For two periods, the Washington Capitals' game looked like the perfect hybrid of the hard-hitting, defensive-first hockey that has defined the team for the second half of the season and the attacking, puck-down-your-throat style of last season. Two crossbars, blocked shots, barely missed breakaways, and hard hitting told the story of the first 40 minutes. Then they decided to play the third period. And a 4th.
In the end, it took a couple guys named Alex and some key saves by a rookie goaltender in his first NHL playoff game to give the Caps a 2-1 Overtime win and a 1-0 series lead in this First Round Playoff match-up against the New York Rangers.
Every question facing the Caps entering this playoff season seemed to be answered. Would Alex Semin show up? Oh yes. Was Michal Neuvirth really the Caps playoff goalie? Yes. Would the Caps defensive style result in playoff wins? So far, yes. Could the Caps solve the team that gave them the most trouble this season? It was tough, but yes.
You just knew that with Jason Arnott chirping in his ear for the last month, Alex Semin would come to play. Oh Sasha. Sasha, Sasha, Sasha. Whether it was blowing past defenders, rifling off crossbar-denting shots or backchecking hard, you just knew he'd get one. With an assist on the tying goal and a cannon of a one-timer in OT, he delivered. He's been a Ranger killer in the playoffs and this Game 1 was no exception.
While only called upon a few times, Michal Neuvirth settled some fans' nerves by making all the big saves, save for one, in regulation and several more in OT. His save on Marian Gaborik down low in the first highlighted his solid positioning throughout the game. Happy first NHL Playoff win Neuvy!
Also encouraging was the play of Mike Green, in his first game back from being concussed by the Rangers Derek Stepan. Yes, he took himself out of position leading to the Rangers only goal, but Green looked solid handling the puck and didn't seem to shy away from contact in the corners. He played more than many expected and looked good doing so. If nothing else, having Green rushing the puck seemed to settle his heir-apparent, John Carlson, into a more defense-first role.
We'll forgive Semin for those offensive zone stick penalties if he puts game winners past Lundqvist, but if the Caps aren't careful, they're going to have to prove that their 2nd ranked PK is playoff-legit. Alex Ovechkin's high stick late in the third could have wrecked this game. Fortunately, it didn't.
Marcus Johansson. Every time he touched the puck, it was obvious that this was MJ90's first playoff game. He didn't seem ready for the physicality of the playoffs and got pushed all over the ice. What works in the regular season isn't good enough come playoff time. Johansson just figured that out.
More OT hockey? Tonight marked the 10th time in the last 20 games that the Caps have needed extra time to settle a game. That's a lot of extra hockey to put your nerves body through. Just as the Caps need to close out a playoff series in under 7 games, they need to get those wins in 60 minutes to last the long haul.
While this game obviously reminded many of the low-scoring, terribly frustrating games of the Caps' last playoff series, the obvious difference was in the Caps' reaction to such a score: confidence. While the Caps' new defensive style doesn't help score goals, it definitely gives them the upper-hand in low scoring games. A 2-1 game has been common for these Caps for the last few months and, unlike last year, they look like they've learned how to win them.