Well, it took almost 80 minutes, but the Capitals ultimately prevailed with a goal from Alexander Semin. Of course, it sucks to lose a game like that. It sucks to lose in overtime, and it sucks especially because the Rangers were six or so minutes away from a shutout before Ovechkin scored what can only be classified as a garbage goal. Still, this young Rangers team has a lot to take away from this game. If there’s anything we’ve learned about this Rangers team this year, it’s that they don’t let bad or devastating losses affect how they come out the next night. If you remember the Rangers’ second round series against Buffalo in 2007, the Rangers were deflated after Chris Drury tied the game up with 7.7 seconds left. They didn’t show up for overtime and they didn’t show up for a must-win game 6. This year’s team will only come out hungrier on Friday. Let’s look at some post-game notes:
Defensemen Minutes- This was far and away my number one concern going into the playoffs. It’s bad enough that Staal and Girardi’s bodies are banged up after taking on huge minutes for the first 82 games of the season. But the playoffs have something that the regular season doesn’t: unlimited overtime. Tortorella can calculate shift frequency in the regular season. He can estimate how many shifts he can get out of each player because games will be anywhere between 60-65 minutes no matter what. In the playoffs, he can’t max out shifts for Staal and Girardi during the third period, especially during tied games, because of exactly what we saw tonight, the possibility of overtime. Tortorella did adjust to accomodate that possibility. Gilroy got 16:22 of icetime tonight and McCabe 20:08. Compare that to the Capitals, whose lowest minute eaters were John Erskine (19:18) and Karl Alzner (23:42). Staal and Girardi is one of the best defensive pairings in the NHL, and certainly better than any combination the Capitals can put out, so it’s understandable that they get the most minutes on either team. Still, I think Tortorella has to start putting trust in all six defenseman. Bryan McCabe is a 15 year NHL veteran with now 52 career playoff games to his name. He certainly is capable of playing a few more minutes. And Gilroy had a very good game tonight, goal aside. Staal and Girardi were the defensemen out for both goals, and on both they looked absolutely exhausted. At this time of the year, they just can’t be overworked. Hell, if you’re that nervous about Gilroy defensively then dress Eminger and scratch a forward if you have to. Gaborik is capable of double-shifting on the fourth line, and you can put Gilroy out at the point in offensive situations. That was the clear difference in overtime for me. The Capitals’ defensemen looked rested enough and the Rangers’ top four didn’t.
Marian Gaborik- He had a great game tonight. No goals, but Neuvirth had a lot to do with that. He was skating everywhere, making plays in all three areas of the ice, and took six shot attempts, with four hitting the net. What really stood out to me was that he had an edge to his game tonight. It’s more than just looking to shoot and skating, he just had different body language tonight than what he’s had the whole season. It was his first playoff game as a Ranger, and he looked determined to make a play. He didn’t let anyone shove him around. If the Rangers plan on winning this series they’re going to need a determined Gaborik.
Henrik Lundqvist- Can’t fault him for the loss by any means. The first goal was a combination of the Rangers watching the Capitals digging for the puck in the crease and the refs deciding that the puck being under Lundqvist’s leg for a good two seconds doesn’t warrant a whistle to be blown. The second one was a bad turnover by Staal that turned into a perfect shot by Semin. A perfect shot was what it was going to take in overtime to beat Lundqvist. He made 31 saves on 33 shots and kept the Rangers in the game the whole night. Without him the game doesn’t even get to overtime. Even when the Rangers’ defense is at its best, the Capitals offense is just incredibly good and is going to get scoring chances regardless. We’ll need this kind of effort from Henrik the rest of the series.
Brandon Dubinsky- Wasn’t good enough tonight. It happens. It’s not as if he was being lazy or not trying, but he just wasn’t making the kind of impact the Rangers need him to make, especially with Callahan out. I’m not overly concerned right now, but game two will be important. He needs to respond and come out with a big game on Friday.
There’s plenty to be happy about with this game. This is reality, the Capitals are in first place for a reason and we’re in eight for a reason. The 7-0 ad 6-0 victories from the regular season aren’t going to occur this time of year. Still, especially with so many rookies and other players new to the playoffs, tonight can be seen as a building block. We competed with the top team in the Eastern Conference for almost 4 periods. A couple of bounces either way and perhaps we get the victory. But the bottom line is we played with them the whole game. McDonagh and Sauer didn’t look at all out of place. Stepan didn’t look out of place. Even Gilroy stepped up big time. Getting the first game out of the way is a good thing for this team. Now they can just concentrate on trying to win the series. Congrats to Gilroy on his first playoff goal and to Prust for his first playoff point. Let’s come out with a similar effort on Friday, just with a bit more finishing.