WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 05: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring in the first period against the New York Rangers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on May 5, 2012 in Washington City. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Washington Capitals entered the afternoon trying to even the series with the New York Rangers. After dropping game 3 in triple overtime, Caps fans feared an emotional let down. This time may feel different, but the fact remains that dropping today's game would put the Caps in a 1-3 hole. Short of an elimination game, this is as close to a must-win game as it gets. It's a real tough spot, the Caps will have to fight, for their right, for round 3. After blowing two leads, the Caps got a late third period power play goal and managed to hold on to even the series up. Best of three ahead.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Man, it's been forever since we saw a Young Guns hat trick, hasn't it? Couldn't have come at a better time, and hopefully they keep it up. Now here's a little story I've got to tell about three bad brothers you know so well. It started way back in history with AO, Mike Green, and Swede Nick B.
- If you're going to be a team that focuses on blocking shots, as the Caps and Rangers are, you have to actually block the shots. There's nothing worse than missing a blocked shot. You run the risk of screening the goalie, deflecting the puck, and throwing off the goalie's timing. Both Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich missed on their block attempts on the first Rangers goal, and Laich also left Artem Anisimov in front, to boot. A one goal lead from a great first period was erased just that quickly.
- Sometimes Nicklas Backstrom's physical game is overlooked, but he had it on display for his goal today. He started the sequence off with a classic counter-hit, flattening Anisimov, and then ended it with a beautiful shot following a great pass from Jason Chimera. That goal was reminiscent of his sequence on Ryan Callahan during game 3 of the 2009 playoff series, one of my favorite highlights of all time. Backstrom is out there dropping Rangers like Galileo dropped the orange.
- Scoring the opening goal of the game was obviously big, (and it was just about a guarantee that Ovechkin would score today), but Ovechkin was also on the ice for each of the two Rangers goals. You know Dale Hunter can't be too happy about that. If you want to know why Ovechkin isn't getting his customary 20+ minutes automatically, look no farther than that.
- You can watch hockey for a long time before finding a worse defensive effort than the one we saw on the second Rangers goal. Dennis Wideman flat out stopped skating after the puck passed him, and then Jeff Schultz went around the net the far way and neither guy thought about covering the Rangers' leading scorer all alone in front. That looked familiar... I can't stand it, I doubt they planned it, I'm gonna set it straight this Wideman-gate. I can't stand watching when he's in that space because it's a disgrace when Gaborik's all in Holt's face.
- Obviously the Caps play a tight defensive system these days, but today showed that they can still score, and that they need to be able to score. It's nice to be able to take care of your own end, absolutely necessary, in fact. But you still have to score, and for the Caps it looks like they'll need to score more than 2 in order to win a game. Braden Holtby has been good, great at times, but he hasn't gotten a shutout in the playoffs and he's been beatable. He's going to give the Caps a chance to win, but they'll need to score to take advantage of it. Goals, all I really want is goals. 'Cause in MSG it's goals. And in the VC it's goals.
- Usually you see Ovechkin and Wideman on the power play points, but the last three really dangerous power plays the Caps have had (late in regulation of game 3 and then both today) featured Green on the point, and he managed to score the game winning power play goal today. I really hope we see more of that. Mike Green come and rock the sure shot.
- Match-ups were a particular focus of ours before the series started, and we noted that John Tortorella would probably roll his forward lines and hard-match Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi against the Ovechkin line. Well the D matching has held, but today the Rangers also used a dedicated checking line against Ovechkin. Torts re-worked his lines and put Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, and Ruslan Fedotenko together with the express purpose of shutting down the Caps' top line. If the Rangers can create offense without Callahan on the top two lines I'd expect to see more of that; if not, Torts may have to break up that trio to try to get some secondary scoring.
- Can't help but notice the ice time spread today. After the marathon game 3 you had to wonder if coaches would be concerned about fatigue. The answer appears to be "yes." Stu Bickel got roughly double the ice time he had in game three, in about half the game time. No Rangers defenseman played more than 24:20, and that wasn't Ryan McDonagh, it was Marc Staal. On the Caps side, Karl Alzner led everyone with 22:09 (Green was hot on his trail with 22:08). The spread was very even, and it really looks like the coaches didn't want to overwork anyone, even with the extra day off before today. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out in game 5, the physical exertion, and more important the physical beating, is cumulative over a long playoff series (and each of these teams already have a 7 game series behind them). Who holds up better?
- And, lastly, if you think Ovechkin should or will get supplemental discipline for his (deservedly) penalized hit on Dan Girardi, you need to Check Your Head.
The Caps have been here before, and after responding the way they did following an emotional loss, there's every reason for fans to be confident. If there's anything we know about this current iteration of the Caps, they are going to stay the course and bring the same kind of game on Monday at MSG. And that's reassuring. They'll be in the game. Maybe they win, maybe they lose, but if the previous 11 playoff games show us anything, they'll be competitive. For the Caps, they'll move on and get prepared. For the fans, it's no sleep 'til... Manhattan. Let's do it.