CAPITALS IN CONTROL DESPITE LOSS AND TEAM HISTORY
The New York Rangers must feel good about ending several troubling droughts with their 4-3, Game 3 victory over the Washington Capitals last night at Madison Square Garden. The first drought and biggest head coach John Tortorella’s team ended was not having a win in the best of seven eastern conference quarterfinals playoff series vs. the Caps.
Tortorella, who will never admit that his team’s backs were up against the proverbial wall had to have the Game 3 victory.
It was a must win for the Rangers, especially when you consider the Capitals have outplayed his team badly for stretches during this series. While recent hockey history boasts a team having come back from a 3-0 series deficit (Flyers did so vs. the Bruins in 2010), it would be almost impossible for the Rangers to do so considering how well the Caps are playing.
Washington is 13-2-1 since April 1 and entered the playoffs as the NHL’s hottest team. The Caps also accomplished what neither team could in last spring’s hard-fought seven game series, win two straight playoff games during the series. Another drought the Rangers ended on Monday night was scoring on the power play. After failing to connect on seven extra man advantages during the first two games, the Rangers connected on one PP goal officially and another unofficially.
The unofficial PP tally came first as time expired on a high sticking minor to Caps forward Joel Ward. Before the gate could open to free Ward, Rangers center Brian Boyle beat defenseman Mike Green and then Caps goalie Braden Holtby from down low on the right side to tie the score at 1-1.
While the goal was not registered officially as a power play goal, it did begin the drought busting for the Rangers. Boyle’s goal ended a scoreless streak of 124:06 and was just the second for the Rangers in the series and the first since Carl Hagelin’s tally at 16:44 of the first period of Game 1.
The official power play goal came when Caps goalie Braden Holtby picked up a tripping minor for taking down Rick Nash. New York won the ensuing face-off and needed just eight seconds to find Derek Brassard in the slot for a wrist shot and a power play goal that gave the Rangers their first lead since the second period of Game 1.
The Rangers also received reinforcements, as defenseman Marc Staal returned somewhat unexpectedly to the lineup. The All-Star blue liner has been sidelined since March 5 with an eye injury and concussion like symptoms.
Told during the morning skate, Staal was a welcome sight despite limited "Staal like" ice time and appearing to be rusty. His presence lifted a team in dire need of being lifted as he skated 17:17 on the night, including 1:57 while New York was shorthanded. He was a minus-1 in the game.
Despite all of the drought ending the Rangers managed to accomplish in Game.3, they still needed an almost perfect game to beat the white-hot Washington Capitals. Washington almost stole the game despite not getting a great game from their otherwise playoff reliable net minder Braden Holtby, who made 26 saves on the night. Even with the numerous breakdowns and defensive lapses around Holtby (see Mike Green)-- not to mention the lack of discipline in taking unnecessary penalties, with 1:52 to play in the game, Washington had a great opportunity to force overtime with a power play and Holtby pulled for an extra attacker.
This is the Washington Capitals modus operandi when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and anything is possible. The Caps will blow this, they always do you say.Normally, I would agree with you but not this year.
This is a different Caps team from the franchise that blew more than their fair share of two- game series leads through the years. This is even different from the Alex Ovechkin led Capitals team that coughed up a 3-1 series lead to Montreal in 2010. Washington fans will painfully remember the Capitals became the first ever No.1 seed to surrender a 3-1 series lead to a No.8 seed and lose the series in seven games.
This is even a different team than the Ovechkin led Capitals that became the first No.1 seed in NHL playoff history to be swept in the second round of the playoffs when the Tampa Bay Lightning accomplished that very feat in 2011.
Nope, I refuse to believe that this team will duplicate the ghost of playoff Capitals playoff past. It does not matter to me that since the NHL made all playoff series best of seven in 1987, the Capitals have taken a 2-0 leads six times and lost four of those series. I’m not even worried that they have lost four of 10 series in which they led 3-1 during franchise history.
I am not in denial; I simply see a different team with a new leader both on the ice and behind the bench. As I predicted before the series began, this Capitals team will recover and dispose of the Rangers in five games.
The Capitals were fooled in Game 3 and expected the Rangers to come out and play a different game. When they did not play the physical affair with a hop in their step to start the contest, the Caps ended up taking the play to the Rangers and even found themselves with games first lead on a beautiful deflection goal by Nicklas Backstrom.
But the Caps tried to take the play too much to the Rangers and as a result, played undisciplined hockey. They ultimately paid the price by taking five straight minor penalties from the 10:50 mark of the first period through the six-minute mark of the middle frame, a span of 15:42.
Instead, Washington had to play catch up instead of forcing the Rangers to play the game they made New York play in the series’ first two games.
The Caps, who have forced the Rangers to chase them for much of the series, found themselves being the ones doing the chasing and penalty killing. “We took too many [penalties] early,” says Caps coach Adam Oates. “We got out of our rhythm and guys use up minutes that we don’t want to do for energy that maybe later on in the third period cost us.”
The Capitals normally sure scoring power play unit looked like the Rangers power play unit during the John Tortorella’s years in New York.
Caps fans can relax on this as well. Many are probably asking today if the Rangers, as Montreal did a few years ago in the playoffs, figured out a way to stymie the Caps No.1 ranked power play. Not a chance!
A deeper look indicates it may not have been so much of what the Rangers did to stop Washington’s extra man unit, as much as it was what the Capitals did not do that hurt them the most.
