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Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers was a game that had everything. Sparkling goals, tremendous saves, a penalty shot, and late-game suspense. In the end, though, it was a rookie who led them on the scoresheet and a workhorse who slammed the door. Andre Burakovsky scored both Capitals goals, and Braden Holtby did his thing again to put the Caps in position to clinch on Friday.
Here's Wednesday night's Plus/Minus:
- Plus: "Play your game." Herb Brooks famously exhorted his team with this phrase in the third period of the Miracle on Ice in the 1980 Olympics. The Caps "played their game" throughout, but especially in the late stages of the game, keeping the Rangers from getting good looks and second chances to win yet another one-goal game.
- Minus: Sluggish start. The charitable view might have been that the Caps were looking to counter-punch, but for the first 20 minutes they looked as if they lacked energy.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The shot attempts advantage for the Rangers was a lopsided 26-14 in the first period (23-12 at 5-on-5), but the lopsidedness might have been more in the Rangers favor. For almost the entire period the camera on television seemed to be panning left to right, out of the Rangers' end and into the Capitals' end. Things started to change, however, after Troy Brouwer and James Sheppard took coincidental roughing penalties at the 12:42 mark. In the last 7:18 of the period the Caps had a 6-5 advantage in shot attempts and had a 4-3 shots on goal edge.
- The Rangers did a fine job early of preventing the top line from getting any momentum. The top line of Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Joel Ward did not record a shot on goal in the first period and had only five shot attempts. On the other hand, the Rangers spread things around smartly in that opening frame, getting 15 of 18 skaters on the board with shot attempts.
- It took the Caps 28:26 before they got their first shot from the top line, that from Alex Ovechkin. But just like that, Ovechkin managed four shots on goal in 2:37, helped by a power play.
- From the moment Derick Brassard scored 3:57 into the third period of Game 2 until Derick Brassard scored 6:12 into the second period of this game, Braden Holtby denied any other Ranger a goal over a period of 100:33 of his time on ice.
- The Caps did a much better job of at least denying the Rangers free ice in the Washington end in the second period. They out-attempted the Rangers, 18-15, at 5-on-5.
- The playoffs are a different animal. The Caps' power play has been largely dormant in the post season. They get few chances and have not converted the ones they have had. In this game it was shut out on its only opportunity. The Caps are now 3-for-19 in the post season (15.8 percent).
- In the Islander series it was Evgeny Kuznetsov stepping up. Tonight, Andre Burakovsky had his star moment. Burakovsky scored the first two playoff goals of his career, both on great individual efforts (but not without help). He got his first on a play reminiscent of a goal Kuznetsov scored against the Islanders in the first round series, skating off the right wing wall and cutting to the middle before wristing a shot home. It might not have been possible, though, without Troy Brouwer setting up for a one-timer and occupying Dan Girardi for just a split-second to give Burakovsky open space for his release. On the second goal it was Burakovsky on a breakaway, darting across the low slot to beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist on the long side. But that play started with Brouwer, this time fighting through two Rangers along the left wing wall - Carl Hagelin and Ryan McDonagh - to kick the puck free so Burakovsky could speed off with it.
- How many times have the Caps and their fans had their hearts broken by a goaltender who summoned their best efforts against the Caps in a playoff series? When Carl Hagelin's backhand attempt on a penalty shot was swallowed up calmly and smoothly by Holtby with 11:59 left in the game, you could entertain a glimmer of hope that this year, it is Washington's turn to have that hot goalie. But frankly, with seven of his ten games sporting a better than .945 save percentage (.959 in this series overall), Holtby is getting past the point of being merely hot. He's in a zone of his own at the moment.
- Defenseman Tim Gleason had an assist on Burakovsky's first goal, his first point in the post season for the Capitals. It was the first time in the post season he was on ice for a Capitals goal scored. He is the last defenseman in the NHL to find himself on ice for a goal scored for among defensemen appearing in more than three games.
- At this time of year, players have to step outside their comfort zones to make contributions when the normal part of their games are a bit lacking. Marcus Johansson did not have a shot attempt, but he was credited with five hits. Matt Niskanen did not have a point, but he had four blocked shots. Then again, some guys do what they do, game after game. Brooks Orpik had six hits and six blocked shots.
And now, this...