1. The Capitals have seen their share of 2-0 playoff leads disappear over the years for long-time fans to ever feel comfortable. But give them this: They did what they had to do at home against the New York Rangers this week. Now, they head to Madison Square Garden on Monday with a 2-0 series lead.
They can thank defenseman Mike Green for his overtime game-winning goal. But Saturday’s 1-0 victory had many heroes – goalie Braden Holtby (24 saves, first career playoff shutout), a penalty kill that has gone from a disaster to something resembling a strength, center Mike Ribeiro and his toolbox of starts and stops and fakes. You get the idea. But Green’s blast was still pretty sweet. It was his 18th career game-winning goal – eight of those have come in overtime. But this was the first time Game Over Green lived up to his nickname in a playoff game. He set off a raucous celebration as the bench spilled onto the ice to celebrate.
Teammate Karl Alzner afterwards dropped that the Caps occasionally call him Casual Mike. That laconic demeanor might actually help in late-game situations.
“He’s a big-time player. He handles the pressure well,” Alzner said. “He’s calm all the time with the puck in regulation. So when it gets into overtime and guys start to get the shakes a little bit, he’s still calm Mike Green. Just is able to find those holes and it really is amazing. I wish I could do it like him.”
Added goalie Braden Holtby: “He’s so patient. He’s patient in all situations, you see probably 95 percent of players when they get the game on the line in overtime and situations like that they want to get rid of it. They want to pound the puck through the net. He approaches it the same way he does all the time. It’s patience. You can’t teach that.”
And coach Adam Oates: “That’s one reason I don’t want Mike to try too hard to be a scorer during the game because we need him to have the poise back there at a key moment. It’s a big power play, the place is going crazy. You need guys out there that are calm and that’s one of his gifts.”
2. Just a bizarre series of delay-of-game calls and non-calls late in the game. That’s Rule 63.2 for those of you keeping track at home. Instituted after the previous NHL lockout (2004-05), the intention is to keep players from flinging the puck out of play in the defensive zone to stop an offensive attack. But intent isn’t supposed to matter. If you “shoot or bat” the puck out of play from the defensive zone without it touching the glass first that’s a two-minute minor penalty.
It’s supposed to be a black-and-white call. But referees do have one thing at their own discretion: Whether the player deflected the puck out of play. So when Caps defenseman Karl Alzner reached for a puck in the final minute of regulation and poked it up in the air and over the glass, the Rangers players and bench yelled for the delay of game. After an agonizing conference, the officials decided it was a deflection. New York coach John Tortorella could be seen yelling…um…’You missed it…” – or something along those lines, I suppose.
But they didn’t miss the call on Caps defenseman Steve Oleksy 1:51 into overtime. His delay-of-game put Washington in a bad spot. But the penalty killers came through for the seventh time in this series.
“I thought I was still in the neutral zone, maybe, but it’s an unfortunate bounce,” Oleksy said. “The puck comes to you on a bounce and you just want to make sure you don’t want a guy to poke it away at your own blueline and it go in. you just want to make a hard play, and unfortunately, it just sat flat on my stick and carried over.”
Alzner can freak you out sometimes. He claims that only Friday he was thinking about that exact situation and wondering how the referees would call it. He found out in real life on Saturday. Like most defenseman, Alzner isn’t a fan of the rule. But – as Tortorella so memorably put it in his 1:37 postgame press conference – “it’s a rule.”
“I could do without it because I used to always put the puck over the glass,” Alzner said. “I think I’ve been called on that a few times in my career. It is what it is. You’ve just got to pay more attention, I guess.”
“I actually thought it was a penalty,” Holtby said. “I was assuming we were going to be short. It was nice because those types of plays where you’re just throwing your stick out—you’re not shooting it—I think could probably be eliminated. That’s just a fluke play. It’s good they probably took that into account.”
New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh knows that sinking feeling, too. After an epic 3:04 shift broken only by a timeout, he, too, flung the puck out of play. Given the state of Washington’s power play that was a decidedly bad idea. It took 51 seconds for Green to fire that shot past goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the winner.
