NEW YORK – All it took was a few seconds, and then it was over.
All it took was a missed open net by Ryan Callahan, 11: 24 into the first followed by Alexander Semin’s second goal of a game 12 seconds later. Instead of a 1-1 tie, the Rangers faced a 2-0 deficit in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Game. Set. Match. Capitals took the game, 4-0.
“It’s tough,” said center Brandon Dubinsky. “It’s the difference between a tie game and a two goal deficit. Those things happen in this game; you see it all the time – a big save and then a goal on the other end.”
The play deflated the Rangers, along with the Garden faithful, whose very loud support was silenced by Alexander Ovechkin and Company. The Rangers didn’t stand a chance.
“I thought we stunk defensively,” said coach John Tortorella. “That was the key to the game. They defended well in front of their net. We were chasing our tails all night long.”
The story of this game is not the 4-0 loss. Nor is it the superb play of rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, who stopped all 33 of the Ranger shots and outplayed his counterpart Henrik Lundqvist, who may have been the only person in recent times to go to Washington not looking for a bailout.
No, the story here is what happens next. Do the Rangers brush this off as an aberration, like they did in the first round last season and eventually beat the Capitals or does Washington use those 12 seconds as a launching pad, vaulting themselves past the Blueshirts to a possible Stanley Cup birth?
Last week, the story was all about the Rangers. They were the team that kept its cool, while the Capitals were the ones starting to panic. Coach Bruce Boudreau – looking more and more like Don Zimmer every day – changed goalies, went with different looks, and even lost the gamesmanship war with Tortorella, coming across as a crybaby when his Ranger counterpart was just trying to point out the flaws in his team.
But now, after this win, the game is afoot. If the Caps take Game 4 on Wednesday, they only have to win their two home games to take the series. The Rangers will be forced to win another on down in the Nation’s Capital if they have any hope of advancing.
It may be a real tough task, even for a king.
“They are a good team,” said Lundqvist, who stopped 36 of 40 shots. “We knew it was going to be tough and they played well. They have to learn from a couple of mistakes we made tonight and be ready for the next one.”
First the Rangers need to tighten up the defense. Too many times Ovechkin took control of the puck and vaulted himself down the ice. Lundqvist was left naked, for the high scoring Washington team.
Also the penalties need to stop. With the Rangers shorthanded six times tonight, the Capitals managed two power play goals – that’s two more than in Games 1 and 2. Even with a very good penalty kill, the Rangers can’t let Washington get more scoring chances than they normally take.
And finally the Rangers need to play every second of the sixty minutes. It looked like they were sleep walking through the first period before they woke up after eight minutes. By mailing in parts of periods, the Blueshirts will have no chance against the Caps.
But don’t worry Ranger fans, your team is still up 2-1. Just remember this, though. Back in 1996, the Rangers lost the first two games at home against the Canadiens and then took four in a row, including three in Montreal. So don’t feel comfortable with any lead.
It could easily be gone in a matter of seconds.