As the Rangers and Capitals squared off for their fourth playoff series in five years, much remained the same as last year's Semifinal series. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby protect their respective nets, captains Ryan Callahan and Alex Ovechkin wear their team's heart on their respective sleeves, and both teams are willing to win the physical battles, whether against the opposition or their shots.
Different this year is the man behind Washington's bench and the hockey systems being played in the Nation's Capital. The gameplay was executed incredibly efficiently in a lopsided second period for the home team, three unanswered goals leading the Capitals to a one game series lead. Different this year are a few new faces on their respective playoff benches, rookie defenseman Steven Oleksy the outstanding example in game one.
Marcus Johansson would tally the game winner with five minutes left in the second period, allowing Holtby and the defense to close out the game in the final frame with a two goal lead. Taking advantage of home ice is going to be important to success in the series against the Rangers, the Capitals holding on to serve and looking for a home ice sweep ahead.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The game’s first 9 shots went Washington’s way, the home team controlling the puck and trapping the Rangers largely below the red line. The Capitals executed Adam Oates' system very well across all three zones, forcing the Rangers to react, rather than dictate. Unfortunately, as often is the case in the NHL, Tortorella’s team survived the first half of the period and turned that brief momentum into the game's first goal.
- Carl Hagelin would draw that first blood, banking a failed wraparound off of John Erskine’s foot and past Braden Holtby. An excellent criss-cross between Hagelin and Derek Stepan gave the diminutive winger a second free from the defensive duo of John Erskine and John Carlson, a lucky bounce all the Ranger would need. The goal deflated an energized Verizon Center, the home team dominating play early but falling behind after twenty.
- An uncharacteristic turnover from Nicklas Backstrom kicked off the second period and its remaining power play time, Hagelin jumping on a lazy no-look pass at the blue line and skating in alone across half the ice. Holtby would make a fine blocker save, bailing out his teammates by standing tall in his net. Without that save Washington begins to get desperate and the Rangers are able to win with their shot blocking, Holtby forcing New York to continue pressing.
- It took the Capitals four tries with the man advantage but they eventually found the twine behind Lundqvist thanks to an intentionally errant shot from Mike Green that (importantly, got through) bounced off the end boards for Ovechkin to find in the slot. A one-timed snap shot slipped under Lundqvist’s outstretched right arm as the building came back to life with Washington's power play.
- The game’s emotions would come to a head halfway through the second after Eric Fehr put Derek Stepan on his butt and putting the Capitals down two men for 56 seconds. While the play’s result put Washington at a further disadvantage Fehr was helpless without a stick on the penalty kill and the puck was loose around Holtby’s crease (three Rangers swinging wildly). Stepan’s chance to score was taken from him by Fehr, and despite the puck still being loose, Washington was afforded an all important whistle.
- While Verizon was still cheering on the penalty killing efforts Washington faithful were rewarded with Johansson’s first of the playoffs, his ability to elude giving him a chance alone on Lundqvist. A dance to stay on-sides at the blue line gave Johansson the open look, thanks to a pinpoint pass from Oleksy in the Capitals' defensive zone. The Swede’s wrist shot found it’s way through his countryman in New York's net and gave Washington their first lead of the game, one they wouldn't relinquish.
- Again, with fans still applauding Johansson’s handiwork, Jason Chimera’s turn-around shot from the far half wall found it’s way through Matheiu Perreault’s screen and past Lundqvist’s best effort. In 13:59 Perreault had his feet moving around the offensive zone, unafraid to chase pucks along the walls. Perreault’s assist on Chimera's tally was his first career point in the playoffs, the youngster's energy noticeable in a big second period.
- Oleksy's good game wouldn't be complete without the rookie getting caught up high, Derick Brassard’s second period wrist shot rolling up the defenseman’s stick and into his jaw. The kid stood up and skated off on his own while self diagnosing the damage, the training staff taking over the job while Oleksy stayed on the bench. Add the toughness to the deft dagger Oleksy threw from the defensive zone to Johansson for his goal (and first career playoff point), and the rookie left a great impression after his first playoff contest.
- The Capitals would catch a lucky break midway through the third period when Hagelin rang his shot off of Holtby's crossbar (and outside of the zone) on a 2 on 1 rush with Stepan. A few minutes later John Moore's short side shot on Holtby looked like a goal, but the Capitals' goaltender was able to pinch the puck against the post. With the puck not entirely over the goal line (or inconclusive video evidence to overturn an on ice call) Washington would keep their two goal lead as the fans chanted, "Holtby!, Holtby!".
- Almost overlooked in the offensive fireworks, Joel Ward made his return from a 25 day, 9 game knee injury absence. The rugged winger skated on the fourth line with Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle, his skating looking uninhibited in a limited role tonight (8:06, with hopes of more Ward as the series continues).
Washington earned the first win of this series despite falling behind in the first period to a Rangers team that was outplayed throughly from the start. Hagelin was the most dangerous Ranger on the ice the entire night, big gunners Rick Nash and Brad Richards taken care of by the defense, Holtby otherwise.
The Capitals have given themselves a chance to take a series' first two games at home since the 2011 Quarterfinals against these same Rangers, a series that Washington would take in five games. Game two is Saturday at 12:30PM.