Just 1:16 into last night's pivotal Game 5 of the first round series between the Caps and Rangers, Scott Gomez gifted the home team a golden opportunity to jump out to an early lead with a slashing penalty away from the play. But the pass-happy Caps' power play squandered that chance, and when Brian Pothier took a tripping penalty moments after its expiration, the first shockwave of despair was sent through CapsNation.
It was also the last.
Towards the end of the Ranger power play, Boyd Gordon sent a puck up the boards that Michal Roszival misplayed, and Matt Bradley beat Chris Drury to and with the puck before abusing Henrik Lundqvist with a move that you'd expect from a 40-goal scorer (or Matt Bradley) for the Caps' first playoff shorty since Steve Konowalchuk beat the Pens' Ron Tugnutt more than nine years ago. It was Bradley's first career playoff goal (he had entered the game with the third-most playoff games played of any active forward in the NHL without a goal), and, of course, it was scored with his mouthguard hanging halfway out of the mouth it was supposed to be guarding.
But while Brads waited 21-plus games to score his first playoff goal, he only had to wait seven minutes and change for his second. This one wasn't nearly as pretty, but in the grand scheme of things the no-angle seeing-eye wrister that somehow found it's way past Lundqvist and across the goal line might be even bigger for the team's psyche - Lundqvist, it seems, is human.
At the end of the first frame, the Rangers had just three shots on Simeon Varlamov, who had little trouble with any of them, and a two-goal deficit staring down at them from the scoreboard. Two goals - the same number they had scored in the previous 192:16 (9.5+ periods) of the series.
Yeah, this one was over.
Some additional thoughts on the game:
- Back to Varly, who became only the second netminder in Caps' history to post two shutouts in a playoff series (Olie Kolzig versus Ottawa in 1998 being the other). He only had to make 20 saves on the night (and only one in 6:45 of shorthanded time), but it was the kind of game that a goalie could easily have misplayed into a game. He didn't. He's now 2-2/0.76/.969 in the series, leading the League in those latter two stats. If there's a goalie who's in his opponent's head going into Game 6, it's most definitely the Russian and not the Swede.
- Alex Ovechkin's second goal of the series was as pretty as any he scored all season. He now has six points in five games (a 98-point pace), a plus-four rating, and has drawn five penalties without taking a single one, all against one of the best defensive teams in the League. And yet, people still think he's having a bad series. That in and of itself tells you all you need to know about how great a player AO is.
- Know what's awesome about buying a ticket to the game and then getting into an altercation with the visiting team's coach? Absolutely nothing. Idiot.
- Alex Semin now has seven goals,seven assists and a plus-six rating in 12 career playoff games.
- The media can talk all it wants about how much Sean Avery may have almost sorta cost the Rangers a game, but the guy who really has no business playing right now (Game 4's fluky game-winner notwithstanding) is Chris Drury. You have to admire his guts, but to be minus-3 in just 7:21 of ice time is abysmal.
- John Erskine continues to be a stud (plus-3 on the night), but how about a little love for Milan Jurcina?
- Sergei Fedorov has gone from looking old and slow to making noticeably bad decisions with the puck. Can Bruce Boudreau keep playing him right now? Considering the alternatives, probably... though it's an issue.
- Faceoffs were great again - 57/43 in the Caps' favor.
- After Game 1, I joked that by scoring a pair of power play goals in the opener "[p]erhaps the Rangers have filled their quota for these seven games, as they've now matched their output from the previous seven." In Games 2 through 5, the Rangers have gone 0-for-18 with the extra man. Who's laughing now? Well, besides Caps fans, I mean.
- On the flip side of the special teams coin, the Caps' power play is now 0-for-13 in its last two games. Not good.
- Prior to Friday night, Lundqvist had never been relieved of his duties in a playoff game. Something tells me, he's going to bounce back well.
- Did anyone get the impression that the Caps were even the slightest bit intimidated by all that message sending crap that John Tortorella had his troops engaging in during the third period?
There's plenty more to discuss, but it doesn't seem right to go into much further detail on what was good in this game with the cloud of a 3-2 series deficit and a road game ahead hanging over our collective heads. Add to that the fact that the last four times Lundqvist allowed four goals in a game he responded by allowing one goal or less (including, of course, Game 4 of this series), and the Caps certainly have their work cut out for them in Game 6. But at least there is a Game 6, which is all anyone could have asked for on Friday.
Win one game. Do it
four three two times.