Sometimes, one is enough. It was enough for the Washington Capitals on Monday night to subdue the New York Rangers in Game 3 of their playoff series, a goal by Jay Beagle 7:31 into the second period being the game’s only score on a night where both goaltenders shined.
It was a matter of persistence for Beagle on the game-winner. After a scoreless first period and seven minutes of similar hockey to start the second period, the Caps dumped the puck into the Rangers’ end. Troy Brower fought off a pair of Rangers long enough to allow Andre Burakovsky to gather the puck at the bottom of the left wing circle. Burakovsky backhanded the puck out to Beagle filling in down the middle late on the play. Beagle’s initial shot was turned away by goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but Beagle hunted the puck down behind the Rangers’ net. He circled behind the cage and from below the goal line threw the puck in front. The puck hit the skate of defenseman Keith Yandle, then ticked off the left skate of Lundqvist and in to give the Caps the only goal they would need to skate off with a 1-0 victory and take a 2-1 series lead over the Rangers.
-- The goal was Beagle’s first of the post season after a lot of frustrating near misses. He has scored one goal in each of his last three post seasons covering 29 games. However, it was his fourth point in the post season, and four points more than doubles his career playoff output (now 3-4-7 over 33 games).
-- For the seventh time in ten post season games and tenth time in their last 16 games overall, the Caps had two or fewer power play chances (two in this game).
-- In stopping all 30 shots he faced, goalie Braden Holtby took over the lead in save percentage among goaltenders still playing in the post season (.949) as well as goals against average (1.54). Since the 2004-2005 lockout, 31 goaltenders have appeared in at least 20 post season games. Holtby has the best save percentage of any goaltender among them: .936. He has the second best goals against average at 1.89 (Chris Osgood: 1.80 in 42 games).
-- The Rangers won the shots attempted battle, 69-49.
-- Andre Burakovsky recorded his first career post season point with his primary assist on the game-winning goal. For Troy Brouwer, who recorded the secondary assist, it was his first point of the series. Neither Burakovsky nor Brouwer recorded a shot on goal, however.
-- Matt Niskanen is struggling to be heard from on the offensive side of the score sheet in this series, but he led all players with seven blocked shots.
-- It was the first time in seven games against the Rangers this season, regular season and playoffs, that Alex Ovechkin failed to record a goal.
-- Beagle (10-for-12) and Nicklas Backstrom (15-for-20) owned the faceoff circle in this game. Beagle is the leader in post season faceoff winning percentage (67.5), while Backstrom is seventh (56.7).
-- With the game in doubt late, the Caps allowed the Rangers only one shot on goal in the last 3:13 of the game, although taking two icings in the last half minute made for some anxious moments.
-- Is Rick Nash frustrated? He had 15 shot attempts, seven shots on goal (including that only shot in the last 3:13) and had only a minus-1 to show for it.
In the end…
There are two takeaways from this game. The first is that at first blush the Caps might have benefited from a measure of luck, in this game and in the series. A goal with 1.3 seconds left in regulation time to win Game 1. A goal that banks off not one, but two opponents’ skates for the game winner in another win in Game 3. But look more closely. Those plays were finished because of little things that occurred before the goal lamp was lit. Nicklas Backstrom pressing hard on a forecheck to free a puck and Alex Ovechkin playing the role of playmaker instead of finisher on Joel Ward’s game winner in Game 1. Then last night, Evgeny Kuznetsov dumped the puck into the Rangers’ end instead of trying to lengthen his shift and do something on his own (think the kid hasn’t grown a bit into the NHL game?). Troy Brouwer occupied two defenders to allow Andre Burakovsky to collect a loose puck. Jay Beagle headed for the net and followed his own shot. Little things – the right things – add up in the end, and this team does them better than Capitals playoff teams of recent vintage.
Second, in what looks as if it might be a long series, your goaltender is going to have to steal a game or two. Braden Holtby did just that in Game 3. It is not often one can say that of a Capitals goaltender, and that is a big difference between this edition of the Capitals and those of years past. The Caps certainly played with fire, especially late in the contest, the Rangers out-attempting Washington by a 21-13 margin at 5-on-5 in the third period and getting the period’s only power play. And those late icings didn’t help. But again, the little things – Backstrom beat Derick Brassard on both faceoffs following those icing calls in the last minute. Not insignificantly, Backstrom blocked the Rangers’ last two shot attempts, more evidence of doing other things a team needs to do to win when the points are not coming easily.
On a night on which the Rangers found a way to silence Alex Ovechkin, the team as a whole did a lot of little things right, and Holtby stepped up with a performance that cements his place among the best post season goaltenders in club history and among the best in the game. The Caps will need that level of performance from everyone as the teams head to Game 4 on Wednesday night.