|NYR||0||0||0||(null - null)||4|
|WSH||0||0||0||(null - null)||3|
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Playing without their injured captain Chris Drury, the Rangers showed tremendous resolve and were able to grab Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series by defeating the Washington Capitals 4-3 on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.
With the win, the Rangers stole home-ice advantage from the Capitals in their best-of-seven series. A nationally-televised Game 2 is set for Saturday afternoon in Washington.
“We were confident coming in here,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “There really wasn’t any pressure on us coming in here and playing on the road. We’re the underdog, so it’s a good win for us.”
Scott Gomez recorded a three-point game, scoring a goal and adding two assists, to lead the Rangers. Markus Naslund and Nik Antropov each scored a goal and had an assist, while Brandon Dubinsky scored the game-winning goal late in the third period.
“There were ups and downs throughout the game by both teams, and then Dubinsky makes a big play at a key time and scores the winner,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “So, yeah, we feel good about it, but we also know we are in for a series.”
Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding in goal for the Rangers, stopping 32 of 35 shots. Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin fired 13 of those shots on goal, but he did not record a goal, though he did have a pair of helpers.
“We didn’t play great, but we battled hard,” Lundqvist said. “They have a lot of great players over there. But we did a pretty good job keeping (Ovechkin) in check.”
Dubinsky snapped a 3-3 tie with 8:17 remaining in the third period, whistling a wicked wrist shot short side past the glove of Washington goalie Jose Theodore. Just out of the penalty box after a successful kill by the Rangers, Naslund made up for his penalty by making a quick pass to spring Dubinsky on left wing. Dubinsky turned defenseman Jeff Schultz inside out with a nifty stick handling move, and when Schultz fell down, he had a clear path to the net. And Dubinsky did not make a mistake with his perfect shot.
“Schultz is a great defenseman, and I was lucky enough to find a way to find a hole there between his legs and get by him,” explained Dubinsky. “Then I just wanted to get a good shot, and fortunately for us it went in.”
Well known for his clutch big-game play, Drury had to be proud of how his teammates turned in one clutch moment after another to secure the Game 1 victory. Drury had tried to play on Wednesday, but after a few twirls during pre-game warm ups, he decided that he would not be able to due to an unspecified injury.
In his stead, the likes of Dubinsky, Gomez, Antropov, Ryan Callahan (team-high seven hits), and Blair Betts were among those who put forth huge efforts in the victory. In addition, veteran defensemen Michal Rozsival (28:15) and Wade Redden (27:35) logged the most ice time for the visitors, and both had strong games.
The Rangers had surrendered a power play goal to Alexander Semin just 1:42 into the third period which tied the game 3-3. Lundqvist had made a huge point-blank save on Brooks Laich, but the puck rebounded to an open Semin on right wing, and the he hammered into the back of the net to pull the Capitals even.
“That’s what the playoffs are about, there are going to be ups and downs,” noted Callahan. “I think that the teams that win are the teams that stay level, don’t get too high and don’t get too low. And I think we did that tonight.”
Washington was given a chance to snap the tie when granted another power play at 9:32 on Naslund’s holding penalty. However, some big plays by Betts, Callahan, and Fredrik Sjostrom helped kill the penalty, and set the stage for Dubinsky’s go-ahead goal.
The league’s top penalty-killing unit was called upon for another important kill with 5:18 left in the third when Naslund was again penalized, this time for slashing. And once again, Betts -- who blocked two more shots during the kill -- led the way in denying the Capitals. The power play came to a close with Lundqvist making a solid save on Mike Green’s right-wing blast.
After a scoreless first period, the Rangers and Caps combined to explode for five goals in the middle 20 minutes, with the Rangers able to secure a 3-2 lead.
Ovechkin, who had 10 shots on goal over the first two periods, assisted on the first goal of the series at 6:40 of the second. With Naslund in the penalty box for tripping Ovechkin, the Capitals took advantage when Ovechkin sent a quick shot from straightaway that was tipped past Lundqvist by Tomas Fleischmann.
Although beaten on that shot, Lundqvist responded moments later to make a sensational skate save while in a full stretch to deny Washington’s David Steckel. That save was important to the Rangers because it kept their deficit at one, plus it set the stage for the tying goal 30 seconds later.
Gomez swooped in to collect a loose puck in front of his own net and proceeded to speed the other way on left wing. When he reached the Capitals blueline, Gomez avoided Green, who fell to the ice after colliding with Sean Avery. That allowed Gomez to break in on Theodore and beat the Caps goalie between the pads at 7:49, tying the game 1-1.
With the Verizon Center crowd quieted, the Rangers came within inches of taking their first lead of the series, but Callahan’s shot hit the post less than a minute after Gomez’s score. It was the second time already in the contest that Callahan had hit the post with a shot.
Undaunted, the Capitals increased the pressure in the Rangers’ zone and forced Lundqvist into making three spectacular saves over a three minute stretch midway through the period. First it was a left pad save on Ovechkin’s quick left wing wrist shot off a pretty Nicklas Backstrom feed at 9:50. Then it was another great left pad stop on Semin’s wicked power-play wrister from between the circles at 12:13. And then finally Lundqvist stoned Backstrom with another left pad stop during a Caps power play at 12:33.
