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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Henrik Lundqvist yet again was the difference-maker as he stopped all 35 shots he faced, leading the Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon at the Verizon Center.
The Rangers will bring a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series home to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Monday night. It is the third straight year that the Rangers have started the first round of the playoffs by winning the first two games on the road.
Ryan Callahan scored the game’s only goal early in the first period; and he played a second straight dynamic game for the Rangers.
“We’re backboned by our goalie, and he’s going to have to continue to be our backbone,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “But I just like the way we fight right now. We just need to continue to find a way.”
Lundqvist, who was particularly sharp in the opening period, made several huge saves to preserve the one-goal lead in the third period, including a sensational save off the side of his mask after Nicklas Backstrom had broken in behind the Rangers’ defense with four minutes to play. Lundqvist stopped all 16 shots he faced as the Capitals pressed to try and tie the game in the third period, and finished with his third career post-season shutout.
“That was an intense game, and it was fun,” said Lundqvist. “It was a big battle from the first drop. We did a great job, and we did enough. Not more, not less. We just did enough to win this game. That’s the only thing that matters right now.”
The Rangers’ franchise goalie had quite a bit of help from his teammates on Saturday, including monster efforts again from the defense pairing of Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival. In addition, the Rangers blocked 29 shots in the contest, with Derek Morris, Blair Betts, and Dan Girardi all blocking four apiece.
“It’s huge to have guys sacrificing their bodies, and in the playoffs you need that,” said Lundqvist. “It’s huge for us to have guys step up like that.”
For the second straight game in this series, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin was held without a goal, after potting 56 in the regular season. Ovechkin did lead all players, though, with six shots on goal.
The Rangers had survived a chaotic sequence with seven minutes remaining. Clinging to their one-goal lead, the Caps swarmed the Rangers’ zone after Lundqvist lost his stick and Morris was hobbled after blocking an Ovechkin blast off the leg.
Although scrambling, the Rangers held the Capitals off the scoreboard, with Lundqvist freezing the puck after making a strong glove save on Shaone Morrison’s slap shot through a screen in front.
Another bullet was dodged with six minutes left when Ovechkin nearly tied the game following a turnover by the Rangers, but his blast hit the crossbar and caromed up into the protective netting above the glass.
“The D played great, and Hank played great, but to beat that team, you’ve got to get a little bit of luck, too,” said alternate captain Scott Gomez. “To come out of here 1-0, that’s not going to happen much, but we’ll take it.”
Rangers’ captain Chris Drury returned to the lineup after sitting out Game 1 with an undisclosed injury. Though he did not generate much offensively, Drury was a force defensively and on the penalty kill, adding three blocked shots to his contributions in 15:25 worth of ice-time.
In addition, likely with a nod to his injury, Drury only took two faceoffs, deferring to Betts on a regular basis.
Callahan’s goal came 7:44 into the game on a well-executed transition after the Rangers stymied a 4-on-2 Caps rush with a turnover at the Rangers’ blueline. Brandon Dubinsky quickly started the transition with a head-man feed to Markus Naslund on left wing, creating a 2-on-1 the other way. Naslund made a pretty pass to Callahan, who rifled his first playoff goal past Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead.
“With him, it’s not just the goal, it’s the other little things he’s doing,” Tortorella said of Callahan. “He’s an important guy for us at such a young age. This is a great building block as he continues to play in the playoffs.”
It was not how Varlamov, nor Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau, hoped the game would start for the young netminder. Callahan’s goal, though certainly not the fault of Varlamov, came on only the second shot the rookie faced.
Boudreau decided to make a change between the pipes after veteran Jose Theodore allowed four goals on 21 shots in Game 1. The 20-year-old Varlamov came into play with only six games of NHL experience, but played very well in his postseason debut, finishing with 23 saves.
To Varlamov’s credit, he was sharp when needed after surrendering the goal to Callahan. He made an excellent pad save on Nik Antropov’s power play redirection from the low slot nine minutes into the first, and early in the second he calmly made a pair of tough saves during a scrum in his crease.
Lundqvist, meanwhile, stopped all 19 Washington shots through 40 minutes of play, including 13 in a first period in which the Caps had the better of the territorial play. In one scintillating sequence at 11:20 of the first period, Lundqvist first denied Ovechkin after a gorgeous toe-drag move sprung the Caps superstar around Rozsival, and then robbed Viktor Kozlov from point-blank range on the ensuing rebound.
Later in the first, Lundqvist made an excellent, lunging save with his left pad on an Alexander Semin blast.
“He’s been great obviously,” Drury said of Lundqvist. “I mean, what can you say about him? He stands right in there, takes everything they have. He’s been really good.”
During the middle stanza, the Rangers turned in a great defensive period, surrendering only six shots on goal, while controlling the neutral zone, and denying shooting and passing lanes in their defensive zone. Through two periods of play, the Rangers had been credited with 16 blocked shots, with Girardi leading the way with three.
“You just try and do what whatever you can,” said Redden. “It’s such a huge part, not letting the puck get to our net. I think everyone is doing such a great job of sacrificing and trying to get in the way of pucks and not letting them get to Hank as much as we can.”
With less than a minute to play in the second, Fredrik Sjostrom threw his body in the way of an Ovechkin power play blast, and came up limping after the block. It was just yet another example of how the Rangers were willing to sell out defensively in front of their goaltender, and their commitment to trying to win this all-important Game 2.
Both teams played very physically, though in a clean, and non-chippy, manner. Callahan and Sean Avery were consistent pests for the Rangers, with Callahan’s textbook hip check that upended Morrisonn in the game’s second minute setting the tone for Saturday’s contest.
Even Naslund, who is not known for his physical game, joined the hit parade when he leveled Caps defenseman Mike Green to the ice seven minutes into the match.
“We still have a long way to go,” said Naslund. “Yeah, we’ve won the first two, but it’s going to be a tough series and they’re going to come back hard. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
|Ryan Callahan (1) ASST: Markus Naslund (2), Brandon Dubinsky (1)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Alexander Semin Hooking against Scott Gomez|
|Viktor Kozlov Cross checking against Dan Girardi|
|Viktor Kozlov Hooking against Fredrik Sjostrom|
|Mike Green Hooking against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Michal Rozsival Hooking against Alex Ovechkin|
|Nik Antropov Tripping against Michael Nylander|
|Scott Gomez Tripping against Alexander Semin|
|Alexander Semin Roughing against Ryan Callahan|
|SA: 35||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 35||EV: 27 - 27|
|PIM: 0||PP: 6 - 6|
|SV%: 1.000||SH: 2 - 2|
|SA: 24||TOI: 59:09|
|Saves: 23||EV: 16 - 17|
|PIM: 0||PP: 6 - 6|
|SV%: .958||SH: 1 - 1|