Remember Game 3 when the Rangers seemingly wouldn't be denied a W? The Washington Capitals bottled that effort into just 20 minutes Wednesday night, storming back from an improbable three-goal comeback to seize control of the series and silence a shocked capacity crowd. Here's how it all went down at the recently maligned Garden Wednesday night.
What it means
For the Caps it was a signature postseason win that will help them convince skeptics that this team truly has the grit required to win a Stanley Cup. For the Rangers, it's nothing short of a soul-crushing loss that pushes them to the brink of elimination when the series continues Saturday in Washington. Short memories will be key as New York battles to stay alive.
The squeaky wheel got the grease, but I’m not sure if Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau got what he wanted. After complaining that the officials weren’t doing enough to protect his goalie in Game 3, the refs blew the whistle three times for goalie interference in the first, twice on the Rangers’ Brian Boyle and once on the Caps’ Marco Sturm. The refs called a tight affair all game long and the Caps paid the price more often than the Blueshirts, taking five penalties through the first two periods, again handicapping their ability to use their superior skill to their advantage. If the Caps’ PK wasn’t as strong as it is (No. 2 in the NHL during the regular season) ... or if the Rangers power play could find the net (3 shots in just over 11 minutes of PP time in regulation) ... this game would have been over midway through the second. Needless to say, it wasn't.
Once again the hockey gods were kind to the Rangers when they opened the scoring in the second period. Possessing the puck behind the goal line, Artem Anisimov simply through the puck towards the goal, where it glanced off Caps forward Matt Hendricks and into the net. Ugly? Yup. Did anyone in a blue sweater care? Nope.
There go the floodgates
With 6:20 remaining in the second period, Marian Gaborik slipped to the back door, potted a feed from Ruslan Fedotenko and put a dagger in a goal-scoring drought that spanned back a month to the day. But he touched off something much larger as well. Just seven seconds later, Fedotenko chased down a loose puck behind the boards and, while the Caps watched idly, flung it back to the slot and a waiting mustachioed man. Brandon Dubinsky did the rest, ripping a wrister past a sprawling Neuvirth to push the lead to 3-0 and keep the fans standing at the Garden. I’ll allow that the upper press box is surrounded by the crowd, but it was, uh, not quiet after that Dubinsky strike. Three minutes later the crowd burst into a chant of, “Can you hear us?” I think Beethoven, who was deaf and is dead could have heard the MSG crowd just then.
... But there goes the lead
With a three-goal lead the one thing the Rangers didn't want to do was allow a quick third-period goal. They allowed two. A time out by John Tortorella stemmed the tide somewhat, but the Caps still picked up speed after the twin tallies. Just past the 10 minute mark of the third period, a slashing penalty to Sean Avery put the Caps on the PP and just as he returned to the ice, Marcus Johansson redirected a John Carlson slap shot to tie the score at 3 and effectively press the reset button on a wild and unpredictable game.
The beasts of the crease
While Ranger fans didn’t hesitate to pile on Neuvirth when the Rangers shots started sliding past him, but the rookie netminder was the only thing keeping the score even remotely close for the Caps. Even after the Rangers went up 3-0 following Dubinsky's quick strike, he stayed poised and left little loose change for the Rangers to pounce on.
Lundqvist meanwhile was equally stellar, flashing his leg pads and glove to foil the Caps' shooters 32 times on 35 shots through regulation and 17 more times in OT. There was no shortage of highlight-reel stops at either end of the ice Wednesday.
The Rangers may have had a chance to end it early, but a collision between Dubinsky and the officials near the Caps' blue line obstructed a potential 2-on-0 break for the Rangers. The next pivotal moment came at the 11-minute mark when Ovechkin broke in on a cold breakaway down the middle of the ice, only to be stymied by the glove of Lundqvist as the goalie slid to the left, shutting down the sniper's angle. With 5:16 remaining in overtime Derek Stepan sent a clearing attempt over the glass, giving the Caps a power play and earning himself a very nervous two minutes in the sin bin. The Ranger PK and Lundqvist pulled him through though.
Still working overtime
The Caps looked for a quick strike in the first two minutes of overtime No. 2, firing four quality shots against Lundqvist, but the Rangers' keeper turned them all away. The next burst belonged to the Blueshirts when a too-many-men-on-the-ice call set the Caps shorthanded at the 5:20 mark of the second overtime. The New York power play remained punchless however. Gaborik nearly sent the crowd home happy at the nine-minute mark, but Neuvirth just caught enough of the wrist shot with his catching glove to send the puck wide. It was the last chance the Rangers would get.
A miscommunication between Marian Gaborik and Lundqvist cost the Blueshirts dearly. As Lundqvist moved out from his crease to glove a loose puck dumped in by the Caps, Gaborik attempted to sweep the puck aside. As he did so, it ricocheted off the Caps' Jason Chimera, landing at his feet for an easy tap-in to give Washington the win.
After Wednesday's battle, both teams will embrace the extra off day before Game 5 on Saturday. It will take all the Rangers' mental toughness to bounce back from this one as they face elimination in D.C. If they don't prevail, the Garden will stay silent for the rest of the summer.