Monday, April 18, 2011

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 3: Rangers 3 - Capitals 2

There will be no sweep.

The Washington Capitals saw their lead in games halved in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals this afternoon, falling to the New York Rangers, 3-2, on a late goal by Brandon Dubinsky. The Caps will take a 2-1 series lead into Wednesday’s Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.

The Caps came back twice from one-goal deficits to tie the contest, the first time when Alex Ovechkin knotted the game at a goal apiece by tipping in a drive from Jason Arnott with one minute left in the first period. The second time came late in the third period when Mike Knuble picked up some loose change in front of goalie Henrik Lundqvist, putting back a shot by Nicklas Backstrom to tie the game with 5:12 left in regulation.

The Rangers had one more left in them, though, when Brandon Dubinsky circled out from the left wing corner and threaded the puck to the net. After pinballing around for a moment, it appeared that Alex Ovechkin (trying to tie up Dubinsky) put the puck into his own net for what would be the game-winner. The Caps could not get the third equalizer in the last 99 seconds, and the Caps had their series lead cut to 2-1 heading into Wednesday’s game at the Garden.

Other stuff…

-- 10:33… That is how much time the Caps spent killing penalties this afternoon. They killed off 8:00 in Games 1 and 2 combined.

-- One thing the Caps had been able to do in this series so far was to limit Ranger shot opportunities (47 in Games 1 and 2 combined). The Rangers had 35 shots in this one, though, ten of which came on seven power plays.

-- The Rangers’ experiment with Vaclav Prospal, Erik Christensen, and Marian Gaborik lasted one game. Gaborik was matched with Brandon Dubinsky and Ruslan Fedotenko to start the game. That line could muster only four shots on goal, Gaborik getting three of them and Dubinsky getting the other “shot” on the game-winner than came off Ovechkin’s stick.

-- Those 35 shots on goal for the Rangers. Think that number was influenced by power plays? Brian Boyle had nine shots on goal (more than twice as many as any other Ranger), four of which came on power plays.

-- It was Prospal who had the next highest number of shots (four), including a goal, but he also had five giveaways.

-- Henrik Lundqvist played well (although first star of the game?), but we think Michal Neuvirth played better. Neither could keep Alex Ovechkin from putting a puck in the net.

-- Chris Rooney AND Frederick L’Ecuyer (who replaced Rooney when Rooney suffered a broken leg in the second period) refereeing a game involving the Caps? Any wonder the Rangers had seven power plays?

-- Speaking of Chris’…Chris Drury appeared to be dressed for one reason and one reason only…to take faceoffs, specifically faceoffs in the defensive zone. Drury skated only 7:58 but took 19 draws overall, winning 15 of them. He was 13-for-16 in the defensive zone.

-- The flip side of that was that Jason Arnott was 4-for-15 in draws and was 0-for-9 in the offensive zone, losing all seven draws he took against Drury in the O-zone.

-- Because of the discrepancy in power plays, only one Capitals forward skated more than 20 minutes, that being Brooks Laich (21:49). Laich skated 5:37 while the Caps were killing off penalties. Hard for a team to generate any offensive rhythm when the big scorers are off the ice.

-- Good…Alex Ovechkin’s second goal of the series made him 2-for-9 in shooting (22.2 percent). The bad…he’s had only three shots on goal in the last two games, only one in Game 3 (a goal).

In the end, this game isn’t as important as what comes next. The Caps might have an “oh-no” moment, where they remember their past. Or they might break out those “stay angry” t-shirts we heard about last fall. For even after withstanding an interminable march to the penalty box, playing in a hostile arena, and batting the puck into their own net for the winning goal, the Caps still lost by that lone goal. If the scales of justice tipped that far in favor of the Rangers in this game, and they still could escape with a win only as a result of an “own goal,” then the Caps should look at this game as a hiccup instead of a reverse of momentum.

The Caps are the better team here. For most of the first three games they played like it. What they need to finish off this series quickly is to play with the swagger that goes with knowing they are the better team. Not overconfidence, not arrogance. Just an attitude that puts the Rangers back in their place, looking up from a deep hole. It is the lesson we would like to think the Caps have learned over the last three years – the importance of putting a team away.