Rest > Rust – Taking the ice after what seemed like an interminable four-day layoff, the Washington Capitals looked much more rested than rusted. Despite surrendering the game’s first goal and enduring some speed bumps along the way, the Caps vaulted past the New York Rangers 3-1 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series between the two teams.
Washington came out with a great deal of jump and jam in the first, and they got the game’s first break when New York was somehow guilty of having too many men on the ice on the very first shift change of the evening, just 34 seconds after the opening draw. The Caps didn’t score on the man-advantage, but coach Adam Oates kept rolling his four lines and Washington owned an advantage in territory and possession for the first three-quarters of the initial frame.
Martin Erat had Washington’s best even-strength chance during that stretch of the game, a one-on-one slapshot that New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist safely cradled to his midsection.
When Jay Beagle went off for boarding at 14:21, the Caps owned a 20-10 advantage in shot attempts. By the end of the frame, those numbers were all even at 22 and the Rangers managed to sneak one of those dozen late shot bids past Capitals netminder Braden Holtby.
Seconds after killing the Beagle minor, Washington was whistled for icing. Nicklas Backstrom won the ensuing defensive zone draw, but Beagle missed a chance to clear the zone and New York was able to work the puck around to the back of the cage.
Rangers winger Carl Hagelin curled out in front on a wrap around bid. Holtby had the net well protected, but the puck went through the paint, glancing off the skate of Caps blueliner John Erskine and into the far side of the cage for a 1-0 New York lead at 16:44 of the first.
The Caps had a second power play that carried over into the second, and a third when Taylor Pyatt went off for elbowing at 3:14 of the second. Washington’s extra-man unit was a bit disjointed on the second and third of those first three opportunities. It had difficulty with its entries and turned a couple of pucks over near the line, resulting in some shorthanded chances for the Rangers.
When Rangers forward Arron Asham was sent off at 6:26 of the second for an illegal hit to the head of Caps defenseman Jack Hillen, it was New York’s third minor penalty in a span of just seven minutes.
It proved to be one too many.
The Caps needed 33 seconds of the Asham sentence to even the game. Mike Green’s shot from center point bounced off the back wall and Alex Ovechkin anticipated it nicely, going to the net and calmly collecting it and depositing it behind Lundqvist.
“Right away after we had no success on a couple of power plays,” says Ovechkin, “we were saying we have to play it simple and just come down and play our game. It was a big goal for us.”
Less than three minutes after evening the game, the Caps found themselves in some serious penalty peril. Erat went off for boarding at 9:40 of the second, and Eric Fehr ended what had been a brilliant penalty-killing shift by taking a double-minor for interference and roughing. New York’s Ryan Callahan took a roughing minor as well, but the confluence of calls left the Caps down two men for 56 seconds.
Fehr had rubbed out New York’s Rick Nash in the corner, breaking his stick in the process. Sans stick, Fehr skated back to the front of the net and blocked a Dan Girardi shot. Seconds later, the Rangers were pressuring Holtby down low, and there was some doubt as to the whereabouts of the puck. Fehr launched himself at Rangers center Derek Stepan, getting a two-for-one price on the infractions.
“My stick broke on Nash in the corner,” says Fehr. “I’m not sure exactly how it happened. But it’s obviously tough killing without a stick. You feel pretty helpless. When the puck was in front of the net and Holtby – I thought he had it – I just didn’t want them to keep digging and get a chance to put it in so I just took the guy out in front.”
The much-maligned Capitals penalty-killing outfit – which actually ended the season on a strong 21-for 23 run – was excellent. Holtby left no rebounds, getting whistles whenever the puck went netward. The penalty killers did a great job of denying time and space, clearing when they were able. The Caps blocked six shots while shorthanded in the second period of the game.
Having navigated that rough stretch of road in the middle of the middle stanza, it was then up to the Caps to take advantage of the momentum gained from the successful sequence.
