Derick Brassard scored the game winner just 10 seconds after escaping the penalty box and Henrik Lundqvist turned in a sensational 30-save performance to lead the New York Rangers to a thrilling 3–2 Game 2 win over the Washington Capitals.
Here are three quick thoughts on the game:
Not to yada-yada an impressive series-tying win by the Rangers, but did you see that goal by Alex Ovechkin? If not, here ya go. And if you have, well you know you want to see it again.
That play is everything that makes hockey great. The breathtaking acceleration through the neutral zone and into the Rangers end. His fearless drive straight through New York's top two defenders, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. His focus as he's hauled down. And then there's that finish.That head-shaking, jaw-dropping finish. Commit that one to memory because you likely won't see one better in these playoffs.
Short of a Washington win, that might have been the perfect end to an incredible afternoon for Ovechkin. This was number 8 in full beast mode. Nine hits, four shots, 11 attempts and the consistent two-way presence a contending team needs from its captain at this time of year. After years of being targeted for his selfish play, this was the rebuttal his critics--myself included--were waiting for, the full realization of his immense physical gifts. If he maintains this level of commitment, the Caps have a very real opportunity to go all the way.
2. All-around excellence from the Rangers
Still stinging from their last-second loss in Game 1, New York came flying out of the gates and launched an all-out assault on Washington keeper Braden Holtby. The Rangers dominated play in the early going, using their speed to gain the zone, get pucks to the net and crash the crease. The plan paid quick dividends when the rebound of a Jesper Fast shot off the rush went directly to Chris Kreider. The speedy winger buried it into a gaping cage just 38 seconds in, giving the Rangers a lead they'd never relinquish.
Kreider followed up that quick start by turning in one of his finest games as a pro. He complemented his goal with five other shot attempts, four hits, a running battle with Ovechkin and a strong defensive presence. He easily could have had three or four goals with with the opportunities he created with his persistent net presence. Equally impressive: he had three or four chances to "Kreiderize" Holtby, but stopped just short of making contact every time. His discipline kept him out of the box and in the game, where he continued to torment Washington's defense.
Fast was every bit as effective, using his speed to keep the Caps on their heels and open up space for his linemates. If his hands were any better he could have had a goal or two of his own. Rick Nash turned in another terrific performance, despite the fact that his goalless streak is now somewhere near 100 games if the panic in Rangers fandom is any indication. He was around the puck all night, earning himself a couple of Grade-A chances down low, but it was a strong defensive play that turned the game in New York's favor. On the ice to kill the end of a Brassard penalty, he created a turnover in the neutral zone and fed Martin St. Louis. The veteran winger made a nice spin play at the Washington blueline to create space for Brassard, who snuck behind the defense as he exited the box, took the pass down low and beat Holtby five-hole. It was nice to see Brassard finally click after missing a couple of premium chances in Game 1, but nicer still to see Nash remind Rangers fans that his value extends beyond his ability to light the lamp.
3. Boyle's redemption ... almost
For a minute there, it looked like Dan Boyle might have avenged the late turnover that led to Joel Ward's winner in Game 1. The veteran defenseman capitalized on a fortunate bounce at the end of a Rangers power play that slowed a clearing attempt just enough for him to corral it at the blueline. His point shot eluded Holtby--abetted by a perfectly executed screen by Nash--ending Washington's perfect playoff penalty kill and giving New York a 2-0 lead in the first.
But then the veteran was burned on Washington's first goal when he was beaten to a loose puck in front of Lundqvist by Evgeny Kuznetsov, who buried it for his team-leading fourth goal of the postseason. What was frustrating about his coverage was that Boyle had Kuznetsov marked as they skated toward the net, but he got caught watching the play instead of taking care of his check.
It wasn't a matter of aging legs. You can expect a 38-year-old defender to lose that battle occasionally. It was a mental error, exactly the kind you count on a veteran not to make. It also was the third consecutive Washington goal he'd been caught on the ice for.
Alain Vigneault was able to protect Boyle (and, to a lesser extent, his occasional partner Keith Yandle) to some degree in New York, but he could be a matchup that Washington's Barry Trotz will look to exploit as the series shifts to Washington for Games 3 and 4.