Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Caps Take Game One in OT Thriller

The Caps waited 82 games – some beautiful and some needing to be permanently banished from memory –to get to tonight: Game One of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Tonight saw the sixth postseason series between the Rangers and Capitals, with Washington having won three of the first five series, owning an all-time 15-14 playoff record against New York. The two teams last met in the 2008-09 Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals, with Washington winning in seven games.

Michal Neuvirth shook off any rookie playoff jitters early in the first period when he did his best Mary Lou Retton imitation, going to the splits to stop a shot from Erik Christensen. Shortly after, the Blueshirts went shorthanded after being whistled for too many men. The Rangers displayed their shot blocking prowess by negating several of the quality shots taken by the warmly welcomed Mike Green (his first game back since suffering a concussion in February) and company during the power play. One of the things new hockey fans will note is the energy and physical play that goes along with playoff puck. Alex Ovechkin embodied the spirit of the playoffs with a tooth-rattling hit against Brandon Dubinsky in the first ten minutes – those two have a bit of a history and Dubinsky is like the annoying booger-eating kid at the sixth-grade lunch table.

The hitting ramped up significantly in the middle of the period and Mats Zucarello went a little overboard and went to the box for boarding at 10:13. The Caps’ power play was bolstered by the return of Mike Green but despite the boys’ best effort, King Henrik (with lots of help from his BFF – the goal post) ensured they stayed off the scoreboard. It was the Caps’ penalty killers’ turn to go to work in the final minutes of the period as Alex Semin put on his Bad Sasha mask (unbelievable – I know) and took a seat for one of his signature hooking moves. The boys kept the Rangers at bay and went into the dressing room with a 9-5 shots on goal advantage. End of First Period: Caps 0 – Rangers 0

The boys continued the pressure into the second period but struggled to hit the net, with Jason Arnott dinging yet another post and Nick Backstrom missing a wide-open net. Neuvy matched Lundqvist’s heroics by stopping sniper Marion Gaborik stone cold at around the 12:00 point. Marco Sturm, who had his share of shots on net in the first period, threw a couple more at Henrik in the middle stanza. Meanwhile, Nick Backstrom had one of the better chances of the night as he had a clean breakaway and deked out Lundqvist. This time it wasn’t the post, but Henrik’s goalie pads, that swiped the puck from within millimeters of crossing the red line. Both the Caps and the Rangers would need some frozen pea bags during the break after their second period shot blocking extravaganza. End of second period: Caps 0 – Rangers 0

The Rangers lit the lamp first at 1:56 in the final period as Matt Gilroy beat Michal Neuvirth with a slap shot. The Caps got the equalizer 12 minutes later on an ugly goal that was the source of much controversy. Ovechkin and posse were hacking and whacking in front of the crease and the captain managed to push the puck through Lundqvist’s pads, then the net came loose. The Rangers thought the ref blew the whistle prior to the puck crossing the line but after review, the call went in the Caps’ favor.

End of shaking and baking third period: Caps 1 – Rangers 1

As if we needed more drama between these two foes, Game One required extra minutes. I almost forgot how my sleep total goes down and Starbuck’s consumption goes up during playoff OT games – often times running into the wee hours of the morning. Neuvy had to make a quick save early in OT on the dangerous Artem Anisimov. Marco Sturm and Marcus Johannson had a splendid scoring chance a little less than five minutes into OT as they both turned on the afterburners speeding towards the Rangers crease. King Henrik had his work cut out with him as multiple Caps, including Jason Chimera, Ovi and Jeff Schultz, peppered his crease. On the other end, Gaborik thought he’d netted the game winner with six minutes left, but he was stonewalled by a sharp Neuvirth. Both teams battled hard, with Brian Boyle blocking a Carlson slap shot, into the waning minutes of overtime. The playoffs have not been historically kind to Alexander Semin, who has seemingly disappeared in playoffs past. But the Russian sniper has been solid of late, especially under the mentorship of confident vet Jason Arnott, and tonight Semin finally shook off the playoff demons that have plagued him in seasons past. Sasha blasted a rocket (with help from pal Arnott)  at 18:24 past a dog tired Marc Staal and beleaguered Lundvqist to win a thriller and take Game One!

Final Score: Caps 2 – Rangers 1

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