Alexander Semin scored at the 18:24 mark of overtime to lead the Washington Capitals past the New York Rangers 2-1 in game one of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal playoff series. Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth made 24 saves to earn his first career NHL playoff victory.
Semin finished with a goal and an assist on the game. The game winner ended a 14-game goal scoring drought for the veteran forward which dated back two seasons.
The winning goal was set up off a turnover by Rangers defenseman Marc Staal whose clearing attempt was intercepted by Caps forward Jason Arnott. The veteran passed to Semin between the circles where he delivered a one-timer of the bouncing puck that beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist just inside the far post.
“I was probably crowding the middle of the net and I just didn’t have time to move across, it was a hard one,” Lundqvist recalled when asked about the game winner. “The puck was going up and down a little bit so he just fired it real hard.”
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Rangers who had their chances to win the game after being outplayed in the first period. Lundqvist, who finished the game with 31 saves, kept the game scoreless along with some help from the cross bar which the Capitals hit twice in the first period alone. Still, the Rangers and Caps played a conservative and tight checking style that clearly showed the raised intensity level prevalent in Stanley Cup play.
Matt Gilroy’s first career playoff goal gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead just 1:56 into the third period. The play was set up by good hustle by Brandon Prust who outraced Caps defenseman John Erskine for the puck behind the Washington net. Prust found Wojtek Wolski in the corner who feathered a pass to Gilroy at the right circle. Gilroy’s one-timer made it 1-0 Rangers.
The Caps evened the score on a controversial goal with just 6:16 left in regulation time. Semin and Alexander Ovechkin took three whacks at a puck Lundqvist thought he had under his pads and eventually the Ovechkin poked the puck into the goal. Video review confirmed the puck went in before the goal came off its moorings but the Rangers were more concerned that Lundqvist had control of the puck and the play should have been whistled dead.
“I think it’s underneath me and the whistle didn’t come so I moved and then it crossed the line,” Lundqvist said. “I’m kind of stuck in that position so you just have to hope for the whistle.”
Rangers Coach John Tortorella was disappointed by the call but refused to make excuses. “It looks like the ref is looking to blow the whistle. I’m not sure what his thinking was but they call it a goal and we’re not going to whine about it,” he said. “We had our opportunities after that, we didn’t find a way and they scored a big goal they won the hockey game.”
The best opportunity came when Ovechkin was called for roughing with 4:43 left in regulation time, giving New York a crucial power play opportunity. But the Rangers managed only one shot on goal during the man advantage despite controlling the puck in the Washington zone for most of the power play.
The teams came out playing a wide open style early in overtime with the Capitals getting the majority of the scoring chances but Lundqvist kept his club in the game, making nine saves in overtime before yielding the game winner.
Fatigue certainly played a factor in the Rangers play as overtime wore on. Staal’s intercepted outlet pass led to the game winner while his defense partner, Dan Girardi, also coughed up several giveaways in overtime. Tortorella tried to match Staal and Girardi with Ovechkin’s line every time they were on the ice. As a result, Staal was on ice for 33:48 with Girardi close behind at 32:50.
Despite the tough loss, the Rangers tried to look at the positives they can take from their game one performance. “Obviously, we didn’t get the second one but we did a lot of good things,” forward Brian Boyle explained. “They’ve got a lot of talent and it’s going to be a tough series. We want to play stingy, we want to frustrate them, play hard and play physical. I thought we did that in the 2nd and 3rd periods and in overtime.”
The series resumes Friday night in Washington.