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• RANGERS GAME CENTER
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Henrik Lundqvist turned in a spectacular performance in the biggest game of the season so far, as the Rangers held off the Washington Capitals 2-1 to win Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarters Finals on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers now lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and can wrap it up and advance to the second round with a victory in Game 5 on Friday evening in Washington.
“We fought and we scrambled at times, and Hank had to make some great saves,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “It’s just a matter of finding a way to get the win. It took us the whole 60 minutes to get the win, but it is a win. So we’ll move on and continue to try and improve because we’re going to have to improve.”
Lundqvist stopped 38 of 39 shots against the desperate Capitals. He faced 30 shots over the final two periods, allowing only one score in that span.
“I don’t think there are enough words in the dictionary to describe what Hank means to this team and how he has been playing,” said defenseman Paul Mara, who scored the first goal of the game. “He’s amazing. He’s our heartbeat. He gives everyone playing in front of him confidence. We love him. He’s awesome. He’s The King!”
The Rangers’ penalty killers were again brilliant, posting a perfect 6-for-6 outing, which included two hugely important kills in the final period.
Lundqvist had stopped the first 28 shots he faced in the contest, as the Rangers carried a 2-0 lead into the third period. But Ovechkin finally scored his first goal of the playoffs just 2:13 into the third, and the Capitals were right back in the game.
Ovechkin’s goal -- a wicked tracer of a snap shot from left wing, which went around defenseman Derek Morris and sailed past the glove of Lundqvist -- was about as unstoppable of a shot as one player could take. And it set up a wild and intense final period of play.
“It’s funny, after the goal you could tell his shot was a little harder, maybe because he got a little confidence,” said Lundqvist.
After both teams traded scoring chances and big body checks following Ovechkin’s goal, the Rangers’ Sean Avery was whistled for a roughing penalty, sending the Caps to the power play with 9:30 remaining in the third.
Though Washington kept the puck in the Rangers zone the entire two minutes, they were unable to score against an exhausted group of Rangers’ penalty killers. However, the Caps did come oh-so-close to tying the game during the power play when Ovechkin’s bomb from the left circle slammed against the post to Lundqvist’s left.
Several minutes later, after Washington had killed off a penalty of their own to Alexander Semin, Ovechkin fired another wicked snap shot from left wing that seemed targeted for the far corner, but instead was snatched out of the air by the glove of Lundqvist as the Rangers’ goalie was falling to the ice.
Ovechkin finished the contest with 11 shots on goal -- recording four in the third period -- while playing a game-high 28:47.
“There are a select number of guys that can do what he does,” said defenseman Wade Redden. “He can hurt you in a lot of different ways. You just have to be aware of him every time he is on the ice.”
Another penalty called against Avery -- this one for high-sticking Brian Pothier with 3:06 remaining -- provided another prime opportunity for the Caps, and more anxious moments for the Rangers. But again the Rangers -- buoyed by huge defensive plays by Blair Betts, Brandon Dubinsky, and a shorthanded break by Fredrik Sjostrom, as well as two huge saves by Lundqvist -- survived.
After killing the penalty, and with Caps goalie Simeon Varlamov pulled for an extra attacker, Lundqvist made two more saves before Dubinsky was able to clear the puck twice out of the Rangers’ zone. At the final buzzer, Lundqvist bent forward and shouted for joy, and The Garden erupted into a deafening standing ovation.
“I think it’s very important that you don’t find any excuse for not being as good as you can,” said Lundqvist. “You’re tired, and tense with a lot of pressure. Sometimes you feel like you want to take the easy way out, but instead you battle. I think that was important for the whole team tonight.”
In a 180-degree turnaround from Monday’s Game 3, the Rangers attacked the Capitals right from the start on Wednesday, controlling the puck for long stretches during the first period, and winning one battle after another. And they were rewarded for their efforts when Mara opened the scoring at 13:55 of the opening period.
Dubinsky won an offensive zone faceoff from Brooks Laich to start the scoring play. The puck came back to Mara at the left point, and Mara’s ensuing shot went through a maze of legs before it caromed off the skate of Washington defenseman John Erskine and past a surprised Varlamov to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 lead.
The goal snapped Varlamov’s shutout string at 126:11 since Ryan Callahan beat him early in the first period of Game 2 in Washington.
Though Sergei Fedorov of the Caps would hit the crossbar at 16:20 of the opening stanza, and Washington would outshoot the Rangers 19-5 in the second period, it was the home team that scored the all-important next goal, and it would come from a very inspirational source.
