When Alex Ovechkin faked a slapshot on an early Capitals powerplay and instead hit a wide open Mike Green creeping in from the point for a score (and the defenseman’s 5th point in 5 games), the New York Rangers realized they didn’t get off to the start they needed in an elimination game. When Ovechkin turned up the jets in the 2nd period to streak the wing past his series-long defensive counterpoint, Marc Staal, and dash a backhand over Henrik Lundqvist’s blocker the Rangers realized they were a step or two behind the Capitals all afternoon, and argueably all series. But by the time Alexander Semin tapped a 2 on 1 feed into the back of the net late in the 3rd period to ensure the trio of Washington stars got on the scoreboard it was the realization of everyone involved that the Rangers’ playoff run would end in Game 5 at the Verizon Center.
The mock “Can You Hear Us?” chant, usurped from game 4 Garden faithfuls in response to Caps’ coach Bruce Boudreau slagging the World’s Most Famous Arena’s noise levels during a radio interview, was simply a painful exit music. Mercifully it shifted to the less personal Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.
The Rangers played a gritty 5 games (only the last could really be characterized as ’tilted’), but ultimately what was true going into the series held up as the truth that closed it: the Washington Capitals had too much offensive weaponry. While the Rangers effectively shutdown the Caps’ high-end talent all season, keeping Ovechkin, Semin, Green and Backstrom goal-less through 4 contests, the superstars flexed their muscles in the postseason while the Rangers’ best players struggled. Brandon Dubinsky led the Blueshirts with two goals and an assist while Marian Gaborik deposited a disappointing goal and a helper. Erik Christensen’s lone Power Play tally exposed a dreadful man-advantage situation for the Rangers who finished the series 1-20, and Marc Staal and Dan Girardi–both of whom logged monster minutes for the Blueshirts against the Ovechkin line, and were notably the Rangers’ best defensemen–ended the series -3 and -2, respectively.
The Capitals on the otherhand got timely production from their captan, Semin and Greene–the trio combining for 15 points. The Washington Power Play wasn’t dominant (only 3 goals in the series) but seemed to score when it needed to, including the opening goal in an elimination game. What was most effective though about the Capitals offense was that it always posed a threat–and in doing so kept the Rangers on their heels with caution. Alex Ovechkin had 3 goals in the series but was a danger each time he picked up the puck for a rush. Alexander Semin also only had 3 goals, but his whiplike wristshot could’ve been a game breaker any time he fired towards Lundqvist. Combine those two on a man-up situation and it’s easy to see why the Caps kept momentum from NY for most of the series.
Not surprisingly the Rangers never quit and the playoff round was much closer than the 5 game elimination might suggest. Despite lacking a match (as in matchup, or source of ignition) for offensive firepower the Rangers had a chance to steal 2 more Ws in overtime of games 1 and 4. In order for an 8 seed to upset the top dog in the first round, the team must find a way to grab opportunites when they are presented and the Rangers could not.
As Henrik Lundqvist, who played as well as one could ask of a playoff goalie, lamented in his postgame interview, “it really bugs me the way we didn’t find ways to win those game where we had a great opportunity. That bothers me a lot. It’s over.”
Regardless of how well Washington’s top guns played, had the Rangers found a way to hold onto their leads in games 1 and 4–a defensive habit they perfected during the regular season, going 29-0 when bringing a lead to the 3rd period–the series would’ve been 3-1 in their favor.
Instead, 2 overtime losses and an early summer in Manhattan. The window of opportunity is so slim in the NHL playoffs that if the lower seed doesn’t slip through with a win when there is a chance, the numbers game will eventually count them out. And despite a hardworking, emotionally satisfying season and obvious improvement from last year’s finish, the Capitals best players simply had the numbers.