Tag Archive | "Lundqvist"

Caps Collapse Late, Lose in Overtime

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Caps Collapse Late, Lose in Overtime

Posted on 07 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Just when Washington Capitals fans have thought they’ve seen it all, their beloved Caps found another way to lose a huge game, and perhaps a playoff series.

With the Caps clinging to a one goal lead and just 22 seconds left, Joel Ward did the UNTHINKABLE, he got careless with his stick and took a double minor penalty.

And you can guess what happened next, the Rangers pulled their goalie and tied the game with seven seconds left and then won it in ovetime on the second half of the power play on a Marc Staal point blast.

It was as cruel a loss as Caps fans can likely remember as they had a 3-2 series lead right there in the palm of their hand only to get careless.

The Rangers now lead this best of seven series three games to two with game six set for Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Caps have never won a playoff series that was tied after four games when they’ve lost game five, they’d also won every playoff series in which they won game five in that same scenario.

What is even more of a killer is that Washington survived a terrible 1st period and seemed ready to take control of the series when John Carlson scored on the power play 4:20 into period three. The Caps would play a really good final stanza, up until the end, and get several odd man chances. Nicklas Backstrom hit the iron on a breakaway as Henrik Lundqvist got a piece of the shot, then the Capitals had a three on one but Staal made a great play to break that up. Those missed opportunities can sometimes come back to haunt you. 

Still with 22 seconds left, it looked good for Washington, then Ward, who was the hero in Boston in game seven, snatched the goat horns.  But the Caps could’ve still killed the six on four situation but the Rangers once again got a bounce they needed as Ryan Callahan tipped the puck to Brad Richards just before Braden Holtby was about to cover the puck. The Blueshirts pulled it out and then took advantage of the double minor carrying over to OT.

The question now is can the Capitals respond to adversity once again? This is as bad of a loss as I can remember in Washington hockey history. The only good news is there is still at least one more game to play.

Guess we will find out what this team is made of on Wednesday night.

Notes: In 12 Caps playoff games, the team scoring first has now won 11 of them…Alex Semin took two elbows to the head in the middle frame and only played one more shift that period. He did play in the third period. Dan Girardi had one of the elbows and it was #6 who smashed Mike Green in overtime and came up off of the ice on the play. If it was a Cap player doing that the New York media would start whining from here to California…

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Caps Get Breaks in Game Two to Even Series

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Caps Get Breaks in Game Two to Even Series

Posted on 01 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Remember all of those posts the Washington Capitals hit in game one in their series opening loss to the New York Rangers? Well, it was the Blueshirts who clanked the iron repeatedly on Monday night as the Caps stole a win in New York on Alexander Ovechkin’s third period power play goal. The Gr8′s wrister with Troy Brouwer providing traffic with 7:27 left in regulation was just what the doctor ordered for Washington in a 3-2 victory. The series shifts to DC on Wednesday for game three at 730 pm.

This game seemed to have more of a pace to it than the opening salvo. The Rangers dominated the opening 10 minutes before Washington settled down and in true Dale Hunter hockey fashion, the Capitals scored in transition after playing good defense. Joel Ward, Mike Knuble, and Keith Aucion worked a masterful three on two and old man Knuble banged the puck home from the doorstep for the first marker.

Braden Holtby (26 saves) rebounded with a strong game after giving up some questionable goals on Saturday. Most notable was his save on Chris Kreider on a breakaway after the puck took a bounce on the Knicks ice over John Carlson’s stick at the offensive blue line. #70 made a huge save and Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Jason Chimera hustled at the other end to score after Henrik Lundqvist (22 saves) came out to play the puck and turned it over. That goal made it 2-0 Caps in the first period but from there it was some wild hockey and nail biting time for Capitals fans.

New York scored their first goal in four on four play, something the Caps have struggled with recently. Brooks Laich made a bad decision to change with the puck still in the neutral zone and Michael Del Zotto took advantage. The Rangers defenseman alertly pushed the puck up and Marian Gaborik got it to Brad Richards for an easy two on one goal. The Rangers would tie it up in the third period on the power play, which set the stage for Ovechkin’s game winner.

Basically, this series is pretty much dead even after two games. Rangers Coach John Tortorella had the last change for two games so Dale Hunter played it ultra conservatively and went mostly with his checkers, especially when leading. As a result, Ovechkin only played 13:36 and Alex Semin logged just 12:26 while grinders like Jay Beagle and Brouwer played 19:58 and 18:48, respectively. At the other end, Tortorella is pretty much going with three forward lines as four dressed Rangers played less than five minutes each (Stu Bickel, Mike Rupp, John Mitchell, and Artem Anisimov). This should be an advantage for Washington, especially as the series goes longer because the Caps have a more balanced lineup and the players should be more fresh.

