Is playoff hockey awesome, or what?
The Capitals went toe-to-toe with the New York Rangers in an intense physical game, scored two quick goals in the second period, then locked down the defense to hang on for the 2-0 victory and a 2-0 lead in the series. Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves to earn his first NHL post-season shutout in front of a lively and appreciative crowd last night at the Verizon Center.
The Rangers showed more fire and hustle in the first period, outshooting the Caps 13-7, outhitting by a margin of 18-11, and generally dominating puck possession. The bodies were flying, and more then one player took the short trip down the corridor to the locker room for repair, only to be back on the bench for the next shift.
But the Caps stayed patient, then counter-attacked. Early in the second period they drove the puck hard to the New York net and scored two goals in the first four minutes. First, Jason Chimera beat netminder Henrik Lundqvist from just outside the crease on a gritty play by Brooks Laich and a pretty pass by Marcus Johansson.
Chimera was arguably the best player on the ice last night, finishing with 5 hits, 5 shots, and a goal. Coach Bruce Boudeau took note: “Through history, some guys raise their level of play at playoff time.” Chimera was more to the point: “This is what you live for.”
Two minutes later, Jason Arnott picked up a loose puck off a blocked shot and caught Lundqvist out of position with a wicked wrist shot from the left circle to make to 2-0. Arnott now has a game-winning assist and a key goal in two playoff games for Washington, cementing his reputation as a clutch post-season player. And he likes to score.
The third period was wide open with good chances for both teams. Neuvirth made several outstanding saves to preserve the lead. The Caps defense corps gave him great support, blocking shots and clearing the crease as needed. “We have played in enough close games this year we know what to do now,” said D-man Mike Green. “In the past we were a run-and-gun team but we’ve learned our lesson.”
The new guy thinks the Caps can do even better. “If we are getting a lead into the third we have to do a much better job,” said the playoff veteran Arnott. “We have to keep forechecking, keep shooting pucks. The Rangers’ goaltending is phenomenal and they work as hard as any team in the league and we can’t take them for granted. They came at us in the third period. We’ve got to look at that and then move forward.”
Looking at the shot chart of the games so far, it is evident that the way to beat Lundqvist is from shots below the faceoff dots and by changing the point of attack before the goalie can adjust. Both goals last night came on quick shots after the puck crossed in front of “King Henrik.” The Caps will need to maintain this style of attack when the series moves to Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.
For last night, the Caps were able to put the puck in the net while still guarding the home front. Now the stage shifts to the Big Apple as Game 3 will be played in New York on Sunday at 3pm. “We can enjoy this for about 20 minutes,” said Game 2 hero Chimera. “By no means is it done. When the hammer is down you got to keep on going. They can easily steal two game there and tie the series, so we have to keep it going.”