WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 02: Ryan Callahan #24 celebrates with Brad Richards #19 and Michael Del Zotto #4 of the New York Rangers after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on May 2, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
When a team tries to turn every game into a coin-flip, as Dale Hunter's team has done rather successfully through the first nine games of this year's post-season, success is largely predicated upon three factors: 1) limiting mental mistakes; 2) not allowing bad goals; and 3) not losing (preferably winning) the special teams battle.
In Game 1, the Caps were victimized by mental mistakes, questionable goals and a failed five-on-three power play. The result? A loss.
In Game 2, the team was pretty sharp mentally (New York's second goal being an obvious exception), got solid goaltending, and got a huge power-play goal late in the third period (which cancelled out the Rangers' earlier power-play goal). The result? A win. (And if you looked at the two games from the Blueshirts' perspective, it'd be the mirror image.)
In Game 3, the Caps made relatively few mental mistakes, got all the saves they should have gotten and then some (Braden Holtby was superb), but lost the special teams battle and ultimately the game... even if it took nearly two full games-worth of hockey to get there.
Ten more notes on the game:
- 35:14 (20:32 through regulation). Next bullet.
- In his first shift after a pretty well-organized first-period cheer in his honor, Alex Ovechkin delivered a beautiful saucer pass to Marcus Johansson, a monster hit on Marc Staal, a bomb of a shot through traffic and then was on the business-end of a Staal hit... but may still have gotten the better of the contact. It was vintage.
- In the grand scheme of things, a brutally long shift that doesn't cost the team anything but a timeout might not seem like a big deal. Was it tonight? Early in the second, Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman got stuck on the ice for a whopping 2:06, during which an icing forced Hunter to burn his timeout. The most aggravating part of the whole mess was that the Caps had great possession in the Rangers' end for most of that 2:06 - there was ample time for a change and a timeout saved. Interestingly, John Tortorella had to burn his timeout on an icing a few minutes later. Both coaches would've probably loved to have those 30-second breathers available to them later on.
- With the Caps posting a 5-1 record in these playoffs when scoring first and an 0-3 mark when surrendering the first goal, you knew the opening tally would be important. Well, the Rangers got it - on the power play - 6:41 into the second period with Brooks Laich in the box... and Troy Brouwer looping around the New York net for some reason after an unsuccessful offensive foray.
- The Caps answered that opening salvo four-and-a-half minutes later on a nice rush by John Carlson that he finished with his version of The Ovi - cutting across the offensive zone from the left side and then firing back to the goalie's right. His shot was good enough to beat Henrik Lundqvist (part of a superb night for Carlson overall), and it marked the sixth time in the playoffs that the Caps erased a one-goal lead; only once so far in the playoffs have the Caps yielded a goal when already down one.
- Here's a "Hunter Hockey" stat for you - the Caps haven't once trailed after two periods through their first nine playoff games (they led thrice, each time by a single goal), and Game Ten wasn't going to break that streak. In fact, nine of the ten games the Caps have played this spring have been tied at some point in the third period. Coin-flip hockey, baby.
- If Johansson could do half of the things he seems to think he can, he'd be one hell of a player. And if he could cash in on more of his golden opportunities (like the pass Wideman set him up with with just under eight minutes left in the third, or think back to a few in the Boston series), the 2C problem might not be a problem after all. Just kidding, it still would be. But at least the Caps would have another solid top-six forward.
- Through regulation (you had to know overtime was coming to this series sooner rather than later) Matt Hendricks had six shots on goal and eight hits. Matt Hendricks. That's more shots than Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Johansson had combined and as many hits as the entire blueline. All that was before he blew up Ryan McDonagh and fed Brouwer (tough night for him) for what should've been the game-winner in OT. Beastmode.
- With five minutes left in the first overtime, Ovechkin took a puck off a Ranger's stick in deep and was able to settle a bouncing puck well enough get a solid shot off and beat Lundqvist clean... only to be thwarted by the post. Of course, we should've known it wasn't to be - in his last nine playoff games against New York, Ovechkin has alternated between one-goal and goal-less games, and he'd scored in Game 2. On the plus side, book one for him in Game 4.
- 14:41 into triple overtime Marian Gaborik took a Brad Richards feed from prime real estate and put it through Holtby's five-hole. The game-ending moment was the culmination of a lot of puck-chasing and poor positioning by Capitals defenders, likely equal parts physical and mental fatigue. The puck could have ended up in either net at the end of the night tonight (this morning?), but it came to rest behind Braden Holtby. After 114 minutes and 41 seconds of hockey, that was that.
And so the Caps drop to 0-4 when yielding the game's first goal, but as painful as this loss was, the fact remains that the Caps could have won the game just as easily as they lost it. They were the better team for long stretches, the lesser team at other times, and one can expect similar (though hopefully shorter) games the rest of the way. These are coin-flips... even if the coin lands on its edge for a while.