Perhaps the best news of the night, though, was that the power play finally got untracked. They still have Ovechkin on the point but the Gr8 did make an adjustment, as former Caps PR director Nate Ewell pointed out. Alex went with a high wrister on the game winner instead of a slapper and Lundqvist struggled with it, especially with #20 battling with a Rangers defensemen right in front of him. If the Caps are going to win this series, special teams will need to be a difference maker. The Rangers play physical and they pounded Mike Green in the first period. That physical play though leads to penalties so a potent power play is really needed.

Looking at the three Capitals goals, they were all from in tight or with traffic. That is the only way to beat King Henrik. On Washington’s end, Holtby didn’t have much of a chance on either Rangers tally. They came as a result of Washington miscues.

So what do the Caps have to do to win Wednesday night? First thing is they need to play within themselves. They can’t go back to Harlem Globetrotters hockey with fancy drop passes a plenty in an effort to put on a show. They need to stick to this boring, grind it out style and take advantage of chances when they can. They need to get the pucks deep and wear out a not as deep New York roster. Finally, they have to get bodies and pucks to the net, otherwise Lundqvist will win the game.

Hunter now has the last change for two contests and can get the matchups he wants. The question is will the Capitals be able to execute in those matchups?

Smart, defensive hockey wins in the post season. Can the Capitals keep that up?

Notes: Another super game from John Carlson and Karl Alzner who led the team in ice time logging over 23 minutes each…Green played 8:31 in period one but finished with only 18:14 total. It made sense for Hunter to cut back his minutes because the Rangers were running him because 52 was ending up in too many tough situations with the puck…Jeff Schultz returned to the lineup for John Erskine and played 17:12..the face-off battle was even steven at 34 wins a piece.

 

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Bad Breaks and Mistakes Cost Caps in Game 1

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Bad Breaks and Mistakes Cost Caps in Game 1

Posted on 28 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In hockey, there are bad breaks and there are mistakes. Both of those went against the Washington Capitals on Saturday in New York and as a result the Caps fell, 3-1, to the Rangers in game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Game two is on Monday Night from Madison Square Garden at 730 pm.

The disappointing thing in this game is the Capitals did a lot of good things and easily could have won. They hit at least three pipes and they held the Rangers to only 14 shots on goal. Normally when you hold an opponent to so few shots, you should win, but more on that in a moment. Washington only generated 18 shots on goal themselves but they missed the net or hit iron on several occassions. Alex Oveckhin missed the net on a golden chance in the third period, Nicklas Backstrom clanked the post twice, and Alex Semin hit the cross bar. Clearly Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (17 saves) had a golden horseshoe shoved away in the right place for this one. The Caps only goal was a thing of beauty, as Brooks Laich set up Jason Chimera for a sweet one timer by King Henrik with four seconds left in period two to knot the game heading into the final frame.

The Caps also did a good job of drawing penalties until the referees, Steve Kozari and Kevin Pollock, decided that tripping wasn’t going to be called on the Blueshirts over the last 30 minutes of the game. Blatant haul downs by the Rags on Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin were ignored. But that is what I expect from those two and you can’t blame this loss on the zebras, as bad as they were, at times. There was no way the power plays should have been four to four but Rangers Coach John Tortorella will probably still complain anyways about the refs, because that is what he does. Let him complain about that and the media too (which he did after the game), I hope it wears his team out emotionally.

So where did the Caps lose this one? Let’s start with beef #1, the power play. Special teams are so important in the post season and when you get four advantage situations in a scoreless game you need to capitalize on them. The Capitals did not on Saturday, including a 33 second five on three in the middle frame. I am going to sound like a broken record here, but there were not enough shots from the point with traffic in front or bodies around the net for rebounds. I don’t like the fact that Johansson had 3:18 of power play time while Laich only logged 2:09 and Mike Green had 2:18. Finesse does not work in the post season, grit does, so get Laich out there, move Ovechkin down low, and put Green or John Carlson on the point. Ovechkin had only 1 shot on goal in 21:03 of game time so clearly he is NOT needed on the point for the power play. If Washington wants to win this series, they need to take advantage of the dumb penalties an overly physical Rangers team will take.

