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In front of 18,398 boisterous fans in the Verizon Center, the Washington Caps closed things out in convincing fashion Saturday afternoon, defeating the New York Rangers 3-1 to end the first round series in five games. The Caps are now 5-4 in Game 5 situations, a year after they lost Game 5 to the Montreal Canadiens.
Saturday’s Game 5 was the most complete performance by the Capitals in the series, proving that they were the significantly better team from the start of the first period to the end of the third. While the Rangers’ toughness and fight was definitely present, they were unable to match the Capitals in skill or beat the wall that is Michal Neuvirth.
“He was great” said Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau about Neuvirth’s performance. “Then he’d cover pucks up, he wouldn’t allow rebounds and then we’d get chances to change and slow it down when we wanted to do that.”
On the flip side, Washington matched the Rangers’ physical presence with 31 hits to the Ranger’s 32 hits. They stayed out of the penalty box, took advantage of the power play and made sure to keep constant pressure on Henrik Lundqvist while maintaining the shut down defense they played all series long.
“It was good to get out to a lead and not sit on it but keep pushing forward,” said Caps defenseman John Carlson. “I thought we did a great job of that.”
That was certainly seen through the Caps scoring in every period: Mike Green on the power play in the first, Alex Ovechkin on a beauty of a backhand in the second period, and Alex Semin on a 2-on-1 with about three minutes remaining in the third period. New York’s lone goal was scored with 32 seconds remaining in the game after their only lengthy cycle in Washington’s zone.
On Easter Sunday, the Caps did not practice. They will have the opportunity to rest for about a week now that they are the second team to have ended their series this year behind the Detroit Red Wings. For the current squad, and many of their fans, this is unfamiliar territory. The Caps played an extremely physical and scrappy team that gave them significant problems during the regular season in the first round of the playoffs, and clearly showed that they were the superior team.
The last time the Capitals did that and won in five games was in 1998, where, after beating the Boston Bruins in six games in the first round, the Caps defeated the Ottawa Senators in the second round in five games. Of course, 1998 was a special year for Washington, as it was the first time in the franchise’s history that they made the Stanley Cup Finals. Despite being swept by the Red Wings in ’98, many of the Caps’ faithful look back on that season with fond memories.
Now, I’m not one for early celebrations and I’m certainly not making a case to break out the champagne because of a very successful first round, but the Capitals’ dominance in this year’s playoffs early on is something to consider when discussing the Capitals’ potential for a serious run this year because it’s such a rare occurrence for the franchise. The Caps seem to have made it a point to disregard past failures and to force people to realize this is a different team than past Caps teams that went through years of early exits or lengthy first rounds.
It is quite possible that Washington will play the Montreal Canadiens or the Pittsburgh Penguins at some point in the playoffs. Many people would tend to state the Caps’ struggles in the playoffs against these two teams, especially against the Penguins. However, it seems unnecessary to put so much emphasis, as the Caps have already done things this postseason that have not been done ever or at least for a long time throughout the team’s history.
As a result, the Caps are playing with a purpose and are aiming to quiet those who doubt the team’s legitimacy and coaching. The solid 60-minute performance in Game 5, among other surprises and showings, was a prime example of that, especially after their 4-3 double overtime comeback in Game 4.
Is this first round win the precursor for a special season for Washington? We can hardly tell at this point, and it is ill-advised to go anywhere near the idea of confirming the Caps as Cup champions. But now that the Capitals have gotten over their proverbial playoff hump of the first round, they can focus on continuing to work hard and advancing further.
Notes: Mike Green was once again struck in the head with a puck in Game 5. He returned to the bench in the third period… The Capitals’ next opponent is still to be determined.