If you’re a fan of the Washington Capitals, you had to have figured it would come to this.
The New York Rangers — facing elimination in their own building — drew five power plays to the Caps none, their world class goalie played up to his legendary status, and one bad bounce — a deflection off his own defenseman — slipped past Braden Holtby, and the Caps fell to the Rangers 1-0, forcing an all-deciding Game 7 at Verizon Center Monday night at 8:00 pm.
Derick Brassard, a thorn in the Caps side all series long, was credited with the lone tally of the game — a slap shot from the high slot that deflected off Steve Oleksy’s glove at the top of the crease and caromed past Holtby midway through the second period.
The Capitals did not play particularly well for long stretches of this game, had trouble mounting a consistent offensive attack and, at times, had trouble getting out of their own end due to New York’s relentless forecheck.
But the story of this game, unfortunately, was the officiating. Referees Brad Watson and Marc Joannette called five penalties in the game before the final horn, and all five were against the Capitals. Two of the calls — against Jack Hillen and Mike Green — were for retaliation after a Rangers player instigated the rough play. Another — Eric Fehr’s elbowing call — seemed to actually come as a result of the Ranger player’s own gloved hand making contact with his face — if at all — after the two players collided shoulder-to-shoulder.
There have been two instances in this Stanley Cup Playoffs of the home team receiving all of the power play opportunities in the game. Watson and Joannette were the referees in both contests. That the Caps were ale to kill all five penalties is a testament to their renewed proficiency in the penalty kill — and the Rangers ineptness on their power play. New York is just 2-for-26 with a man advantage in the six games in this series alone. In contrast, the Caps have been successful on three of the 14 power play opportunities they’ve had in the series.
None of this should come to make light of the job Henrik Lundqvist — or Braden Holtby, for that matter — did between the pipes in Game 6. Both goalies were outstanding; Holtby early during the multiple power plays the Rangers had in the first period and Lundqvist particularly late, when the hard-charging Caps had the better of play 5-on-5, and then 6-on-5 in the last 80 seconds of the game when coach Adam Oates pulled Holtby for the extra skater.
It should also not be disregarded that the Capitals should have figured out a way to play physical without taking the retaliatory penalties. If the Caps fail to hold home ice advantage Monday night and lose this series, the biggest story from the Capitals side will have been their inability to stay out of the penalty box the entire series.
That being said, the Caps played a man down for long chunks of Game 6 and it disrupted their line combinations, offensive attack and game plan.
The Rangers were awarded their first power play at 10:01 of the first period. Replays showed Jack Hillen received a blatant and intentional “chicken wing” style elbow to the side of his head by Rangers’ captain Ryan Callahan. Hillen responded with a hard cross-check to Callahan’s chest and was whistled for roughing. The call itself is dubious, as NBC’s color analyst Pierre McGuire described it: “I’m not sure that’s a penalty. I think that’s more of a ‘Captain of the New York Rangers on home ice against a young man out of Colorado College in Jack Hillen’ and that’s one of those where the veteran got more of a break.”
NBC never showed the play that instigated Hillen to retaliate though. However, TSN’s coverage did pick up the elbow, and you can make up your own mind to the nature of it.
Six minutes later, the delay-of-game bug bit the Caps again, with this time normally reliable defenseman Karl Alzner guilty of the infraction. As the Caps were in the process of killing that penalty, Eric Fehr and Brassard came together in front of the Rangers bench. Both players braced for impact and they collided shoulder to shoulder. Fehr, the taller player, followed through and got the better of the impact, with Brassard flailing wildly to the ice. But upon closer inspection, it appears that Fehr’s elbow never did make contact with Brassard and if anything, Brassard’s own gloved hand nicked him as he reeled from the collision.
Regardless, the dramatic fall that Brassard took — along with the heavy hit Fehr doled out — resulted in a 5-on-3 situation (the third of the series, all favoring the Rangers) as the frame wound down, which the Caps killed off deftly.
The third period saw two more calls go the home team’s way. On the first, Joel Ward was called for cross-checking a Rangers back-checking forward into the Rangers goal. Both players had speed and Ward got a good piece of contact. Had the hit happened at open ice, I don’t think anyone would have thought about it, but the Rangers forward went careening into the goal, knocking it from its moorings. Again, the hit was shoulder-to-shoulder, but Ward got sent off for a cross-check.
The final infraction came against Mike Green for a cross-check. He earned it, going two-handed across Derek Dorsett’s mouth, drawing blood on his top and bottom of Dorsett’s mouth. But the play that precipitated the retaliation this time was Dorsett’s check on Green — a dangerous “slew-foot” type maneuver — that so incensed Green to go after Dorsett. After the game, several Capitals’ players talked about what they perceived as the dirty play by Dorsett, a lesser-skilled player on the ice primarily to instigate and “stir the pot.”
Via Capitals Insider: “The one that we all had a problem with, obviously, was the one on Greenie. That’s a play that should be reviewed,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “It’s only because Greenie’s world-class, one of the best skaters in the world, that he didn’t fall on his back there. It’s a dirty slew foot and we’re short-handed from it. That’s the only one I think any of us have a problem with.”
As a testament to the physical nature of play in the series, and the escalating ugliness throughout Game 6, after the final horn sounded all 11 skaters on the ice came together in the corner to the right of Lundqvist and engaged in some more extra-curricular activity, which ended up with Green on the ice prone, trying to protect his head. Both teams were assessed two roughing minors: John Carlson and Troy Brouwer for Washington, and Derek Stepan and Dan Girardi for New York.
All of this sets up what should be a tense, physical, dramatic Game 7 Monday night at Verizon Center at 8:00 pm. Neither team has a particularly good history in this situation. The Caps are 2-6 at home in Game 7s, the Rangers are 0-5 on road in Game 7s. One organization’s tortured fan base is going to be able to cling to a ridiculous “curse” after Monday night, but you can rest assured those numbers mean nothing to the players.