Michal Neuvirth has been one of the feel good story lines of this series so far and he started today’s game strong with a sweet save early on Matt Gilroy, as Gilroy took advantage of a pass from Ruslan Fedotenko in the opening moments of the first.
The Rangers were hitting hard with the irritating line of Prust-Boyle-Avery making the most noise. Brooks Laich had some choice words for the nail-polish wearing Avery after a late whistle. He later broke the bad boy’s stick during a face off, making the agitator even more agitated. The first Caps’ power play came at 15:01 when Matt Gilroy went off for a hook. The boys took 2 shots during the man-advantage but they fell back on some bad habits, shooting with most of those coming from well outside the circles instead of crashing the net.
The Caps didn’t have much luck on the power play but the penalty killers came up huge about two minutes later, when they had to kill of a Rangers’ 5-on-3. Matt Hendricks was whistled for goalie interference (even though it appeared he was pushed in by a Blueshirt) and in trying to clear the puck during the first kill, Mike Knuble swept it into the stands and joined Hendricks for some coffee and conversation in the MSG sin bin. The defense was sharp while down two mates, but Michal Neuvirth (who made 22 saves for his first career postseason shutout in the last meeting) remained cool and collected as he kept the Rangers off the scoreboard. Rangers’ sniper Marion Gaborik’s drought continued into the first period and he completely missed the net during their power play. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, New York’s Erik Christensen took an interference penalty and the Capitals would go on the power play again at the start of the second period. End of first period: Scoreless
The man advantage to start the second period didn’t last long. Mike Green was called for tripping, the boys played a bit of 4-on-4 and then the Rags went on their second power play. Marcus Johansson had a fabulous short-handed opportunity as he swept the puck and used his speed to get a shot off on Lundqvist, who swiftly gloved it. The action came to a halt when a referee had a mishap behind the net and fell awkwardly. The injured ref apparently hurt a knee and play stopped until the replacement stripes could get to the ice. Once play resumed, both teams were still playing hard with a chip on their shoulders. John Carlson lost his cool early on and cross-checked Marc Staal. The Rangers’ ailing power play found some life and New York lit the lamp first on a difficult shot from the side by Erik Christensen.
The Capitals seemed to lack the discipline that helped them win the first two contests. Ovechkin took the Caps’ fifth penalty of the game as he hooked Gaborik at the 8:50 mark. The refs weren’t calling it both ways though, as Scott Hannan got pegged with a pretty bogus holding call, giving the Rags their second 5-on-3 of the game (if only for 9 seconds). Meanwhile, the dastardly duo of Prust and Avery took runs at Michal Neuvirth after virtually every whistle. Ovechkin scored the tying goal with less than one minute left in the period, a tip-in right in King Henrik’s grill. Right before the play, Mike Green went down and appeared to be hit high – causing Caps fans around the country to hold their collective breath (glad to say he returned to the game).
New York thought they had taken the lead at literally the last second of the period but after heading up to Toronto for review, the officials ruled that the puck crossed the line as the clock hit the 0.00 mark. The call will certainly be the subject of much controversy amongst Rangers fans and other Caps haters but it stood at 1 -1 at the end of the second period. It even stirred controversy in my own house as one of my own kids (wearing a Hendricks shirt, mind you) kept quipping “that was a goal.” Nice…
Vinny Prospal gave New York the lead off an uncharacteristic Neuvirth rebound midway through the third period while the Caps trod a familiar path to the penalty box. Nick Backstrom took the team’s seventh penalty for tripping at 9:13. Bruce Boudreau commented on the officiating, angrily stating he thought there were some “ticky tacky” calls were made throughout the opening periods. Hockey Mom can only imagine what was going through Gabby’s hot head in the third – f-bombs galore I’m sure.
The penalty killers saved the day once again. This game got so chippy that even the normally serene Marion Gaborik got busted for a cross-check. The tempo changed once again as Mike Knuble scored a power play tally with help from Ovi and Backstrom to even the score. The rough stuff was by no means over, as John Carlson (who along with Mike Green, seemed to have a bulls-eye tacked to his sweater) tussled with Brian Boyle. But in the end, the Rangers emerged victorious in today’s battle, as a shot from Brandon Dubinsky (who I deem runner-up in the cheesy mustache contest – Sid is always first) scored on a deflection with under two minutes on the clock. Final Score: Rangers 3 – Caps 2
A disappointing day for Caps fans, but we’ve been in this spot before and Wednesday brings yet another opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead. The Hockey 101 key to victory: stay out of the box (even though some of those Rangers are as abrasive and annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard).