Thursday, April 21, 2011

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 4: Capitals 4 - Rangers 3 (2OT)

Admit it, Caps fans… after 40 minutes, you were polishing your expletives to describe another collapse by the Caps. It took the New York Rangers less than 34 minutes to stick the Washington Capitals in a 3-0 hole behind goals by Artem Anisimov, Marian Gaborik, and Brandon Dubinsky. You could almost see the whole season unraveling before your eyes… the “defense-first” philosophy being ripped to shreds by a team that had scored three real hockey goals in consecutive games for the first time in more than a month, the end of the Michal Neuvirth run in goal for the Caps, another chapter in Alex Ovechkin’s journal of post-season frustration, and another two-game lead squandered by a team that holds several patents on the method.

Then… it was the Rangers’ turn to make mistakes. Rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh looked as if he did not know what to do with the puck behind his own net in the third minute of the third period, and when he finally made a decision, it was the wrong one. He shot the puck toward the left wing boards, where the puck was intercepted by Alexander Semin. The Caps forward stepped down into a shooting area and fired the puck on goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who slowed, but did not stop the puck. He took a couple of swipes at the biscuit with his glove along the goal line trying for a stoppage, but missed with each swipe. The puck settled next to his pad at the near post, and Semin jabbed his stick into the opening to nudge the puck the last six inches across the goal line.

If that goal was a spark, Marcus Johansson lit the flame. Fifty-seven seconds after Semin’s goal, Johansson converted a cross-ice feed from Brooks Laich, backhanding the puck into the net from the far post past Lundquvist. Then, eight minutes and change later it was Johansson again, without the need of his stick, having a shot by John Carlson from the left point strike him in the chest and deflect past Lundqvist to tie the game.

Forty minutes later, in the second overtime, the Caps got a gift. Jason Chimera skated down the left wing into the Ranger zone and got tangled up with defenseman Bryan McCabe. The puck squirted toward the Ranger net, where Lunqvist looked to be in position to move the puck aside or cover it. But Marian Gaborik, who was backchecking on the play, took a one-handed whack at the puck to try to move it out of harm’s way. All he succeeded in doing was hitting Chimera in the pants with it. The puck dropped behind Lundqvist inches from the goal, and with McCabe having lost Chimera in the wash, the Caps forward had only to bunt the puck the last foot to complete the comeback and give the Caps a 4-3 win and a three-games-to-one lead in the series.

Other stuff…

-- That’s 29-1-0 now. The Rangers came into this game with a 29-0-0 record when leading after two periods of play this season. They picked one helluva time for their first loss in such situations.

-- That comeback by the Caps was and remains the only time so far in this post-season (in 19 such games) that a team trailing at the second intermission came back to win the game.

-- Don’t look now, but that is six goals in the last 16 games for Marcus Johansson. Might not sound like much, but it is a 31-goal pace over 82 games.

-- Lost in this win is the good news/bad news aspect of special teams, particularly the penalty killers. The good news is that the Caps killed off all seven Ranger power plays, making the PK 17-for-18 so far in the series (94.4 percent). The bad news is that this is two games in a row where the Rangers got seven power plays.

-- You knew…you just KNEW that the Caps were going to lose this game when they took a too-many-men-on-the-ice call five minutes into the second overtime. Shades of Jason Doig! But the Rangers, alas, do not have Martin St. Louis. They did not muster as much as a single shot on goal in that last power play, and they had only four shots for the game on the seven power plays they had. The story of this game is the PK as much as the comeback.

-- Michal Neuvirth did not look sharp early, giving up three goals on the first 16 shots he faced. But he stopped the last 23 to finish the game. You would like to see more consistency in his game, but right now he is tied for second in goals against average among playoff goalies (1.45) and is fourth in save percentage (.942). He does seem to have this discomforting Jekyll and Hyde thing going on with respect to home and road games, though. Good thing Saturday’s game is at Verizon Center, eh?

-- Every single Cap registered a hit in this game, save one – Marcus Johansson. Only Derek Stepan failed to register one for the Rangers. The official scorer must have had his finger stuck on the hit counter – 120 hits combined for both teams, the Rangers credited with 69 of them. Brian Boyle was given credit for ten for the Blueshirts, and Matt Bradley had seven in barely ten minutes of ice time for the Caps.

-- An odd game in terms of time management for the Rangers. The trio of forwards Chris Drury, Erik Christensen, and Wojtek Wolski all skated less than 16 minutes in this game (Christensen fewer than 13 and Wolski fewer than ten), but they skated more or less regular shifts deep in the overtimes. Given that they weren’t being trusted with minutes during the body of regulation time, what could be expected of them in OT except to run off minutes to give the nine forwards who were getting minutes a breather?

-- You might make the same case for the Capitals with Matt Bradley getting barely ten minutes for the game and Matt Hendricks only 13. But with the Caps trying to dig out of a 3-0 hole, they needed more offense on the ice than these guys were likely to provide. Bradley skated one shift in the third period and Hendricks only three.

-- The Caps held the Rangers to 72 shot attempts in more than 92 minutes of play (they had 103 of their own).