Buoyed by their franchise goalie, the Rangers went about taking the lead later on in the second. Skating on the power play, the Rangers took a 2-1 lead at 16:49 when Antropov wired a wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle over the right shoulder of Theodore and just under the crossbar. Gomez picked up his second point of the night, earning the primary assist on Antropov’s goal.
Avery was not on the ice, and he did not earn a point on Antropov’s score, but he still played a major role in it. Avery, who had a game-long battle with Washington defenseman John Erskine, drew a high-sticking penalty on Erskine, setting up the successful power play.
The Rangers notched another power-play goal at 18:28 of the second to grab a two-goal advantage, and, again, Gomez was in the middle of the scoring play. This time Gomez made a neat drop pass to Naslund in the Capitals zone, and the veteran winger sent a laser over the left shoulder of Theodore to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead.
Had the Rangers been able to carry that two-goal bulge into the third period, perhaps they would have had an easier time of it in the final stanza. But with 48.9 seconds left in the middle period, Viktor Kozlov got behind Staal to convert a centering pass from Backstrom and the Rangers’ lead was down to 3-2.
The Rangers escaped the first period in a scoreless tie, despite being outshot by the Caps 14-4. Considering the big shot differential, the fact that they had to kill off a Caps power play only 18 seconds into the game, and the raucous sea of red atmosphere inside the Verizon Center, the Rangers had to feel pretty good about being even on the scoreboard after the first 20 minutes.
“The first playoff game, in an away building, I thought we were a nervous club,” said Tortorella. “But I thought we rebounded really well in the second period. We found a way to get our legs underneath us.”
Ovechkin clearly sought to put his stamp on the series right from the first drop of the puck. He bolted out of the starting gates by firing six shots on goal in the first period and by delivering six hits.
“A guy like that, you just have got to try and contain him,” Callahan said of Ovechkin. “He had a lot of shots and a lot of hits, but Hank played a big part in stopping him.”
Fortunately for the Rangers, Lundqvist was equally as motivated about staking his claim to this series and he, too, played a huge first period, stopping all 14 shots he faced. Right from the start, when he had to make three difficult saves during the Caps first power play after Dan Girardi was whistled for holding Sergei Fedorov, Lundqvist showed he was on top of his game.
Lundqvist’s biggest stop in the opening stanza came at the 15:20 mark when he made a blocker save on a rising Ovechkin shot from left wing after Washington’s superstar had danced around Rozsival to find a clear path to Lundqvist’s cage. Three minutes earlier, Lundqvist had also made a lunging save with his right pad on Fedorov’s sneaky right wing shot.
Though limited to only four shots on goal in the opening period, which was played mainly in their end of the ice, the Rangers did come close to scoring against Theodore at 14:24 of the first when Callahan rang a left –shot -- following a pretty drop pass by Sjostrom -- off the far post.
Later in the contest, Sjostrom had a scary moment when he was drilled into the boards in the offensive zone on a fierce second-period check thrown by Green. Sjostrom crumpled to the ice and had to be attended to by the training staff before finally heading back to the bench, flexing his jaw which took the brunt of the hit.
Sjostrom’s return from Green’s monster hit was symbolic of the Rangers’ effort all night long. The Rangers took their fair share of blows, and got knocked back a few times, but in the end they fought back and delivered the decisive blow in their favor.
|PPG - Tomas Fleischmann (1) ASST: Alex Ovechkin (1), Mike Green (1)|
1 - 0 WSH
|Scott Gomez (1) ASST: NONE|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Nik Antropov (1) ASST: Scott Gomez (1), Paul Mara (1)|
2 - 1 NYR
|PPG - Markus Naslund (1) ASST: Scott Gomez (2), Wade Redden (1)|
3 - 1 NYR
|Viktor Kozlov (1) ASST: Nicklas Backstrom (1), John Erskine (1)|
3 - 2 NYR
|PPG - Alexander Semin (1) ASST: Alex Ovechkin (2), Mike Green (2)|
3 - 3 Tie
|Brandon Dubinsky (1) ASST: Markus Naslund (1), Nik Antropov (1)|
4 - 3 NYR
|Dan Girardi Holding against Sergei Fedorov|
|Sean Avery Holding against John Erskine|
|Mike Green Delaying Game - Puck over glass|
|Boyd Gordon Hooking against Sean Avery|
|Markus Naslund Tripping against Alex Ovechkin|
|Aaron Voros Interference against Boyd Gordon|
|John Erskine Hi-sticking against Sean Avery|
|Sergei Fedorov Delaying Game - Puck over glass|
|Dan Girardi Tripping against Alex Ovechkin|
|Markus Naslund Holding against Mike Green|
|Markus Naslund Slashing against Alex Ovechkin|
|SA: 35||TOI: 59:54|
|Saves: 32||EV: 23 - 24|
|PIM: 0||PP: 9 - 11|
|SV%: .914||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 21||TOI: 58:58|
|Saves: 17||EV: 13 - 15|
|PIM: 0||PP: 3 - 5|
|SV%: .810||SH: 1 - 1|