With the deadlocked series coming down to a best-of-three, the Caps headed to New York to try and steal one on the road in the hopes of clinching on home ice. After playing a great game to tie up the series, it seemed they had all the momentum to do just that.
But momentum's a funny thing. Just when you think it's swinging your way, the slightest breeze can knock it back the other way - whether it's between games or periods or even shifts, things can change just that quickly.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps dominated the opening twenty minutes of Game 4, taking it to the Rangers shift after shift and coming away with a one-goal lead for their efforts. Tonight it was New York's turn for a little payback, as they peppered Braden Holtby early and often in hopes of getting anything through him. The Caps generated just four shots in the opening frame to the Rangers' 17 - or more accurately, Jason Chimera generated three shots and John Carlson added in the fourth late in the first just to make it a little more well-rounded.
- With all the shots one would think the Rangers had some glorious scoring chances - and they did have a few - but mostly early on it felt like they were simply trying to find a crack, a lucky bounce, a bad rebound, anything to get on the board first. And the goal that kicked off the scoring was hardly a thing of beauty, a seeing-eye shot through two sets of Caps' legs that came from Anton Stralman, after Stralman beat an overly aggressive Matt Hendricks to the puck.
- Watching that opening period, it was kind of amazing to think that 48 hours earlier the Caps were the dominant team. Tonight they were stumbling, scrambling and looking completely disjointed for long stretches of the first (and the game itself). What a difference two days makes, right?
- Both teams got a crack at scoring with the extra man a few times in the opening forty minutes, but neither seemed to really get anything going. And while the Caps' power play did seem to improve as they got more chances, the Rangers' power play did not, and they were actually held shotless through their first three extra-man opportunities. Yeah, more on that in a minute...
- Brooks Laich has had a somewhat quiet series, but he came through in a big way to tie the game up in the second period with a goal that combined all kinds of elements from this playoff run - some hard work, a bit of luck, and a confusing play by the goaltender. And just like that, despite getting outplayed big time, the Caps were once again playing in a tie game.
- Few have stood out for their sheer determination and hard work in this series (if not their offensive production) like Matt Hendricks; he's simply found another level to his play, ramping up the physicality while helping fuel the Caps' cycle game. Tonight, however, it seemed like the energy was a bit too much - he was too aggressive, too eager, and it cost the Caps a few times - including on the game's opening goal and the eventual game-winner.
- This was one of those games that seemed like one the Caps could maybe steal. Despite getting outshot, outchanced and outworked for much of it, they never trailed by more than one and were in fact tied for the majority of the game (as they have been just about every night since the playoffs started). So when Carlson fired home a bomb on the power play to put the Caps up with a little over fifteen minutes to go in the third, perhaps you, like me, felt like they would pull it off - take the lead and shut it down when it counted. It almost worked, too.
- That is until Joel Ward took a bad high-sticking penalty with less than a minute left in regulation. This is by no means saying that the loss is solely on his shoulders - it's not. Nor is this to say he's undone all the good he did with his series-clinching overtime winner against Boston - because he absolutely hasn't. But with your team clinging to a one-goal lead in a game that's been tilted against you, on the road versus a team that's long overdue for a power play marker... dude, you've got to stay out of the box.
- 6.6 seconds. That's all that remained in regulation, all that separated the Caps from a 3-2 series lead heading back to DC. And despite their penchant for "blowing" one-goal leads during the postseason, they've managed to hang on to them late when it's really counted. It's how they've gotten to this point in the first place. But a lot can happen in 6.6 seconds, and with the Caps shorthanded the Rangers decided to finally find a way to make their power play work. 6.6 seconds, a scramble in the crease, a bad play by Holtby and the game was tied.
- It wouldn't be that much longer before the game was over, as the Rangers again struck with the extra man in extra time - something that seemed inexplicable considering their power play woes and yet somehow totally unsurprising. That it was Marc Staal firing home the winner, equally inexplicable yet unsurprising. And that was it. The home team victorious and showered in streamers (...seriously?), the visitors left to contemplate what had happened in stunned silence before heading home.
As is the case with any loss in the playoffs, it's important to keep in mind that it is just one loss and the Caps will live to fight another day. We've seen how resilient they can be after losing a heartbreaking, triple-overtime game in which they played a million times better - if they bounced back then, they can again. Because as bad as this one feels, as quickly as it all happened, this loss just doesn't hurt as badly because it was not a game they deserved to win in the first place.
Don't get too high with the highs, don't get too low with the lows, and take it to 'em on Wednesday. Game 6 awaits.