The Washington Capitals turned in another very good effort on Saturday afternoon at sold out Verizon Center (18,277), but it wasn’t enough for a win as Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 35 shots he faced to lead the Rangers to a 1-0 victory and take a two games to none lead in this best of seven series. Game three is Monday night at Madison Square Garden (Note: WNST will have a Rock the Red viewing party at Silver Spring Mining Company, Gary Rissling’s bar, in Perry Hall on Bel Air Road).
For the Caps goaltending had been the hot topic since Wednesday night’s loss in which #1 goalie Jose Theodore struggled. For Saturday’s tilt on national television (NBC), Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau pulled the plug on #60 and went with rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, who is only 21 years old and was playing his first ever NHL playoff game after only six previous NHL games (4-0-1), and he stopped 23 of 24 Rangers shots in the loss.
The only goal of the game came in the first period just 7:44 into the contest in a sequence where the Caps had the potential for a four on two rush out of their own zone but because of an average breakout it became a four on three break with defenseman moving Mike Green up ice. At the Rangers blue line, Alexander Ovechkin, instead of getting the puck deep, tried a cross ice pass that was intercepted by New York, who then had three on two break the other way with Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti back for Washington. When Kozlov misread the play and went to hit Brandon Dubinsky, the Ranger forward pushed the puck ahead to Marcus Naslund who skated down the left wing and with Varlamov shaded over for the shot, Poti was unable to cut off the pass (something a defenseman MUST do on a two on one break), allowing Ryan Callahan to streak down the right side of the slot and bury Naslund’s pass into an open net. On that goal, which Varlamov had no chance on, Boudreau said the Rangers got away with an interference call as Ovechkin was halted from back checking effectively by one of the New York players at the red line (Boudreau said the Ranger player just stopped skating to impede the Great #8). Overall Boudreau was pleased with his goalie, though.
“I thought he played well. I didn’t think there was anything that could be done on the first goal. He made a really good save about three minutes after that. I was very happy with his game,” said Boudreau on Varlamov.
Shortly thereafter the Caps had a two on one of their own with Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin but the New York defenseman correctly did not give #91 a lane for a pass and Fedorov’s shot was stopped by Lundqvist. Washington outshot the Rangers 13-6 in the first period in which New York received the only power play.
The second period did not start very well for Washington as the Rangers received three straight man advantages but the combination of Varlamov and the Caps defense thwarted New York’s power play (0 for 5 on the afternoon). Varlamov’s biggest save was on Nikolai Zherdev on the first power play of the second period and he gave up a rebound but Chris Drury shot it high. Washington then started playing better towards the end of the period and failed on a power play (a Michael Roszival hook on Ovechkin) with Lundqvist making a big save on a Green point shot he didn’t see but Brooks Laich couldn’t convert the rebound (a Ranger legally tied up his stick). Then with 1:03 left in the period Nik Antropov tripped Michael Nylander but the Caps could not convert. Second period shots were 10-6 New York in a period they controlled most of the play.
The third period was all Caps as they poured 16 shots on Lundqvist but could not solve the very hot net minder. Helping out New York’s cause was some great shot blocking (29) and some luck (the Caps missed the net a few times and hit the crossbar). The final shots tally was 35-24 in favor of the Caps but the scoreboard read, 1-0, Rangers.
Here are some quotes and thoughts on the game:
As I mentioned above the Rangers are very good at blocking shots, one of the keys to their 2-0 series lead. “It’s the playoffs and you got to sacrifice your body. Our guys did a great job of that tonight. You got to do that against a team like that. They’re going to shoot everything, ” said Dubinsky. “We blocked a lot of shots. A lot of guys blocked shots and sacrificed their bodies in a series like this. We had a lot of blocks in the first game – especially on face offs. Tonight, again, a couple blocks where they had pretty good shots. We did a lot of good things. I think these first two games have been really focused, and we’ve minimized our mistakes. And that’s been the difference,” added Lundqvist.