Speaking of Green and being physical, as predicted in this blog last night the Rags would hit #52 and the other Caps ad nauseum early on to try and set a tone and get the Capitals to back down. It wouldn’t have worked very well had the power play been effective, and I still think the Caps responded okay to that early rough play. It is more than past time for the coaches to fix the power play, though. Also, Green did not have a good game at all and I labeled him as the key to the series. He was outmuscled by Artem Anisimov on the first goal and his brain cramp decision to attempt to change allowed Chris Kreider to get a semi breakaway and score the winning tally.

Braden Holtby (11 saves) gave up some goals he probably would want back but he wasn’t that bad. On the first marker he got caught trying to poke check Anisimov, on the second he got beat with a good but not impossible to stop shot, and the third he gave up five hole. But all three of them were the results of defensive mistakes, especially the second goal where the Caps coverage was horrible. In particular Chimera looked confused and then Dennis Wideman didn’t commit quick enough for Holtby to know whether Brad Richards was going to pass or shoot. As a result #19 had an open five hole to fire at and a skilled player like that is not going to miss.

As for the Washington skill players, they did not deliver on Saturday. Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green all need to be performing for the Caps to get where they want to go. There are no injury excuses, this team is as healthy as it has been all season. Those four guys need to step up and get it done. Ovechkin must be better and he needs to more effectively use his talent to get by a slooooowwww Rangers defense. He isn’t playing Zdeno Chara anymore so 1 shot on net in 21 minutes is INEXCUSABLE.

Overall, the entire team needs to be willing to pay more of a price to score goals. If Lundqvist sees the shot, he is likely going to stop it. Washington needs to get more pucks and more bodies to the net. It is that simple.

Regular season point totals are hooey, especially given the injuries Washington had during the season, so I don’t want to hear the Rangers are supposed to win because of that. The Caps have the team their GM wants playing this time of year so they need to produce.

This is a very winnable series, but the Capitals have to play the right way. They didn’t do that consistently in game one, but the contest was on the road so the adage that a big advantage isn’t gained in a series until a team loses a game on home ice rings true this evening. New York had to win today and they did given their history of getting beaten by the Capitals in the post season two of the last three years  (yeah, I said that “crap” John and I hope you are reading too).

But the Caps should have won today.  Had they played smarter and more consistently they would have.

Will Monday be different?

Notes: John Erskine played only 8:17 as the Caps sixth defensemen. Cutting back his minutes messed up the rotation in the third period and as a result, it was Wideman and Karl Alzner on defense on the third goal…the Rangers dressed seven defensemen but stiffs Stu Bickel and Steve Eminger didn’t even combine to play 10 minutes total…fourth liner Mike Rupp took a bad penalty and played just 5:26…Tortorella basically relied on five defensemen and three lines so the Caps need to extend this series out because his top guys will eventually wear down playing so much.

 

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Can Ovechkin & Company Finally Make it Out of Round 2?

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Can Ovechkin & Company Finally Make it Out of Round 2?

Posted on 27 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

On Saturday afternoon at 3 pm the Washington Capitals will embark on a critical game one of their second round playoff series from Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts, coached by the fiery John Tortorella, are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference after a super regular season while the Caps are coming in as underdogs for the second straight series despite upsetting the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in round one.

For Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin this will be their third venture into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So far they are 0-2. Last season they knocked off the Rags in five games before getting swept quickly by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Given that Washington has knocked off the Rangers two of the last three post seasons one has to wonder if perhaps the Capitals have the Rangers number? Maybe, but this is a different Rangers team.

Last spring they faced the Caps without an injured Ryan Callahan and then in the offseason they added a significant piece in center Brad Richards. Washington won that series in 2011 without Dennis Wideman (who had a so-so series, at best, against Boston) so the Rangers aren’t the only ones with a different roster for this matchup. New York is improved but I still think their defense is slow and they benefit a ton from Henrik Lundqvist bailing them out. Washington needs, like they did against Boston, to use their superior speed in the Caps forward to Rangers defense matchup. Guys like Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera will play a key role once again.

When it comes to matchups, whatever forward-defensive combination coach Dale Hunter uses must contain Marian Gaborik and Richards. If those New York skill guys get on a roll then that spells trouble for Washington. You can bet that Jay Beagle, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson will factor into Hunter’s defensive matchups. As for Ovechkin, he had a rough series against the Bruins because he was facing Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, one of the best defensive pairs in the NHL. The Rangers will likely put Dan Girardi and Mark Staal up against the Gr8. But Ovechkin should be able to overcome Girardi better than he did the Boston duo of Chara and Seidenberg. Ovechkin needs to avoid trying too much one on one or trying to skate through the whole team. His best bet to score is to go to the net in this series. The Rangers defense doesn’t have the ability to move him down low so the Gr8 needs to drive to the cage as much as possible with the puck.

