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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
For the third straight game, the Rangers held Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin without a goal. However, the Blueshirts could not replicate their success in winning the first two games of their Eastern Conference Quarters Finals series on the road, instead dropping Game 3 to the Capitals 4-0 on Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
“I thought the key to the game was that they defended very well in front of their net and we were chasing our tail all night long,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “To create offense, you have to be sound defensively. And we weren’t even close. It was just a good old-fashioned spanking tonight.”
The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series 2-1. Game 4 will played at The Garden on Wednesday night.
“They did a great job and responded,” alternate captain Scott Gomez said of the Capitals. “Now it’s our turn to respond.”
Alexander Semin recorded three points for the Caps, scoring the first two goals of the game before later assisting on a Brooks Laich score. Though held without a goal, Ovechkin did assist on both of Semin’s tallies. Nicklas Backstrom contributed three assists for Washington.
Rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, 20, was composed and solid between the pipes for the Capitals. Making his second straight start in the series, Varlamov stopped all 33 shots he faced to record his first NHL shutout.
Varlamov made 12 saves in the third period to preserve the shutout, including difficult ones early and late in the period on Markus Naslund.
“He’s playing well, but I think we can still put more pressure on him and create more scoring chances,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of Varlamov. “He’s been solid.”
Lundqvist, meanwhile, tuned in a third straight strong performance in goal for the Rangers, finishing with 36 saves.
The Rangers hit the ice to a thunderous ovation from the appreciative Garden Faithful, and John Amirante had segments of his National Anthem drowned out by the crowd’s deafening roar. But it was Washington which seemed more energized by the great atmosphere at MSG during the first period.
“You have to be able to use the energy in the building to your advantage, and we didn’t do that,” said Naslund.
It took only 6:57 for the Capitals to grab a 1-0 lead when Semin converted a perfect cross-crease pass from Backstrom. For Semin it was a moment of retribution because 15 seconds earlier he had slid a shot behind an out-of-position Lundqvist, but just wide of the net.
At the time of Semin’s goal, the Caps held a 7-2 advantage in shots on goal, just one indication of how much they were outworking the Rangers. Washington seemed to be winning the majority of the battles for loose pucks, and the Rangers at times appeared to be a step behind their opponents.
That trend continued after Semin opened the scoring. Only some strong play from Lundqvist, which included a sharp pad save on Ovechkin’s snap shot from between the circles at 9:30, seemed to slow down the Capitals.
“I don’t think it was so much them as it was us just standing around and letting them cycle around us,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “I think we were hesitant to play the type of D-zone coverage that was needed in order to win.”
The Rangers came tantalizingly close to tying the score at the 11:25 mark of the first, but Ryan Callahan hit the post on a rebound attempt of Chris Drury’s weaving backhand shot that pulled Varlamov out of position.
To make matters worse for the Blueshirts, the Caps quickly shifted into transition after Callahan’s near-goal, and Semin finished off a slick passing sequence from Ovechkin and Backstrom to score his second goal of the game, and third of the series, at 11:36 to give Washington a 2-0 lead.
“It was a definite change in the momentum,” said Callahan. “Obviously we could have had a 1-1 tie and a few seconds later it’s 2-0. But at the same time the game’s not over in the first period. We’ve got to keep going there.”
Following Semin’s slam-dunk score, the Rangers finally began to win some of the turf war from Washington. Late in the period, the Rangers pinned the Caps deep in their own zone due to a ferocious forecheck. And on the last of those three shifts, Nikolai Zherdev drew a holding penalty on Washington’s David Steckel with 1:30 left to play in the first, handing the Blueshirts their second power play of the period.
Though the Rangers had several good scoring chances on the power play -- including a Derek Morris blast through traffic and a pair of Nik Antropov wrist shots from the right circle -- they could not get one past Varlamov, and exited the ice after 20 minutes trailing 2-0.
“Sometimes you can make the puck bounce your way with hard work,” said Drury, who again played, but was slowed by an unspecified injury. “We need to play harder.”
