Alex Ovechkin (right) was largely hemmed in by the efforts of Rangers defenders such as Ryan McDonagh. (AP)
By Brian Cazeneuve
NEW YORK -- After returning to New York down 2-0 in their series against the Washington Capitals, the Rangers regained their footing with a 4-3 win in Game 3. Another victory by the same score followed in Game 4 on Wednesday, and just like that, a series that once looked lopsided is all knotted up at two games apiece.
Here are some more thoughts and observations from the game:
• Hours before Game 4, Rangers coach John Tortorella spoke about the need to play better against the Capitals’ third and fourth lines. “They had too much zone time against us the last few games,” he said. His team controlled most of the first two periods, outshooting Washington, 26-15, though the Caps enjoyed a 15-8 advantage in the third period, when New York sat back on a two-goal lead.
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• Alex Ovechkin managed just a single shot on goal for the game, thanks to a Rangers effort that blocked 33 shots to the Capitals’ two. In particular, New York's pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh spent most of the night frustrating him as they combined for 60 minutes and four seconds of ice time between them. “They just put the puck in our net and made it a physical game,” Ovechkin said. “We knew it was going to be like that, especially in that kind of building . . . We didn’t put the puck in the neutral zone and they used that.”
• The game was full of role players taking aim at the stars. In the first 80 seconds, Washington forward Martin Erat made a super defensive play by spilling Rangers forward Rick Nash. New York's Taylor Pyatt did the same to Ovechkin. Both were early -- but misleading -- hints that there would not be nearly as much room to make plays as there was in Monday’s 4-3 Rangers victory.
• To get more minutes for Ovechkin, Adam Oates double-shifted his superstar with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks, giving him extra ice time with the fourth liners. That wasn’t a demotion, but it looked like it: Tortorella was briefly playing center Brad Richards, who struggled in the first three games (no points and -1), with Arron Asham and Ryane Clowe, forwards who often see fourth-line duty. Tortorella rolled four lines for much of the night. He then moved Richards onto a line with Pyatt and Carl Hagelin, which led to…
• ...a bad misplay by Braden Holtby on the first Rangers goal. Holtby came out to play the puck and let Hagelin skate by, then tried to fire it up the ice. Pyatt swatted it down as Holtby scrambled to get back into the net, and Hagelin retrieved it and fired a shot that John Carlson blocked while essentially playing stand-up goal in the crease. Richards then banged in the rebound from the doorstep.
• There was an unusual play in the first period as New York attacked the Washington goal while shorthanded. Derek Stepan broke into the slot in front of the Caps’ net with Erat giving chase from behind and to the side. Ovechkin outraced both players and delivered a body check that effectively took out Erat and Stepan. Erat slid into the goal and remained down, holding his left wrist. He was whistled for hooking and Ovechkin was given a penalty for charging on the same play. Erat did not return after the collision.
• New York had outshot Washington, 22-10, when the Caps made it a game on a sloppy bit of work by the Rangers. After New York defenseman Steve Eminger turned the puck over in the center zone, Joel Ward brought it back up for Washington. He easily beat Michael Del Zotto on the left side and fed Mathieu Perreault with a short pass at the side of the net. Richards, a smart player whose skating deficiencies are being exposed more frequently, got caught in between the two Caps and failed to reach the puckhandler, cut the pass, or bother the charging Perreault on the opposite side. Perreault jabbed the puck behind Henrik Lundqvist to cut New York's lead to 2-1 at 13:08 of the second period. Eminger did not see the ice again.
• Washington’s Jason Chimera took a penalty at the end of the second period when he ran into Lundqvist, leaving New York with a two-minute advantage to start the third. With the likes of Richards, Nash, Stepan and Ryan Callahan at his disposal, Tortorella began the power play with Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. It’s a perfect example of Tortorella’s tendency to play the hot hand when he sees particular players doing well. The group produced a goal 59 seconds into the period, when Brassard drew two Caps to him at the right circle, then slid a cross-ice backhand to the left point where Girardi had time to skate into a slapper that he drove past Holtby’s right side.
• New York extended its lead on a goal by Stepan before Washington sealed the final margin of 4-3 on another tally by Perreault. Lundqvist then held off the Capitals’ charge in the last seven minutes. “It was a series of momentum swings,” said Tortorella. “We bent, but we didn’t break.”
• When the Rangers’ power play, ranked 23rd in the league during the regular season, met the Capitals’ penalty kill (27th), something had to give. Washington had held New York to 2-for-17 with the man advantage through the first three games before the Rangers went 1-for-4 on Wednesday.
• Only three times during the regular season did the Capitals score three goals in a game and lose: 6-3 against Tampa Bay on Jan. 19 (opening night); 6-3 against Pittsburgh on Feb. 3; and 5-4 against Philadelphia on Mar. 31. This was their second consecutive loss by a 4-3 score at Madison Square Garden.
• So what do the Capitals have to do better as the series, now even, shifts back to Washington? “We have to play more in their zone,” Ovechkin said. “Tonight we didn’t do it. We have to be able to go to work in their zone." And from Alzner: “They kept their two guys coming strong and their third guy was quick to follow. We have to be prepared for that third man and we have to turn it back at them, so they pay for their forecheck.”