Rangers Able to Steal Game 1

When the final buzzer sounded, the Rangers and an entire fanbase exhaled. That’s what kind of topsy turvy night it was as somehow minus captain Chris Drury, they found a way to edge Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, stealing Game One of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal 4-3 at a jam packed Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.

Brandon Dubinsky’s remarkable tiebreaking goal with 8:17 left held up as the winner making a winner of Henrik Lundqvist, who was very strong stopping all 13 of Ovechkin’s shots on his way to 32 saves in easily outperforming a shaky Jose Theodore, who permitted four goals on just 21 shots.

Somehow, the Rangers won despite not having the puck for large portions with a relentless Caps attack coming at them in waves. They prevailed even though the dangerous host had seven power plays converting twice including Alexander Semin’s tying marker 1:42 into the third that rallied Washington back from a 3-1 deficit.

If John Tortorella’s club was one of the lowest scoring offenses entering the 16-team tournament, it never showed as they instead persevered by getting the kind of opportunist goalscoring needed to pull the upset. While the Blueshirts got big nights from Scott Gomez (goal, 2 assists), Nik Antropov (PPG, A), penalty prone Markus Naslund (PPG, A, 3 minor penalties), Dubinsky and constant Ryan Callahan (2 SOG, 2 goalposts, game best 7 hits, 1 huge blocked shot), their meal ticket Lundqvist made big save after big save keeping the Caps off the board early in spite of seeing 14 of 18 shots in the first. His steady play allowed the Rangers to settle down and get the all important first game earning home ice.

Still, Lundqvist’s team trailed when Ovechkin and Mike Green worked a textbook give-and-go before the league’s leading finisher fired a low shot which Tomas Fleishmann redirected home for his first of the postseason 6:40 into the second period. They took advantage of the first of three penalties on Naslund, who took a needless trip in the offensive zone. The veteran also lost his discipline in the third but his teammates bailed him out. Offensively speaking, the former Canuck all-time scoring leader wasn’t bad scoring a huge power play goal that followed an Antropov PPG meaning that the NHL’s second worst man-advantage actually wasn’t powerless.

The Rangers seized control thanks to a pair of Cap minors including a John Erskine high stick on Sean Avery near the boards. It was on the team’s second power play that something odd occurred in the form of a PPG with Antropov taking a Gomez pass at the right circle before walking in and beating Theodore top shelf for his first at 16:49. Paul Mara added a secondary helper by working the puck down to Gomez.

They were then aided by a rare gaffe from proven playoff performer Sergei Fedorov, who accidentally fired the puck out of play while still inside his blueline. It took Naslund only 67 seconds to capitalize thanks to a poor line change by the Caps. Picking it up right away, a speeding Gomez gained the zone before dropping for Naslund, who skated into the slot untouched before firing past Theodore suddenly making it 3-1 with 1:32 left.

If ever a player needed to step up, it was Gomez, who finished the season with just four points (all assists) in the club’s final eight games. Just like he did Spring, the playmaking pivot elevated his game notching three points including a momentum changing tying marker unassisted in response to Fleishmann’s series opener silencing a boisterous Washington crowd all dressed in red. The fluky play came out of nowhere when a Michal Rozsival dump took a weird hop right to Gomez, who turned on the jets following a weird collision between Avery and Green that saw the Washington defenseman fall down. Suddenly with room, Gomez surprised an out of position Theodore with a soft wrister tying it 1:09 later.

The goal proved huge giving the Rangers condidence. It looked like they were in decent shape leading by two late. However, the Caps benefited from a missed Green elbow on Freddy Sjostrom that should’ve meant a third consecutive Ranger power play. Somehow, referees Mike Leggo and Tim Peel missed the blatant infraction that had Sjostrom down for a couple of minutes. Instead, the clubs remained at even strength and the home club quickly struck when Nicklas Backstrom setup Viktor Kozlov backdoor after he beat Marc Staal cutting it to 3-2 with 49 ticks remaining.

