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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Sergei Fedorov wired a wrist shot from the right-wing circle over the gloved hand of Henrik Lundqvist with 4:59 remaining in the third period to snap a tense 1-1 tie and hand the Washington Capitals a 2-1 victory over the Rangers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series on Tuesday night, ending the Blueshirts’ 2009 run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The loss marked the first time in franchise history that the Rangers dropped a best-of-seven series after winning three of the first four games. The Rangers are now 3-5 all-time in Game 7s, dropping all five games played on the road.
“You can see it on my face, it’s tough, I can’t believe the season is over,” said Lundqvist. “I think we played our best game of the series tonight and we did a great job. I guess over seven games, they were the better team, but I thought we played great tonight and should be proud of how we responded.”
Fedorov, who had led a 2-on-2 rush with Alex Ovechkin, opted to shoot instead of pass, and placed a perfect shot to the short side for the series-winning goal. Just moments before Fedorov’s score, Rangers’ center Brandon Dubinsky barely missed the top left corner of the Capitals’ net with a wicked wrist shot. On the return trip down the ice, Fedorov broke the Rangers’ hearts.
“I don’t know if it hit me, but I think it went through me and it was tough for Hank to get a bead on it,” said defenseman Wade Redden, who was covering Fedorov. “It went short side, up high. It was a great shot. It’s disappointing.”
Lundqvist had been sensational in the third period, when the Capitals swung the game’s momentum in their favor after recording only 11 shots on goal over the first two periods of play. He made an amazing save with the tip of his right skate on a Nicklas Backstrom deflection just 1:50 into the final period, and then robbed Ovechkin on a booming rebound attempt at 6:25. Even after surrendering the goal to Fedorov, Lundqvist maintained his focus and robbed Alexander Semin with two minutes to go on a point-blank opportunity.
“I’m not frustrated with the team,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “No one likes losing, but I appreciate how hard they worked. We were still there, but they make a big play, and we don’t get enough offense in the third period to get some scoring chances.”
Washington’s rookie goaltender Simeon Varlamov only had to make one save in the third period -- and only 14 the entire game. However, that save -- at 9:29 on Ryan Callahan’s redirection of a Markus Naslund centering pass -- was a huge one.
“I think we took it to ‘em so hard in the first the first 40 (minutes), it’s just one of those things where the tide gets turned and all of a sudden they had their legs, had some jump, got some shots -- Hank made some huge saves prior to their goal,” said team captain Chris Drury. “We just couldn’t seem to muster too much (in the third period).”
The Rangers stormed out to a great start and carried their strong play through the entire first period, which ended even 1-1 on the scoreboard. One fluky bounce of the puck is all that stood between the Rangers and complete domination of the opening 20 minutes.
Right from the first drop of the puck, the Rangers had an extra step on the Capitals. On the game’s first shift Sean Avery drove hard to the net from right wing to pepper Varlamov with a pair of in-tight chances after just 20 seconds of play. Then, 20 seconds later, Michal Rozsival sprung Nik Antropov on a breakaway with a perfect head-man pass, but Varlamov stuffed Antropov’s scoring attempt with his right pad.
The newly-constructed line of Avery, Antropov, and Dubinsky wreaked havoc each time they were on the ice, and it was no surprise the way they were playing that they would generate the first goal of the contest, which they did 5:35 into the first period.
Avery and Dubinsky outworked Washington’s Brian Pothier and Fedorov in the left corner of the Caps’ zone, with Avery finally gaining possession of the puck and slipping it back to Antropov in the left circle. Antropov followed with a quick pass to Dubinsky at the goal line, and the young centerman made a pretty return pass to Antropov when a pair of Caps converged on him. Antropov finished by whipping his second goal of the playoffs past the stick of Varlamov to give the Rangers a very crucial 1-0 lead.
The Verizon Center suddenly quieted, the Rangers went about controlling play, and stifling Washington’s attempts to skate or pass the puck over the Rangers’ blueline. Forced into one turnover after another, the Caps did not record their first shot of the game until 13 minutes had elapsed on the game clock, when defenseman Tom Poti sent a power-play wrist shot on goal that was denied by Lundqvist’s blocker.
Two minutes later, the Capitals recorded their second shot of the contest, and unfortunately for the Rangers it took a freak bounce and fluttered past Lundqvist to tie the game 1-1. Semin was credited with his series-leading fifth goal when Ryan Callahan dove head-long towards him to block the shot, but instead had the puck deflect off his stick to drastically change direction and land in the back of the cage.
To the Rangers’ credit, they did not let the fluky goal by Semin get the best of them, and instead returned to the aggressive style of play which had been so effective throughout the rest of the first period.
“I thought we showed up with a lot of guts and a lot of courage,” said Drury. “It’s a tough building to come into against a very talented team, a team that no one thought we’d even get to seven games against. A bounce here or there and this would be a much happier (dressing) room here.”
Washington finished with only the two shots on goal in the opening stanza, but they had better jump to start the second and actually recorded three shots in the first three minutes. Lundqvist made his best save of the game 2:10 into the middle period when, after denying an Ovechkin bomb, he made a diving glove save to rob Viktor Kozlov on the rebound.
The Rangers settled down and were able to regain control, however, often pinning the Caps deep in their end of the ice for long stretches at a time. Dubinsky, Avery, and Antropov were ferocious on the forecheck, but other forwards did their part, as well.
Surprisingly the fourth line of Fredrik Sjostrom, Aaron Voros, and rookie Artem Anisimov -- called up from Hartford to take the place of injured center Blair Betts -- was given a regular opportunity by Tortorella, and the threesome delivered several outstanding shifts of puck possession in the offensive zone.
Perhaps the only thing the Rangers did not accomplish in their often-dominating play was to create a flurry of scoring chances. The Capitals did an excellent job of limiting Rangers’ shots, and, in fact, actually wound up outshooting New York 9-6 in the scoreless second period.
“For most of the game, I thought we did a really good job of keeping the puck, probably the most we’ve had the puck all series, but we couldn’t develop enough scoring chances even with the puck,” explained Tortorella. “We’re not an offensive juggernaut, and that comes back and bites us. We’re just not developing enough offense.”
The one prime scoring opportunity for the Rangers in that middle period came with just 50 seconds remaining when Dubinsky’s redirection from the slot was kept out of the net by Varlamov’s quick right pad.
With their season hanging in the balance, there would only be one more shot on goal the rest of the night by the Rangers, as they were outshot by the Capitals 13-1 in the final period. Now the Rangers will have four months to ponder that -- as well as many other things -- until training camp opens up next September.
“It’s a blink of an eye, inches are the difference, and it’s tough obviously when you are so close and battle so hard,” said Redden. “It’s a tough loss.”
|Nik Antropov (2) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (3), Sean Avery (2)|
1 - 0 NYR
|Alexander Semin (5) ASST: Nicklas Backstrom (7), Mike Green (4)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Sergei Fedorov (1) ASST: Matt Bradley (1)|
2 - 1 WSH
|Nik Antropov Hi-sticking against Shaone Morrisonn|
|Mike Green Interference against Marc Staal|
|Dan Girardi Interference against Alex Ovechkin|
|SA: 24||TOI: 59:58|
|Saves: 22||EV: 18 - 20|
|PIM: 0||PP: 4 - 4|
|SV%: .917||SH: 0 - 0|
|SA: 15||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 14||EV: 12 - 13|
|PIM: 0||PP: 2 - 2|
|SV%: .933||SH: 0 - 0|