An Opportunity Lost

Never before in their playoff history had the Washington Capitals bolted out to a commanding, stranglehold 3-0 lead in games in a seven-game series. Sunday in New York they missed perhaps their best chance ever. How costly a missed opportunity remains to be seen.

It was 0-0 after one on Sunday — a fine position for a road hockey club in almost every instance, but especially for the Caps yesterday, skating against a desperate squad like the Rangers were. It was 1-1 after two, and the Caps had survived an all-timer of dramatic postseason scares — a potentially horrifying lead goal surrendered with just one-tenth of a second left in the stanza. Video review averted a momentum disaster, and you were left thinking: 20 solid minutes and this series could be, for all intents and purposes, over. Even after the Rangers took the lead near the 8-minute mark of the third, the Caps responded with a power play dagger with under 5 minutes to play. You got the sense that in an overtime session the Rangers would have to play slightly more cautious than the Caps. Advantage visitors. You also got the sense that for all the Capitals’ shortcomings on Sunday, they were there at the end poised to achieve something they never had before. But it wasn’t to be. Because it wasn’t earned.

This was a game for the taking by the guests, and a novel stranglehold on the series rendered. Instead, because the Capitals could not match New York in intensity and execution — or work ethic — the series has new life. A team with plausible aspirations for playing meaningful hockey in warm weather desperately needs a moderately short opening series. The Caps could still get it this week, but they made such a task a heck of a lot harder on themselves. Simply because they got outworked.

After game 2 I’d posited the notion that the Caps would need to help the Rangers get back in this series. Sunday they did. The game’s first goal never should have been scored. Eric Christensen’s power play tally from the severest of corner angles was a physical and mental error by Michal Neuvirth — that short-side corner gap simply can’t be left unguarded. Error of youth.

In Friday night’s decisive second period the Capitals authored what John Tortorella called a “surge” against his club. Sunday in Madison Square Garden a surge of Capitals went to the penalty box. “You can’t take seven penalties,” Bruce Boudreau said afterward. “You knew [the Rangers] were gonna be antagonists.”

That the Capitals escaped the second frame knotted at 1-1 was illusory; the Rangers on Sunday brought intensity to their game plan, and the Caps didn’t match it. Killing off such a high volume of penalties saps energy and disrupts rhythm. Opposed by the host’s high intensity, unable to match the host’s discipline, the Capitals succumbed in Sunday’s final 90 seconds, when a puck deflected off of Karl Alzner’s arm and went behind Michal Neuvirth for a 3-2 Rangers’ win. New series.

The Rangers played a disciplined, gritty game, while the Caps were whistled for eight minor penalties, leading to seven Rangers’ power plays. When you have to kill that much penalty time often your elite skaters lose out on minutes. The Caps certainly want Jason Arnott on the ice for more than 14:31, and Alex Semin skating more than 16:06. More basically, line disruption of this sort robs a skilled team of its rhythm. It was a disjointed offensive effort by the Capitals Sunday afternoon, thanks to the parade to the sin bin they undertook, and it played right into the Rangers’ gameplan. And in failing to match the Rangers’ intensity the Caps placed Michal Neuvirth in a hornet’s nest of Rangers running the goaltender’s crease. Time after time there were Blueshirts in Neuvirth’s blue paint.

“Every time there was a scrum in front of the net they hit Neuvy,” Boudreau said. “[The referees] kept warning them not to do it and they kept doing it and nothing was done so they kept doing it.”

Maybe some psychological gamesmanship by the coach in advance of Wednesday’s game 4.

There’s an extra day off before game 4. That might stifle a bit the momentum the Rangers left the the Garden with Sunday. Still, the tale of the statistical tape, in almost every category, belonged to the Rangers on Sunday, the result of blue collar, bully ethos by the Blueshirts. Look for the Caps to have a better regard for their young netminder on Wednesday, and for life at the other end of the ice to become more congested and antagonistic.

This entry was posted in Bruce Boudreau, New York Rangers, NHL playoffs, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to An Opportunity Lost

  1. sean says:

    If we can’t get fired up to beat the Rangers in MSG we have no business going any further. What if we end up playing the Flyers? The Rangers will look like childs play in comparison. The refs were bad in this game but I have us play through worse. I just wish we could get Wideman back for this series, Sarge actually looked scared with the puck and could barely get it out of our own end.

  2. sonja says:

    I dunno, pucks … I think there were some intangibles that made this game difficult. I don’t know where to find the stats, but I think a number of the penalties came after the linesman change in the 2nd period. That stoppage in play really changed the game. It’s no excuse, but it does need to be factored in …

  3. Roybus says:

    A lot of good points. Especially when it comes to the penalties. But I’m optimistic because had this team played with their normal energy, we’d be looking at 3-0 taking the Rangers best shot. If this is their best shot, we’re good. Because our best shot is a lot better…

  4. Roybus says:

    Good point….

  5. Roybus says:

    Sean, they will be fine. The Rangers threw their best yesterday w/o us throwing our’s and barely won on a “flukey” goal. The boys will bring and close this thing out in the next two.

  6. TG says:

    The other positive way to look at it is, this was the best the Rangers have played. They got 7 power plays, with two of them 5-on-3s. And the Caps lost by one goal.

  7. And as others have noted, TG, a fluke goal at that.

  8. ValleyCapsFan says:

    Let’s not get TOO carried away by one loss, folks. The Rangers are a playoff team who get paid to play to win as well. I recall the Caps-Senators series back in ’98, when the Caps won the first two in DC and played a tough but losing game 3 to a fired-up Sens team when they went up to Ottowa. After the Sens’ initial “surge,” the Caps took the rest of the series.

    This post will look silly if this goes to 6 or 7 games, but I think the Caps just took the Rangers’ best shot.

  9. Chris G says:

    @valleycapsfan, agreed, I think they threw everything they had at that game. We’ve got to be disciplined though, no more stupid penalties, that favors the Rags. We obviously have more talent, we just need to increase the intensity, get Backstrom more involved, and change out Sturm for Fehr, and we’ll be fine.

  10. MadCap says:

    It really did feel like a huge missed opportunity yesterday (once in my life I would like to know what a 3-0 series lead feels like). I still think the Caps win on Wednesday and close this out at home on Saturday, but it would have been nice to have avoided the potential alternatives (i.e. going back to DC tied up at 2).

  11. MadCap says:

    @ Chris G : do you think Sturm gets the bench if Fehr is added to the lineup, or would it be Chimera getting the scratch ?

  12. Steve Owen says:

    Caps were way too complacent yesterday. I thought they only played their best when they were down a goal. When it was even they seemed like they were playing with a two goal lead. Same old Caps? I think not. This team is full of vets like Arnott, Knuble, Sturm and Wideman who will not allow complacency to set in. As soft as we played we almost stole it so that gives me confidence.
    P.S. It would be nice to see Mike Green stay on his skates instead of getting knocked down constantly (the opponents or his end). Come on Mike, man up!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s