Anyone who's followed this first round series rematch of two years ago knows how close the games have been. The Caps talent has been the difference thus far, delivering an overtime win in Game One courtesy of enigmatic Russian Alex Semin and utilizing talented young guns Marcus Johansson and John Carlson to turn Game Four around in historic fashion. Amazingly, Alex Ovechkin didn't do much in the comeback thanks to splendid netminding from snubbed Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who somehow was left out of the Vezina while the superhyped Roberto Luongo got the nod from dopey GMs today with more deserving Tim Thomas and Pekka Rinne.
The combo of Marc Staal and shot blocking warrior Dan Girardi have limited Ovechkin's time and space. Girardi's play the other day was heroic, making nearly 10 blocks including a pair that defied logic. Sure. Ovi has factored into his team's more favorable 3-1 lead with the Capitals looking to finish the Blueshirts off tomorrow afternoon at 3 ET on NBC at the noisy Verizon Center. Look at both of the Washington captain's goals for proof with him going into the trenches to score a garbage goal that tied Game One and making a great play in Game Three to deflect a Jason Arnott feed past Lundqvist prior to Brandon Dubinsky playing ultimate hero.
Simply put, the Rangers have no one to blame but themselves for what happened Wednesday. They had the Caps on the ropes and let them breathe by backing off in the third. As this postseason's already shown, no lead is safe. Just ask the Kings who blew a 4-0 lead, allowing the Sharks to come all the way back in the best series for a dramatic overtime win that LA hasn't recovered from. As if it wasn't enough, the Bruins turned the tables on the Habs in rallying from a 3-0 hole with ex-Canadien Michael Ryder doing Montreal in. The road team has won every game of that electrifying match up.
So, how did the other night happen? Rookie Ryan McDonagh assumed he had an easy outlet but Semin, who was braindead for two periods- anticipated the pass and turned it into the Caps' first goal. The second time in the series a ref's failure to blow the whistle cost us a goal against. Granted. That's hit or miss. But it looked like Lundqvist had it long enough for Paul Devorski to blow it dead. Instead, he never saw it frozen and that allowed the Caps to flip the switch. Everyone knows how potent they can be despite five fewer goals than our team during the regular season. You can't compare the rosters. Not when they can throw Ovechkin, Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Arnott, Johansson, Green and Carlson at us. Even without Mike Knuble, Bruce Boudreau's club found a way to silence MSG, who appropriately chanted, "Can You Hear Us," in response to the comical Caps' coach's comments that his club got better support at home.
The Rangers deviated from the strategy that worked, failing to get the puck deep and allowing the Caps easier access. Before you knew it, Johansson snuck behind Dubinsky for an easy tip that trickled off Lundqvist and in. In less than four minutes, it went from 3-zip to 3-2. A recipe for disaster. Throw out the overrated stat (29-0-0) that our team hadn't lost when leading after two all season. Even as a former ESPN researcher, I know better than to assume such stuff. The playoffs are a different animal. And don't forget, our team blew several leads in the third this year before prevailing in overtime/shootout. In the postseason, there's no five minute four-on-four or a skill competition to save you. When Carlson's harmless shot that was going wide went off Johansson, it set off a fire alarm. The Caps are the more skilled team and it's been on display twice, where again Lundqvist was victimized in our new Achilles heel sudden death. Ever since Michal Rozsival beat Buffalo in the '07 Conference Semis Game Three, it's been nothing but nightmares for Garden Faithful, who've seen our heroes drop five straight in a format we once owned during the Glory Days.
Even though the Caps generated more opportunities, our team didn't play as poorly, making a few bids to win it. There was Sean Avery with Michal Neuvirth down and a gaping net but all too predictably missing it completely. There was even goat Marian Gaborik, who already scored off a beauty of a set up from the Game's No.1 Star Ruslan Fedotenko, getting not one but two quality chances on Neuvirth, who got just enough of both to keep them out. Truth be told, he played his strongest game in months until the incredible gaffe that turned MSG into a morgue. As screwed up as it sounds, I can still see that idiot ref getting in Dubinsky's way for what looked like a three-on-two in the first overtime and Dubi can be seen screaming at him like I was at the TV. Even the refs are against us. You can't make this stuff up.
Matt Gilroy was tremendous, dancing in for chances. Off what we've seen, re-sign the kid. No way they're qualifying him at $2.1 million. But he has gained John Tortorella's trust with our coach rewarding him with power play time next to Old, Older and Oldest Bryan McCabe. Is there a slower player? I'd reinsert Steve Eminger. McCabe brings nothing. Ever since Ryan Callahan went down, our powerless play is like a free pass. Cally led the club with 10 PPG because he did the grunt work in front. Now, it's back to the slow, deliberate snail pace. The 0-for-7 was just as responsible for the stunning loss.
It's still amazing to me that as soon as the newest John Druce, Jason Chimera was coming, I sensed doom. I can't explain why but these are the types of players who victimize us. It would be easier to swallow if it was more conventional like his winner in Game Two off a great feed from Brooks Laich. Maybe it was seeing McCabe out with Gilroy even though Hobey's acquitted himself well outside of being outmuscled by Laich on the aforementioned play. Or perhaps it was seeing Lundqvist going to cover it when suddenly Gaborik was coming right at him, throwing a simple play to get a stoppage into utter chaos that ensued. I will never know what Gabby was thinking. Disaster struck when he unintentionally knocked the puck away from Henrik right off Chimera's chest. Chimera did the rest for the easiest goal in his life. Maddening. It's as painful a loss as you can have. Right up there with the final 80 seconds of Canes-Devils a couple of years prior that's still a sore spot for our resident Devil blogger. When it happened, I just sat in stunned disbelief and said nothing until a bunch of angry tweets with one expletive themed. Could you blame me? It took a long walk to my old public school to recover.
So, why then do I believe this team is still capable of pulling this off? Because the Caps haven't been that impressive. Sure. Neuvirth was excellent the other day and saved his team several times. But he also was leaking a lot of rebounds. Shoot high when you can and get traffic. He can be had. Lundqvist hasn't had one off game despite our predicament. He's capable of stealing Game Five and then a Game Six back in our barn, I wouldn't bet against us. This team has done things the hard way all year long. They also can win on the road. What better time than Saturday? Get an early lead a la Chicago yesterday in a game I guaranteed that turned into a laugher at Luongo's expense. You never know. The Caps have blown a 3-1 series lead four times. Last year's still fresh at the hands of the Habs. Create doubt. We weren't far off from leveling it until the roof caved in.
Ever since Tort put Dubi at center with Fedotenko and Gaborik, they've looked like a better team. Boyle's unit consistently forechecks the Caps to death. Maybe tomorrow, they finally breakthrough. We'll need better out of Derek Stepan to get this done. He's improved every game, which means he could be ready to finally pop one. The kid has a flair for the dramatic. Don't bet against him. Chris Drury had a superb Game Three, nearly winning it. He knows what it takes. Artem Anisimov is also coming off his best game. Vinny Prospal is probably our most clutch player. He will die to extend this series in what could be his final game.
I still have faith. This team has been resilient and there's still a belief they can get it done. I'm guaranteeing Game Five and Six, forcing a Game Seven. Why? Because I believe in this group.