-- We wonder a bit about Nicklas Backstrom’s health. He did have five shots last night (more than doubling his total for the series), but he has only one assist in the series and hasn’t had a goal since March 22nd (12 straight games, and counting). Is the hand bothering him?

-- Kudos to Mike Green. He has taken a beating in this series, but last night he had an assist (he is tied for the team points lead with Alex Ovechkin) and skated almost 34 minutes without being on the ice for any Ranger goals.

-- Speaking of being on the ice for Ranger goals, the Carlson/Alzner duo were on for all three Ranger tallies. But after that, John Carlson and Karl Alzner were rock solid. Mistakes are one thing, picking oneself up and dusting oneself off to do better is another. It was fitting that each got an assist on the game-tying goal in the third period.

In the end, this is not over. Caps fans know better. But this is where the Caps should be in this series, with a three-games-to-one lead. How they got here is at least as important as the fact that they are here. A comeback from a 3-0 deficit in the last 20 minutes against a team that did not surrender a second-intermission lead all season has to be inspiring, especially since one of their most productive players down the stretch – Mike Knuble – had to sit this one out. And it should not escape notice that the game-winning goal by Jason Chimera was scored in Knublesque fashion, by driving to the net and picking up loose change.

And don’t forget Marcus Johansson, who scored his goals by: a) going to the net and being there for the feed from Brooks Laich, and b) going to the net and getting himself in a position to have a puck bounce off a body part for a goal. The four goals the Caps scored might not have traveled a total of 30 feet (unless you count the distance in the Carlson slapper that bounced off Johansson for the third goal).

But now the serious work of closing a team out awaits. It is fitting that we are right where we were a year ago, with that 3-1 lead in games and a team that might be reeling after a tough loss on their home ice (last year, Montreal lost both Games 3 and 4 on home ice). Have the Caps learned their lessons? Can they “stay angry?” long as they win 'em one game at a time, 13 more times.


Diane said...

Actually, add 1 more to the losses for the Rangers. They also had a lead after Period 2 in Game 1 of this playoff series and lost that one in OT as well. Granted, the Rangers have not lost in regulation when leading after 2 but ....

The Peerless said...

Actually, I believe Game 1 was scoreless at the second intermission. The Rangers scored the first goal in the third period of Game 1 (Gilroy at 1:56), then the Caps tied it.

Jeremy said...

As always, a great write-up. You've made it to top of my list for places to go to read about the games, the team.

I can't, however, let either Bruce or Ovechkin off the hook as easily as they perhaps seem to be in your re-cap.

First, this team was clearly ill prepared for this game. True, no coach laces 'em up and skates; but, the coach's job is to do all he can to set his players up for success. If that's BB's best, I heavily question whether the weakest spot on the Caps is behind its bench. (And I'm not including any reference here to the whole MSG is a "dump" and the crowds are quiet "mistake" that Bruce now admits making).

Similarly, Ovechkin came up a dead ringer if last night was, in fact, any sort of Career Bell Ringing affair for him. In addition to yet another blown breakaway opportunity to put the game away, Ovechkin was -2 on the night. He was, and remains, a defensive liability. Lazy plays on his part directly line up with Ranger goals. And as for that OT breakaway, the Gretzkys and (dare I say) Crosbys hit that goal. They get it done. Ovechkin didn't. And his continued failures at helping make things easier on his team in key, BIG moments are mounting up.

Jack said...

Not sure how you can say Neuvy was really all that shaky. Sure, he allowed the three goals in the second, but the first two you can't really fault him for. One the first, a centering feed from behind the net caroms in off a Capital, and the second the defense gave Neuvy nothing... no pressure on the passer, no one on Gabs at the corner. Neuvy didn't have a chance. Only the third goal did I think he could have saved. Whether he should have is questionable, but he had a chance.

His save on Gaborik in the third was scintillating, and he pitched nearly a complete game shutout <1> after allowing the three goals.

Anonymous said...

Boom Diane! You've just been prognosticated.

Bart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bart said...

isn't the record technically 29-0-1? I know post season doesn't give loser points but it still wasn't a loss in regulation

The Peerless said...

I believe they are only recorded as wins and losses in the playoffs.

As for Neuvirth, the one thing I didn't see early on from him was something he does very well when he is on his game. That is trust his positioning. Later in the game, when he stoned Gaborik (might have been in OT), he did just that and swallowed the shot.

The Peerless said...

Ovechkin doesn't have to be the best player for the Caps on as regular a basis as does, say, Lundqvist for the Rangers, but I would agree last night was not his "10" game on a 1-10 scale. At the moment, I'm more concerned about Backstrom, who I wonder whether or not he has suffered a new injury. He's been very quiet.

Anonymous said...

If anything, the Rags have a tougher job than the Caps did two years ago. Last time, the team with its back to the wall went home for game 5, and it can be argued that game 5 turned the momentum. This time, the team that is down has to walk into a hostile building and pull off the same feat.

That said, you're right. This series isn't over. I think there's a call to us as Caps fans now. The Rags fans asked us a question - can you hear us? We need to walk into Verizon Center on Saturday afternoon and bring it like never before. We need to blow the roof off the joint and make sure we can be heard all the way to Manhattan. We need to answer that question with "We can't hear you!"