Braden Holtby comes off of a super round one performance and if he doesn’t try to do much and just plays his game, he should be fine. His puckhandling skills help prevented his defensemen from getting run regularly in round one and you can bet Tortorella will be instructing his forwards to pound the Washington defense, especially Green. To me, #52 is a major key to this series. If #52 continues to play well paired with Roman Hamrllik then that gives Hunter two really good defensive pairs to put on the ice (with 27-74) . The Rangers will try to run Green and he needs to be smart about how he plays going into the corners and on the rush. A good series from “Game Over Greenie” likely means the Caps will advance.

If Washington can find a way to win this series, then it signals that Ovechkin and company have finally turned the corner by buying into Hunter’s playoff style.

If not, then many players could be on their way out of town because it would be five straight post seasons without a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

My prediction: The Caps kick the door in to get to the Final Four with a series victory in six games. Road warriors, baby, road warriors.

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Rangers Lucky They Lost to Caps Today

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Rangers Lucky They Lost to Caps Today

Posted on 07 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

John Tortorella should be thanking his lucky stars that Alexander Ovechkin scored his 38th goal of the season just 32 seconds into the game to pave the way for a Washington 4-1 rout over his New York Rangers.

Why? Because the number one seeded Rags weren’t going to beat the Capitals in a seven game series in the opening round of the playoffs, which would have been the scenario had the Rangers knocked off the Caps today.

The Caps OWWWWNNNN the BlueShirts since New York has no match for Washington’s skilled players. Ovechkin (1 goal), Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) and Alexander Semin (1 assist) light up when they see the slow Rangers defense and Henrik Lundqvist often has the task of trying to be the difference. On Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, King Henrik had no chance as the Capitals swarmed him in the opening frame en route to a 3-0 lead. Braden Holtby stopped 35 shots but most of them were from the perimeter as #70 made a strong case to be the first round starting goalie against the Boston Bruins, especially with both Michal Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun not at 100% healthwise.

For the Rangers, they luck out and get the Ottawas Senators, which is a much easier matchup for them despite what Keith Jones of the Philadelphia Flyers, I mean NBC, thinks.

The Caps last chance to win the Southeast Division title went out the window when the Carolina Hurricanes laid down by playing goalie Brian Boucher in Florida. Give credit to the Cats though, they deserved the division title since the Caps were so inconsistent throughout the season. The Panthers take the #3 seed and will face the New Jersey Devils.

For Washington, a mostly miserable regular season is finally over. It started with a 7-0 run, included inconsistent play, a coaching change, and some key injuries (Backstrom and Mike Green) during the majority of it, while finishing with a 5-2 stretch to qualify for the post season. The Caps get the very difficult task of facing the Boston Bruins in the first round and they will be heavy underdogs.

The Bruins are good and experienced while the Capitals underachieved in the regular season. Add in the fact that Washington will be playing the goalie that is 3rd on the depth chart and on paper, this looks like a mismatch. Most of the national and local media will predict it that way, but that takes pressure off of the Capitals.

Still, they do have internal pressure to win. This team was picked to go far in the postseason back in October and owner Ted Leonsis won’t be happy with a first round exit, even if it does come against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

For the Caps to find a way to beat Boston, they need to continue to do the things they did right on Saturday on Broadway. They need to go to the net and get traffic on the opposing goalie. They need to use solid defense to generate transition offense, like Roman Hamrlik did setting up a three on two for the Backstrom goal that made it 4-0. They also need good goaltending, like Holtby provided tonight.

What they need to improve on are some very important things. First, they still have a tendency to try to make the perfect or fancy play and that leads to too many turnovers in all zones. Coach Dale Hunter has to get the players to clean that up. The simple play is the one that works best in playoffs, not the “thread the needle” type passes that are tried too often by this hockey club.

In addition, the power play was 1 for 3 in New York but does anyone feel confident in it? The Rangers best chances to score came when the Caps were a man up because of poor decision making. Dennis Wideman had a terrible night manning the point. Green wasn’t much better and he certainly didn’t have his legs when chasing down Rangers on shorthanded semi breakaways in this one. If the Caps want to get the power play going then look no farther than how they scored against Lundqvist. John Carlson got the puck in the middle of the ice at the blue line and fired it on net. He didn’t look to pass, he simply sent the biscuit flying towards the cage where it was deflected home by a New York player. Good things happen when you shoot and the more the guys on the power play start to figure it out the more goals they’ll get and the number of shorthanded odd man breaks and goals against (the Capitals allowed 10 of them this year) will go down. It is a simple formula.

