NEW YORK – It’s not that the Rangers played particularly poorly in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal against Washington.
It’s that they did just enough to lose.
Yes, they scored a power-play goal, but they also allowed the Caps a man-up tally. Sure, they outshot the Capitals, but they also had 24 attempts blocked by the stingy Capitals’ defense, and two more chances ring off the goalposts in the third period.
Sure, they tied the game in the third period, but then they took two consecutive penalties in a span of 2:36. The Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin scored the game-winner four seconds into their final power play.
Point is the Rangers, despite having the territorial advantage again, just couldn’t put the dangerous Capitals away. And now, after a 3-2 loss at MSG in Game 2, their best-of-seven series has been transformed into a best-of-five series.
“I don’t think tonight that we overwhelmed them or outplayed them,” said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan in a somber Rangers locker room. “I thought it was back and forth, pretty much, the whole night. I thought they had a pretty strong second, we had a good first. We tied it up in the third, which was good, but unfortunately we give up a PK goal there, and that’s it.”
The Caps got off to a good start in the first period after they held together during a long Rangers surge that dominated the first half of the opening period. Then, Mike Knuble broke the deadlock when he took a pretty cross-crease feed from Joel Ward and deposited into a gaping net at 12:20.
Just under five minutes later, seconds after Chris Kreider had a breakaway thwarted by Braden Holtby (26 saves), Jason Chimera was credited with a bad-bounce goal when Henrik Lundqvist had trouble playing a puck behind his net. Chimera threw it in front, and it bounced into the net off Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
“I had to wait for it. It died in the corner, and I was just on the [trapezoid] line so I could [only] push it a little bit, but [Chimera] stopped it and it was a big scramble,” said Lundqvist (22 saves). “Unfortunately it went wide then hit Mac’s skate a couple times before going in. Just a bad break.”
“Can’t give things for free. They had too many things for free tonight,” said a terse John Tortorella after the game. “It’s a free one.”
And after that free one, the Rangers were behind the eight-ball, down 2-0 against a strong defensive team.
Brad Richards brought them closer in the final minute of the first when he scored off a cross-ice feed from Marian Gaborik, and Callahan tied it on the power play when he deflected a point-blast from Michael Del Zotto. But then came the parade to the penalty box that led to Ovechkin getting too much time and space off a faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom.
“We killed off that penalty and had to go back on the PK again,” said Lundqvist. “They’re a skilled team, if you give them enough chances on their power play, they’re going to [score].”
“You battle back as hard as we did to tie the game, you can’t take four minutes in penalties,” Tortorella said. “You’re not going to win a hockey game that way.”
“All my focus right now is to get ready for the next game,” Lundqvist said. “I don’t think about this one anymore. It’s going pretty tough, that’s for sure. They’re a good team. We don’t expect this to be easy. It’s going to be a challenge going into their building to try to get a couple wins.”
Game 3 is set for Wednesday in Washington.
Capitals coach Dale Hunter played Ovechkin only 18 shifts for 13:36. He had seven SOG and three more attempts blocked.
Brad Richards had a goal and assist in the game. He’s recorded seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last six games, and leads the Rangers with 4 goals and 8 assists in the playoffs.