Today, following a seemingly endless 48 hour break (for the fans), the second round of the playoffs finally started. There was a time this year when a second round playoff birth for the Washington Capitals seemed inevitable. More recently, there were times that a second round birth in the playoffs seemed more impossible than winning the Mega Millions Lottery. But here we are, and it's a familiar position for the Capitals. For starters, the Caps are facing the New York Rangers in the playoffs for the third time in four years. However, unlike before, the Capitals are underdogs. That's not an entirely unfamiliar feeling, though. Just like the first round, the Caps are facing a top seed that had great regular season success. Just like the first round, the national "experts" are lining up to predict a Rangers win in 6 or 7 games, with the village idiot picking Rangers in 4 just for good measure. Just like the first round, none of that matters. If the Caps go out and execute Dale Hunter's system like they did in the first round, the Caps will be in every single game and have a chance to take this series. Tonight the Caps played tight defense, but a couple breakdowns and the failure to convert on their offensive chances led to a 3-1 defeat in game one.
Ten more notes on the game:
- There was no real mystery regarding how this series would be played. Both teams are tight checking, they like to block shots, minimize defensive mistakes, and play opportunistic offense. That's pretty much how this game played out, and in these low shot, low scoring games the special teams can make a huge difference. Unfortunately for the Caps, their power play wasted several great chances, including over 30 seconds of 5-on-3 time. The Caps absolutely have to get the PP figured out if they are going to continue this playoff run.
- The Rangers said they wanted to get the puck below the goal line, throw the body, and create some offense. They spent lots of time below the goal line and were physical all game long, but the forwards didn't create much offense at all during the first two periods. More than half their shots came from the D through 40, but the Rangers third line created a goal when Ruslan Fedotenko and Artem Anisimov won their individual battles with Roman Hamrlik and Mike Green, respectively, and then Anisimov stuffed the puck off of Braden Holtby's ill-placed stick. The Rangers offense came alive after that and despite the late second period goal they poured it on in the third period.
- These two teams have mediocre possession numbers but someone would have to have the puck tonight. The Rangers had the advantage, though it wasn't exactly dominating. The troubling part of the possession battle for the Caps was that Alex Ovechkin was a team-worst -11 through two periods (he ended at -11 after the late rush to try to get some goals, but was brutal when the game was close). The top line is going to face the opposition's best D, but they need to be able to make the Corsi battle a little bit closer than that.
- Amazing play from Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera to get the game tied at the end of the second period. First, Laich gets his head up to check the remaining time, and then Chimera steps on the gas to fly down the left wing. Whether Dan Girardi was tired or thought the Caps wouldn't have enough time to score, he didn't appear to be skating full speed and let Chimera get by him and open for a pass. Laich obliged with an incredible saucer pass that would make Nicklas Backstrom take note, and the Caps had evened the game up.
- After the first round, there was some talk about the Caps' defensive system making Holtby look better than he should look. Today he didn't do anything to quell that. The first goal against was banked in off his own stick, and the second goal was an unscreened slapshot from the top of the circles (reminiscent of Chris Kelly's game 1 winner). The third goal was a bad angle shot that went through his legs. He could have stopped all of those, and really has to find a way to stop at least 2 of those. Tonight, it cost the Caps.
- Joel Ward and Mike Knuble continued their strong play. It seemed like they were able to maintain possession in the offensive zone during almost every shift, and their line was the best Corsi line for the Caps on the night. It's great to see them doing so well, but you cannot survive for too long by relying on the 4th line to win the possession battles. When the top line gets dominated and lets up 2 goals against, and the second line gives up another goal against, it's going to be tough to win too many games.
- Dennis Wideman has bit a bit of a scapegoat these playoffs, but he had a solid defensive game tonight. He wasn't caught out of position and he made the simple play instead of trying to do too much. He still deserves some criticism for the horrendous power play, but if he can keep up the defensive play it'll make the third pair much more trustworthy.
- Alex Semin had some huge goals against Boston and was really showing a lot of commitment to the details of the game. Today, some of that focus and commitment seemed to be lacking. His two penalties were both of the inexcusable nature. First, he took a retaliatory penalty against Ryan Callahan instead of just going to the bench. On the power play (which, come to think of it, might not be that big of a deal). Then, in the third period of a tied game, he put his stick into a defender's skates and picked up a tripping penalty, giving the Rangers an opportunity to pick up a third period lead.
- As bad as the goals against were, there was plenty of help from the defense. On the first one, as noted, Hamrlik and Green lost individual battles. On the second one, Green started to go for a change without realizing the situation and let Chris Kreider get a ton of open ice up the middle. And on the third goal, Both Laich and Chimera were standing with both feet planted on the ice as Brad Richards slipped right by them to pick up a slick pass from Kreider and put the game out of reach.
- [Despite how ugly certain aspects of the game were tonight, Semin hit a crossbar, Backstrom hit two posts, and Marcus Johansson hit a post. That just shows you how slim the margin between winning and losing can be. That's also the risk you run when you try to play coin-flip games. If you want to keep scoring chances down, for both teams, you can't rely on all the posts going in your favor. You need to capitalize on your chances (the Caps didn't) and not give up any easy goals (the Caps did).
Just like round 1, the Caps have dropped the first game in round 2. The Caps played relatively well, but not well enough. They only gave up 14 shots, but when the goalie lets in three of those and they only created 17 of their own, it's going to be tough to win. Nothing has changed, it's going to be a tight, defensive series. Game 2 is Monday, and the Caps still have the opportunity to get the road-split to start the series.