Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals’ 2011-12 season came crashing down on Saturday night as they fell to the New York Rangers inside Madison Square Garden in game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinal. The Caps surrendered the lead only 92 seconds in to the game on a goal from Brad Richards and never recovered. The Rangers’ stifling defense, led by Vezina and Hart Trophy nominee Henrik Lundqvist, locked down the game. New York would get another off the stick of Michael Del Zotto in the third period. Roman Hamrlik made it interesting with a goal right after Del Zotto’s marker, but once again, DC fell well short of their goals and could not draw even. And now, it’s golf. Fore!
In front of an absolutely electric crowd, the Rangers struck first after less than 100 seconds when Brad Richards ripped a slapshot passed a screened Braden Holtby. New York continued to be powered by their big top line as the early stages of the period continued, controlling the tempo of play and establishing more zone time, taking advantage of some poorly timed Capital giveaways. Slowly, however, Washington began to find their footing, calming themselves down and making smarter decisions with the puck to get some shots of their own. But unfortunately, they were unable to gain any offensive traction or penetrate Henrik Lundqvist.
With 8:01 left in the opening period, Matt Hendricks took a terrible offensive zone penalty, providing the home team with a golden chance to double their lead and put the clamps on the series. However, as they had been for most of the series, Washington was able to kill off the minor, even getting some shorthanded chances of their own. After their kill, the Caps tried once again to establish an offensive rhythm, but simply could not establish a good amount of zone time as they continued to look disoriented and not energized in such a big game. Thankfully, they only trailed 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes.
Needing an excellent start to the middle frame of regulation, the Capitals were unable to come up with it. The Rangers were content to wait back, just like the Caps’ game plan, and clogged up the neutral and defensive zones. Though Alexander Semin was able to get a chance after four minutes in close, the winger was thwarted by a poke check from Henrik Lundqvist. The Semin chance did give DC some offensive momentum, and Lundqvist had to be exceptional again to keep Mike Knuble from drawing even. Through the midway mark of the frame, Washington continued to have control, dominating a long stretch in the Rangers’ zone that lasted 100 seconds. But Lundqvist stood tall.
As the game continued to move forward with terrific pace, the Rangers picked up some offensive jam of their own after that prolonged period of Capitals domination in terms of puck possession. Holtby, who recovered nicely after allowing a goal on the first shot he saw, made a nice stop on a chance in front, just trying to give his team a chance to win. Unfortunately, despite a much better second period than first, Washington was unable to score before the period ended and continued to trail 1-0 after 40 minutes of play.
New York blitzed the Caps in the opening stages of the third period, throwing pucks at Holtby as they attempted to knock the young goalie off his game and deliver the knockout blow. But despite their resiliency, the clock continued to bleed out on the Capitals, and they were still not able to get a goal past the Ranger defense. Past the ten minute mark of the frame, it was simply more of the same as Washington attempted in vain to mount a final charge.
It looked as though the dagger had been stuck into the Capitals with just under ten minutes left in regulation when Michal Del Zotto, freed up by a terrible Alex Ovechkin backcheck, took advantage to rip a shot past Holtby’s blocker and make it 2-1. But immediately after, a long Roman Hamrlik shot found it way through a maze of bodies to make it 2-1; a Capitals power play was awarded right after Hamrlik’s goal, giving DC a golden chance to equalize. But predictably, not only did the Caps set up no zone time or pressure, but they allowed a golden shorthanded chance and then took a penalty of their own when Nick Backstrom was sent off for slashing.
With 7:03 remaining, the Caps dug in to try and defend a power play and give themselves a chance to tie the game late. Washington was able to do just that, but as the clock continued to tick down, the desperation really began to set in. The Rangers tried to pin the puck up against the boards for long stretches to kill time, and succeeded, completely preventing Washington from even setting up shifts to try and get another past Lundqvist. The Swedish wall would not budge, and the Caps’ season ended inside the World’s Most
Coming in to this game, you knew that the Capitals had to weather the storm against a Rangers team that was going to come out hard, fast, and strong in their own building. They didn’t, allowing New York to open the scoring after 92 seconds and tilting the ice in their opponent’s favor from the start. They were chasing the puck for most of the opening period, and they paid for it. And so it goes.
The Capitals had four shots on goal in the third period. Four. Presented without comment.
And so, another disappointing chapter in the Alex Ovechkin era comes to a close. The Capitals changed everything, and nothing changed. A lot of tough questions are going to be asked about this group of men, and with a lot of contracts up, there will be changes. Once again, it just wasn’t good enough. Sigh. It's going to be a long summer.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who is credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.