It's often said that while the first game in a series is important, it's the second game that can be the most pivotal. It's the difference between home ice advantage remaining in tact and a 1-1 split, a hole for one team to climb out of or a series in which both teams have life.
The Caps certainly knew this going in. They also knew that a Rangers team down 0-1 in a series would come at them with even more desperation than before - and they were ready for it, getting all the offense they would need in the second period and bookending it with forty minutes of some solid defense and very solid goaltending.
Ten more notes on the game:
- In Game 1 it was Michal Neuvirth settling things down early for the Caps and hanging on late to allow them to win in overtime. In Game 2 it was Neuvy again, looking up to the task of taking on Henrik Lundqvist once more and coming up big when needed with some big saves (particularly in the first period and the final ten minutes of the game) to earn his first career playoff shutout.
- While the shutout was an impressive personal feat for Neuvirth, it doesn't happen without some solid team defense in front of him. The Caps resumed their stellar shot-blocking efforts of Game 1, throwing themselves in front of twenty-one Ranger shots (just one less than New York got on net all night). Karl Alzner was particularly impressive in this area, blocking three very sexy shots...including one that momentarily hobbled him. True to form, he didn't miss a shift.
- If the Rangers were unhappy with their first period performance in the series opener, they're likely a lot more pleased with tonight's opening frame. They seemed a step faster, a bit more desperate than the Caps in a bruising opening twenty minutes that saw them put thirteen shots on net to the Caps' seven.
- The Caps were dominant on special teams tonight, scoring once on the power play and getting the best scoring chance of a Ranger power play late in the first - and probably of the period itself - on a shorthanded two-on-one break. When that pass from Brooks Laich just rolled off of Mike Knuble's stick, however, there were probably a fair few of us thinking "here we go again..."
- The trio of Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera and Brooks Laich generated some good scoring chances and energy all night but particularly in the second period, and was rewarded with the eventual game-winner that was both a thing of beauty and pumped up the team (and the fans). Pretty pass from Laich behind the net to Johansson, pretty pass from Johansson to Chimera in the slot, and a pretty shot to put it past Lundqvist and give the Caps a 1-0 lead. Did we mention...pretty?
- And how about that Brooks Laich? He's put together a heck of a series so far, which included his fine forechecking work that helped lead to Wednesday's overtime winner and his helper on the eventual winner tonight. But let's be honest, we all know what our favorite Laich moment of the evening was.
- Has it come up that Jason Arnott is, perhaps, just a wee bit clutch? Yes? Well, it wasn't a game-tying goal or a game-winning goal but his power play tally gave the Caps a bit of breathing room and perhaps signaled a return to dominance with the extra man - or at least occasional success.
- Not so clutch tonight: Jeff Schultz, who had at least twenty turnovers (at least by the count of the slightly drunk but extremely helpful man sitting behind me) and looked somewhat lost in his own end all night. Luckily he had Scott Hannan there to bail him out.
- If the first period was the physical period and the last ten minutes of the third was the time when the Rangers threw everything at the net (or at least in its general direction, considering the shot total), the second was the Caps' period to shine. They got their offense going, got the Rangers to take a couple of undisciplined penalties and got the building rocking.
Sean Avery was put back in the lineup by John Tortorella seemingly as a way to generate some offense and physicality into a team that needed a bit of a spark. And Avery certainly made his presence known, getting back to his goalie-crashing ways and jawing at every guy in a red jersey. His antics were largely ineffective, however, as he didn't lure any of the Caps into really biting and skated just over ten minutes on the night.
It can be argued that the Rangers played a much better game tonight than they did in Game 1; they started the game out much better than last time and kept Alex Ovechkin from being too much of an offensive threat. The trouble for the Rangers, however, is that the Caps also played a better game, dominated the middle twenty minutes and shut down the Ranger offense completely.
Because of that, the Caps leave the relative safety of their raucous, red-swathed crowd and head off to Manhattan with a 2-0 series lead in their pockets. There's no place for cockiness or complacency, however, as the Caps have been here before - we all have. And everyone knows it's that next step that's the trickiest: taking control of the series...for good.