So 82 games are in the books and for the record the team went 42-32-8 for 92 points. They were 3-1 against the Bruins this year as well. But none of that means anything now, but what does matter is the Capitals need to improve in some key areas if they want to have a chance of winning against Boston and get a shot at owning the Rangers again in the post season in round two.

The Caps did Tortorella and company a favor tonight, but the fiery Rangers coach will never admit it.

You’re welcome John and hope to see you in round two.

Notes: Hamrlik had two assists in 16:38 of ice time and I am saying that was his best game of the season. He looked confident and poised throughout the contest…Carlson was good too in 20:25 of ice time. That is two super games in a row for him and he deserves more power play time with his excellent shot…Laich centered the top line and won the key faceoff that got Washington rollling…Joel Ward returned and played solid on a 4th line with Mathieu Perreault and Keith Aucoin. Ward’s grinding style seems to be a good fit for the postseason and the Caps will need big things out of him to try to stop a potent Bruins club…the full playoff schedule will be announced Sunday at 1 pm on the NHL Network.

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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

Posted on 25 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were on a two-game winning streak thanks to a renewed work ethic in victories on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday afternoon at the Verizon Center, John Tortorella’s New York Rangers club came in and schooled the Caps in the effort department en route to a 6-3 victory. Ruslan Fedotenko had two goals, high-priced free agent Brad Richards had a tally and an assist, and Ryan Callahan had three helpers as the Blueshirts top line went +3 in an impressive performance. New York is now 11-5-3 while Washington falls to 12-8-1.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from a contest that saw Washington revert to the form they displayed in their recent four game losing streak:

- When coaches talk about getting the puck deep and putting pressure on opponents’ defensemen being a key to success all one has to do is watch what Tortorella’s crew did to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s defense in this one. The Rangers aren’t a fancy team at all, they work hard, and on Friday they got pucks in behind the Washington net and just made the Capitals life miserable in their own zone. Dennis Wideman had what was probably his worst game as a Cap with five giveaways and he and his partner, Roman Hamrlik, were both -3 and benched after just two shifts in the third period. John Carlson and Jeff Schultz also had some misplays but those two, after a shaky first 25 or so minutes, rallied to be +1 for the contest. Washington’s best blue line duo was Karl Alzner and rookie Dmitry Orlov but you can’t win with one pair playing well for the whole game. What was hard to watch were how the mistakes seemed to keep on coming and many of the Capitals player didn’t move on from them and keep working, instead choosing to sulk and lose confidence.

“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one,” said King Karl when asked about trying to find ways to respond to quick goals allowed.

- After Wednesday’s victory over Winnipeg I talked about the Capitals excellent performance with puck support. On Friday, it was not good and the Rangers won the game on that alone. On the pivotal fourth Rangers goal, which came after the Caps had all of the momentum, Hamrlik needed to just take a strong step forward to push the biscuit outside the Washington zone but because his skates have resembled cinder blocks lately, he backpedaled and that allowed one of the Blueshirts lesser lines to score when Wideman got beat in the corner and then #44 couldn’t cover anyone in front of Michal Neuvirth (27 saves on 33 shots). Hamrlik is now a team worst -7 and likely deserves a game in the press box, if John Erskine is healthy enough to play on Saturday in Buffalo. Simply put the Rangers determination resembled the personality of their fiery coach in this tilt.

“I thought our forecheck was better and our back pressure was better. I thought we were up in fives and back in fives. It was one of our better games out of the past four or five…I thought we just played better defensively, it just doesn’t mean in our end zone. Playing away from the puck I thought we did a pretty good job of that…our whole focus was to play better away from the puck and tonight I thought we did,” said a pleased Rangers bench boss.

- Remember when the Capitals rallied from a 3-0 deficit to silence Madison Square Garden in game four of last season’s first round playoff series? Well when Troy Brouwer and then John Carlson scored midway through period two the Caps were in position to do that again. The crowd was really into it and the players seemed to be getting energy from the fans. Washington put pressure on the Rangers and Alexander Semin had a golden opportunity to tie it up but fired high on Henrik Lundqvist (18 saves). But Brian Boyle would score that key goal I mentioned above at 16:49 to really take the air out of the building and then just over four minutes into period three Wideman tried to do too much in the offensive zone and Richards got the fifth Blueshirts tally in transition.

