The Washington Capitals limited the New York Rangers to 14 shots on goal in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup second round matchup. On most nights, you’d be happy with that. Unfortunately, the Rangers managed to get three of those shots past goalie Braden Holtby and the Caps dropped Game 1 by a 3-1 count.
The game was even at one heading into the third period, as the teams traded goals in the first and second periods. The Rangers got up first, as Artem Anisimov abused Mike Green behind his own net, snuck out to the post and wrapped a shot that rode up Holtby’s stick and under his left arm into the goal. The Caps tied the game courtesy of Jason Chimera’s goal with four seconds remaining in the second period, off an outstanding saucer pass from Brooks Laich.
Seven minutes into the third, an ill-timed change by Green prompted a breakaway for the Rangers Chris Kreider, playing in his sixth NHL game, and Kreider was able to hold off Roman Hamrlik and beat Holtby with a medium-range slap shot. Any momentum the Caps had carried with the last-second goal in the second was immediately reversed in the Rangers favor.
Just 90 seconds later, a complete defensive breakdown led to a quality chance for Brad Richards, who walked in from the corner after a scrum and beat Holtby through the five hole from very close range, putting the Caps down by two for the first time in the 2012 playoffs and giving the Rangers the margin of victory.
This was the first game in this playoffs that Braden Holtby looked like a rookie. In reality, all three of the goals should have been stopped. On the first, he seemed lackadaisical on the low percentage wrap attempt and was careless letting the puck play him instead of the other way around. The second was a 40 foot snap shot that he came out to challenge but beat him glove side, again leaving too much net like the overtime winner in Game 1 of the Bruins series. The third, left out to dry by his defense, he left his five hole open when he should have challenged with his stick.
After the game, Holtby admitted that the lack of shots kept him from being focused and told reporters, “I didn’t bring my level up when I needed to and I’ll work on that for game two.”
But to fault Holtby solely is foolish. Though the Caps held New York to just 14 shots on goal (and another 33 blocked or missed), the defense was not as strong in this game as the previous series. Green, in particular, had a rough game, playing a big part of the first two goals. On the first, he failed to tie up the plodding Anisimov behind the net, then could not impede him from getting off a weak shot. On the second, Green went (slowly) for a change on a hard rebound with the play in front of him on his side of the ice.
As was the case against Boston, the defense did a good job blocking shots, knocking down 15 Rangers shots. But New York’s forecheck was strong and exposed the Caps blue line puck handling at times, which could be a growing concern moving forward in the series.
On offense, the Caps were plain unlucky, beating Henrik Lundqvist (17 saves) four times, only to be rebuffed by the post. But the Caps had a chance to really take hold of the game midway through the second period with 3:27 of power play — including 33 seconds on 5-on-3 — but were unable to dent Lundqvist. Washington ended play 0-for-4 on the power play with six shots on goal. Those wasted opportunities came back to bite the Caps later as the Rangers were able to solve Holtby in the third.
Despite the troubles, the Caps were not particularly outplayed by the Rangers. Their main offensive threat, Marian Gaborik, managed one shot on goal in 19:20. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh led the Rangers with four shots. But New York took advantage of the cracks in the Caps armor while Washington could not capitalize on their chances.
Game 2 looms Monday.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.