The Caps did get 35 shots through and Lundqvist gave up some rebounds and was handcuffed on about a half of a dozen of them but Washington either wasn’t there for the rebound or did not get to the net. “A lot of our shots were coming from the outside, but rebounds were coming to spots where we should be, we just weren’t there to see it,” said Green, who only had two shots on net and did not have one of his better performances. “Their defense is doing a helluva job, blocking us out. We talk about getting to the net and going for rebounds. It’s not like we’re sitting there saying we’re going to take the shots on the side,” said Boudreau.
Varlamov did well and he had the support of his teammates, including Theodore. “After the warm-up, he walk over to me and say ‘Don’t worry about it. I was 20-years-old when I play my first game, it was in Montreal. You know don’t worry about it, I think you’ll do fine.’” Boudreau was complimentary of how #60 handled the news on being sat on Saturday and he was quiet on who would play on Monday as well. “He was very professional. He understood. He obviously wants to play. He knows there’s an opportunity for him to play again if we continue this.” I expect Varlamov to start game three but based on what Boudreau did today nothing surprises me with this coach. Today’s move, which some could have seen as hitting the panic button, was clearly a good one and it nearly won Washington the game.
Is Lundqvist in the Caps heads? Here are some thoughts from the Caps on the goalie who has been the difference so far in this series. “Obviously, we couldn’t get anything by him. And the ones that got by him, hit the crossbar (Ovechkin’s chance in the third period). It was probably the only one that beat him,” said Boudreau, who also mentioned that when he played he didn’t get frustrated by goalies, only referees. “I don’t know, it is hard to say. I think we had a lot of chances today too and he was pretty good. There is nothing to say about that. I don’t know, we have to do something new. Maybe we have to go even more to the net. I mean more traffic, we have to try and get the rebounds and those kind of things. He is a good goalie and he is pretty big in the net,” added Nicklas Backstrom (13-6 on face-offs). “Again lots of chances, he played great. He’s a good goalie and he played great,” finished Ovechkin.
Rangers coach John Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with Tampa and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, had this to say about his goalie and the Caps. “Third period, he was just outstanding. That’s a good offensive team we’re playing against. I thought we did some pretty good things. Third period they turned it up; they loaded up a line. Give them (the Capitals) credit. They’re a pretty good hockey club. Hank (Lundqvist) stood tall.”
How are the Caps going to handle being down two games to none? “Of course no because we were number two in our conference, but it is the playoffs anything can happen. Now we just have to regroup and we are going on the road for two games. It is going to be a little uphill, but we still have chances – it is the best of seven, so we still have chances,” said Backstrom when asked if he ever expected this deficit. “We have opportunity to bounce back and we have to use that opportunity. It is going to be a hard road trip, but we have to figure out our mind and try and win game. Try and score goals and win game. That is what it is all about,” said the Great #8. “Same as it was before, we can’t get down – we have to stay up. If we get down on ourselves it’s going to make it tough on ourselves even more. We will be fine. We just need to change a few things that are costing us here,” finished Green.
The Caps power play was 0 for 4 due to all of the blocked shots and some overpassing. The Caps need to find a way to fake the Ranger shot blockers to the ice and move around them. They also need to get more traffic in front of the net. Don’t be surprised to see Chris Clark inserted into the lineup for Nylander (only Cap without a shot attempt today) as #17 is much better at going to the net and creating havoc. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Boudreau move Ovechkin down in front of the net on the power play, something he did in last year’s playoffs against the Flyers. Either Fedorov, Poti, or Brian Pothier could be used on the point instead. I also think that Eric Fehr could be used on the power play and #16 has to get himself to the front of the net at even strength as well. Brooks Laich is the only Cap who consistenly is going to the net. I think it might be time to move the smallish Tomas Fleischmann off of the power play.
The Caps can draw on the experience of rallying from a three games to one deficit in last year’s playoffs against Philadelphia and they will need to do that in game three, otherwise game four becomes win or head to the golf course. “We can’t quit,” is what Boudreau said he would tell his team and not coming back in this series, even though the Rangers are a very good team, could really hurt the confidence of this club going forward into next season.