The Washington Capitals clawed themselves back into the playoff race with a 3-2 trick shot win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden this evening. The win – the Caps’ third on their four-game “Save the Season Tour” – came in one of the strangest games of this season or of recent memory. The way things got started, no one might have had it in their heads that this game would need more than 65 minutes to determine an outcome.
Washington scored first on a power play. No surprise there, the Caps are the top power play unit in the NHL. How they did it, though, was hardly pretty. It started with a lost faceoff in the Ranger end. However, while Derek Stepan beat Nicklas Backstrom on the draw, his teammates could not clear the puck, John Carlson keeping a hard around in the Rangers' zone at the right point. Carlson fed the puck down to Mike Ribeiro along the right wing wall. Ribeiro returned the favor, and Carlson then sent the puck to the left side for a one-timer from Alex Ovechkin. The shot pinballed off bodies, eventually hitting Backstrom in the chest and dropping behind goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead.
Less than two minutes later it was Ovechkin getting one of his own in unusual fashion. Nicklas Backstrom started the play skating the puck up the left wing. As he crossed the Ranger blue line he peeled into the middle and left the puck for defenseman Steve Oleksy. Wasting no time, Oleksy fired the puck just as Ovechkin was skating against the grain in front of Lundqvist. As the puck came through, Ovechkin reached out and got the blade of his stick on the puck just enough to change its direction past Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead, upon which the boo birds came out in the Garden.
The boos changed to cheers for the home team, though. In the space of less than four minutes late in the first period, Arron Asham and Derek Stepan scored, the latter coming on a 5-on-3 power play, the first power play goal scored by the Rangers on home ice in four games dating back to March 5th.
Folks might have been forgiven if they were thinking that this would be an unusual up-and-down, firewagon sort of game between these teams. Only once in the last eight games on Madison Square Garden ice did the winning team score as many as four goals. This one looked early on as if both teams might get four goals by the mid-way point of the game.
However, that would be all she wrote as far as the hockey portion of the contest was concerned. The Rangers clamped down, allowing only ten shots on goal by the Caps over the last 45 minutes (actually, 47:16 going back to the end of the first period). Meanwhile goalie Braden Holtby shook off those two late Ranger goals in the first period (one coming when he misplayed a puck into his own net) and stopped the last 26 shots he faced over the last 46:47 of regulation and overtime.
That left things to the Gimmick, the Caps finally getting their first opportunity in the trick shot competition in Game 32 of the season. Caps fans have been waiting for this, curious to see what a skills competition lineup of Matt “The Paralyzer” Hendricks, Mike Ribeiro, and Wojtek Wolski – all accomplished performers in the freestyle portion of the competition – could do. Well, Wolski did not get a sweater, Hendricks did not paralyze, and Ribeiro could not work magic on Lundqvist. It was left to two old hands – Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom sandwiching goals around a tally by Derek Stepan – to give the Caps a sorely needed 3-2 win and an extra standings point that fans hope the Caps can put to good use down the road.
-- The power play goal by Backstrom made it five straight games with a power play goal for the Caps and six games out of seven. In the five-game streak the Caps are 5-for-19 (26.3 percent).
-- Speaking of Backstrom, this makes three times in his last five games he recorded a multi-point effort. He is 2-5-7 over his last five games.
-- Ovechkin also had a multi-point game, his third in a row and fourth in eight games. Over those eight games he is 7-4-11.
-- The adrenaline might have worn off for Steve Oleksy, who had four points in his first four games before going six straight without one. But with his assist on the Ovechkin goal he has points in his last two contests and is 1-5-6 in 12 games since being called up from Hershey.
-- The Caps had 24 shots on goal, 23 shot attempts blocked. The Rangers are really good at that whole shot-blocking thing.
-- Ovechkin had four shots on goal in the first 9:45, the last being his goal. He did not have another shot on goal for the next 52:03, and that shot – at 1:48 of overtime – was his last one. Until his trick shot goal, that is.
-- The Rangers were credited with 47 hits. Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan were credited with six apiece, and we think we saw that Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Pierre-Paul had two apiece, too. #friendlyscoring
-- Perhaps the oddest number of the night: 00:01. That is the amount of power play ice time Mike Green got for the Caps. That’s right, one second.
-- Maybe the second oddest number… 1:26. That was the penalty killing time for Steve Oleksy, tops for the Caps.
-- Third?... “0.” The number of shot attempts for Jason Chimera. Chimera skated only two shifts in the third period, none in the last 12:41.
In the end, there was a point late in the second period when one might have thought, “this is not going to be the Caps’ night.” In a 16 second span the Caps had a shot by Mike Ribeiro hit Henrik Lundqvist in the mask, stunning him, followed by a shot by Karl Alzner off the post with Lundqvist still down on his side in the crease, then a shot by Brooks Laich than might have gotten through but for being blocked in front by defenseman Michael Del Zotto. It was there for the taking – momentum going into the second intermission and the third period that they gave away when the Rangers came back from a 2-0 deficit late in the first period.
But the Caps showed resolve. They bent, but they did not break. If they didn’t play flawless defense in the last 25 minutes of regulation and overtime, they played well. Braden Holtby covered up those flaws that did come to the surface. This against a team that did most of its scoring damage this season in the third period. Even with the Rangers snaring a point in the decision, this has to be considered a very good win and a significantly successful road trip for the Caps. It could have been their last gasp, but instead it might be a signal of their second wind.