Sunday, April 08, 2012

A TWO-point night -- Game 82: Capitals 4 - Rangers 1

Until Saturday night’s season finale in Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers allowed three goals in the first period only once all season, giving up three to the Chicago Blackhawks in a 4-2 loss on February 16th. That is, until that season finale.

The Washington Capitals lit the lamp three times in the first period and rode that wave to a 4-1 win over the Rangers to jump past the Ottawa Senators into seventh place in the Eastern Conference to end the 2011-2012 season.

It did not take the Caps long to grab control of this game. Alex Ovechkin scored his 38th goal of the season 32 seconds in. Brooks Laich won a faceoff against Derek Stepan back to Ovechkin at the top of the left wing circle. Before Anton Stralman could close the distance on Ovechkin, the left winger rifled a wrist shot over Henrik Lundqvist’s left pad on the long side, and the Caps were off and running.

Not two minutes later, Mathieu Perreault deflected a drive by Roman Hamrlik down and around Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead. Two shots, two goals. When John Carlson connected on a power play slap shot with 1:47 left in the period, the chances for the Rangers to take this year’s Presidents Trophy with the league’s best record appeared now to hinge on a Vancouver loss against Edmonton Saturday night.

In fact, the competitive portion of the game was over by the first intermission, and the rest of the game was equal parts don’t suffer another injury (especially to a goaltender) and watching goalie Braden Holtby stymie the Rangers. Nicklas Backstrom also provided a bit of good news, getting a goal on a sneaky wrist shot after taking a feed down the slot by Alexander Semin. Brian Boyle closed the scoring and foiled Holtby’s shutout hopes in a rather humorous way, angling his 6’7, 244 pound body from behind the net with Mathieu Perreault – all 5’10”, 185…maybe – draped on him like a light wrap against the chill air before he stuffed the puck through Holtby’s pads. But that was all the Rangers would get, and thoughts could turn to the post season for both teams.

Other stuff…

-- The Caps could have faced any of three opponents in the first round of the playoffs: the Rangers, New Jersey, or Boston. They finished the season 2-2-0 against the Rangers (both wins being of the three-goal variety), 1-1-2 against the Devils, and 3-1-0 against Boston (including wins in both games at TD Garden).

-- The Captain closed with a rush. With his goal in this game Alex Ovechkin finished with 27 goals in his 45 games since Christmas (a 49-goal pace) and 11 in his last 13 games (a 69-goal pace). It was, however, his first “minus” season (minus-8) since his sophomore year.

-- When John Carlson scored on the power play late in the first period, it was his first goal since February 22nd (also a power play goal) against Ottawa in a 5-2 loss to the Senators. It broke a 21-game goal-less streak for the defenseman.

-- Mathieu Perreault…one shot, one goal. It was the eighth time this season he pulled off that feat. He finished the season with a 26.7 percent shooting percentage. Unfortunately, he will not qualify for the league lead in that category. Curtis Glencross led the league with a 23.6 percent shooting percentage. His goal was the game-winner in this one and was his fourth game-winning goal of the season, tied with Nicklas Backstrom for fourth on the team.

-- Mike Green skated 19:50 in this game. It was only the fifth time in 22 games since returning from sports hernia surgery that he had less than 20 minutes of ice time. He also finished the season without a goal in his last 25 games. He was 0-1-1 over those games, but he was a plus-3.

-- The Caps had only 12 shot attempts in the last 34:02 against the Rangers after Nicklas Backstrom’s goal 5:58 into the second period.

-- In his last 16 NHL appearances, including this win over the Rangers, Braden Holtby is 12-2-2, 1.61, .945, with three shutouts.

-- Roman Hamrlik finished this game a plus-2 that allowed him to finish third in team plus/minus (+11). He was plus-15 in his last 23 games.

-- Allowing the Rangers three shorthanded shots on goal (plus another shot blocked), including a breakaway by Carl Hagelin, in a space of 30 seconds on a Caps power play mid-way through the third period is not a recipe for success. The Caps’ power play, despite the power play goal from John Carlson, is something of a mess right now.

-- The Caps finished the season earning points in 12 of their last 16 games (10-4-2). They were 6-1-2 in one-goal games over that span.

In the end, it was just the way one would want the Caps to finish the season. There was a good win at home and a solid win on the road. Seven different players accounted for the eight goals in the two games to wind up the season. The young goaltender stepping in as the Caps deal with adversity at the position bailed the team out when mistakes were made, and the team bailed the young goalie out when need be (see the “save” by Dennis Wideman on a shot by Ryan Callahan after Braden Holtby went far out to poke the puck off Brandon Prust’s stick on a shorthanded break).

But now it’s for real. The Caps will open the first round of the playoffs in Boston to face the Bruins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, and those three wins in four tries against the Bruins aren’t valid currency for success in the post season. The Caps will have to take the kinds of games they played in their last two and build on that if they are to get past the Bruins.

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