It almost became a game changer because a great steal by Ovechkin on the third period’s first shift forced Dan Girardi to haul him down. Less than a minute later, a sharp angle Ovechkin backhand from behind the net was kicked out by Lundqvist with Brooks Laich fishing for the rebound. The loose puck eventually came to a wide open Semin, who made sure he buried it tying the game 3-3 with 18:18 left.

With momentum, the Caps searched for the go-ahead tally but couldn’t beat Lundqvist. Even their potent power play couldn’t break through with Naslund in the box for a foolish hold in the offensive zone. Instead, a weary top rated Ranger PK got the job done thanks to the grit of Callahan, whose clean hit of Ovechkin at center ice allowed his team to kill off the big chance. That’s when Cally’s solid defensive work evolved into a game changer.

After Ovechkin changed, the Caps tried to get one more shot on Lundqvist but Antropov blocked it and then moved the puck to Naslund, who had just come out of the box. He then dished off for a streaking Dubinsky on left wing. It was the second-year center who did the rest completely turning Washington D Jeff Schultz inside out before finishing off the amazing individual effort with a perfect wrister shortside. On the great play, Green who played the entire power play got caught out and was worn out allowing Dubinsky to take the shot that broke the Caps’ back.

Despite another bad penalty to Naslund, the Rangers killed it off. They withstood a lot of pressure from a relentless Washington club who finally pulled Theodore for an extra skater in the final minute. But one last great hustle play from who else but Callahan prevented any last second heroics when he made a diving block of an Ovechkin one-timer snapping his stick in half.

With a few seconds to go, the Rangers cleared the puck allowing them to breathe a huge sigh of relief. By then, it didn’t matter how they won. They stole the show.

Three Stars:

3rd Star-Brandon Dubinsky, NYR (GW goal w/8:17 left in regulation, 2 hits, +1 in 16:52)

2nd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (2 SOG, 2 posts, 7 hits, blocked shot, +1 in 20:42)

1st Star-Alex Ovechkin, Wsh (2 assists, game high 13 SOG, 5 MS, 6 hits, 3 takeaways, +1 in 26:07)

Notes: If there was one noticeable area where the Rangers missed Drury, it was in the faceoff circle as they got annihilated by the Caps 46-20 with Backstrom (13-5) and Fedorov (14-6) doing most of the damage. Laich chipped in going 8-3 and Boyd Gordon was 4-1. Gomez was the Rangers’ most effective finishing 9-14 while Dubinsky struggled losing eight of 14 draws. Blair Betts also was an uncharacteristic 5-12 and rookie Lauri Korpikoski who shifted back to center dropped all six.

… The game was physical with both teams finishing checks including some bone crushers from Ovechkin and crunchers from Callahan. Still, it was Matt Bradley who got the best hit catching Mara with a clean shoulder. The Rangers won the physical battle outhitting the Caps 35-27 with five registering three and at least 11 getting two. Even Wade Redden delivered three playing a solid 31 shifts (27:35) going plus-one while partner Rozsival had a pair logging the second most minutes (28:15). Predictably, Green paced all skaters with 30:47 including nearly 11:30 of PP time. He also had three hits. Ovechkin led the Caps with half a dozen while Erskine added five.

… One area the Rangers had a decided edge was in blocked shots sacrificing their bodies to get in the path of 21 Washington shots. The Caps only had 10 blocks or as many as PK leader Betts and Marc Staal had with each totaling five. Rozsival also blocked three. On the Washington side, Schultz and Shaone Morrisonn each had a pair. … With Drury out, Aaron Voros again suited up only getting six shifts (3:50) registering a hit and getting called for a bogus interference. … Tortorella alleviated more responsibilities to Korpikoski (18 shifts, 11:21, 2:45 SH), Betts (17 shifts, 12:20, 7:41 SH) and Sjostrom (22 shifts, 15:20, 6:25 SH) with each outstanding. … If there was one downer, it was that Russian enigma Nikolai Zherdev was a non-factor in 17 shifts (11:44) registering only one shot.

… F Donald Brashear was a scratch due to a knee sprain. … The teams now get the next two days off before the series resumes Saturday afternoon in the nation’s cap with faceoff scheduled for 1:05 on NBC.

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