Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer
WASHINGTON -- Nobody in the New York Rangers dressing room ever said they were going to completely stymie the Washington Capitals' powerful offense. It would have been ludicrous even to think that.
The Rangers knew heading into Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Wednesday night that Alex Ovechkin and Co. were going to get chances and score some goals. However, they felt that if they were able to weather the storm, all could be well in the end.
That's exactly what happened in Game 1 as the Rangers stole home-ice advantage in the series by escaping a dreadful first period still locked in a scoreless tie and beating Washington 4-3 on Brandon Dubinsky's game-winner with 8:17 left in regulation.
Game 2 isn't until Saturday (NBC, 1 p.m. ET).
"That team is going to surge," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "It's a matter of reclaiming your momentum with some simple plays, maybe your forecheck, holding on to the puck. It's not about scoring a goal right away. It's about getting your game back."
Washington totally dominated the first period. The Caps held a 14-4 advantage in shots, a 16-11 advantage in hits and an 11-4 advantage in faceoffs. Ovechkin had 11 shot attempts, including six that went on net, and was credited with six hits. There were times when it seemed he was everywhere.
All that dominance didn't matter. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist kept the game scoreless.
"We knew as the game went on we would improve our game," said Lundqvist, who came up with 32 saves.
The Capitals were fearful of just that after coming away empty after the first period.
What's worse is Washington goalie Jose Theodore didn't get much action in the first period -- and he looked shaky in the second.
Caps' coach Bruce Boudreau said he didn't think about pulling Theodore during the second intermission even though he allowed three goals on 11 shots in the middle period -- not one of which was scored through a screen or off a deflection or a rebound -- because he didn't want to show any signs of panic.
Still, he would not say for sure if Theodore is going to start Game 2. There's a chance he'll turn to rookie Simeon Varlamov.
"Anything can happen," Boudreau said.
After Tomas Fleischmann tipped Ovechkin's shot past Lundqvist 6:40 into the second period, Scott Gomez beat Theodore below his blocker, Nik Antropov got him over his right shoulder and Markus Naslund bested him with a wrister on his stick side. And, finally, Dubinsky scored the game-winner with a shot past Theodore's glove side from the left circle after he undressed defenseman Jeff Schultz.
"There really is no excuse," Theodore said, taking blame for the loss. "You need to make a couple of key saves at the key moments."
Theodore admitted he didn't come out of his crease far enough to challenge Gomez, who scored on the rush 7:49 into the second period, a mere 69 seconds after the Caps took a 1-0 lead on Fleischmann's deflection of Ovechkin's point shot.
Capitals' defenseman Mike Green appeared to be tripped on the play by Sean Avery, leading to an open lane for Gomez. Boudreau said he was surprised there was no call.
"Unfortunately the refs didn't see it," Green said. "That's the way it is in the playoffs."
Late in the second period, Antropov and Naslund took advantage of Washington's undisciplined play to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead.
John Erskine was whistled for high sticking Avery at 15 minutes, and Antropov scored with 11 seconds left on the power play. Thirty-two seconds later Sergei Fedorov shot the puck out of play for a delay of game penalty, leaving the Caps' shorthanded again.
Naslund found the net with his wrist shot from the high slot between defensemen Tom Poti and Schultz just over a minute into the advantage.
Schultz was as much to blame for Dubinsky's winner as Theodore. He got undressed by the Rangers' young forward and then fell to the ice, giving Dubinsky a freeway-sized lane to the net.
"You have to give him some (blame)," Boudreau said. "This is the NHL; you get beat one-on-one and allow the guy to have a breakaway, you can't hide form that."
After Green's elbow-to-shoulder hit on Fredrik Sjostrom with just under a minute left in the second period, a blow that seemed to energize the Caps, Washington got goals from Viktor Kozlov and Alexander Semin in a span of 2:31 bridging the second and third periods to make it 3-3.
However, Ovechkin, who had 13 shots in all and played 26:07 -- almost unheard-of ice time for a forward -- was limited to only three shots in the third period.
Tortorella sounded like a coach whose club stole a win.
"I thought we were a nervous club, but that we rebounded well in the second period," he said. "(We) found a way to get our legs underneath us. (We had) big plays at big times. We were fortunate to get a win."
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It didn't happen on a goal, but Mike Green leveled Fredrik Sjostrom into the half boards with a clean elbow-to-shoulder hit with 1:10 left in the second period. Twenty-one seconds later, the Capitals, energized now after giving up three straight goals, got a goal from Viktor Kozlov to cut their deficit to 3-2 going into the second intermission. Alexander Semin scored 1:42 into the third to make it 3-3. Green's hit on Sjostrom woke the Caps' out of their mini-slumber, but it wasn't good enough.
Rangers forward Ryan Callahan showed why coach John Tortorella likes him so much. Callahan didn't end up with a goal or an assist, but he was a plus-1 with seven hits and two shots on goal. He was effective working with linemates Markus Naslund and Brandon Dubinsky, who teamed up for the game-winning goal right after coming on the ice for a shift change.
Henrik Lundqvist might have saved the game with one great poke check. During a Capitals' power play late in the third period, Nicklas Backstrom tried to slide a cross-crease pass to Alex Ovechkin, who was standing at the doorstep of the left post and would have, more than likely at least, slammed the puck into the net for the tying goal. But Lundqvist read the pass and stuck his stick out just in time to poke the puck away. It never got to Ovechkin and the Capitals didn't threaten again on the power play.
Ovechkin had 11 attempts at the net -- six shots on goal, three that were blocked and another two that he missed -- plus six hits in the first period alone. The score remained 0-0, but Ovechkin dominated the first, as did the Caps, who held a 14-4 advantage in shots, a 16-11 advantage in hits and an 11-4 advantage in faceoffs going into the second period. Ovechkin finished the night with 13 shots on goal, 10 more than were blocked and five that missed the target while playing a mind-boggling 26:07.
Rangers captain Chris Drury didn't play. Drury skated in warm-ups but was seen flexing his leg throughout the session and wound up being scratched in favor of Aaron Voros. On Tuesday, Drury skated for the first time since suffering what was (and still is, according to the Rangers) and undisclosed injury last Thursday night against Philadelphia. He skated briefly again Wednesday morning and had been labeled as "day to day" by coach John Tortorella.