Instead of generating more scoring chances at any cost, Washington played with the extra man as if it were playing at home with a lead. When on the road, especially in the playoffs, teams will focus on getting more pucks to the net, as they also try to get more traffic in front of opposing goalies.
Washington failed on both accounts on Monday, as the Capitals elected to play for the perfect shot by passing the puck two and three more times than necessary. Even at full strength, Washington elected to pass the puck for the perfect shot, which despite scoring three times on Lundqvist, never seemed to happen. Yet despite this, the Capitals still managed to outshoot the Rangers 31-30 in the game.
Even during their two-man advantage (power play and goalie pulled) during the final two minutes of the game, center Mike Ribeiro failed to register a shot despite the Rangers defense daring him to shoot.
Washington had three power plays in the game to six for the Rangers, and the Caps were limited to just one shot on goal in the 5:54 in which they held the man advantage. The Rangers power play success was due in part to firing more shots with the man advantage. New York outshot the Capitals by a 12-1 margin in special teams play and 11-1 on the power play. The Caps held a 30-18 advantage in shots on goal in five-on-five play.
Calm down Rangers fans, Monday’s game was a fluke and I have the numbers to back it up. Game 3 was three first time in New York’s last 22 Stanley Cup playoff games that the Rangers have scored as many as four goals in a game.
Prior to Game 3, the last time the Blueshirts managed as many as four lamp lighters in a playoff game was April 12, 2012 when they beat the Ottawa Senators 4-2 in Game 1 of the opening round playoff series between the two teams.
On the other side, Caps fans can relax. For those of you waiting for the other shoe to drop with the young Braden Holtby, the young net minder will be just fine. Monday marks just the third time in 17 career Stanley Cup playoff games that Braden Holtby has been victimized for more than three goals against and just the second time that he has allowed more than three goals in a non-overtime playoff game.
Further evidence this was a fluke for the Blueshirts was who scored their goals. New York scored a combined eight goals in its three regular season games against Washington, getting those goals from six different players. Three of those six players scored on Monday.
Brian Boyle and Aaron Asham each had only two goals during the regular season, with one each coming at Washington’s expense. Boyle has scored six of his 46 career regular season goals against the Caps, his highest total against any foe.
The Capitals had no chance to win this contest when you consider they have never won a Game 3 in the seven-playoff (0-7) series in which they owned a 2-0 series lead.
The Capitals are not the same old Capitals and a big reason is the man leading them behind the bench. Head coach Adam Oates will make the necessary adjustments and have the boys back on track in Game 4.
Oates is outcoaching the constantly pissed off Tortorella and this isn't the first time Oates has done so in the playoffs despite being a rookie head coach. Oates was apart of Peter DeBoer's staff with the New Jersey Devils last season when NJ eliminated the Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conf, Finals. Oates was instrumental in breaking down the Rangers and helping DeBoer figure his line combinations vs. the favored Blueshirts.
Many Rangers fans are saying the Rangers and not the Capitals could easily be leading the series 2-1 instead of being down. I have read and heard Saturday’s overtime game could have gone either way. The Caps got lucky the Ranger faithful is screaming from the “Blue Seats”.
First, the word luck and Capitals are not synonymous when it comes to the playoffs; let us get that straight right now!
Since the NHL made all playoff series best of seven in 1987, the Capitals have taken a 2-0 lead six times. They have lost four of those series. They have lost four of 10 series in which they led 3-1----So never—ever use the word luck and Capitals when the Cherry Blossoms are blooming in the District.
Second, Rangers fans are right about one thing, Saturday’s game should not have been 1-0; it should have been 4-0 in favor of the Capitals. Only King Henrik saved the Blueshirts from being blown out with great save after great save. Lundqvist stopped at least three point blank shots, two breakaways and saved his defense from numerous breakdowns. Handsome Hank made 37 saves and played as brilliantly as any goalie I have ever seen in a losing cause.
The Capitals are beating the Rangers solidly at the point of attack in this series. Washington is winning most of the battles behind the net and the guys in the red sweaters are dominating most of the corner play.
The Capitals own the edge in faceoffs, have blocked just three less shots than the Rangers in the series and are outshooting New York (99-90) through three games. Washington has forced 27 turnovers from New York skaters and Caps defenders have forced Rangers shooters to miss 52 shots, the most of any playoff team in the east.
In other words, the Capitals are not worried and you should not be either. They believe in Oates system and they believe in each other. It is the reason Washington won 15 of their final 19 games, and why the Rangers needed to bring back an injured star early and still needed a perfect game to beat the imperfect Caps on Monday night.
I am not saying the Capitals are going to roll right over New York the rest of the way but they may not lose again. History says the Caps and Rangers engage in some of the best pure playoff action in recent memory. Monday’s game marked the eighth time in the last 10 postseason games between the Capitals and the Rangers that the contest was decided by a single goal. Fifteen of the 22-playoff games between Washington and New York since 2009 have been one-goal games.
This series is far from the one the teams engaged in last year and more like the one from two seasons ago when the Capitals won the first two games at home and lost Game 3 in New York. That would be the only loss in the series for Washington, who won in five games.
In fact, two years ago when Washington took out NY in five games, the Capitals, after losing Game 3 trailed 3-0 in Game 4, before staging a comeback and winning in double overtime on a goal by Jason Chimera.
Rest easy tonight Caps fans. Washington is the better team (this season) and will dispose of the Rangers in five games------no wait---make that six games. After all, this is the Washington Capitals and nothing---- I DO MEAN NOTHING, is easy for this franchise during the playoffs.