Two nights ago, despite dominating at even strength, the Caps saw their series lead cut in half thanks in part to an endless parade of penalties and the failure to capitalize on a late power play of their own. After the game the verdict was unanimous: stay out of the box and they’ll be fine.
So that was the plan tonight. Stay out of the box, dictate the play at five-on-five and perhaps get a shot or two on the power play, just for funsies. Stick to that scheme and there's no way the Caps could lose.
Well... you know what they say about the best laid schemes of mice, men and hockey fans, right?
Ten more notes on the game:
- If the Caps have dominated early and often at even strength throughout the series, you wouldn’t know it from the first period of this game. Or most of the second. And for the early part of the third. Tonight the Rangers brought an intensity that until tonight really hadn’t been seen from players without a Weagle on their jersey.
- There are times when Braden Holtby’s puck-handling skills are an asset to this team... and there are other times when you just want to strap him to the net. Tonight was the latter, particularly on the Rangers’ opening tally. After a washed-out icing call, Holtby collected the puck near the circle as two Blueshirts lingered nearby. He seemingly had a lifetime to clear it, though, as neither Ranger seemed intent on attacking... and why would they be, when he was just going to hand it to them? Valiant effort to get back by Holtby, and by his two defenders to cover, but in the end Brad Richards would pick up the easiest goal he’ll ever score. Did you guys know he still played for the Rangers?
- From the start of the Caps' hot streak back in March until now, there was no question that the best players on the team were skating on the team's top line - and there was no question that those three players were driving the rest of the team, even as others chipped in to lighten the load. So it's not surprising that as they've fallen flat the last two games, so has the rest of the team. Alex Ovechkin showed way too much "old Ovi" tonight and not nearly enough "Ovi 2.0", while his linemates seemed to be skating in mud for large stretches of the game. If this team is going to take back command of the series, it's going to have to start - and hopefully end - with them.
- Questionable officiating has been the rule of the playoffs so far, in every series, and it continued tonight, with bad non-calls and worse calls, most of which went against the Rangers. One of the more curious officiating decisions was the one that landed both Alex Ovechkin and Martin Erat in the box for "charging" and "hooking" respectively. The Caps would kill them both off, but it was costly nonetheless, as Erat had the misfortune of getting his arm caught between the big bodies of Ryan Callahan and Ovechkin and left the game with a mangled-looking wrist.
- When Carl Hagelin scored in the second to put the Rangers up 2-0, it was the first two-goal lead taken by either team since the Caps made it 3-1 back in the second period of Game 1. It was also the first two-goal lead for the Rangers, period...
- ...but not the last, as the Caps again took one too many penalties at the end of the second period (albeit on another pretty weak call; more on that in a minute) and the Rangers needed less than a minute to extend their lead back to two.
- It had to go back to two in large part because of some excellent work by the reformatted third line of Joel Ward, Mathieu Perreault and Jason Chimera - just one of many good plays by that line, easily the best line in white tonight. Perreault in particular was spending loads of time around Henrik Lundqvist and continues to prove that you don't have to be a big body to crash the crease.
- And then it was Troy Brouwer's turn to continue tilting the rink back the other way, as he flipped a backhander past Lundqvist in the dying seconds of the second period to tie the game up at two. So it was a whole new game and the Caps had the momentum, right?
- ...yeah, about that. Chimera picked up a somewhat inexplicable minor for interference at the end of the second period and suddenly the head of steam the Caps had built up would have to deal with a New York power play to open the third on fresh (well, MSG so "fresh") ice. And as luck would have it, that New York power play would cash in to put the Rangers up 3-2. Later in the period Chimera continued his rough run with the refs and failed to draw a call on a high-stick/crosscheck to the head combo platter later in the third. As much as I'd like to chalk that up to an official missing it... hard not to wonder if 25's constant chirping at the refs makes them think twice about giving him a call. If only for a minute.
- If you had Karl Alzner scoring a goal in this series... you're probably still wrong, because Alzner's shot appeared to hit Perreault (who oddly enough was in front of the net) before skittering past Lundqvist. It was an assist for Karl, though, and had he continued this torrid offensive streak the Caps might have managed to pull even before the end of regulation. Alas...
So we have ourselves a brand new series, folks. Throw out everything that's happened in the past four games - the good and especially please oh god the bad - because it's down to a best-of-three. In a series where home ice has been king, where defense and goaltending have dominated and then taken a backseat, where superstars surge and then snooze... anything can happen.
Game 5. Friday night. Verizon Center. Do it.