With questions of how the Washington Capitals would respond after a demoralizing triple overtime loss in Game 3 of their second round playoff series against the New York Rangers, D.C.’s much-lauded Young Guns stepped up to the plate and delivered a rousing 3-2 victory to even up the series at two games apiece and guarantee at least one more NHL game in Washington this postseason.
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green all scored for the Caps, while rookie star-in-the-making Braden Holtby turned away 18 of 20 Rangers shots for his sixth win of the playoffs.
Caps fans could be forgiven for flashing back to the vintage 2008-09 Capitals squad on Green’s power play game-winner with 5:48 left in the third. Green’s second goal of the playoffs was an absolute hammer from the right point, rocketing past Rags goalie Henrik Lundqvist before the All-Star goalie could react.
“I didn’t see the puck so I was pretty much just guessing where it was going,” said Lundqvist of both Green’s game-winner and Backstrom’s second period goal.
Backstrom in turn offered praise for Green’s pinpoint blast, noting: “Before he was injured a lot, we used to see that all the time. It’s great for him and it’s great to see him score a goal. It gives him confidence. Huge goal for us.”
Green’s strike was the third time the Caps took a one-goal lead over the visiting boys in blue. Ovechkin first pierced Lundqvist’s bubble with a long wrist shot from the blue line at the 7:17 mark of the opening frame, shortly after Holtby came up huge with a pair of stops from point blank range to keep the game scoreless early on in the first.
Midway through the second period Backstrom again put Washington back on top with a hard-hustling shift immediately after a successful penalty kill. Corralling the puck in the corner in New York’s end, Backstrom delivered a hefty counter-hit to Artem Anisimov and dished behind the net to Jason Chimera, then glided to the high slot and zipped Chimera’s return pass into the top left corner.
Beyond giving the Caps a 2-1 lead, Backstrom’s goal was sweet revenge against Anisimov, who knotted the game at 1-1 just 1:10 into the second stanza when he grabbed a deflection off Brooks Laich’s skate and deftly stepped around Holtby’s outstretched right leg to slide the puck into the open net.
Although Laich’s attempt to block Dan Girardi’s shot led to Anisimov’s goal, shot-blocking was a point of emphasis for the Caps. Coming into this series, New York and Washington were one and two in terms of blocks, and the Caps blocked more shots (26) than the Rangers had shots on net (20) on Saturday afternoon. Jeff Schultz alone blocked nine Rangers attempts, more than New York’s total of seven blocks on the day.
““Everybody has their roles and you’ve seen the guys blocking shots,” offered Caps head coach Dale Hunter by way of praise for Schultz and others. “The big guns scored some big goals and the foot soldiers blocked shots.”
Green’s late-game heroics were needed due to a botched play by defensive corps mates Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz late in the second. Off a defensive zone faceoff, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal’s long clear curved over Wideman’s hand and down behind Washington’s net. Initially the defensive zone linesman raised his hand for icing, causing Wideman to slow down and expect Schultz to touch the puck up, while Schultz saw that the up-ice linesman waved the icing off and subsequently turned to pick up Rangers forward Marian Gaborik coming into the zone.
By the time both Caps defenders realized that icing was being waved off each expected the other to race for the puck, leaving Anisimov free to get to it first and slide a quick pass out to Gaborik in the slot, who zipped the puck through Holtby’s leg pads in a mirror image of his Game 3 overtime winner.
History would not repeat itself in overtime this time though, as Green’s slapshot broke the late-game tie and turned this best-of-seven series into a best-of-three.
Steady defenseman Karl Alzner, who led all Washington players with 22:09 TOI, credited Washington’s mental fortitude in bouncing back from the error. He allowed that he and his teammates made a “couple of mistakes here and there, but this is an extremely tough team to play against. I think we’re pretty happy with the resilience we’ve been showing and how we can battle back.”
Capitals-Rangers Game 5 is scheduled for Monday night at 7:30 pm at Madison Square Garden. Although Saturday’s Caps win guaranteed a Game 6 in Washington on Wednesday night, the official time for that game has not been set yet.
-Matt Hendricks was perfect from the faceoff dot, winning all nine draws, all but one against Brad Richards.
-With Saturday’s start, Braden Holtby now has the most playoff starts of any goalie on Washington’s roster. Michal Neuvirth has nine starts, all last season, and Tomas Vokoun earned five starts in 2006-07 as a member of the Nashville Predators. Dany Sabourin appeared in relief in two games for the Vancouver Canucks, also in the 2006-07 season.
-Ovechkin may be facing supplemental discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for a second period hit on Girardi. Ovechkin was penalized two minutes for charging on the play, but appeared to leave his feet and Girardi’s head was the secondary point of contact.
*This story has been updated with post-game quotes.
Abram Fox is the Washington Capitals Page Editor for District Sports Page. He has been covering the Capitals from the press box since the 2007-08 season.