Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty
The Washington Capitals forced a second pivotal game seven in their 2012 playoff run Wednesday night, knocking off the top-seeded New York Rangers by a score of 2-1. In doing so, the Capitals became the first team in the history of the NHL to win four consecutive games following a playoff loss. Washington was in control for most of this game, scoring on an early power play and never looking back, doubling their lead in the second period and grinding out the remainder of the game. New York scored very late to make the last minute interesting, but overall, this game was controlled by the Caps, an excellent performance on home ice in a critical game that could have been their last.
Clearly keen to shake off their extremely disappointing loss in game five, the Capitals pressured the Rangers right off the bat, drawing a power play after only 73 seconds. The hosts fed their ravenous fans immediately, as a beautiful passing play found Alex Ovechkin with a one-time opportunity from the high slot. The Captain did not miss, ripping the puck over Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulder for a 1-0 lead only 15 seconds in to the power play and 88 seconds in to the game. After the goal, both teams got chances to get the second goal of the game, but it was Washington who had most of the pressure, forcing Lundqvist to be excellent to keep the advantage a single goal.
Past the ten minute mark of the opening period, New York began to surge, getting pucks deep and establishing a dominant forecheck that had the Capitals reeling. They eventually took a penalty with a little more than six minutes left in the frame, giving the Rangers a chance to equalize the game. But the Caps’ penalty kill, so good for so long in these playoffs, was able to knock off the minor. Washington and the Rangers played back and forth after the kill, but DC was penalized again with 71 seconds left in the frame. Despite some very close chances from the Ranger power play, the Caps were able to reach the first intermission still in front.
On the power play for the first 49 seconds of the second period, the Rangers were not even able to set up their man advantage in the offensive zone and the Caps killed off another penalty. After the kill, Washington slowly began to take control of the pace of play once more, and had Lundqvist down and out in his crease, but simply could not finish. The pressure did earn DC their second power play of the game, but a very poor man advantage meant that the Caps could not double their lead.
Though they did not score on the power play, the Caps used it to pick up some momentum, and cashed in near the 11 minute mark of the second when Jason Chimera banged home a rebound in front following a shot from John Carlson and a nice pass from Nicklas Backstrom. That momentum was killed, however, when Jeff Halpern took a bad offensive zone high sticking penalty, saddling his mates with a four minute power play to kill. A methodical penalty kill was once more up to the task, and Washington even generated three good scoring chances of their own. They got another power play near the end of the period, but could not score, and after 40 minutes the score remained 2-0.
As the third period opened, it quickly became clear that the Capitals were going to attempt to lock down the lead and grind out the final 20 minutes, but after two and a half minutes, Mike Green took a delay of game penalty. But once again, the Washington shorthanded unit kept the puck out of their net. After the kill, the Caps found a way to press forward with some odd man chances to try and get some offensive momentum back, but two stellar saves by Lundqvist on Ovechkin kept New York’s disadvantage at two. The Swedish netminder made another brilliant stop with just over ten minutes left in the period, sliding across the face of goal to deny Marcus Johansson following a feed from Ovechkin.
Inside the final seven minutes, the Rangers began to mount their final charge, throwing rubber at Braden Holtby and trying to break the Caps’ suffocating neutral zone system. They were, for the most part, unsuccessful, until the final minute, as the defensive play of the Caps’ third line controlled the puck. With 50 seconds left, however, the Rangers got one back when a Marian Gaborik slapshot hit John Carlson in the rump and rattled in to the top corner. Despite a tense few moments, the Caps eked out the win, forcing a game seven in New York Saturday night.
Matt Hendricks was in absolute beast mode on Wednesday night, as he has been for most recent games in these playoffs. From start to finish, Hendricks was pursuing the puck, making plays, laying hits, and generating energy for his teammates in a huge game. Hendricks is a key cog in the style of play Dale Hunter has branded – and without Jay Beagle, a big game was necessary. “The Wagon” delivered.
Braden Holtby just continues to amaze. It was only a freak bounce off of John Carlson’s butt that kept the 22 year-old from small town Saskatchewan from his first career playoff shutout. Holtby was stellar from the onset, making saves with his pads and glove in particular that rival those of the best goalie on the planet, his opposition in the Ranger cage. This has been nothing short of remarkable, and Caps fans can only hope that it continues.
Jeff Halpern looked okay in his first game action in six weeks. The locally raised center took a dumb high sticking penalty that cost his team four minutes of shorthanded time, but other than that, didn’t miss his assignments and seemed to be comfortable out against a big, strong, and physical Ranger lineup. If Jay Beagle is ready to come back in game seven, though, I think that he will go back to the press box.
And so, once again, we move to game seven. This is why you play the games. Saturday night at 7:30. Cancel your plans, there’s more hockey to be played.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Caps for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here.