So now we have a series.
With Marc Staal making his return from a horrible injury, and back in front of the raucous home crowd that included Tom Hanks, Michael J. Fox, Gob from Arrested Development, and Justin Tuck at the World’s Most Famous, the Rangers found their offense. And their grit. And their, dare we say it….jam.
After being outplayed off the opening drop, and squandering an early power play chance, when Alex Ovechkin was whistled for a high hit on Derek Stepan the Blueshirts found themselves down 1-0 just four minutes in. Nicklas Backstrom deflected a John Carlson shot past Henrik Lundqvist on a tip that Hank had no chance on. The play was reviewed for a stick-above-the-shoulder deflection, but it was correctly ruled a good goal.
The Caps, feeding off the momentum blitzed the Rangers, who appeared overwhelmed by the Washington attack. The Blueshirts were able to keep the deficit at one, largely due to the brilliance of the King in net.
Then at 12:50 at the expiry of a NYR power play, a power forward emerged with a power move for the NYR. Brian Boyle, yes that Brian Boyle walked the puck off the off wing wall and beat Braden Holtby short side to tie the game at 1-1. It was a soft short side goal let in by the cocky Holtby and seemed to ignite the Rangers and fire up the crowd, ending the Rangers long goal drought in the process.
Closing, the stanza tied was huge for the Rangers, who were outplayed by the Caps for most of the period.
On the first shift of the second period, as Rick Nash carried the puck behing the cage, Holtby poked at #61 and tripped the big winger sending the Blueshirts to the power play, once again.
This time the NYR power play unit went to work right away. Hulking power forward Brian Boyle won a draw clean to Dan Girardi and went directly to the net. Boyle’s tip of Girardi’s shot narrowly missed catching the inside post and wound up in the corner. Mats Zuccarello swooped into the to grab the puck and rather than wheel the biscuit around the perimeter as the NYR PP unit has been wont to do, the shifty Norwegian zipped a seam pass to Derick Brassard in the slot. Brassard shot across his body and beat Holtby just inside the post to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead, sending the Garden crowd into a frenzy.
Eight seconds. A face-off win, a point shot, a deflection, a pass and a shot. Power play goal. Simple.
Playing with a lead on home ice, the Rangers were a different team, chock full of hustle and battle. The Blueshirts were cruising towards opening the third period with a 2-1 lead when Mike Green struck again. The Caps defenseman, whose return to being an elite-level NHL defenseman has been overshadowed by the re-emergence of Ovechkin, tied the game at 17:19 with a rocket high glove over Hank. The Caps caught the Rangers scrambling around their zone with all 5 Blueshirts below the circles and Mathieu Perreault hit a streaking Green with a pass at circle and the Caps defenseman didn’t miss.
The critical (for the NYR) third period was the most exciting 20 minutes of the Rangers season. At 2:53 into the period after some excellent work along the boards by John Moore and Taylor Pyatt, Derick Brassard hit Arron Asham in the slot with a pass, that the winger fired by Holtby for the 3-2 lead. Brassard, in the midst of a monster game, made a great move on John Erskine behind the net to pull the puck back and give Ahsam enough time to get open in the slot for the bang-bang goal.
Just four minutes later, the Caps evened things with another re-directed puck past Hank. Boyle lost a face-off in the Rangers end that Joel Ward chipped back to Jack Hillen at the point. Hillen’s shot glanced off Jay Beagle in front changing directions and sliding by Hank.
Now tied at 3-3 and facing the possibility of going down 0-3, the Rangers faced their most crucial 12:41 of hockey this season. With the fans sensing what was at stake, rather than go silent, the crowd was electric.
Seconds before the Foxwoods Final Five, Ryan McDonagh held the puck in at the Caps blue line and completely jocked Ovechkin. The Brian Leetch-type play at the line by McD was followed with a pass along the wall to Zuccarello, who sent a pass along the back wall to Nash. Nash then connected with Stepan on Holtby’s doorstep for the go-ahead goal. The pass by Nash was a thing of beauty as the big winger fired the biscuit and hit Stepan directly on his angled blade for the deflection goal and 4-3 lead.
With the their first chance to close out a lead in the series, and the best closer in the game between their pipes, the Blueshirts held the Caps to 3 shots on goal before Richards took a terrible penalty. The lazy slashing minor on Ovechkin at the Rangers blue line with 1:54 remaining was a boneheaded play by a veteran, who should know better than to take such a bad penalty at such a critical juncture- they type of bad play that gets a rookie send to the press box.
But his Ranger teammates picked up B-Rich and the Blueshirt PK went to work in the final frantic 114 seconds, not allowing the Caps a single shot on goal in the mad scramble to end the game.
The Rangers, after their biggest playoff offensive outburst since Game 1 against Ottawa last year will look to even the series Wednesday.
Let’s go Rangers!