After the first 2 games in the series, the New York Rangers found themselves in an uncomfortable 2-0 hole against the Washington Capitals. The Rangers offense, in particular, struggled mightily by only mustering a measly and meager one goal in the initial 2 games. Both losses were on the road, and the Rangers needed to do something, anything, they could to claw back into this quarterfinal series.
After all, New York entered this season with high expectations. That’s what happens when you have the reigning Vezina-winning goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. Results are demanded when you make high-profile acquisitions in Brad Richards and Rick Nash.
In game 3, the Rangers came alive.
New York was bolstered by the returns of Brian Boyle and Mark Staal from injuries. The Capitals were hindered by Adam Oates’ over-reliance on Alex Ovechkin, who played more than 22 minutes. With 6 minutes left in the game, Derek Stepan redirected a pass from Nash for the game-winner, propelling the Rangers to a 4-3 victory, and making the series a 2-1 affair. Washington had their chances at the end, finishing the game on a power play. With goalie Braden Holtby pulled, the Capitals could not get past Lundqvist with the 6 on 4 advantage.
Tonight, the Rangers were facing another must-win game at home. A win would pull the series to 2-2; a loss would pit them into a daunting 3-1 deficit. Again, the Rangers were up to the task.
Washington came out poorly in the first period, spending most of it in their own end of the ice. Eventually, with 4 minutes left, the Rangers made them pay. Richards was able to grab the first goal of the game, following an errant attempt by Holtby to clear the puck out of the zone. Taylor Pyatt swatted the puck out of the air, sending the puck to Carl Hagelin. Hagelin’s shot was stopped, but went right to Richards, who promptly buried the puck.
In the second period, Hagelin continued his stellar play, rocketing a slapper past Holtby for a 2-0 advantage with 10 minutes gone. By this point, the Rangers were in full control, and held a 22-9 shot advantage. With 7 minutes remaining, Joel Ward was able to connect with Mathieu Perreault, making the score 2-1. The goal sucked the energy out of the Madison Square Garden crowd, and shifted the momentum as New York began to play passively. This led to Troy Brouwer burning the Rangers with 17 seconds left in the frame, knotting the game up at 2 goals apiece.
Unfortunately for the Capitals, Jason Chimera took an interference penalty as the 2nd period expired. One minute into the 3rd, the game was all but over.
Dan Girardi blasted a blistering slap shot cleanly into the Capitals net, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead, and breathing life back into the New York crowd. Washington did not have an answer, and disintegrated from there. Just 5 minutes later, Stepan and Hagelin connected for a 4-2 lead on a beautiful 3-way passing play, with a goal that looked far too easy to score in a playoff game with such important implications. Perreault later notched his 2nd goal of the game, but the Capitals did much of nothing else in the remainder of the game, as the Rangers held on for a 4-3 win.
Hagelin finished with a goal and 2 assists, and Brassard picked up a pair of assists. Ryan Callahan was a sparkplug, as usual, with 6 shots, 5 hits, and 7 blocked shots, leading the Rangers in all 3 categories. Lundqvist, named a Vezina finalist again earlier today, finished with 27 saves.
In an interesting stat, the Capitals are 0-6 all time when leading a playoff series 2-1, and losing game 4.
The series shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Friday at 7:30.