Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty
The Washington Capitals wasted a great opportunity on Saturday afternoon, falling in New York to the Rangers in game one of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Despite playing a Rangers team down two of their top forwards, Brandon Dubinksy and Brian Boyle, the Caps never led, falling behind in the second period. They tied it late in that second period on a goal from Jason Chimera, but the Blueshirts dominated the final 20 minutes, getting goals from Chris Kreider and Brad Richards to break the game open and set the tone for the series. Now the Capitals have to win in game two to keep from falling into a very deep hole.
The Rangers came out very hard, pressuring Braden Holtby continuously and putting the young goaltender in a shooting gallery, crashing the net at every opportunity. That aggression cost them after three and a half minutes when Mike Rupp was called for goalie interference; a power play that was nullified quickly by an Alexander Semin slash. After both penalties had expired, the game became more even, as the Caps weathered the storm well and began to set up their own forecheck that led to some chances. Eventually, D.C. earned another power play with just under eight minutes left in the period when Marc Staal was sent off for interference.
Washington’s power play was good, setting up a nice perimeter and getting some open looks, but they could not break through, despite the fact that Nicklas Backstrom hit the post. Even after the man advantage expired, the visitors continued to force Henrik Lundqvist to make saves in tight to keep the game scoreless. With just over two minutes left in the period, though, Alex Ovechkin was called for an offensive zone trip to send the Rangers to another power play. New York could not convert, and the period closed tied at zero.
The second period started like the first one ended, with great back-to-back action but few shots on goal. And just like in the first period, Marc Staal took a penalty to give Washington a power play in the first half of the period. The Caps pressured on their power play well again, and New York took another penalty with 34 seconds left in their first minor. The Rangers’ penalty kill, their backbone all season, came up huge, kept Washington off the board, and energized an already raucous Madison Square Garden crowd even more.
New York capitalized on that momentum, opening the scoring with just over 7 minutes left in the second period. Artem Anisimov took over a loose puck behind the net and wrapped it around, squeezing the puck through Holtby for a weak goal on the young netminder that he would surely like back. After their goal the Rangers continued to pressure, not allowing the Caps to try and get some momentum to push back. With 10 seconds left in the period, however, Washington broke free on a three-on-two. Brooks Laich saucered a beautiful pass to Jason Chimera in front, and the speedy winger banged it through Lundqvist’s five hole with 4 seconds remaining to silence the crowd and close the second period with the score tied at one.
At the start of the third period, the Caps built off the momentum that they picked up at the end of the second period with some nice offensive zone pressure, but that was killed after two minutes when Semin took an ill-advised tripping call in the offensive zone. Once again, the D.C. penalty kill held firm. After that kill the Caps pressured once again, but it was the Rangers who would take the lead with just over twelve minutes left in the period. Rookie Chris Kreider was released up the middle and pounded a slap shot past Holtby, the netminder’s second regrettable goal of the game.
New York made it a two goal lead immediately after. Brad Richards was left all alone down low, walked in, and shot the puck through Holtby’s five hole to give the Rangers a commanding lead. Washington tried to get some momentum after the goal, but promptly took a bench minor for too many men. The Caps killed the penalty relatively easily, but were clearly gassed as the period began to wear on and wind down. Capitals coach Dale Hunter pulled his goalie with two minutes left, but his team could not get a goal, and fell in game one 3-1.
Braden Holtby has got to be better. He allowed three goals on fewer than 15 shots and two of his goals against were decidedly poor shots to let in. He was great in the first round, but this is the second round now against the top seed in the East. Time to put the big boy pants on and come up with some game defining saves. Average goaltending will simply not get it done against a team as deep as the Rangers. Or anyone else in these playoffs, for that matter.
Alex Ovechkin, who was a very physical presence in the Caps’ first series, was not very good today. He didn’t put a shot on goal until the third period and was not as physical as he has been in past games. Ovechkin needs to produce in this series in order for the Caps to have a chance, because New York is big, fast, physical, and strong. Ovechkin has to be the x-factor. It’s time for him to step up.
Mike Green was awful in this game. I don’t know what’s wrong with D.C.’s two time Norris nominee, but it is alarming. Since his surgery, he has not been even remotely as good as he was before it. He’s struggling to handle the puck, missing one timers, and playing shoddy defense. He better figure it out quick, because one good defensive pairing is not going to cut it.
Now it’s time to see how the Caps respond. New York will only be getting stronger as the series goes along with the additions of Dubinsky and Boyle.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RTR. Follow me on Twitter here for news and updates.