Sunday, May 05, 2013

NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals -- Game 2: Capitals 1 - Rangers 0 (OT)

Page V of the “National Hockey League Official Rules, 2012-2013” describes the dimensions of the “approved goal frame.”  There you will find that the inner distance between posts is 72 inches and that the inner height dimension is 48 inches.

This six-foot by four-foot area is all that a goaltender is obliged to defend.  Braden Holtby defended those 24 square feet perfectly, shutting out the New York Rangers in the Washington Capitals’ 1-0 overtime win over the Rangers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Verizon Center on Saturday afternoon.

Caps fans might want to keep those dimensions and the goaltender’s obligation to defend only that space if they are inclined to think Holtby and the Caps a bit lucky after the Rangers’ Rick Nash bulled through the Caps’ defense, and with less than four minutes left in regulation chipped a shot off the post to Holtby’s right that might have won the game for the Rangers in regulation time.

As it was, Holtby kept his net clear, despite the Caps having to kill off a penalty late in regulation – that one taken by Troy Brouwer on that bull rush by Nash -- then having to kill off a penalty in overtime when Steve Oleksy shot the puck off the rink from inside the defensive zone for a delay of game penalty.  It set up a thrilling finish when the Rangers took their own delay of game penalty, and Mike Green made good on his “Game Over Green” nickname, blasting a one-timer off a feed from Mike Ribeiro past goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the game-winner and a 2-0 lead in games in the series.

Other stuff…

-- Here is the “random” part of hockey that can be so confounding to numbers folks.  A shoelace.  When Mike Green fired his game-winning shot toward the Ranger net, it appeared that Henrik Lundqvist had a good view of the puck.  But as it was heading for the net it appeared to tick off the top of the skate of Ranger Derek Stepan ever so slightly – perhaps just hitting the laces of his boot – thus causing the path of the puck to tilt up ever so slightly and sail over the glove of Lundqvist, off the post, and into the back of the net.

-- Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced, making him perfect in the last 53 shots he has faced from the Rangers over 111:15 of ice time.  In nine career playoff games against the Rangers, Holtby is now 5-4, 1.60, .941, with one shutout.

-- His opposite number – Henrik Lundqvist – had, if anything, a better game.  He certainly faced more dangerous shots.  A redirect attempt by Mathieu Perreault that he stopped with his right pad.  A wrister from in close by Marcus Johansson.  A point-blank try by Jason Chimera.  Another point-blank attempt, this one by Alex Ovechkin when he split to Ranger defenders and worked his way in alone on Lundqvist.  Caps fans will hope this was his best game.

-- We like Ryan Callahan’s compete level.  He runs his motor at a high rate just about all the time.  But his aggression when it comes to defending on the power play has had a hand in two power play goals for the Caps in this series.  We covered one in the pre-game look at this contest.  In this one his sliding over to contest a shot from Mike Ribeiro – when John Moore was already in Ribeiro's shooting lane – opened up a shooting lane for Mike Green, who took advantage for the game-winner.

-- Rule 63.2 is on folks’ minds this morning.  The Rule states:
“When any player, with both of his skates inside his defending zone, shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck directly (non-deflected) out of the playing surface, except where there is no glass, a penalty shall be assessed for delaying the game…”
And the question is not whether Karl Alzner “shot” the puck off the rink with 45.3 seconds left in regulation time, but if he “batted” the puck over the glass with his stick when the puck was dumped over the Capitals’ blue line.  The ruling on the ice, as described by Caps head coach Adam Oates in his post-game press conference, was that the puck was “deflected” over the glass.

-- Is the Washington penalty killing that good or the Ranger power play that bad?  The Caps were three-for-three in this game, making them perfect in seven shorthanded situations for the series.  The Rangers were held to two shots on goal in six minutes of power play time, both off the stick of Brad Richards.  The Rangers did not have a shot on goal on either their power play late in regulation, nor on their power play in overtime.

-- Speaking of shots on goal… eight minutes of overtime, no shots on goal for the Rangers.  In fact, they managed only three shot attempts in those eight minutes – one missed shot and two shots blocked.

-- Rick Nash’s chip off the post late in regulation time notwithstanding, he had only three shots on goal in this game after recording eight shots on goal in Game 1. 

-- Ryan McDonagh’s last shift was memorable.  He took the ice with 4:05 gone in the overtime to match up against the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Johansson line.  The Caps dominated possession in the Ranger end and managed a shot on goal, then a missed shot before the Rangers iced the puck with 5:42 gone, McDonagh having been on the ice for 1:37 and having had to face the top line and the second line of Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer in his shift.  But he could not get off the ice because of the icing call. 

This is where Adam Oates made one of those subtle game-within-a-game moves that does not get a lot of attention.  He swapped out the Ribeiro line for fresh legs, getting Mathieu Perreault, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera on the ice.  When Henrik Lundqvist stopped and froze a Perreault shot at 6:08 – McDonagh now having been on ice for 2:03 on this shift – the Rangers could have made a change.  But with Oates now sending out the top line, McDonagh stayed on the ice.  Washington won the ensuing faceoff and maintained possession and pressure in the Ranger end, getting six shot attempts at Lundqvist in the next 1:01.  McDonagh then found the puck on his stick, and in trying to relieve pressure, shot the puck off the rink instead, earning a delay-of-game penalty.  He finished with a shift of 3:04 and was in the box when Mike Green scored his game-winner on the ensuing power play.

-- Every Ranger skater was credited with at least one hit.  One wonders if, failing to do so, head coach John Tortorella threatens to make the offending player walk home.

-- Is Braden Holtby getting into the Rangers’ heads?  15 of 18 skaters recorded at least one missed shot. 

-- Every Capital, save Jay Beagle, had at least one shot on goal.  John Carlson and Ovechkin had seven apiece.

-- Eric Fehr was drafted by the Capitals back in 2003 off his considerable goal-scoring promise displayed with the Brandon Wheat Kings in Canadian juniors, but he is finding a place with this Caps team as a penalty killer.  His work in that regard in this game, including swallowing a shot in his midsection and smothering the puck under him, was superb.

In the end…

This is the fourth time in Caps history that the team won both Games 1 and 2 on home ice.  In two series they were taken to seven games, both against Pittsburgh (1992, 2009), and on both occasions the Caps lost.  In the other two series – against Ottawa in 1998 and against the Rangers in 2009 – the Caps closed out the series in five games.  The key is not Game 3 (lost by the Caps in all four series), but Game 4 (won by the Caps in both five-game series wins, lost in both seven-game series losses).

What this means is that the Caps have merely held serve, and now the Rangers get the chance to return the favor of disappointing their guests on Monday and Wednesday.  This series is a long way from over, but it is the Rangers who have the much more difficult path to win, thanks to a superb effort by the Caps and some sly moves by the coaching staff.

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