The Washington Capitals did exactly what they had to in winning Game 5 (RECAP | BOXSCORE) and forcing a Game 6 back at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon. In fact, they did exactly what they did last year in forcing the Philadelphia Flyers to seven games after similarly falling behind in that series 3-1.
That is to say they brought the right blend of passion, patience and persistence. Coach Bruce Boudreau sent the right message and set the correct tone by starting the line of David Steckel-Brooks Laich-Matt Bradley. The trio of bangers pinned the Rangers in their own zone with a ferocious forechecking shift to open the proceedings. It couldn't have worked out any better for Boudreau's boys as his gut instinct paid off with Bradley scoring twice in the first period -- his first playoff goals in 21 career postseason games.
The stars took over in the second for the Capitals, with Alexander Semin blistering a wrister on a clean face-off win by Nicklas Backstrom. Then it was the other Alex's turn, as Ovechkin danced his way past two would-be Rangers' defenders before deking goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to the ice and sliding the puck home for a crowd-pleasing, period ending, jaw-dropping display of skill and determination. From there, it was take the game home so the Caps could go back on the road.
Meanwhile, nothing went right for the Rangers. Coach John Tortorella did the controversial-to-some, but the absolutely correct thing and kept Sean Avery idled for his idiotic indiscretions at the end of Game 4 while his team was nursing a one-goal lead. Problem is, Tortorella's troops continued to take unnecessary penalties even without Avery. Again the Rangers' penalty killers did the job, but that is not the point. This team is offensively challenged and the constant parade to the penalty box makes it impossible for the Rangers to get any type of offensive flow going. Establish a forecheck? Forget about it. In short, the penalties are undermining an already feeble attack.
To make matters worse, King Henrik was a commoner in this one, giving up a weak goal on Bradley's second bid, a wide-angle wrister that squeaked through. The other goals were the result of some superior one-on-one skills, but once it was 4-0, Tortorella made the call to Lunqvist's backup Steve Valiquette to mop up in the third. No sense exposing the King to any more unpleasantries.
Besides, Tortorella needs Lundqvist rested and ready and hopefully back in top form on Sunday. But the Rangers need more. Unless the rest of the Blueshirts' best players step forward, this series won't end in New York. It'll be back to D.C. on Tuesday -- just as it was a year ago for the Capitals. Seems fitting. Now, it is possible, if not imminent.