he shoots the puck a lot, he needs to do a better job of when to fire away. A couple of his shots were easily blocked and a little more patience would have helped. Overall the Capitals power play is two for eight in the series (25%), they just need to get more chances, but more on that next.
– After a combined total of nine power plays in games one and two, there were 10 power plays in this contest. New York had seven and the Caps only received three in a contest that was clearly called differently than the two at the Verizon Center. The injury to Rooney changed the playing field as L’Ecuyer is not a guy who should be doing playoff games. The Caps do have a beef with the zebras allowing the extra curricular stuff on their goalie plus unneccessary head shots to Mike Green and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee have two days to drill that into the NHL Supervisor of Officials for the series. However, if you look at all of the calls against Washington, the only one I could say that was not a penalty, by the letter of the law, might have been the holding minor on Hannan. Once the interference on Matt Hendricks was called in period one the Caps should have realized that things were changing but they kept taking infractions of the lazy variety. The Rangers had their share of holding and interference but they got away with it more because they were moving their feet while Washington glided and used their sticks, for the most part. In addition, taking so many penalties caused Boudreau to have to use his PKers more and that took a lot of ice time away from Ovechkin, Arnott, and Semin. Lastly on the penalty front, the Capitals can’t get into post whistle scrums because it also hurts the rotation. If Carlson doesn’t go off with Brian Boyle late in the game then he is on the ice with Alzner on the 4 on 4 and Dubinsky likely doesn’t get to the net. #74 is a righty, so he would have had his stick in the lane #17 took below the goal line, and therefore could have more easily knocked the puck away from Dubinsky. Carlson needs to keep his head because he is far more valuable on the ice than in the penalty box.
– In closing, the Capitals, to a man, need to realize the referees did not cost them this game, a lack of hard work and resolve did that. Sure the officials played a role in their defeat but if Washington plays harder and smarter, the calls would have likely been more even (then again, we are talking about L’Ecuyer). New York did a better job of moving their feet and therefore, got the seven power plays and won the game. Boudreau and McPhee are the only ones who should be working the media and the league about the officials at this point, not the players. This is where it is important that the Capitals get past that and put everything they can into working harder than New York on Wednesday. The Rangers, who are a resilient bunch, have the momentum right now and with their crowd support will likely come out strong again in game four. But the Capitals are the better team and need to show that. They must remember what it felt like to lose a 3-1 series lead last year, use that pain to generate a killer instinct, and jump on New York early on. They should be the team possessing the puck more and getting in Henrik Lundqvist’s grill, not the other way around. Boudreau needs to make some minor tactical adjustments to help Washington better use their speed advantage. Tortorella made his tweaks to his lines and got a victory, now it is up to Bruce, combined with a message to get focused on working hard from veteran leaders like Arnott, Knuble, and Hannan, to help put the Capitals in control of this matchup again.
Notes: Green led the Caps in ice time with 22:52…Dubinsky played 25:45, the most for either team…the Caps got outhit 41-29 and lost the faceoff battle, 45-35. Boyd Gordon was 11-5 but Arnott lost 15 of 19 draws. Chris Drury only played 7:58 for the Blueshirts but won 15 of 19 from the dot…The Hershey Bears got 22 saves from Braden Holtby in their 4-2 victory over Charlotte on Sunday afternoon at the Giant Center. Bears D-man Dmitry Orlov was +4 with an assist. The series is tied with game 3 in Charlotte (Carolina’s AHL team) set for Tuesday night.