Sat 28 Apr 2012
The stars were all aligned for a Game 1 letdown. The Rangers watched as the Capitals tied the game with 3.5 seconds left in the first period. The Blueshirts were battling the mental and physical fatigue of a quick turnaround after eliminating the Ottawa Senators less than 48 hours ago. Past Ranger teams would have folded under such pressure, but not the 2011-2012 version of the New York Rangers.
“That could have hurt us big time, but we came in here, regrouped, talked about staying patient and just let the game come to us,” Henrik Lundqvist explained to Ira Podell of the AP. “Coming from that Game 7, such an emotional and big win, it was important for us to regroup and start all over. This team doesn’t give up much so we have to be smart with pucks. They kind of wait for mistakes, so the key for us is not to make too many.”
According to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News, the victory was Lundqvist’s 20th as a Ranger, third behind Mike Richter (41) and Eddie Giacomin.
As expected, the two teams were mirror images of each other as the Capitals managed 18 shots to the Rangers 14 and both teams were credited with 15 blocked shots.
The Rangers battle back against adversity received a big boost from an ill-timed line change by defenseman Mike Green and an absolute “goal scorer’s goal” as Dan Girardi would say from Chris Kreider. The rookie from Boston College not earned the Broadway hat, but he is earning more and more ice time and responsibility from his coach.
“All the players dictate their own ice time [based] on how they play. What he’s getting he deserves,” Coach John Tortorella said about Kreider.
”We just want his instinctiveness and his speed. We just want him to go out and play. Forget about what he is doing on the ice. The mental part of the game, as far as him trying to make a difference every shift, is real good stuff for a young kid.”
The Rangers managed to put thoughts of fatigue by getting off to a quick start. The Blueshirts looked to use long indirect passes to beat the Capitals forecheck and trap. As the first period wore on, Washington finally got their skates under them.
The game would see its first turning point early in the second period when the Rangers killed off a pair of Caps power plays that included a two-man advantage for 34 seconds.
Less than three minutes later, the Garden crowd experienced a déjà vu moment when Artem Anisimov fought off and outmuscled Green and channeled his inner Stephane Matteau as his wraparound attempt from behind the net beat Braden Holtby for the game’s first goal.
After seeming to not get any breaks during the Ottawa series, the Rangers caught one when Marcus Johansson’s “goal” was disallowed as the referee blew the play dead as Johansson knocked the puck and Lundqvist into the net. It appeared that Anton Stralman tripped up Johansson, but the goal was waved off and Stralman escaped a trip to the penalty box.
Unlike points during the Ottawa series, the Rangers were not content to sit on their lead – which for once – turned out to be a mistake. After watching Brad Richards walk in and pass on a shot in the final minute, the Capitals knotted the game as Brooks Laich found Jason Chimera for the redirect – the same Jason Chimera who won Game 4 last year with his goal in double overtime.
The fact that the Rangers did not wilt under the adversity of giving up a tying goal in the final seconds of the second period shows that they are a special team and could be positioned to make a long run in the playoffs.
“I just like the way we rebounded after getting scored on at the end of the period,” Tortorella said. “We kept within ourselves, just played our game, and found a way to score a couple of goals in the third.”
It is still very early in this series, but the Capitals might rue their inability to take advantage of the Rangers gift at the end of the second period. Curiously, there was a feeling among the Capitals that questioned that inability.
Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times wrote, “Jason Chimera and other decried the Caps’ lack of effort to match the Rangers intensity. That’s tough to get a grip on considering New York just polished off the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.”
One has to wonder if Coach Dale Hunter’s new defensive philosophy might have taken something out of the Caps’ mystique. Washington pulled a 180 degree turn in style of play from offensive to defensive, rather than add a defensive component to their offensive style of play.
While it served them during the regular season as they went 30-23-7 under Hunter since he took over on November 28, it remains to be debate if the Caps change in play was too drastic a change.
The one thing that can’t be debated was the impact Chris Kreider had on the third period. In addition to scoring his second goal of the playoffs, which is also his second game-winning goal of the playoffs, he helped set up the Rangers insurance goal just 90 second after giving the Rangers the lead for good.
It was Kreider’s work along the left wing boards that allowed Richards to pick up a loose puck and patiently outwait Holtby to ice the game with his third playoff goal.
Right wing Troy Brouwer pretty much summed up the Capitals Game 1 frustrations.
“They’re a good defensive team and when we had guys jump up in the play and we turned it over, then they had guys going the other way,” he related to Whyno.
“Then they were able to get the puck in our zone and cycle it around. Sometimes, when you’re taking chances, it’s going to bite you.”
Katie Carrera of the Washington Post pointed out a very interesting, and telling, statistic from Game 1. The Capitals trailed for 20:18 on Saturday afternoon. In the Boston series, Washington only trailed the Bruins for 24:23 during the entire seven games.
Washington might have lost the first battle, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will lose the war. Seven times the Capitals have the lost the first game of a seven-game playoff series and six times they have come back to win the series – including their 1990 Divisional Finals matchup against the Rangers. After dropping the first game of that series 7-3, Washington won the next four games (the last two in overtime) by a combined score of 19-8; and their 2009 seven-game series victory against the Rangers after spotting the Blueshirts a three games to one lead.
On the plus side for the Rangers, they have a 31-11 series record when winning Game 1.
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