Playing in his first Stanley Cup playoff game, Steve Oleksy was unable to corral a bouncing puck at the right point. He skated the puck back to his own end, regrouping and surveying well below the Washington line. Suddenly spotting an available Marcus Johansson at the opposite line, Oleksy threaded a perfect tape-to-tape pass to spring the Caps forward on a breakaway. Johansson did the rest, getting the puck through Lundqvist to give the Caps a 2-1 lead at 14:21 of the second.
Less than a minute later, the Caps struck again. Jason Chimera spun off the left half-wall and fired a shot toward the net while linemate Mathieu Perreault was going to the paint. Lundqvist might have been distracted by Perreault’s presence. The puck got through the Rangers’ goalie, the second successive shot to find its way into the New York net.
“There’s that five-, 10-minute span there in the second period where they grabbed on to [momentum] and ended up getting a couple goals off of it,” says Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, “and that’s what the playoffs is about, momentum swings and handling it and trying to grab it back when you lose it and not trying to get hurt and tonight. It hurt us.”
After the two teams spent 9:03 of the second period operating in one special teams mode or another, only one penalty call was made in the third. Fehr beat New York blueliner Michael Del Zotto and drove in on a breakaway, drawing a slashing call in the process. The Caps put their foot on the pedal hard on that power play chance, but could not add to their lead.
Rangers defenseman John Moore believed he had halved the deficit with a late goal at 15:57 of the third, but video review showed that Holtby had kept the puck from crossing the line. The Caps nursed their lead to the buzzer and skated away with a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“Anytime you can kill a 5-on-3,” says Fehr, “you can feel the winds change a little bit. I thought we did a really good job of getting back into their end and putting pressure on their [defense].”
The Caps have a 1-0 lead in the series. Washington dropped Game 1 of each of its two playoff series last spring.
“It’s a win,” says Holtby. “We move on, it’s simple as that. We just put it behind us, watch video [to see] what we can do better and we come to play the next game.”
Leader Of The Pack – Ovechkin’s goal was the 31st Stanley Cup playoff tally of his NHL career, one more than Peter Bondra and the most all-time among all Washington players.
Similar Ingredients – Back on April 20, 2011, Washington trailed the Rangers 3-0 in the third period of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Madison Square Garden. The Caps got a goal from a guy named Alexander (Semin) early in the third, two from Johansson to tie it, and then the game-winner in a 4-3 triumph from Chimera in double-overtime.
On Thursday it was a guy named Alexander (Ovechkin), Johansson with the game-winner and Chimera with the insurance strike to rebound from a much smaller, much earlier deficit in the game.
Both Johansson and Chimera have proven to be thorns in the Rangers’ side during the postseason. Three of Johansson’s four career playoff tallies and six of Chimera’s eight Stanley Cup goals have come at New York’s – and Lundqvist’s – expense.
Holting The Fort – Holtby was excellent on Thursday, making 35 saves and being named the game’s No. 1 star. He has yet to lose successive games in his Stanley Cup playoff career and his eight career playoff victories are just two shy of Semyon Varlamov (10) for fourth place on Washington’s all-time playoff ledger.
“I thought Holts played a great game,” says Oates. “I don’t compare him to [Lundqvist]. [Lundqvist] is a great goalie we know that. It’s one of the things we talk about as a group, but we’re very happy with our goalies.”
Bottom Six – Washington’s bottom six forwards had a strong night on the ice in Thursday’s series opener. Chimera, Mathieu Perreault and Fehr did a good job of generating chances, accounting for a dozen of Washington’s total of 53 shot attempts and supplying Chimera’s key insurance marker.
The Caps’ fourth line of Matt Hendricks, Beagle and Joel Ward was an effective trio in the final regular season game between the two teams in New York on March 24, and although they had limited ice time in Thursday’s Game 1, they combined for two shots on net, three hits and six face-off wins in eight tries. Beagle was a perfect 5-for-5 in the circle.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” says Ward. “We had the puck in their end a little bit. For us the key is we just want to play in their end. We get on a good offensive cycle and make some plays down low; it gives ourselves some good opportunities. We’re trying to provide some energy and at the same time try to not just get pucks in deep, but make [scoring] chances.”
Stellar Seconds – Washington tied for the league lead with 56 second-period goals during the regular season while allowing just 39 goals in the middle frame.
