Bruce Boudreau vs John Torterella. Michal Neuvirth vs. Henrik Lundqvist. Alex Ovechkin vs. Marc Staal. Those matchups may have headlined tonight's opening round playoff match between the Caps and Rangers, but it was the Good Sasha version of Alexander Semin who stole the show, rifling home an overtime game winner - courtesy of Jason Arnott's perfect feed - and sending the Verizon Center into a state of pandemonium. Semin had a signature evening, notching a goal, an assist and a hooking penalty and earning the most prolific "Alex Semin Hat Trick" of his career.
And just like that, it's 1-0 Caps.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The choice to go with Michael Neuvirth as the starter for opening day was the logical decision, and Neuvy didn't disppoint, allowing one goal on 25 shots. King Henrik may have made more prolific saves (and was bailed out by several goalposts and bouncing pucks) but for tonight, Neuvy was a touch better. Rematch Friday.
- Alex Ovechkin finished with 15 shot attempts, six of them on net. However, it could be argued that Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau should do a better job getting him on the ice against a weaker set of Rangers defensemen. A majority of Ovechkin's minutes unnecessarily came up against the Rags top-pair of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. The takeaway: Boudreau fought hard for home ice advantage, he now needs to use its perks more judiciously.
- It was Staal, however, who was responsible for the overtime goal, as his weak clearing attempt was caught by a perfectly positioned Jason Arnott at the blue line. Staal was a workhorse for the Rangers, logging 33:48, but one has to believe that fatigue played a role in his failed clear.
- The Rangers came into the game known as a team that could block shots. And they did, blocking 28 on the night. But it was the Caps who out-blocked them, doing it 32 times. Unlike the past few years, this Caps team is undoubtedly willing to pay the price. Well done, fellas.
- Although Rangers fans could claim that they "won" the first period by withstanding the on-slaught and emerging 0-0, it could be argued that the Caps set the tone for the series by outshooting, outchancing and outhitting the Blueshirts early on. The only thing missing were the actual goals. They'll come.
- Jason Chimera had a rough night, going -1 and failing to clear the puck on multiple occasions, leading the Rangers to have extended time in the Caps zone. He also missed on a 2-on-1, which in turn led to a Rangers 2-on-1 opportunity the other way. (Thankfully, it was snuffed out by the wily Scott Hannan.) Although Chimera generated chances and almost finished the game off in overtime, don't be surprised if the coaching staff inserts Eric Fehr into the line-up Friday night.
- Mike Green's first game back was relatively uneventful. At least until the third period. Early on, he re-enacted his one-man breakout show and had a handful of nice plays in the defensive zone. But there was a mis-communication on the first Rangers goal, as John Erskine got beat behind the net, and both defenders ended up chasing the puck-carrier into the corner. Result? A wide-open Matt Gilroy had an easy finish to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead.
- Speaking of defensemen, it was interesting to see Boudreau pair Green with Erskine and Hannan with Schultz. The Green-Erskine combination did not play well together in their relatively limited minutes at 5-on-5 during the regular season, and Hannan-Schultz didn't set the world on fire in their time together either. It will be interesting to see in Games 3 and 4 which pair Torterella targets with his top line (by virtue of getting the last line change). If there is a weak link in the Caps defense, Torts will find it.
- This may become known as the "Terrible Ice" series, with tonight's usually bad Verizon Center ice in extra poor condition. It clearly benefited the Rangers, and don't be surprised if the ice for Games 3 and 4 is unusually bad, even by MSG standards.
- Kudos have to be given to the New York Rangers for withstanding the initial ten minutes in front of a raucous house, getting outplayed and outhit by a more skilled opponent, but continuing to be patient and playing their game. The Rangers are not the most talented team in the NHL, but they are machine-like in their devotion to playing team hockey, and it's why they hang around when, on paper, they shouldn't. And it's why they'll make this series interesting.
The Caps have a chance Friday night to go up 2-0 and head to Broadway with a comfortable series lead. The team is energized, they're playing confident, and the Verizon Center will be in its usual thunderous state. But let's not forget: the Rangers won't roll over. John Torterella is a very good coach, one who can break down opponent's tendencies and exploit them. And he can motivate. The Rangers will make adjustments and come out fighting on Friday. The Caps need to respond appropriately, avoid mental let-downs and continue to play the style of game that propelled them to the top of the conference the last quarter of the season. If they do, another 18,000+ can spill onto F Street Friday night with smiles on their faces. Just like tonight.