September 16, 2019

Washington Capitals Second Round Game 6 Recap: Late rally not enough as Rangers force Game 7 with 4-3 win

Down 4-1 in the third period, the Washington Capitals nearly dug themselves out of a deep hole. With nine minutes and change left, they pulled back within one goal of the New York Rangers but a late power play was squandered and the Caps could not find the equalizer. In falling to the Rangers 4-3, the Caps are forced into playing their second Game 7 in as many series this postseason Wednesday night back at Madison Square Garden.

Faced with elimination for the second game in a row, the Rangers proved to be the more desperate team Sunday night — at least for the first 20 minutes of the game and first five minutes of the third period.

The atmosphere before the faceoff resembled a rock concert, with over 18,000 red-clad supporters screaming “Let’s Go Caps!” at the top of their lungs. For a few moments, they urged their team on to victory like head coach Barry Trotz has implored them to do for three weeks.

By the time 20 minutes had come and gone, Verizon Center was as lifeless as the team it hosts, as the Rangers scored two early deflating goals — one 40 seconds into the period and the second with 0.3 seconds remaining.

Chris Kreider scored the two dagger-like goals at highly inopportune moments for the Capitals, who had hoped to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 1998. Just 40 seconds in, Kreider got behind the Washington defense and turned Washington netminder Braden Holtby inside-out. Kreider then beat the first-period buzzer later on with Holtby helpless on the ice to take all the air out of the arena.

“I think we started well but they make a pretty good play in the blue line, and Kreider have full speed … nobody say it’s going to be easy, and it’s going to be a Game 7, so we have to regroup our mind and win there,” Alex Ovechkin said.

Jason Chimera scored the Caps’ first goal after Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist got in the way of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s deflection of a Joel Ward shot, but Chimera got a stick on it and poked it past the longtime Washington nemesis to temporarily bring some life to 7th & F.

Rick Nash and Dan Boyle made it 3-1 and 4-1, respectively, in the opening stages of the third. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward gave the Washington fans in attendance a good glimmer of hope with 9:27 remaining. Washington was gifted a late power play with 2:14 left, when James Sheppard attempted to play the puck off the glass, but it went sailing out of play. Although it deflected off the glass, the officials deemed it went into the crowd undisturbed. Even with that man-advantage strengthened when Holtby was pulled for an extra attacker, the Capitals mustered just one shot on net.

Overall, the power play went an anemic 0 for 4 with five shots. Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green have all been held without a point over the last four games of the series.

In a dressing room afterward that shared the volume of a university library during syllabus week and carried the vibe of a hospital waiting room, Capitals blueliner Brooks Orpik wore the expression of a man in a familiar yet highly uncomfortable situation while speaking with reporters.

As a member of the Penguins last year, his team was up 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinal over these same Rangers, and wound up losing the last three games of the series while New York went to the Eastern Conference Final and eventually the Stanley Cup Final. Staring off into the distance at nothing in particular, he had high praise for the Rangers, holders of the league’s best regular season record.

“Obviously dug ourselves a pretty big hole there, going down 4-1 … that’s the best team in the league, so I don’t think anybody’s shocked [we went down 4-1],” he said. “Took us the third period of Game 7 to beat the Islanders. All due respect to them, this is a better team than the Islanders, now we’re going to Game 7.”

Character was a main theme of a number of interview in the respective post-mortems of players and coaches that spoke, specifically, the character of a team that has yet again managed to allow a seventh and decisive game in a series that they once led by two games. Even Caps fan Larry King weighed in on Twitter.

“We almost tied the game and the character of this group, it shows a lot. We’re going to come back and win the series,” Ovechkin said.

Trotz also reaffirmed his faith in his men, saying that they “showed a lot of resiliency to fight back … This team has a lot of character. They don’t want to be separated. They want to keep playing together.”

The character of the organization will be put to test on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in the world’s most famous arena. Four times before (1987, 1992, 1995, 2010), the Capitals have led a series 3-1 before eventually dropping three straight. Never before have they won a Game 7 after losing a 3-1 series lead. Nine total times (thrice in the Rock the Red era), they’ve lost a series after leading it by two games.

Trotz, Ovechkin, Backstrom, Brooks Laich and Mike Green have never gone to a conference final. When I asked Ovechkin what it will take to leave Manhattan later this week with that elusive victory in hand, he simply said, “Play our best. Do everything – we’re going to [win].”

If they don’t, their branding as “choking dogs” that goes back two decades will be more profound and worn brighter than ever.

About Eric Hobeck

Eric Hobeck is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Redskins and Capitals. Eric contributes to high school sports coverage at InsideNova.com. He served as sports editor of The Rotunda at Longwood University for two years, where he was also the men’s basketball beat writer. He hosted a campus radio show for three years and called basketball and baseball games for the station’s award-winning sports team. You can follow Eric on Twitter @eric_hobeck.

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