3. But how about that penalty kill? Washington is now 28-for-30 dating back to April 13. That’s a small sample size so it’s tough to make too much of it. Plus, players and coaches aren’t exactly volunteering what subtle changes they’ve made. They do think they’re better than their overall ranking during the NHL season – an abysmal 27th (77.9%).
“We’re not looking at 27th,” Fehr said. “I think if you look at the last 20 games of the season we were right up there in the league in the penalty kill. We changed a few things and we’ve been a lot better since then. We expect a lot of big things from our PK. We don’t think we’re 27th in the league.”
Alzner agreed with that assessment, blaming a terrible start to the season for those numbers: “I think the first, I don’t know, 10 games of the season we were just so bad we were getting four goals scored against us in a game. It’s so hard to climb out of a hole like that, so it’s always going to look bad. We were just slowly but surely trying to do good things.”
On the overtime penalty kill Fehr was trying to watch the New York forward stationed in the high slot. When a pass went across the ice he instinctively push across and dropped for the block – not realizing the puck was underneath him until he felt the Rangers jabbing under him with their sticks to free it. It was an effort that helped save the game.
4. Lundqvist looked for a time like he would steal this one for New York. Not that the Rangers played a bad game anyway. But their power play wasn’t working and they really struggled to generate much at even strength save for some nice individual efforts from Rick Nash – who hit the left post late in regulation – and Carl Hagelin early in the game when he hit the crossbar. Some bad breaks there, but Lundqvist kept them close. He finished with 37 saves and a handful of them were spectacular.
“Yeah, he’s outstanding. Any time we had some momentum, he took the wind out of our sails and made it frustrating for us,” Green said. “He was really good tonight and we expect that out of him, but again, it comes down to patience. It wasn’t a matter of trying to beat him, or do too much. It was just a matter of it was going to go in off a body or something. Luckily, tonight it was a power play.”
There was the pad stop on the Mathieu Perreault deflection in front, the same on a Jason Chimera tip off a beautiful Oleksy pass and a denial of Marcus Johansson alone at the right post after an Alex Ovechkin pass. There were a half dozen other quality saves, too
“Really, you know, Lundqvist has played really unbelievable all game,” said Caps forward Troy Brouwer, who himself was stoned on an early drive in the first 15 seconds of the second period. “He was making saves that you know most guys wouldn’t. You can’t let up and think something’s going in until it does.”
5. As for the Rangers, they’ll have to regroup quickly. They can do it with the next two games at home, but they were also a bit dejected after Saturday. That was two games New York felt like it could have won. But the end result will almost certainly be the same if they keep getting beat in the special teams battler. So far they are 0-for-7 on the power play and just way too “stagnant”, according to Tortorella. Washington, meanwhile, is 2-for-7 on the power play and playing with a confidence few teams can match with the man advantage.
“It was an intense game. I thought we played really hard. We played physical,” Lundqvist said. “We did a lot of good things. But in the end, special teams will be the difference, I think. We talked about it going into the series, and so far they’ve been beating us in every game.”
Sometimes not scoring at even strength isn’t just on the forwards, of course. After all, Nash and Hagelin did hit posts on Saturday. There was some luck involved in Holtby’s shutout, too. But New York’s margin for error is dwindling.
“We got pinned in our zone a lot,” McDonagh said. “We’ve got to be smart and try and establish the forecheck a little bit. You can see when we do that, we get some chances. We just didn’t do that enough tonight.”
The Rangers added forwards Derek Dorsett (broken clavicle) and Brian Boyle (right leg) to the lineup. Boyle was playing on the third line by the second period and played 11:29. They hope Ryane Clowe (concussion symptoms), another big body up front, and maybe even defenseman Marc Staal (right eye) return later in the series. No guarantees with those two, though Clowe did skate on Friday at practice. The cavalry is coming. Will it arrive soon enough?
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