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Capitals draw first blood vs Rangers

- May 3rd, 2013

Washington, D.C. — The Washington Capitals were full value as they captured their series opener with the New York Rangers on Thursday night at Verizon Center.

Despite giving up the first goal of the contest, the Capitals never wavered, coming up with an impressive effort that saw them win the special teams battle 1-0 on a goal by captain Alex Ovechkin, getting a solid goaltending performance from Braden Holtby and producing a gutsy in a 3-1 triumph.

In a bizarre turn of events, the normally disciplined Rangers (the least penalized team in the NHL at 9.2 minutes per game) found themselves shorthanded just 34 seconds into the contest after they were caught with six men on the ice (Mats Zuccarello was identified as the guilty party later on).

Granted, it was the first game since Saturday and guys were eager to get involved, but a bench minor on the second shift of the game is something John Tortorella is sure to find unacceptable.

Blog05-03

Washington Capitals center Mike Ribeiro (L-R), Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom celebrate after a goal by Ovechkin in the second period of Game 1 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinals hockey playoff series against the New York Rangers in Washington, May 2, 2013. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

That penalty didn’t end up costing the Rangers, who got on the board first when Carl Hagelin’s wraparound attempt banked in off the leg of Caps’ D John Erskine, giving the visitors the lead after one period of play.

“We weren’t worried about the 1-0 (deficit). We knew or felt that we outplayed them in the first period,” said Capitals winger Troy Brouwer. “They had a couple of shots on their power play. Really, that’s the only the thing we felt we gave them all period. So they scored a good goal on a wraparound that we might like to have back.”

The Capitals’ top-ranked power play looked a bit flat on the first three attempts of the game, but made it count on their fourth as Ovechkin pounced on a puck that banked off the end boards after a booming point shot from Mike Green.

The goal from the Rocket Richard Trophy winner sparked a three-goal outburst that took place in 8 minutes and 8 seconds and included goals 46 seconds apart by Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera.

Johansson’s goal came after an outstanding saucer pass by D Steve Oleksy, who had the puck about 10 feet from his own blue-line and rifled the puck to the far blue line, where Johansson was waiting patiently.

Johansson snuck behind Rangers D-men Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, sliding his shot through the five-hole of Henrik Lundqvist.

On the ensuring shift, the Caps’ were controlling the puck on the cycle when Jason Chimera’s seeing-eye shot fooled Lundqvist.

“Honestly, I just saw (Mathieu Perreault) in front of the net and I just tried to wing it to him for a tip or whatever and it ended up going straight in,” said Chimera, who scored his sixth goal in 13 postseason games against the Rangers on his 34th birthday. “Good things happen when you throw it to the net and you get pucks on net and traffic.”

Chimera seemed a bit caught off guard when I asked him about his playoff success vs the Broadway Blueshirts.

“It seems like we always play them in the playoffs and they’re huge games,” said Chimera. “You want to step up in huge games. They’re a fun team to play against.”

Holtby, who played so well against the Rangers last spring when the Capitals were defeated in seven games, had a strong outing, finishing with 35 saves.

“The first goal was a tough goal for him, flukey bounce and to me, he didn’t look rattled at all by it,” said Capitals head coach Adam Oates. “He didn’t fight the puck at all tonight. So I guess that would be one indication. He looked very much in control.”

There was a play that didn’t generate as much controversy as it might have if it would have been a one-goal game.

Late in the third period, Rangers D John Moore took a bad-angle shot that ended up under the right arm of Holtby and seemed found its way onto the back of his pants before he grabbed it with the open hand of his blocker.

After a video review, the play was ruled no goal, as the replay was inconclusive and you never actually saw the puck cross the line. To me, the pants ended up in the net but there’s no way of seeing the puck completely cross the line so the folks at NHL control had no choice but to stick with the ruling that was made on the ice.

Holtby said the puck never went in, but then again, what would you expect him to say?

“It just kind of got caught and it kind of rolled into the palm of my hand,” said Holtby. “And one of their guys yelled it was in. It was in my palm the whole time, so I was wondering what took the review so long. But they got the right call.”

One thing that stood out on the stats sheet for the Rangers was the fact F Rick Nash attempted 16 shots in the game, finishing with eight shots on goal, three missing the net and five others that were blocked in his 23:04 of ice time as he was held without a point.

For the sake of comparison, Ovechkin had five shots on goal, and three that were blocked, adding five hits and two blocked shots of his own in a strong performance.

My game column focused on the gritty effort of Oleksy, a longtime minor leaguer who had a big impact in his first Stanley Cup playoff game, assisting on the GWG and blocking a shot with his face.

The sidebar looked at the importance of special teams, which for the Capitals also included a successful 5-on-3 kill to go along with the Ovechkin PP marker.

Game 2 goes Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center and it will be interesting to see if any members of the Rangers’ walking-wounded (D Marc Staal (eye), RW Derek Dorsett (clavicle), C Brian Boyle (leg) or LW Ryan Clowe (undisclosed, suspected concussion) will be ready to get back in the lineup.

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