And so we go to Game 7.
In a 2-1 victory in Game 6 last night the Caps struck early, stayed aggressive, and then held off the NY Rangers down the stretch to stay alive in the NHL playoffs.
Buoyed by a raucous crowd at Verizon Center, the Caps scored two goals in the first two periods. The Rangers came charging back in the third. Just as in Game 5, the Rangers pulled the goalie and scored a last-minute goal. But the Caps clamped down on defense to prevent an equalizer. The Caps’ rookie netminder Braden Holtby was spectacular in earning the victory with 30 saves.
Alex Ovechkin started the scoring for the Caps less than two minutes into the game with a power play goal from the top of the slot to make it 1-0. Good puck movement around the perimeter allowed Ovie to get free between the circles. Nicklas Backstrom fed him a perfect pass for a one-timer over the glove of New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
At the mid-point of the second period, Jason Chimera punched in a goal from the crease to make it 2-0. A shot by John Carlson was deflected by Backstrom and landed in the paint for Chimera to tuck it home. Although it didn’t show up on the stat sheet, the scoring chance was created by Alexander Semin drawing four Rangers to one side of the ice. “I told him that was his goal,” said Chimera of Semin after the game. “He made the play over there and put it over to Carlson. I was just the recipient of a good play by him.”
The pugnacious Rangers fought back with physical play and attempts to intimidate, but the Caps played it cool and didn’t take the bait. “We know that in the past they’ve had series and games where they like to play a little tough and a little chippy,” said Troy Brouwer. “We stay away from it. It’s not part of our game.”
A 4-minute double minor to Jeff Halpern for high sticking late in the second period was reminiscent of the Game 5 penalty by Joel Ward that resulted in two late goals by the Rangers. But the Caps fought off the Rangers’ power play and used the momentum to finish the period on a strong note.
The Caps were in a full prevent defense in the third period, with opportunistic rushes foiled by Lundqvist. Finally, the Rangers pulled Lundqvist with more than two minutes remaining in the game to try to force another overtime. The Caps were able to keep the puck out of the zone for a while, but the Rangers pressed harder. Finally able to set up in the Caps’ zone, a point shot deflected off a player’s back and past Holtby to make it 2-1 with 51 seconds remaining in regulation. The Rangers never threatened again and the series is now tied at three games apiece.
One of the unsung heroes of the game who played with a lot of heart last night was Matt Hendricks, playing hard minutes against the Rangers top line and on the PK unit. “These are the games that you live to play, these back-to-the-wall, pressure sitations,” said Hendricks. “And when you achieve it, it’s a great feeling.”
The Caps and the Rangers will play Game 7 for all the marbles Saturday night in Madison Square Garden. Don’t miss it.