There would be no stopping the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon in game five against the New York Rangers. No slow start, no lack of aggression, and no let up on New York. The Caps totally dominated the Blueshirts en route to a 3-1 victory and won the series four games to one. Michal Neuvirth stopped 26 of 27 shots (140 of 148 in the series) and Mike Green, Alexander Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin scored for the Caps, who came out on fire in front of a raucous crowd at the Verizon Center. Washington will now get some much needed rest, because as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau stated after the contest, “We’ve got a lot of guys hurt,” to sit back and wait to see who they will face in round two. If Buffalo defeats the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon, the Capitals would draw the Sabres, who are the lowest remaining seed in the Eastern Conference.
Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game and series that was extremely physical:
– The stat of the post season for Washington, so far, is 15 for 15. That is how many straight playoff series that Neuvirth has won in North America. The 22 year old rookie looked composed in the cage in every contest and rarely gave up rebounds. #30 did a super job of covering the puck and getting faceoffs any time the Rangers started getting sustained pressure, something he said he was instructed to do.
“Yeah, that’s what the coaches told me, they want me to freeze puck every opportunity I have to freeze the puck, so I think I did a pretty good job today with it,” said the young Czech goaltender, who won back to back Calder Cup titles with the Hershey Bears the last two seasons.
– While Neuvirth was very good in goal, he also was aided by outstanding team defense for all but one period in the five games (second period in game 4). The Capitals have dramatically improved in this area thanks to better personnel and a new system that Boudreau put in back in December. All of the Caps have signed up to play more responsibly and Washington became a stronger shot blocking team that learned to play better away from the puck. Both Boudreau and Ovechkin talked about that improvement following the series victory.
“I think they really bought in. I think from that 7-0 game on, and I haven’t checked the numbers, but I bet we had the best goals against in the league because these guys want to win. When they heard that this is the way we think we have to play to win they all said let’s do it because we want to win. So I think it’s come a long ways,” said Boudreau on Washington’s great team defense.
“You can see how we sacrifice our bodies, Mike Green blocked the shots, everybody block the shots, it was very important for us to don’t give them any chances to score goals and to give them momentum, because after 1-0 you never know what’s going to happen. We score second goal and then we play very well defensively,” said the Great #8, who scored another one of his patented highlight reel goals to make it 2-0 just 7:04 into the middle frame.
– As Rangers Coach John Tortorella stated after the series, his team is still in a building mode and they only had one style of play to take in order to try and win. That was to be physical, dump the puck deep, and try to wear down the Capitals in their own zone. While New York had some games where they had periods of puck possession advantage, they never really generated a lot of offense. When the Caps moved their feet and were the aggressor, this was a major mismatch, which was evident in period one when the Capitals poured 13 shots on Henrik Lundqvist. If not for King Henrik standing on his head, Washington would have been up more than 1-0.
“Just being down 1-0 after that first period just felt like a good result the way [the Capitals] were playing. We just had a tough time getting in front and creating great chances,” said the star Swedish goalie.
– Kudos to the Capitals star players for stepping up in this series and leading the way, which allowed their teammates to follow suit. Both Ovechkin and Semin had three goals each, Green was superb on the backend, and Nicklas Backstrom was an absolute beast of a two way forward in this series. In fact, in the history of the franchise, this might be the best group of centers that the Caps have ever had in Backstrom, Jason Arnott, rookie Marcus Johansson, and Boyd Gordon. Perhaps an argument could be made for the 1991-92 quartet of Michal Pivonka, Mike Ridley, Dale Hunter, and Dave Tippett, but nonetheless, this team is dominant because they are so solid up the middle now since the acquisition of #44 to go along with MJ90’s continual improvement. Boudreau certainly credited his star players as a major reason for the Capitals success against New York.
“They were all vested today. You could tell from the first shift on…when your best players are your best players the rest of the team just sort of picks up from it, and they play accordingly. I thought our best players were our best players tonight,” concluded Boudreau.
– Finishing this series so quickly is likely to pay dividends this spring for the Caps. The next round probably won’t start until next Friday (4/29) and that gives time for injuries to Mike Knuble, Green (puck to the head, but according to Boudreau could’ve come back and played, if needed), Arnott, and anyone else nicked up to heal. In addition, if d-man Dennis Wideman is recovered from his leg hematoma, then Boudreau will finally get on the ice, for the first time this season, Green, John Carlson, and Wideman. That is three fast skating, puck rushing defensemen, which makes the Capitals a very deep and dangerous team going forward.
Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle, 31-25 and Gordon was an outstanding 12-3…Carlson and Karl Alzner were superb in shutting down Marian Gaborik again (1 goal in entire series) and they played 26:31 and 24:28, respectively, in game five…Washington’s first goal, a vitally important one, came on their first power play and it was the only first stanza marker for either team in the series…Johansson had two goals and two assists in his first playoff series. He continues to get better and better and his speed is phenomenal. He could have had another assist in the 3rd period but Jason Chimera missed a wide open net off of a beautiful feed from #90…Brooks Laich assisted on the first two Caps goals…New York broke Neuvirth’s shut out bid with just 32 seconds left with the goalie pulled and John Erskine fighting with Ruslan Fedotenko…New York went 0 for 2 on the power play and 1 for 20 in the series. The Caps PK drastically improved in the regular season and was excellent all series…I haven’t heard the VC that loud since the last five minutes of game seven in 2009 versus the Rangers. The crowd was into it and the players said that the energy the fans brought helped them prevail.