Rangers captain Chris Drury, who did not play in the series opener and was severely hampered in the next two games due to an unspecified injury, set forth a thunderous roar from The Garden Faithful when he scored his first goal of the playoffs just 2:23 into the middle stanza. Drury set the scoring play in motion by sending a soft shot from left wing on goal which bounced in and out of Varlamov’s catching glove. Lauri Korpikoski chipped at the rebound before Drury swooped in and roofed the loose puck into the cage to put the Rangers up 2-0.
“It certainly felt good to chip in,” said an understated Drury.
Drury’s effort, not to mention his important score, was tremendously inspiring to his teammates, and was fitting for the man who wears the captain’s “C” on his sweater.
“He’s an easy guy to pull for and such an important guy in the locker room,” Tortorella said of Drury. “I thought he did some good things for us, and, obviously, scores the winning goal. I think it was very important for our team to see Chris do something like that and allow us to band together with him.”
Equally as inspiring, not to mention breathtaking, was the play of Lundqvist in goal for the Rangers. He made on sensational stop after another, and had denied all 28 shots the Caps sent his way over the first 40 minutes of play.
During Washington’s first power play of the night, midway through the first period, Lundqvist made three strong saves in succession on Ovechkin. The first came on Ovechkin’s left-wing blast, and the following two on rebounds with Lundqvist still strong despite being down on the ice.
With the Blueshirts holding a slim 1-0 lead early in the second, Lundqvist made a quick left arm save on Semin at the 1:03 mark, and 16 seconds later he denied Nicklas Backstrom on a 2-on-0 down low.
Then at 8:14, with the Rangers’ lead now standing at two goals, Lundqvist made a lightning quick glove save to rob Semin’s rising slap shot from right wing. Five minutes later, Lundqvist drew another standing ovation when he robbed both Laich and Tomas Fleischmann during a wild scramble in front of the Rangers’ net.
While Lundqvist was the main reason the Rangers held a 2-0 lead after two periods, it certainly did not hurt that the Rangers had their best start of any of the games, so far, in this series. The tone was set when all four lines pinned the Capitals deep in their end of the ice on the opening four shifts of the contest.
Dubinsky on the opening shift, Callahan on the second, Nik Antropov and Korpikoski on the third, and Betts and Colton Orr on the fourth shift all won battles with heavy hits in the offensive zone. And Callahan nearly scored just 1:17 into the game when he split between Ovechkin and Shaone Morrisonn and fired a wrist shot on goal that forced Varlamov into making a solid pad save.
“We came out of the gates really hard and established some momentum right away, which was huge for us,” explained Redden
However, Washington was a more desperate team in the middle stanza, and only Lundqvist’s brilliance kept them off the board as the momentum of the game continued to swing back and forth as the game wore on.
In the end, however, the Rangers held on to earn an extremely hard-fought victory. And now the club is one win shy of advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the third season in a row.
The Rangers, who have never lost a series in franchise history after grabbing a 3-1 lead, do not expect the proud and talented Capitals to go quietly on Friday night. In fact, just a year ago Washington faced a 3-1 deficit in the opening round against the Flyers and won Games 5 and 6, before falling in overtime in Game 7.
“I think we should approach it like we are down 3-1 and be as desperate as we can possibly be to match their intensity,” said Drury.
|Paul Mara (1) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (2)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Chris Drury (1) ASST: Lauri Korpikoski (1), Derek Morris (1)|
2 - 0 NYR
|Alex Ovechkin (1) ASST: Alexander Semin (2)|
2 - 1 NYR
|Markus Naslund Tripping against Tomas Fleischmann|
|Alexander Semin Holding against Fredrik Sjostrom|
|Paul Mara Interference against Brooks Laich|
|Mike Green Hooking against Fredrik Sjostrom|
|Paul Mara Interference against Matt Bradley|
|Michal Rozsival Holding against Tomas Fleischmann|
|Sean Avery Roughing against Milan Jurcina|
|Alexander Semin Tripping against Sean Avery|
|Sean Avery Hi-sticking against Brian Pothier|
|SA: 21||TOI: 59:00|
|Saves: 19||EV: 16 - 18|
|PIM: 0||PP: 2 - 2|
|SV%: .905||SH: 1 - 1|
|SA: 39||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 38||EV: 27 - 28|
|PIM: 0||PP: 11 - 11|
|SV%: .974||SH: 0 - 0|