The Washington Capitals put forth another undisciplined, unfocused effort tonight, giving pucks away and taking bad penalties. The Rangers are now back in this series, tied 2-2, as the series shifts back to Washington for Game 5. Rangers Coach John Tortorella used his line changes to his advantage and had the benefit of very uneven officiating to get the win.
The Captials were able to get some sustained pressure in the Rangers end early in the game, forcing the Rangers to take a penalty, but a gaffe by Braden Holtby put an end to any momentum the Caps had.
With 3 and a half minutes remaining in the first period, the Rangers dumped the puck down the ice and the linesmen washed out icing, prompting Holtby to play the puck near the left corner. As the Rangers circled out of the zone, Holtby tried sending an aerial pass up the middle of the ice that was promptly knocked down by Ranger forward Taylor Pyatt. As Holtby panicked and scrambled to get back into his crease, Pyatt moved the puck to Carl Hagelin who banked a shot off John Carlson's shinpads. By this time, Holtby had overreacted and flung himself through the crease and had taken himself out of position a second time, leaving the net wide open for a Brad Richards put-away to give the home team a lead going into the first intermission and the home crowd something to cheer about.
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On the very next shift, Capitals forward Matt Hendricks drew a penalty and the Caps proceeded to have an extremely sloppy powerplay, letting the Rangers get chance after chance on their own goal. As it turns out, it would be the Caps' last powerplay for the night as the referees put their whistles away for the home team and proceeded to call ticky-tack penalties on the Caps for the rest of the game, perhaps some payback for the months of yapping the Caps had done to the refs throughout this season.
The Capitals would lose their powerplay on a rush up ice by Derek Stepan with 90 seconds to go in the period. Caps winger Martin Erat was backchecking and had just got his stick inot Stepan's hands when Alex OVechkin laid a thunderous bodycheck that sent both Stepan and Erat flying. Martin Erat landed awkwardly on his hand and wound up in the goal clutching his wrist. He did not return to the game. To add insult to injury, the referees threw out everything they learned in their referee training and called two penalties on the same play, sending both Erat and Ovechkin to the box and handing the Rangers a 4-on-3 for a half a minute, then a 5-on-3 for another minute and a half. Even though the Caps killed the penalty off, the tone was set for the rest of the game.
As the frustration mounted, Rangers captain Ryan Callahan goaded John Erskine into taking a roughing penalty after the whistle, which cost the Caps even more momentum. In an attempt to get back into the game, the Capitals started trading chances with the Rangers, and Carl Hagelin got the last laugh on an odd-man break. With a 2-0 lead less than halfway through the game, the Rangers held all the cards, and the Capitals finally woke up.
With all the players, coaches, and analysts preaching about the Capitals' need to go to the net, Mathieu Perreault was the first Capitals in this series to score from the blue paint. After a strong first period in which he had almost all of the Caps' scoring chances, Perreault finished off a rish up ice by Joel Ward to cut the lead in half. The Capitals kept pressing and broke through again with 18 seconds left in the period.
The Capitals' second line, now featuring Eric Fehr in Martin Erat's vacant winger spot, finally got on the board. The Rangers failed to clear the zone, and Mike Green fed the puck to a cutting Troy Brouwer, who was moving across the goal from right to left. Brouwer left two defenders in his wake and fired a backhander past Henrik Lundqvist's blocker to tie the game going into the intermission. The Capitals would have had all the momentum on their side except for a travesty of an interference call on Jason Chimera as the clock struk zero.
With Chimera in the box, the New York Rangers sent out their second powerplay unit and struck 1 minute into the period as Dan Girardi slammed home a slapshot from the point. Now trailing 3-2, the Capitals would fall behind 4-2 just 5 minutes later. After an icing call, the Capitals' top line was stuck on the ice and winger Marcus Johansson gave the puck away, leading to some tic-tac-toe passing and a Derek Stepan put-away.
Reeling badly, the Capitals got the goal they were looking for just 90 seconds later when a Karl Alzner wrist shot from the point snuck through Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist, who had just been nominated for the Vezina trophy as the league's best goaltender, had just been pierced for 3 goals for the third time in this series, and it didn't seem to matter. The Capitals would not score again and would get no help from the officials for the rest of the game. Several seconds after the Alzner goal, Jason Chimera was cross-checked to the ice by Rangers defenseman John Moore, a play very similar to the one that cost John Erskine a penalty earlier in the game. The referees saw the play and took no action, leaving the Capitals out in the cold once again.
Notes: Alexander Ovechkin was invisible tonight. He could not get himself open enough to be a difference-maker at even strength, instead trying to take on multiple defenders while carrying the puck on the left wing only to lose it and watch the play move back into his own end. If the Capitals are going to win this series, 0 even-strength points in 4 games from Ovechkin isn't going to cut it. He has to be smarter with the puck. He finished with 1 shot on goal, 3 missed shots, and had 5 attempts blocked.
That day off in Manhattan didn't seem to do the Capitals any good. They were unfocused and undisciplined once again, and they did not make the necessary adjustments to be able to beat the Rangers. Adam Oates is getting out-coached right now. Something will have to change for the Caps to win Game 5, and it will probably involve practicing tomorrow.
Marc Staal sat out tonight's game after making his playoff debut in Game 3. He was replaced in the lineup by ex-Cap Steve Eminger, who was benched halfway through the game.
With Darroll Powe injured in Game 3, Ryane Clowe came back from injury to make his playoff debut.