“Not so much last year, I thought that was a big part of it when they scored those goals to get back in the game because it’s such a team that can score in bunches. I thought we handled ourselves very well. That’s a very important part of the game was not getting scored on again for it to tie. We found a way to score a couple. Nothing was said, we’ve had enough meetings the past couple of days to talk about how we need to play, we just went out, and I think they allowed themselves to play tonight. That is why they were skating, it was a more fluid game for us,” said Tortorella when asked about the quick Caps goals and if anything was discussed on the bench about it, especially given Washington’s big comeback from last year’s post season.

- As the Alzner quote hinted at above, this team is mentally weak right now. There are several guys who can’t hold it together when things go wrong. Semin is culprit #1. He once again took a LAZY penalty by putting his stick in Callahan’s gut instead of moving his feet and afterwards #28 was pretty much a no show. He took long shifts and only had 1 shot on goal following his hooking minor. He was -2 and on the Richards goal he didn’t backcheck hard after Wideman and Hamrlik made mistakes. In addition, the Caps had a 3 on 2 late in the middle frame and he stopped at the blue line, which allowed the Rangers to break up the rush easily. Somehow though, Semin had 47 more seconds of ice time than Alexander Ovechkin (1st goal at home in 2011-12, 8 hits, four shots on net)? This makes no sense to me. The Gr8 still has his poor defensive zone moments but his effort was good while Semin’s was terrible after his penalty at the 8:56 mark of the opening frame.

“Well he definitely was a main factor in our first goal and he scored the third goal. He set up a couple really good plays. If that’s getting him out of his little funk, then that’s a bright spot out of a not necessarily bright game,” commented Boudreau on his captain’s play versus New York.

- Speaking of bright spots, Orlov was my Caps first star. The young Russian logged 17:33 of ice time and was super solid with three hits and an assist. He also used his superior skating and positioning to spring Jason Chimera for a first period breakaway but King Henrik would not allow #25 to beat him again. #81 did have four giveaways but for his 3rd NHL game I thought he was fabulous and he has played better than Hamrlik, Schultz, and Erskine this week.

- In summary, a trend that was going up for Washington took a big nosedive on Friday. The work ethic and mental toughness of the previous two games went out the window. It will be up to the coaching staff and the team’s leadership core to get the club to re-focus and tackle a Buffalo Sabres squad that was beaten soundly (5-1) by Columbus on Friday night. So you can bet that Lindy Ruff’s crew will be ready to go on Saturday night in Buffalo. Will the Caps show some grit and desire and bounce back? Stay tuned.

Notes: Mike Knuble’s ice time was cut from over 20 minutes on Wednesday to just 11:57 on Friday. He was -1 and took a minor penalty…Neuvirth wasn’t very good in net but the skaters in front of him were worse…I expect Tomas Vokoun to start on Saturday and Washington needs a strong outing from him…Johansson had a brutal giveaway that directly led to the Rangers third goal but he worked hard on his next couple of shifts and played a big role in Carlson’s goal. Unfortunately MJ90 was saddled with Semin in period three and finished -3 on the night…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:11…the Caps were buried on face-offs, 37-28, with MJ90 losing 14 of 20 draws and Brooks Laich losing 13 of 19…Laich was put on defense in the third period when 6 and 44 were riding the pine and was on the ice for the 6th NY tally. Boudreau said afterwards that his move “backfired”…the Caps did have 40 hits to 28 for the Blueshirts.

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Miracle Comeback Propels Caps to 3-1 Series Lead

Posted on 21 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

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.

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Rangers Outwork Caps in Game 3 Victory

Posted on 17 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

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.

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Caps Likely to Face Changed Rangers Lineup In Game 2

Posted on 14 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After last night’s 2-1 overtime victory at the Verizon Center in a game in which they dominated most of the play, the Washington Capitals have to feel pretty good about themselves and their ability to succeed in low scoring games in the post season. The Caps played solid defense and for the most part didn’t give the Rangers many opportunities to score.

But that game is history now and you can bet your bottom dollar that New York Coach John Tortorella will make some adjustments for game two. The Rangers didn’t generate a lot of offense and Greg Schimmel of The Washington Post is reporting that the 2004 Stanley Cup Champion bench boss had Erik Christensen playing on the Blueshirts top line flanked by Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik in practice on Thursday. If true, this is essentially an “All Offensive Eggs in One Basket” move by New York. All three of those guys have a decent history against the Caps and those of you who read my series preview know that not giving #20 and #10 time and space was a key determinant of success in this series for Washington.

