Photo by Nick Wass/AP
The Washington Capitals got what they needed from their young guns on Saturday afternoon, defeating the New York Rangers 3-2 inside Verizon Center to equal their Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games each. The Capitals took the lead twice, once in the first period and once in the second period, on goals from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. But each time, the Rangers were able to draw even. Mike Green scored the game-winning goal on a power play late in the third period, and the Capitals got 18 saves from Braden Holtby, who has yet to lose two games in a row at the NHL level so far. Game five is Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
Washington got off to a very good start, pressuring Henrik Lundqvist right away with an Alex Ovechkin wrist shot, and earned their first power play when Jason Chimera drew an interference call. The DC man advantage was excellent, peppering Lundqvist with six shots, but each time the Hart and Vezina Trophy nominee was up to the task, including a sparking denial of Ovechkin with his glove hand. As the period progressed, the Caps continued to keep offensive pressure on New York and had the ice tilted in their favor, but simply could not convert their chances, either missing to getting stopped by Lundqvist.
With just over seven minutes left in the period, however, the Capitals finally broke through. Rangers rookie Chris Kreider made a turnover in the defensive zone that gave Ovechkin a wide open look at goal from the top of the circles. The captain didn’t miss, cracking a slap shot off of Lundqvist’s shoulder and in to the top corner to give his team a 1-0 lead. Like they had before the goal, Washington continued to garner nice chances as the period wound down, and closed the frame leading 1-0.
The second period started very poorly for the home team, as good as the opening frame was. Just over a minute in to the period, the Rangers were able to equalize when Ovechkin, challenging out of his positioning, failed to block a shot by Dan Girardi. The rebound fell right to Artem Anisimov, who was patient and then roofed it past a laid out Holtby. New York continued to pressure the Caps, who looked very sloppy and did not have a shot for the first ten plus minutes of the frame. Joel Ward then took a holding penalty, but the Caps were able to kill it off.
Right after the penalty was killed, the Capitals were able to take the lead once more. Nicklas Backstrom, protecting the puck in the corner, crushed Anisimov when the Russian center came to challenge him before feeding Jason Chimera along the wall. Chimera then fed a return to Backstrom beautifully, and Backstrom ripped it over Lundqvist’s far shoulder for a 2-1 lead. Right after that, however, the Rangers got another power play when Ovechkin clocked Dan Girardi with a bad, high hit in the offensive zone; somehow, the Caps killed off the penalty. However, after the kill was over, the Rangers managed to tie once more when a miscommunication between Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz allowed Marian Gaborik to cash in in front. Despite more back and forth play, the period closed tied 2-2.
The beginning of the third period was not as open, as it was clear that Dale Hunter and John Tortorella instructed their teams to try and slow the game down. However, after about three minutes, it began to open up again, with the Capitals generating a very nice forecheck and attacking in transition well. Past the midway mark of the period, though, the game once more got defensive, with both teams clogging up the middle of the ice.
With 6:15 remaining in the third period, the Caps were given their second power play of the game when Carl Hagelin was sent off for slashing. It didn’t take the Caps long at all to convert, as Mike Green was fed a loose puck along the wall, walked the line, and blasted a slapshot that just beat Lundqvist under his right arm. As the third period wound down, the Rangers really began to push, predictably, pulling their goalie with almost two minutes left in regulation. But with excellent play from Holtby and some timely shot blocks, the Capitals were able to hold on to tie the series at two games apiece.
Alex Ovechkin may be getting a call from Brendan Shanahan for his hit on Dan Girardi. Ovechkin left his feet to deliver a hit after the puck was gone. The principal point of contact was not Girardi’s head, but Ovechkin is playing with fire as a high profile player with a track record, especially on a nationally televised game. Regardless of whether or not Ovi gets a Shanaban for this play, he has to stop leaving his feet, or he will get a substantial one sooner rather than later.
Mike Green has struggled in a big way since his sports hernia surgery, and in fact, all season. But today’s game winning goal was a classic Green marker – a power play strike in which he just walked in and flat out beat the goaltender. One goal doesn’t make a series or a playoff performance, but Green came close today. A big game from the maligned defenseman, and hopefully he can build on it.
Nicklas Backstrom was in beast mode today. Backstrom has struggled a bit in these playoffs, particularly against the Rangers, but he was an absolute stud today. He created the second goal basically all by himself and was generating offense all game. If he’s back in form, it’s going to be very hard for the Rangers to break up the Caps’ top line.
With this series tied at two games all, this is a great position for the Capitals - just like they were in their first round series against Boston. Making it to six games is never a bad thing. Winning is fun.
Harry Hawkings is a college student who covers the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.