April 30, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the New York Rangers during the third period in game two of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Capitals won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE
It's often said that it isn't a series until someone loses on home ice. In order for the Caps to make this a series, however, they would need to show a lot more intensity, play better defensively and get better goaltending than they did in Game 1. They would need to play more like the team we saw against the Bruins and less like the team that showed up so many nights in the regular season.
It still wasn't as good a game as this team is capable of playing, and they'll need to step it up again when they come back home, but the Caps managed to tie up the series and steal a game at MSG - in every sense of the word.
Ten more notes on the game:
- We've said it before, we'll say it again and again and again - scoring first on the road is crucial. It may not guarantee a win but it goes a long way toward taking the crowd out of it early and forcing the home team to take more risks to tie it up. So Mike Knuble's opening tally just past the halfway mark of the first was a huge one, not to mention the result of one of the prettier passing plays we've seen in awhile (by the grinders, no less).
- After Braden Holtby admitted that he had trouble focusing last game due to a low volume of shots, it's possible (if not probable) that part of the Caps' game plan was to make sure he saw plenty of shots early on. Back in Game 1 Holtby faced a whopping fourteen shots, stopping three of them; that equals the number of shots he'd face through less than thirty minutes tonight. For what it's worth, he looked much sharper throughout and even seemed to regain a bit of his swagger - and continued to show resilience well beyond his years.
- Speaking of blaming guys for goals, let's talk about Jason Chimera's second of the series - do you point the finger at Henrik Lundqvist for coming out to play the puck or Ryan McDonagh for basically kicking the puck in after the King made a somewhat ridiculous desperation save? Let's put it on both of them and hope that good things continue to happen whenever Chimera gets near Lundqvist's net.
- Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik were a highly underrated defensive pair in the first round series against the Bruins; somehow that performance of just a week ago feels like years, though, as the two continue to stumble against the Rangers. Hamrlik's poor decision-making is preventing him from covering for Green, who seems frazzled and unfocused thanks to a concerted effort by the Rangers to hit him every chance they get. It's not the most nuanced of plans but it's a tried and true one - and it's working on 52 so far.
- After trailing by a pair of goals in the first game, the Caps actually managed to build their own two-goal lead - but they wouldn't hold it for long, as Brad Richards struck late in the first to cut that lead in half. Good job by Marian Gaborik to take his defender and Holtby wide, bad job by both Troy Brouwer and Dennis Wideman for being unable to stop Richards - despite both of them being within an arm's length of the center. And a little extra slap on the wrist for Brooks Laich, who apparently needed to go make a phone call or something.
- You may not have heard, but apparently Alex Ovechkin 's ice time was cut drastically throughout this game and he would finish with what has to be one of his lowest times of his career at just under fourteen minutes. Whether it was a plot by Dale Hunter to break the Rangers' groove, or a strategy to get Ovechkin away from his shadows, or simply just to a plan to use more defensively responsible players at even strength, we may never know.
- And yet Ovechkin still managed to make a huge impact on this game - at least when he was on the ice. He got seven shots on net, had three more that were blocked, racked up two hits (as well as one that was likely uncredited on poor Marcus Johansson) and fired a ridiculous wrister from the point on the power play that would end up being the game-winner. He even found time to show his appreciation to the charming MSG faithful who have been singing his praises at least three times a night, asking them kindly to hear more. (h/t Dimagus)
- With a late first period goal, there was a chance that the Rangers would come out in the second and take control of the game, ramp up the energy and whip the MSG crowd into a frenzy. The Caps, apparently, had other plans, as they set about turning the middle frame into a slow, plodding, neutral-zone clogging, offside-causing march of doom. Bad television? Sure. But it took Ranger fans right out of the game and lulled us all, including the players, into a kind of stupor that prevented any sort of momentum. It might not have been fun to watch but darn it all if it didn't work.
- Well...temporarily, at least. The Caps were content to sit on their one-goal lead for the rest of the game, but they had to know that New York would come out and come out hard to try and tie it up. With seven minutes gone in the final frame they would get their chance, as Knuble found himself in the box for an errant high stick, Play with fire too often and you'll get burned, as the Caps found out when New York finally cracked their penalty kill to tie the game up at two.
- If you're keeping track, you know how many times the Caps have blown a one-goal lead in this postseason. If not, don't worry - we've got your back. It's nine. Nine times in nine games that the Caps have been up by a goal and failed to hold on. Thankfully they've managed to bounce back a number of times, as well (including tonight) but that's certainly not a recipe for success going forward.
So the Caps do exactly what they needed to do - pick up their game a bit, bounce back from a disappointing loss in Game 1, steal a game on the road and get back to Verizon with the series tied at one. Next step? To do what they haven't been able to do so well in this postseason, which is (inexplicably) to win at home.