The Caps defensemen did a very good job of keeping Rangers forwards away from goalie Michal Neuvirth. #30 didn’t allow many rebounds and was able to see almost all of the shots he faced. In nearly four periods of play there were only 25 total New York shots on net, so Tortorella can’t be happy at all with that. Thus, I expect that super pest Sean Avery may just get a sweater on Friday night to try and agitate the Capitals and their young goalie. The key for Washington will be to not get caught into his crazy antics and take stupid penalties. Avery has been benched recently for a reason, and he has a tendency to hurt his team when he gets carried away, but if he manages to get his head screwed on straight for 60 minutes he can be a very effective player. I say New York rolls the dice and #16 is in on Friday.

Washington managed to get a win on Wednesday night in a game where Henrik Lundqvist nearly stole one for the Rangers. There is no doubt that New York will be loaded for bear on Friday night. As I said on On Frozen Blog TV after Wednesday night’s game, the Rangers are a team that never quits, they are a resilient bunch. The Caps will once again be tested on their mental strength and their ability to stick with their system and play it one shift at a time. There is no other way for them to win this series. They need to be focused and remain committed to what Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau is selling.

Game starts at 7:30 pm on Comcast Sports Net.

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Semin Laser Powers Caps to Game 1 OT Victory

Posted on 14 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

For over 50 minutes on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, many probably thought they were watching a repeat of last season’s playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. The Rangers were leading 1-0 and the Caps, who carried much of the play in this contest, hit the iron three times, had Nicklas Backstrom stopped on a breakaway, and generated several other quality chances that were thwarted by New York’s outstanding goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist (31 saves). But this year’s Washington Capitals team is more experienced and resilient, and Alexander Ovechkin scored a gritty goal to tie the game with 6:16 to go in regulation and then after Jason Arnott intercepted a Marc Staal clearing attempt and fed #28 the biscuit, Alexander Semin (1 goal, 1 assist) rifled a one-timed laser by Lundqvist to give the Caps a 2-1 victory 18:24 into overtime. The Capitals jump out to a quick 1-0 lead in this best of seven game series with the second tilt scheduled for Friday night at the Verizon Center at 7:30 pm.

“It was an important game for everybody, I think. I think we started well, we have a couple opportunities to score goals, I hit the crossbar two times, we missed a breakaway, but we make one mistake in our zone and they use it. It’s playoffs and [we] don’t give up, we play hard and we score some dirty goal, but it is what it is,” summarized the Great #8 when asked about the importance of this victory.

 

Below are the rest of highlights, quotes, and analysis of the 102nd consecutive home sellout for Washington:

- As has been chronicled fairly well, the Capitals changed their system in December to be better able to handle playoff hockey. After their first post season outing, suffice it to say that this team is significantly better than last year’s crew despite narrowly squeaking out a win. The Caps didn’t panic when Matt Gilroy scored from the slot after John Erskine and Mike Green were both beaten behind the Caps cage, which allowed Wojtek Wolski to slide the puck to #97 for a goal that Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth (24 saves) had little chance of stopping, just 1:56 into the third period. Shortly thereafter, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau felt that he needed to switch the lines up to get the equalizer and he put Ovechkin out with Semin. After a super feed from Green from Washington’s own end, Ovechkin took the puck to the cage bowling over Blueshirt defensemen Dan Girardi en route, and that allowed he and Semin to whack away at the biscuit until it slid through King Henrik’s legs. Because Staal knocked the net off right after the puck went in, there was a lengthy review but the goal stood and a nervous and somewhat quiet Verizon Center erupted.

- This was exactly the type of game I was expecting to begin this series. There wasn’t much room out on the ice and both teams worked hard to minimize any defensive breakdowns. Both squads back checked well with the Capitals doing an outstanding job of not giving the Rangers forwards time and space. They had the one breakdown on the Rangers goal and the only other big gaffe came in period two when Marian Gaborik was all alone at the top of the crease but Neuvirth came up with a timely save to keep the game scoreless. Other than that, the two players who are highly skilled on New York, Gaborik and Vinny Prospal, didn’t have opportunities to hurt the Capitals like they’ve done in the past. These type of games are highly competitive and stressful but you can bet that every one from here on out will likely be played the same way.

“I think it’s going to be games like that the whole series,” added Ovechkin on the style of play.

