NEW YORK — With their backs against the wall, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers, who have not lost a potential elimination game at Madison Square Garden since the second round of 2008, once again found a way to stay alive. Down 1-0 and facing imminent off-season with less than two minutes left in Game 5, however, the Rangers somehow found a way to finally break through the bulwark that is Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, sending the game into overtime. A costly turnover by Washington winger Curtis Glencross, the would-be hero if not for the late Rangers goal, breathed live into New York’s hopes, for another two days at least.
Here are three thoughts on the Rangers 2-1 OT win:
1. The Capitals’ peripheral players take center stage again—though not always in a good way this time around
Where once Washington was a team that lived and died by its stars, these Capitals have gotten some important contributions from players on the fringe. Not just rising young stars like former first-rounders Andre Burakovsky (2013) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010), but players like fourth-line winger Glencross can make an impact on the game. In his case, it was good and bad. First, the good: Sprung by a strong defensive play by linemate Tom Wilson, Glencross had the puck on his stick going in one-on-one with Henrik Lundqvist. When his initial shot was saved, he stayed with it, knocking in the rebound to put Washington up 1-0. It was Wilson’s strong move, separating the puck from Rangers defenseman Kevin Klein, that started the play.
The Capitals’ cause was helped along by a monumental mistake from New York’s Keith Yandle, who pinched in to go after the loose puck. His ill-advised move forward set off the 2-on-0 break for Washington. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has wanted to see his defensemen be more active offensively, but that certainly wasn’t what he had in mind. When asked about it after the game, he joked sarcastically,
“You think we overdid it on [Washington’s] first goal?” He can laugh about it now, only because it was a Capital’s turnover—Glencross’s bad impact—that ultimately ended the game.
2. Holtby and Lundqvist are very, really, definitely great goalies
Watching goals get scored is fun. Sometimes, they sound a loud horn and many people jump up and down, sharing hugs and high-fives. So, Holtby and Lundqvist stole lots of fun Friday night. But, in the process, the two goalies were also loads of fun to watch. Combined, they made 69 saves in a game that went scoreless for almost 51 minutes. And that was not for lack of trying by the Rangers and Capitals players. New York, facing elimination, was predictably effective early, opening with 12 shots in the first 10 minutes. They included a clean chance in the slot by defenseman Klein, a point blank shot from Rangers winger Martin St. Louis and five shots on a power play. Those do not include another St. Louis chance in tight in the second period or the shot Derrick Brassard sent in wide on a yawning net. And though Holtby made 41 saves, you can also credit one to defenseman Matt Niskanen, who swept a puck on the goal line out of the crease in the second.
Lundqvist denied Washington winger Joel Ward five times, and got a lot of help from his teammates, who blocked 21 shots in the winning effort.
3. The disallowed Washington goal late in the second period is one of those head-scratchers I’ll always find difficult to understand
With about two minutes left in the second, the Capitals scored. Niskanen threw a puck toward the front of the net, where Ward and Rangers center Derek Stepan were jockeying for position. As the puck came in, all three bodies tangled together and the puck squirted out and into the goalmouth, but it was immediately waved off. The referee called goalie interference—except he didn’t.
Goalie interference should be a penalty. But Ward was not assessed a minor. No, this was one of those “It’s interference enough to wave off the goal, but not interference enough to warrant a penalty” calls. It’s kind of like the coincidental tripping-diving calls we often see. It shouldn’t be both. It’s either one or the other. If a player is embellishing, then that means it should not be a penalty. If they want to penalize the divers, then introduce a new penalty: Two minutes for Overselling. On the call, Washington coach Barry Trotz had this to say: “I thought two things. I thought Lundqvist came out of the blue [paint] and engaged him a little bit, and that Joel was pushed in.”