NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Goalie Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers looks to play the puck against Marco Sturm #18 of the Washington Capitals in the first period of Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 17, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Washington Capitals have been up in a series by two games 15 times in franchise history, amassing an ugly record of 4-11. Tonight they added another one to the loss column, allowing a clever Brandon Dubinsky to walk past a flat-footed Scott Hannan and score the most important goal of his career with 1:39 left in the third period, enough to give the Rangers a 3-2 win and pull the series to 2-1.
If the ice seemed titled towards the Rangers this afternoon, it's because it was. The Rangers out-shot the Caps 35-25, out-hit them 41-29, crushed them in face-offs 45-35, and had four more power play opportunities. And just when you thought that maybe, just maybe, the Caps might have had enough in them to go for their first sweep in a seven-game series, they now have to button up their bonnets and get ready for a confident Rangers team that will no doubt feed off this win and be ready to play on Wednesday night.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps struggled offensively, generating only 25 shots, with 14 of those coming in the first two periods. They didn't make Henrik Lundqvist's job very dificult tonight, nor did the Rangers have to overly rely on Marc Staal or Dan Girardi, who both logged 21:59 and 23:10 respectively. Whatever levers John Torterella pulled, it worked.
- As good as the Caps penalty kill is, if you give an opponent too many power plays they will eventually convert. The Caps took too many penalties - some of them awful tic-tac penalties - but others were poor ones (see Carlson, John; Ovechkin, Alex; Hendricks, Matt). A more disciplined effort will be needed on Wednesday for the Caps to escape MSG with a split.
- It's rare that Lady Luck helps the Caps in the playoffs. But she tried to help the Caps today, taking away a well-earned Rangers goal because the clock ran out a split second before the puck crossed the line. On the flip side some would say Lady Luck was just evening things up on a day when the reffing was questionable, with the Rangers the beneficiaries of several dubious calls in the second period.
- The extended 5-on-3 penalty kill in the first period was a thing of beauty for the Caps, but special recognition needs to go to Michal Neuvirth, who played the dual-role of goaltender and defenseman during that PK. He deflected passes, kept his crease clear and stopped shots. Oh, and he drew a penalty too. Not a bad 86 seconds for him.
- The Rangers first goal by Erik Christensen was also a thing of beauty, one of those shots you only see tried in pick-up hockey, and rarely, if ever, converted. No-look + over-the-goalie's-shoulder + water bottle = OBSCENE GOAL!
- If there ever was a series that was a perfect fit for John Erskine, it's this one against the Rangers: physical, hard-hitting and nasty. But it's been Erskine's decision-making that's been just as solid, an example of which was when Brandon Prust asked him to dance halfway through the first. A younger player may have obliged; Erskine didn't, knowing full well that even a draw would have been a win for the Rangers and their blood-thirsty crowd.
- Jeff Schultz and Mike Green were reunited on defense for the first time in awhile. The result? +1 for each with no major mistakes or turnovers, just like old times.
- If you're looking for someone to blame for the Rangers second goal, you can argue that John Carlson should have tied Vinny Prospal up, preventing the Ranger from tapping in the go-ahead goal. Instead, Carlson got carried too far up ice covering his man in the corner and didn't come back in time to help his partner, Karl Alzner, out. Chalk it up as another learning experience for a future NHL All-Star defenseman.
- If you don't love Mike Knuble, you don't love hockey. Whether it's sacrificing the body, smartly handing your stick-less defenseman your twig on a penalty kill, or banging home a rebound to tie the game in the third, the man just plays hockey right.
- Matt Hendricks struggled in the first period, failing on a clear that led to extended Rangers time in the zone and taking a bad neutral zone penalty as he was caught out of position. Jason Chimera responded with a poor Game 1 by scoring the game-winner in Game 2. It would be nice if Matt Hendricks could add to his lore by doing the same in Game 4.
Let's be honest here: the Rangers deserved to win that game. They out-skated and out-hustled the Caps, they didn't let a disallowed goal bring them down, and they fed off their raucous crowd. But guess what? The score was still tied with two minutes left in a contest the Caps had no right being in. If the Caps can come out with stronger intensity and discipline for Game 4 they won't be outplayed like they were today, and odds are they'll come out with a win. If not...well...buckle up, because we've been down this road before.