Alex Ovechkin found twine for a franchise-record 31st time in the playoffs on Thursday night. (WP)
The Washington Capitals won game one of their 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers on Thursday night by a 3-1 score inside a trembling Verizon Center. Despite a start that saw them dominate play but not convert and then allow New York to grab a lead, the Caps and Braden Holtby dug in their heels and got a power play goal from Alex Ovechkin followed by markers from Marcus Johansson and then Jason Chimera to take a 3-1 lead in the second period. Holtby finished the game with 35 stops, several of them spectacular, to get the Caps that critical first game, something they did not do last postseason. It was a scintillating opening for what is sure to be an awesome series.
The Capitals absolutely dominated the opening stages of the game, but were stopped time and time again by the stellar play of Henrik Lundqvist in the Ranger net. Their failure in converting those early chances allowed New York to seize the momentum with a 7-0 run on shots, which concluded in the first goal of the game and really deflated the arena and Washington’s offensive motor. Regardless of the outcome, Lundqvist’s talent and the Rangers’ system make it imperative that the Caps capitalize on their early chances if they are going to win this series. It is simply a necessity. You cannot waste chances, especially power play chances, in the playoffs and expect to win a seven game series. It's a moot point because of the victory tonight, but it's something to consider.
Midway through the second period, the Capitals were faced with killing nearly a minute of a 5-on-3 power play time by the Rangers after a scrum in front of the Washington net. They killed it magnificently and then scored two goals in three quarters of a minute, one each from Johansson and then Chimera to steal the momentum firmly in Washington’s favor and get Verizon Center shaking to its core. That was a defining sequence in the game and gave the Caps everything they needed in terms of momentum to get the rest of the game on their terms and secure the victory. A very well done moment in the game there for the boys in red.
I’ll be the first one to tell you that I didn’t understand the Steven Oleksy call up one iota when Adam Oates made him a member of this club and played him consistently earlier this year. But the rookie defenseman had himself an excellent game, making some outstanding plays in his own zone and making an absolutely delicious pass to Johansson to set up Washington’s second goal. He has proved everyone wrong in these playoffs and deserves a ton of credit for playing a lot of minutes and playing them well for this team. He has had a baptism by fire but has passed the test with flying colors, at least so far.
Braden Holtby was once again very good in a playoff game, and has been nothing short of exceptional in every playoff game he has played for Washington save perhaps game seven of the Rangers series last spring. He came up big in the third period in particular, making some very big saves and getting lucky with four minutes left on a shot in tight where video evidence was inconclusive. Once again, there is nothing more that I can say about Holtby that hasn’t been said before in this space: he is an excellent goalie who has earned his playing time and has provided the Capitals with a bona fide above average goaltender to help lead their charge in to the playoffs. He’s a stud, one of two that the Capitals have at the NHL level in net.
I said it earlier this week and I will say it again: this series hangs in the balance of what the referees decide to do with their whistles. The Rangers are probably the better five on five team but the Capitals are unquestionably the better team when they get power plays because of how dynamic their man advantage attack is. If the Caps get the power play advantage, like they did tonight, they will have a much easier time controlling play and getting shots constantly on a worn down Rangers defense because of the power plays. It’s all about dictation and power plays are a big part of that. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out, especially once the series shifts back to Madison Square Garden.
Overall, I thought this was a good game from the Capitals and a great way to start off their 2013 postseason. This game played to their strengths with the referees not swallowing their whistles and despite their slow start in terms of capitalizing, they finished the game on a very strong note and eventually made the Rangers pay for their mistakes and for their penalties. Game two will be a treat, as New York comes out blazing after a tounge-lashing from their fiery coach and the Capitals are then forced to weather an early storm. This is going to be a very fun playoff series and this game was just the beginning. Two teams leaving it all out there, what more can you ask for?
Game two is scheduled for a 12:30 PM start on Saturday at Verizon Center.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your news needs this season.