WASHINGTON, D.C.—Returning home to their raucous fans at the Verizon Center, the Capitals edged the Rangers 1-0 on Monday night in Game 3 of their second-round series. Washington will take a 2-1 lead into Game 4 at home on Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA).
Here are three thoughts from the game:
1. The Capitals’ third line finally broke through ... with some luck.
In a tight checking game, Washington’s lone goal came at 7:31 of the second period on a fluky wrap-around by Jay Beagle. Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi turned the puck over to Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky, who passed to Beagle. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stopped the first shot, but Beagle grabbed the rebound and skated behind the net where he sent a backhand toward the crease. The puck then banked off the skates of Rangers defenseman Keith Yandle and Lundqvist before it went in. It was the first goal of the playoffs for the Burakovsky–Beagle–Troy Brouwer line and Burakovsky’s first career playoff point.
Aside from one goal by Brooks Laich against the Islanders in the first round, none of the forwards on Washington’s third or fourth lines had scored in the postseason. The Capitals’ goals have come from Alex Ovechkin (four), Evgeny Kuznetsov (four), Nicklas Backstrom (three), Joel Ward (two), Jason Chimera (two), and Marcus Johansson (one). Secondary scoring is crucial to Washington’s hopes of advancing against the stingy Rangers defense, which has been largely focused on stopping the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Ward trio.
The third line had had some good looks in the first two games of the Rangers series, including one that came late in the second period on Saturday afternoon in New York on a two-on-one rush. Burakovsky fed a pass to Brouwer, but Lundqvist thwarted the attempt with an acrobatic dive.
Brouwer told The Washington Post earlier in the day that it was a “good sign” that the line was getting those chances, and “eventually they’re going to start going in. It’s when you’re not getting the chances where you’re in trouble.”
2. The goaltending has been superb.
The outstanding battle between goalies Lundqvist and Braden Holtby, who have surrendered a combined total of nine goals in the first three games, continued on Monday night with each keeper frustrating the opposition with a litany of sprawling saves.
Ovechkin, who was overheard tweaking Lundqvist (“All series, baby. All series!”) after scoring on him in Game 1, had all four of his shots stopped by the red-hot Rangers goalie. Lundqvist has now been beaten twice by lucky goals: Beagle's bank shot and Ward’s Game 1 winner in the final two seconds, a tally that was set up when the Rangers let up in expectation of a penalty call on Nick Backstrom that didn’t come.
Holtby was brilliant in making Beagle’s goal stand up Martin St. Louis had an opportunity a breakaway, but shot the puck into Holtby's stomach. Rick Nash, who led New York with 42 goals during the regular season, continued to be frustrated by Washington’s keeper who denied him on several good chances, including one with less than a minute to play in the final period. Nash has yet to score in this series and has only one postseason goal so far.
The goaltenders were also stellar on the power play as each team killed two penalties.
3. The Capitals didn’t let their slow start hurt them.
Entering Game 3, the Rangers had outscored their opponents 7-2 in the first period in the playoffs. On Monday, New York couldn’t find crack Holtby in the first frame despite outshooting Washington 6-0 during the first six minutes. The Rangers finished the period with an 11-6 margin and outshot the Caps 30-22 on the night, but Beagle’s goal was all Washington needed.
Monday night also marked the Rangers’ first loss on the road this postseason. New York, which was a league-best 28-11-2 in away games during the regular season, had beaten the Penguins twice in Pittsburgh during the first round.
Once again, the Rangers need to bounce back from a tough loss, this time to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole. Two years ago, Lundqvist rescued the Blueshirts after they went down three games to two against the Caps in the first round, shutting Washington out in Games 6 and 7. It's safe to say the Rangers don’t want to live so dangerously again as this Washington team is better, the main differences being coach Barry Trotz’s system, which has seamlessly integrated defensive responsibility with Ovechkin's firepower, and Holtby’s superb play.