Span of seconds spins Rangers, Capitals series in New York's favor
NEW YORK -- Call it the power of pessimism. With his team down in the waning seconds of a likely 2-1 defeat in Game 5, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was looking ahead.
"I was already thinking about the next game," he admitted. "We've won some games in overtime (a league-high eight during the regular season), but we haven't had to come back much to do it. I was kind of preparing myself so I didn't get too angry when the clock ran out."
Now the Rangers and Capitals may have to rethink their postures. With a dramatic tying goal from Brad Richards with 6.6 seconds to play and a power-play goal by Marc Staal in the first two minutes of overtime, New York has a 3-2 lead in the back-and-forth series that saw a stunning change in texture for both teams Monday.
"Nobody thought this was going to happen," said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, as surprised as Lundqvist, who had gone to the Rangers' bench for a sixth attacker.
The Capitals seemed headed for victory with seconds ticking away, but Washington's Joel Ward took a double minor penalty for high sticking Carl Hagelin after a faceoff with 22 seconds left in regulation. New York pressed the attack with a six-on-four advantage in the final seconds. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto took a shot from the point that deflected to Braden Holtby's right side. New York's Ryan Callahan took two whacks at the puck before Richards found it and somehow flicked a rebound under Holtby's sprawled body, under the arm of Washington defenseman John Carlson, who had dropped to his knees at the goal line, and then off the post before going in with 6.6 seconds to play. It was the latest the Rangers have ever scored a tying goal in a playoff game.
"We felt like we deserved a little bit more than being down, 2-1, with that much time left," Richards said.
The Ward penalty left the Rangers with a power play of 1:53 to start overtime. "You can't say it was his fault," Ovechkin said. "We all lost the game. We win as a group and lose as a group." Ward, after all, had already played the role of hero, scoring the overtime winner in Game 7 against Boston in round one.
The Capitals killed the first minute of the overtime penalty very effectively. Then with less than half a minute to go, Rangers coach John Tortorella played a hunch. He put John Mitchell, a defensive-minded forward, out to take a key faceoff against Washington's Matt Hendricks, who had been a perfect nine-for-nine in faceoffs in Washington's Game 4 victory and five-of-seven in previous faceoffs on Monday. Mitchell, who had won all three of his draws in Game 5, won this one cleanly back to Staal, who quickly fired a slapper from the right point. The puck deflected off Washington's Brooks Laich, who had slid out to block it and carried past Holtby into the net. In all, Mitchell played just 7:34 all game, but his quick hands made the difference at the decisive moment.
"It's just what you're hoping for," Mitchell said. "Whatever you're asked to do, you know that one thing can change the game."
Ironically, the Capitals' commitment to blocking shots may have obscured Holtby's vision on the winning goal. In addition to Laich, Hendricks had also slid toward Staal's shot before he released it.
"I didn't see a thing," Holtby said. "Whether it had a lane or not, I'll have to look at the video to see if I could have done a better job seeing around the traffic. That's what happens when we play a style where we block a lot of shots. Sometimes those go in."
The Capitals have now played 12 playoff games, and 11 have been decided by one goal. New York enjoyed a 38-18 advantage in shots and had the better of play most of the game.
"They were throwing pucks in the corners and just throwing everything on the net," Capitals coach Dale Hunter said. "Holtby had to be strong, because they had lots of shots and they were shooting from everywhere."
The Rangers outshot the Capitals 17-4 in the first period, but only got a 1-0 lead out of it. Anton Stralman worked the puck down the right sideboards on what seemed to be an innocent-looking play. Stralman pushed the puck past the slide of Hendricks and slid a hard shot a few inches off the ice and through a screen. Holtby appeared to go down late on the shot, perhaps trying to see around the screen, and the puck went in through the five hole. One game after Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and Mike Green all scored in a 3-2 Washington win, the big names were silent in the first period. Jason Chimera managed three of Washington's shots, and Carlson had the other. Ovechkin did not record a shot all night.
He did figure in Washington's tying goal midway through the second period. Ovechkin's centering pass bounced off Brian Boyle's skate and rolled into the slot. The deflected puck slid to Laich, who beat Lundqvist under his glove to tie it at 8:15.
On a power play in the third period, the Capitals started blasting away at Lundqvist, trying to beat him high with a long shot, as Ovechkin did in the previous game. First Carlson took a shot that deflected off and broke the stick of Callahan, leaving the Rangers block at a disadvantage. Dennis Wideman then tried a shot that was blocked, but he then worked the puck back to Carlson, who whacked away again. This one caught a piece of Lundqvist's glove and carried into the net to give Washington a 2-1 lead.
Backstrom had a chance to make it 3-1 later in the period, but his backhand caught the extended jersey on Lundqvist's outstretched left arm and then the cross bar.
"The key tonight," said Tortorella, "was that we had a chance to go up 2-0 and didn't and they chances to go up 3-1 and didn't. ... They're all emotional games. It's a kick in the gut when you lose because it happens so quickly and it's pretty exciting when you win."
The Rangers, who won their final two games against Ottawa in the opening round, were just seconds away from needing to do that again against the Capitals until Richards fired into a crowd at the net.
"I didn't see it after I shot it," he said. "I was just hoping. Power of positive thinking."
Then again ask Lundqvist: Negative works, too.