It's been said that a playoff series doesn't really start until a home team loses.
To that end, the Caps entered their series - and their Game 2 at Verizon Center - hoping this series would never "really start." A Saturday win on home ice would send their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the Rangers to New York on serve, with enormous pressure on the Blueshirts to win both games there; a matinee loss would be the break New York came to Washington looking for.
What played out was a true game of inches, one in which neither team played even a second with the lead or trailing, a 1-0 overtime win... and a 2-0 series lead for the good guys.
Ten more notes on the game:
- As was to be expected, the Rangers came out playing with a bit more desperation than the Caps, who had to weather an early storm (including a New York power play). They did, and then the teams settled into more of a punch/counter-punch first period.
- The Caps got a late first period power play (as Derek Dorsett proved himself to be the Caps' best Game 2 adjustment by taking a retaliatory high-sticking minor after getting bulldozed by Steve Oleksy) and applied good pressure, but couldn't beat Henrik Lundqvist (who made a sparkling stop on Mathieu Perreault moments after man-advantage expired). After one period, the Caps led in shots 12-7, but the game was still scoreless.
- Whereas it was apparent that Lundqvist was locked-in early, Braden Holtby looked a bit shaky on several first-period shots and a notable early-second miscommunication with Mike Green. But like an ace pitcher who finds a way to compete on nights when he doesn't have his best stuff, Holtby fought through the rough patches and went save-for-save with Lundqvist all afternoon (as you'd expect)... except Holtby stopped all of the shots he faced.
- No need to get into the "how can they call a minor and a dive on the same play" debate because sometimes it's legitimately the way a play should be officiated. But on the Joel Ward interference/Dorsett dive? C'mon. Call one or the other, preferably the one that actually happened (i.e. the dive). Unrelated officiating point: Oleksy got away with a high-stick on Brian Boyle late in the second.
- Marcus Johansson had a glorious chance just outside the crease to Lundqvist's left towards the middle of the second period, but waited handled the puck a moment too long before pulling the trigger, allowing his stick to be checked and King Henrik to get in position to handle the relatively harmless puck that fluttered in on him. Gotta be quicker. Later in the period, a slow-developing 2-on-1 proved fruitless when Mike Ribeiro got himself in a bit too deep before having no option left but a shot for which Lundqvist was in great position. Gotta be quicker.
- As has been the case for a while now, Alex Ovechkin was terrific - physical, skilled (passing and shooting) and fully-committed. Through two periods he had put five shots on goal, was credited with two hits, had a plus-9 Corsi rating, and had set up not only the Johansson chance referenced above, but a Nicklas Backstrom redirect from a similar spot that somehow went wide. He was a beast all day. All week. All month. M-V-P.
- Backstrom and Johansson had a 2-on-1 in the middle of the third (set up by an impressive Ovechkin kick-pass), but failed to even generate a shot attempt. One of the Caps' Swedes need to be more selfish there - you're not going to beat Lundqvist without shooting. [Hot take alert!]
- Late in regulation, Rick Nash walked through Martin Erat and John Carlson (who had a very strong game otherwise) for a partial break in on Holtby, only to draw iron on his shot attempt. He also drew a weak slashing call on Troy Brouwer, but the Caps were able to dodge that bullet by killing off the penalty and then dodged another when Karl Alzner appeared to have put the puck directly off the rink from his defensive zone. Luckily for Washington, the only people whose opinions on the play mattered saw it differently and there was no penalty called. Gotta wonder - is that play a potential catalyst for finally implementing instant replay in hockey?
- The game went to overtime scoreless and the Rangers got their "Delay of Game" power play less than two minutes in after Oleksy flipped the puck over the glass. The Caps killed the penalty (as they have with all seven so far through two games), and then got a power play of their own via that same awful penalty (Ryan McDonagh the guilty party, which, as we noted, is always a good thing). Less than a minute in, a Green blast from the top of the zone deflected past Lundqvist... and sent Caps fans into a frenzy.
And so the Caps head to Manhattan with a commanding 2-0 series lead... where they hope to "really start" (and perhaps even finish) this series.