It’s not their goalie but rather the one at the other end who’s making life difficult for the Capitals. Even a goalie change couldn’t prevent the obvious in this series. That the Rangers boast the superior netminder which was yet again on display.
Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 35 shots allowing Ryan Callahan’s first period tally to hold up in a stunning 1-0 Game Two win over Washington at Verizon Center earlier today- letting the Rangers grab a commanding 2-0 series lead with Games 3 and 4 shifting to Madison Square Garden.
If the way they stole Game One was surprising, then the incredible poise they showed in silencing one of the game’s brightest stars and most potent offenses was equally as shocking. For after letting Alex Ovechkin fire shot after shot Wednesday, the Rangers were much better prepared for the league’s leading finisher, limiting him to six shots which were all challenged. They frustrated the Russian superstar who with the exception of a crossbar off the one great chance he had was kept in check.
That along with the Rangers remaining more disciplined taking only three penalties which they killed off allowed them to win a game most including myself didn’t expect them to. The forwards competed. The defense bent but never broke. And the goalie was unflappable. If the latter isn’t in Washington’s heads, then he’s awfully close after standing tall in denying all 16 shots sent his way in a frantic third.
Entering this series, Lundqvist needed to be the best player for the Rangers to have a realistic chance of pulling the upset. So far, he’s delivered by turning aside 67 of 70 shots. That included a huge stop on Nicklas Backstrom from the slot when the uncanny Swede used his mask to thwart one of the best Cap chances late. It’s that kind of caliber goaltending that’s allowed the Rangers to believe they can win this series.
Now, they’re in the driver’s seat coming home for what should be an amped up New York crowd. How they handle prosperity for the first time since earlier this season will go a long way to determining the outcome.
They got the lone goal in probably their worst period of the day when Callahan converted a two-on-one Markus Naslund feed going upstairs on rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, who made the start in place of an ineffective Jose Theodore. It was the only goal he gave up finishing with a respectable 23 saves in his playoff debut.
Brandon Dubinsky started the play inside his own blueline catching Ovechkin and Mike Green deep springing Naslund and Callahan for the odd-man rush. The key defensive play along the boards by the Game One hero led to Naslund going wide before setting Callahan up perfectly for his first at 7:44. The Caps would get 13 shots in another strong first limiting the Blueshirts to only six but they had the one that mattered which allowed them to play their game.
If they weren’t good in the first 20 minutes, that changed as the Rangers began to take control in the second forcing Cap turnovers and establishing a forecheck. Something which was missing in the first game despite the outcome. It eventually led to four straight Capital penalties with Viktor Kozlov guilty of two. But the Ranger power play which was a huge surprise in Game One returned to form that saw them rank second to last during the season. The lack of a power play goal meant that they had no working margin.
It was the Ranger D which did the job keeping the Caps to the outside. In fact, they only tested Lundqvist six times in the middle stanza with nothing significant. Even a couple of late power plays didn’t generate much with the No.1 ranked PK keeping the Capitals guessing. Blair Betts, Freddy Sjostrom, Dubinsky and Callahan were splendid. So too were much maligned Wade Redden along with Michal Rozsival, who each had a second strong game. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were also better. Paul Mara and Derek Morris played well.
Led by the blueline, the Rangers again sacrificed their bodies getting in the path of 29 Cap shots including four from a strong Girardi, Morris and Betts. Three also came from a less than 100 percent captain Chris Drury, who returned with whatever was bothering him. He only took two draws but played a gutty 22 shifts (15:25) showing the kind of leadership necessary to advance at this crucial time of year.
Predictably, the Capitals were better in the third period testing Lundqvist often. But the Rangers did a solid job allowing him to see the puck. Whatever he saw, he stopped. That included his biggest of the game on Backstrom with under four minutes left when he got a step on Redden getting a good shot off in the slot. But Lundqvist as he often does got a mask on it.
The Caps’ best opportunity came when Backstrom got a stick on Staal as he was making an outlet pass from behind his own net. The turnover almost proved costly as it came right to Alexander Semin who quickly centered for an open Ovechkin, whose shot nicked Lundqvist’s best friend, the crossbar leaving the 2007-08 Hart winner to shake his head in disbelief.
Desperate, Washington pulled Varlamov for an extra attacker with a minute to go. But it was a determined group of Rangers who wouldn’t allow them to get the kind of quality chance it would take to beat Lundqvist. Rozsival made a key defensive play breaking up a rush and Nik Antropov, who was stellar defensively cleared the zone as time wound down- allowing the Rangers to congratulate Lundqvist, who recorded his third career postseason shutout.
3rd Star-Markus Naslund, NYR (assist, 2 hits, 2 takeaways, +1 in 15:32)
2nd Star-Ryan Callahan, NYR (GW goal 7:44 of 1st, 3 SOG, 2 hits, 2 blocked shots, 2 takeaways, +1 in 20:41)
1st Star-Henrik Lundqvist, NYR (35 saves incl. 16 in 3rd, 3rd career playoff SHO)
Notes: After getting 13 of his 28 shots on goal in Game One, Ovechkin was held to just six SOG in 22:50 finishing minus-one. In an oddity, he and Green combined for 12 giveaways- half of the Caps’ glaring 24. By comparison, the Rangers had only seven all game. … Rangers showed improvement in the faceoff circle going 28-for-60 with Gomez (11-9) their best. Betts went 9-11 and Dubinsky was 6-7. For Washington, Backstrom went a dominant 13-6 and David Steckel was 4-1. … The Blueshirts held a slight edge in hits 23-20 with Dubinsky and Sean Avery (4) leading the charge while Ovechkin’s five paced everyone. … The Rangers’ 29 blocks were 16 better than the Caps, who countered with four players posting two. … Aaron Voros was a healthy scratch and Donald Brashear again satout for the Caps. Bruce Boudreau made one other change dressing D Brian Pothier for Jeff Schultz (upper body).
… Game Three is Monday at 7 ET at The Garden and can be seen on MSG locally. Versus and TSN are also covering it. … There are three other games later including Game Two between the top seeded Bruins and No.8 Canadiens going off at 8 on Versus. The B’s lead the series 1-0. Out West, defending champ Detroit looks to make it two for two against Columbus less than an hour from now on NHL Network/TSN. The Blackhawks will aim for two straight at 9 ET against the Flames.