The pace, and intensity, of the game picked up in the second period, but again the Rangers were held off the scoreboard by Varlamov. And the Capitals scored the only goal in the middle stanza to grab a 3-0 lead.
Once again Semin had a hand in the goal, this time earning the primary assist on Laich’s power play goal at 11:29. Semin jammed a shot from in-tight off Lundqvist’s pad, and Laich -- positioned to the side of the net -- was able to hammer his second whack at the puck into the back of the net for his first post-season goal.
Laich’s score came during one of four Washington power plays in the second period. Three of the penalties were called against Sean Avery, though the fans and Avery clearly believed that he was treated unjustly on at least two of those calls.
“It was like the first game with a parade to the box,” said Staal. “I don’t know if that’s from desperation trying to get the lead back or what, but we definitely have to stay out of the box.”
Nonetheless the Rangers did have their chances to break through on the scoreboard, but Varlamov was exceptionally sharp between the pipes. The rookie netminder robbed Staal with a great glove save on a wide-open shorthanded slap shot off a Blair Betts feed at 4:23. And at 15:53 he stared down Zherdev after the Rangers’ winger got in behind Washington’s defense and snapped a 10-foot shot on goal.
As good as Varlamov was in stopping all 21 shots he faced through two periods of play, the best save of the game was made by Lundqvist 7:37 into the middle period. Lundqvist made a sensational sprawling kick save to rob Tomas Fleischmann after the Caps wing broke in alone and made several dekes before firing on goal.
The two goalies were not the only players on the ice making big-time defensive plays. Staal saved a goal after Lundqvist made two big stops five minutes into the second by sweeping a rolling puck out of the crease after it slipped behind the Rangers’ goalie. And Ovechkin raced back to deny Lauri Korpikoski’s shorthanded breakaway by diving to swat the puck off the rookie’s stick before he could take a shot on Varlamov 14:30 into the middle stanza.
Former Rangers defenseman Tom Poti closed out the scoring by notching a power-play goal with 1:25 remaining in the third period.
“We need to take our medicine here, and get back to work and figure some things out,” said Tortorella.
|Alexander Semin (2) ASST: Nicklas Backstrom (2), Alex Ovechkin (3)|
1 - 0 WSH
|Alexander Semin (3) ASST: Alex Ovechkin (4), Nicklas Backstrom (3)|
2 - 0 WSH
|PPG - Brooks Laich (1) ASST: Alexander Semin (1), Sergei Fedorov (1)|
3 - 0 WSH
|PPG - Tom Poti (1) ASST: Nicklas Backstrom (4), Brian Pothier (1)|
4 - 0 WSH
|Donald Brashear Roughing against Colton Orr|
|Colton Orr Roughing against Donald Brashear|
|Brooks Laich Hi-sticking against Dan Girardi|
|David Steckel Holding against Nikolay Zherdev|
|Markus Naslund Holding against Boyd Gordon|
|Sean Avery Roughing against John Erskine|
|Milan Jurcina Slashing against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Sean Avery Hi-sticking against Tom Poti|
|Sergei Fedorov Hooking against Ryan Callahan|
|Chris Drury Hooking against Brooks Laich|
|Ryan Callahan Hi-sticking against Tomas Fleischmann|
|Sean Avery Interference on goalkeeper against Semyon Varlamov|
|Brian Pothier Slashing against Markus Naslund|
|Viktor Kozlov Holding against Lauri Korpikoski|
|Sean Avery Roughing against Semyon Varlamov|
|Sean Avery Misconduct (10 min)|
|SA: 33||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 33||EV: 24 - 24|
|PIM: 0||PP: 8 - 8|
|SV%: 1.000||SH: 1 - 1|
|SA: 40||TOI: 59:52|
|Saves: 36||EV: 24 - 26|
|PIM: 0||PP: 11 - 13|
|SV%: .900||SH: 1 - 1|