During the month of April, Washington outscored its opponents by a combined 24-10 in the middle frame of its 13 games. The Caps put up a crooked number in the second period in nine of those 13 games.
In Thursday’s Game 1, the Caps notched all three of their goals in a span of eight minutes and eight seconds of the middle period.
Special Delivery – In addition to some clutch penalty killing, the Caps scored the tying goal on the power play in Game 1. Washington was a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill and it was 1-for-5 on the man-advantage.
With five penalty-killing missions, New York was a shade undisciplined. The Rangers had to kill as many as five penalties in a game only twice in their last 23 games of the regular season.
“We can’t take that many penalties in the game,” laments Rangers coach John Tortorella. “[The Caps] did get a good bounce off the boards. You can’t take two in a row. Hopefully, we will discipline ourselves next game.”
Washington had a great deal of difficulty in 3-on-5 shorthanded situations during the regular season, permitting six goals in eight such instances, including a 5-on-3 power play goal to the Rangers’ Stepan.
The Capitals’ total of six 5-on-3 power play goals against were tied for the most in the league during the 2012-13 season while New York – along with Chicago and Nashville – was one of just three NHL clubs to get through the season without allowing any goals against while two men down.
Moving On Up – Backstrom picked up an assist on the Ovechkin goal for his 27th career playoff assist and his 41st point. He is now tied with Mike Gartner for 10th on Washington’s all-time postseason assists ledger and is tied with Joé Juneau for 11th place on the team’s all-time postseason scoring list.
Juneau was in attendance on Thursday, and he received a warm ovation from the crowd upon his introduction. It was Juneau’s overtime goal against Buffalo on June 4, 1998 that propelled the Caps to the lone Stanley Cup final appearance of their 38-season NHL history.
Birthday Boy – Chimera’s goal came on his 34th birthday. It was just the second time in his NHL career that Chimera played in a game on his birthday and the first time he scored on May 2.
Not A Problem – Oleksy was the lone member of the Capitals to make his Stanley Cup playoff debut on Thursday, and he was not at all flustered by the experience. In addition to his home run pass to Johansson for the game-winning goal, Oleksy used his face to block a shot, one of four shots he blocked on the night. After stepping off for repairs, Oleksy was back in action the rest of the way.
“I felt pretty comfortable,” says Oleksy. “Obviously it helps having Jack [Hillen] as a partner. He likes to calm things down and he’s a great guy to play with. He communicates well, so that always helps.”
By night’s end, Oleksy had logged 13:57 in ice time, including 2:29 while the Caps were shorthanded. He also had two shots on net and two hits.
Firsts – Oleksy and Perreault each recorded the first assists and points of their respective Stanley Cup playoff careers. Johansson’s game-winner was the first of his NHL postseason career.
Oleksy has now notched an assist in his first regular season NHL game and his first Stanley Cup playoff game. He recorded one assist in 14 career minor league playoff games.
Hagelin’s goal was the first playoff tally of his career and it came in his 18th Stanley Cup contest.
Quote Of The Night -- Fehr on Oleksy's brilliant home-run pass to Johansson for the game-winner: "I thought that was Greener's pass to be honest. I didn't know Steve had that club in his bag,"
Not Tonight – New York was 18-2-1 when scoring the game’s first goal during the regular season and the Rangers were 13-0-1 when leading after the game’s first 20 minutes in 2012-13.
By The Numbers – New York owned a 79-53 advantage in shots attempted … Green led the Caps with 26:38 in ice time … Green led the Caps with nine shot attempts and Ovechkin paced Washington with five shots on net … Troy Brouwer led the Caps with seven hits … John Carlson led the Caps with six blocked shots and 4:20 in shorthanded ice time … Washington defensemen accounted for 20 of the team’s total of 25 blocked shots … Nash led the Rangers with eight shots on net and 16 shot attempts … ex-Cap Steve Eminger led the Blueshirts with seven hits, doing so with just 9:56 of ice time … Dan Girardi led the Rangers with 29:00 in ice time and four blocked shots.