- The Rangers are a very physical team and Coach John Tortorella does an excellent job of getting his players in the right spots to pressure the puck. A team that is weak up the middle of the ice likely would crumble but since the Capitals acquired Arnott to play second line center they have drastically improved their club. Backstrom, #44, and Marcus Johansson played a major role in this victory by helping out the Caps blue line in getting pucks out of Washington’s own zone and then moving it in transition. #19 hounded the puck all night and even though he didn’t get a point, his strong play helped wear out the Rangers defensive crew, particularly their top pair of Staal and Girardi, who logged 33:48 and 32:50, respectively. Those two guys were very tired and fatigue leads to mental mistakes. That is what caused the Staal giveaway to Arnott on the game winning sequence.

- On the Washington blue line, getting #52 back makes a huge difference as the Capitals have someone else, along with the John Carlson-Karl Alzner duo, to move the puck up the ice quickly. Green played a very solid 26:30 in his first action since February 25th, when he was injured against the Rangers. The Caps blue line is deeper than New York’s and as a result, the highest ice time of any defender for Washington was Scott Hannan at 28:39. The rest of the defensive crew had pretty balanced time on ice with Jeff Schultz at 27:49, Carlson with 26:19, Alzner logging 23:42, and Erskine playing 19:18. This was one of Sarge’s (#55) best games of the season and he blocked six shots. #27 led Washington with eight blocks in another strong outing. The fact that New York relied so heavily on one defensive pair while Boudreau was able to spread the wealth bodes well for the Caps as we move to game two.

“I thought his first period might have been as good as he has played in a playoff game. I thought it was outstanding for a guy that hasn’t played in six weeks to come back in a game like that,” added Boudreau on the play of #52.

 

- #30 was superb in net. In addition to the big save on Gaborik, he made an early important one against Erik Christensen. Neuvirth, who is a fierce competitor as evidenced by his 14 for 14 playoff series record in North America, did a super job of not allowing rebounds and he was very good at covering the puck for a defensive zone faceoff when the Caps were near the end of a shift. Lundqvist was really good, but so was the young Czech goalie.

“He was fine. Very calm and very focused on the puck and in the game. In the second period, they have great opportunities to score goal and he made [a] huge save [to] keep us in the game after two periods. Again, I think both goalies played very well,” commented Oveckhin on the goaltending in game one.

- Semin (+2), who scored in the playoffs for the first time in 14 games (last one came in game 7 in 2009 vs. the Rangers), played like a man intent on showing how badly he wants to win. He logged 22:15 and never appeared to let up. Afterwards, Boudreau talked about how important #28 is to Washington’s post season success.

“For our team, well we are not getting anywhere without Alex Semin scoring. You just look at the regular season, Ovie got 32, he got 27, and Mike [Knuble] got 24 and then after that it drops off. We need him to go to create that other offensive threat and I thought the [game winning] shot, I could barely see it, and Arnott made a great play to keep it in, and [Semin] didn’t hesitate, he just shot it,” said Boudreau on Semin and the winning tally.

Ovechkin was asked afterwards what he said to his very good friend Semin out on the ice after he scored, but the Great #8 couldn’t get over in time to talk with Sasha. The reason for that was the quote of the night from the Great #8.

“Well, I was stuck on the bench, my laces were stuck. I tried jumping and I was stuck. It’s a huge goal for whole team. We are all happy for Sasha [Alexander Semin] because last year he was little bit upset he didn’t score a goal and right now it’s very important for him to score a goal, step-up and show his leadership. It doesn’t matter who score right now, it’s all about winning and character and see how good this group is right now,” concluded Ovechkin on the winning goal and the focus of the team he captains.

 

- In closing for tonight, the Capitals have an advantage in this series if they can continue to dump the puck deep and wear out the Rangers defense. New York is a hard working team but they don’t possess big speed issues for Washington, which is more vulnerable to that type of style with Dennis Wideman out for at least the first round. Getting Green back and unharmed was very important. Going forward the Capitals have to keep their focus, be mentally tough no matter the score of the game, and play one shift at at time. They stuck to the process in game one, now they need to do it again on Friday night.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 43-37. Brooks Laich was 13-5 and Boyd Gordon won 8 out of 12 draws…both teams went 0 for 2 on the power play. Ovechkin took a roughing penalty late in regulation but the Caps killed it, with Laich blocking a huge point shot on one sequence…the Caps outhit the Rangers, 35-31, in a physical hockey game.

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