A point is a point, John Tortorella reasoned, and “that’s what we are playing for now.”
Those words best describe what this abbreviated season is all about, and why the Rangers’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals at the Garden isn’t the worst news thus far in this very up-and-down season.
Thus, when Nicklas Backstrom finally ended matters in the fourth round of the shootout, with a well-placed shot past Henrik Lundqvist’s glove, the visitors had exacted revenge for the 4-1 drubbing they absorbed at the Verizon Center just fourteen days earlier. In the six-games since, New York had tallied just seven goals…or one more than Alex Ovechkin, the Caps’ second leading scorer.
The numbers don’t lie, and the picture they paint is not a pretty one. While the Rangers are still two games above .500 (including 10-6 on home ice), they are still on the cusp of the playoffs as they prepare for difficult road games in Philadelphia, Ottawa and Montreal this week.
After spotting the Capitals a two-goal lead within a two-minute stretch of the first period – highlighted by Ovechkin’s 16th goal with a man advantage (Washington’s first in eight tries against the Rangers this season) and amid massive booing – the home team finally awoke from its slumber.
First, Aaron Asham, fresh off the disabled list after a 15-game absence, accepted a pass from Kris Newbury and bolted down the left wing on an odd-man rush. Asham’s shot beat Braden Holtby high to the glove side to halve the deficit. A bit more than three minutes later, with New York on a two-man advantage, Derek Stepan attempted a shot/pass with Rick Nash standing to Holtby’s left. The puck deflected off Holtby’s pads and skittered into the net for the equalizer.
Lundquist had entered the contest with a 1.99 goals against over the last 11, despite the fact he has recorded just six victories over that span. The lockout and his team’s scoring woes will ultimately deprive him of 30 wins for the first time in his eight-year career.
“I’m really disappointed,” said the weary goalie, who has now limited opponents to two or fewer goals in 17 games this season. said. “It was a tough start, but we came back and that was big. Overall, we had enough chances to win this game.”
The second period drew more deserved angst from the Garden crowd as Dan Girardi, attempting to clear the puck from Lundquist’s right, rifled the disc into the crowd, creating a 5-on-3 power play for the Caps. But, the Rangers PK withstood the onslaught and, later, Holtby stoned Marion Gaborik on a breakaway to preserve the tie.
When Carl Hagelin was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty (diving) – the result of being hooked by Backstrom- the crowd again voiced his displeasure.
While the ensuing 4-on-4 produced nothing much, Lundquist was later required to stop Mike Ribiero’s left dot slapper with his helmet and needed to reset without his lumber -a maneuver that Raymond Babbitt, the Dustin Hoffman character in Rain Man would describe as “definitely stickless.”
A half-minute standing ovation followed.
On and on they went and, in fact, Ryan Callahan (team-high nine shots) had three excellent chances to break the 2-2 deadlock. But, each time, Holtby was equal to the task, and was not beaten again until Stepan matched Ovechkin’s shootout goal with a nifty backhand to force another round.