Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals aren’t ready to roll over and die. Trailing 3-1 in the first round for the second consecutive year, they staved off elimination in fine style with a dominant 4-0 Game Five win over the Rangers before a loud Verizon Center to extend the series.
The Rangers will get another opportunity to wrap up the series Sunday afternoon at more friendly Madison Square Garden. It’s advisable that they get it done or face the consequences. Forget the history books that say Washington has never rallied back from an 0-2 deficit or that the Rangers have never blown a series when leading 3-1. That means nothing.
Anyone who’s followed this series knows how much more talented the higher seeded Caps are. The Rangers are still in a winning position because they showed a willingness to get the jersey dirty and Henrik Lundqvist was there for the big saves. Tonight, neither was the case as they got outworked by a determined Washington squad Hell bent on coming back. If Lundqvist was the series’ best player the first four games, tonight it wasn’t to be as he let in four goals on only 14 shots before Steve Valiquette relieved him in garbage time.
On a night John Tortorella gave Sean Avery a game off to think about his selfish penalties, the Rangers on the ice weren’t disciplined enough to give themselves a chance taking two of the game’s first three penalties before the contest was 10 minutes old. That included a retaliatory slash by MIA center Scott Gomez following a clean Alex Ovechkin hit just 76 seconds in setting the tone.
Sure. The Ranger penalty killing unit again blanked the Cap power play keeping them off the scoreboard in seven chances including a ridiculous too many men on the ice bench minor. Ridiculous because at this critical juncture, it shouldn’t be happening.
In between that, fourth liner Matt Bradley victimized the Ranger powerless play scoring the game’s first goal shorthanded 4:58 into the game. Michal Rozsival couldn’t control Boyd Gordon’s hard wheel around falling down to create the problem. Bradley then outhustled Chris Drury, who covered for Wade Redden. Unfortunately, the banged up captain did a poor job allowing Bradley to beat him to the puck and then go in for a breakaway beating Lundqvist with a quick backhand upstairs.
During the regular season, the Rangers were the second worst team at allowing shorthanded goals giving up a preposterous 14 all under Tom Renney before Tortorella took over. It reared its ugly head again at the worst possible time giving the Caps much needed momentum because they weren’t all that impressive in the first getting just six shots on net. Unfortunately, two went in when following an Aaron Voros chance, Bradley somehow beat Lundqvist thru the wickets from a bad angle. Much like Ryan Callahan’s post and Alex Semin’s goal in Game Three, it was a crusher.
If the Blueshirts only got three shots on Simeon Varlamov, who posted his second shutout of the series stopping all 20 he faced, they at least had a couple of opportunities to get on the board. One was the aforementioned Voros, whose shot from 18 feet out Varlamov got a piece of before Bradley came down and scored his second. The other chance came when Brandon Dubinsky got a drop pass from effective linemate Lauri Korpikoski and had the 20 year-old Russian down without a stick. But as he went to tuck the puck in, Varlamov somehow got a shoulder on it keeping it out.
Sadly, that was the extent of the Ranger offense which was plain offensive. Bruce Boudreau must’ve told his club that they were fortunate to be up two because they played much better the rest of the game. Standing up at the blueline forcing the Rangers into bad turnovers, the Caps used their superior speed and skill to attack when they could. Though the shots were held down, the No.2 seed was much better and got rewarded scoring twice more.
Game Three hero Alex Semin scored his series-leading fourth off a faceoff when the puck went off Blair Betts knee right to him. He quickly wired it top shelf past a stunned Lundqvist, who had little chance. They somehow credited Nicklas Backstrom with an assist. He did take the draw following a Ranger icing but didn’t win it and never touched the puck. Go figure. That’s the kinda night it was.
Down three, the Rangers spent the rest of the second chasing the puck. They somehow managed seven shots- one less than the Caps- but none were dangerous. Varlamov may as well have been out for a walk on the beach. Speaking of which, it will be beach weather this weekend.
Unable to threaten the Capitals, the Rangers eventually caved in allowing Ovechkin to score the goal of the playoffs late in the period. Following the invisible man Nikolai Zherdev’s latest turnover after a takedown, here came Ovechkin lifting Wade Redden’s stick before undressing Derek Morris and Voros going to the backhand for an amazing goal. That made it 4-0 with 29 seconds left. This was just a special goal by a special player. It was fitting that it was Ovie because he’s tried so hard this series and had only beaten Lundqvist once despite all the shots.
That ended Lundqvist’s night as Tortorella opted to rest him in preparation for Sunday. A wise move. No sense in letting him get peppered. Keeping him fresh is important and he didn’t see a ton of shots as opposed to how most of this series has gone.
Valiquette was sharp in relief turning aside all seven Washington shots. Between that, the Rangers sat out Drury in the third and took a few message sending penalties including a Dubinsky charge and a Colton Orr double minor for holding and roughing up Semin. Refs Mike Hasenfratz and Don VanMassenhoven did the appropriate thing with 5:46 left giving misconducts to Orr and Voros ending their nights.
Earlier in the stanza, they also kept Donald Brashear under control when he decided he wanted to pick on the smaller Dubinsky, who of course wouldn’t back down. The two each went to the box for roughing but the Capital enforcer got the extra 10.
Credit the refs for doing a good job. They kept things from escalating. That also included a disturbing drunken Cap fan who decided to toss a beer at Tortorella during a late stoppage. Just pathetic. Tort was upset and looked for the fan, who got ejected. Good thing Washington security responded quickly. Something like that should never happen. I don’t know why it did. I’m just glad things were handled well.
Now onto Game Six, which becomes a must win if the Rangers want to advance. We’ll see what they’re made of.
Notes: Scott Gomez had another miserable game held off the scoresheet a fourth straight game with four perimeter shots and went minus-one while dropping 10 of 15 faceoffs in 19:46. … Zherdev was again brutal on the ice for two goals against with just two SOG in 15:23. … Drury took only 13 shifts (7:21) finishing a dismal minus-three while going 4-4 on draws. … Showing plenty of desperation, the Caps blocked 21 shots including four from D Brian Pothier. The Rangers had 11 with Dan Girardi leading the way with three. He and partner Marc Staal played very well each going Even combining for eight hits in 23+ minutes apiece.
… Hits were 35-30 Blueshirts in one of the few categories they came out on top of with Girardi’s five pacing them. Ovechkin and David Steckel each had five. … Washington was stronger in the faceoff circle winning 28-of-49 with Steckel 8-3 and Backstrom 8-5. Dubinsky was the Rangers’ best finishing 7-of-11. … In place of the scratched Avery, Voros played 16 shifts (10:56) including a couple on the powerless play. He had one shot, two hits and was minus-two with 12 PIM. … Game Six is at The Garden with faceoff set for 2:05 Sunday afternoon on NBC.