By Rodger M. Wood
If the Caps/Rangers keeping playing the classically tough hockey they played in Games 3 and 4 of the semi final Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center last week for the rest of the series, the fans watching are going to have to keep an aspirin bottle by their sides to save them from heart failure from the lucky bounces that decide the game.
In the third game, Rangers Marian Gaborik’s goal beat the Caps at the 14:41 mark of triple overtime.
In the fourth game, Caps defenseman Mike Green scored the game winning 3-2 goal from the point with 5:48 to go in regulation to even their semi–finals series at two games a piece.
The overtime game reminded me a lot of the New York Islanders/Capitals triple overtime game my son Thom and I saw at the Old Capital Center on April 18, 1987, except in the Wednesday game, Caps defenseman Larry Murphy wasn’t on the ice to pass toe puck out from behind the net to Islanders Pat Lafontaine to cost the Caps the game and their 1987 season.
Playing all out offensively in overtime, Caps’ Ovie had two opportunities, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Mike Green, Matt Hendriks, and several other Caps players had great scoring opportunities, only to hit the post, bounce the puck off Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and not bury the pill to make the Caps victorious.
Getting two and a half days of rest before the fourth game, the Caps bounced back with a furious first period vengeance, outshooting the Rangers 14-3, with Ovie scoring his fourth goal of the playoffs to put the Caps ahead by a goal 1-0.
The Rangers came out in the second period loaded for bear. After getting a chewing out from Coach Tortorella for his lethargic play, Rangers forward Artem Anisimov scored the first goal, and Marian Gaborik got another big goal to tie the Caps at 2-2 at the end of the second period. Niklaus Backstrom had scored the go ahead go at the 11;54 mark.
The two teams battled in the third period until the 4:12 mark , when Green buried the winning goal to give three of the Caps “young gunners,” Ovie, Backstrom, and Green a goal each and the Caps encouragement that their top shooters were awakening offensively in the series.
Playing mostly with only four defensemen, who did double duty in the overtime game, Caps forwards Matt Hendrick, Troy Brouver, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, Mike Knuble, Joel Ward, and Brooks Laich may be wearing the Rangers down.
Hendricks had 11 hits in the overtime game, one of which almost put 6-1, 218 Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh up in the stands.
The Caps also beat the Rangers at their own game in the regulation game, blocking 24 shots to the Rangers 7. While most of the Caps players stopped their share, defenseman Jeff Schultz stood out with 9 blocked shots.
Goalies Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundvquist are having a classic battle between the pipes. In the overtime game, Lundvquist stopped 47/48 shots and the regulation game, 25/28 shots while young Holtby stopped 47/49 shots in overtime, and 18/20 in the regulation game. Holtby has allowed 9 goals in the four games, Lundvquist 8. While he is a goal better than the Caps 22-year old goaltender, the 30-year old Lundvquist may be showing signs of wear and tear as the series goes on.
Both teams are playing good old time hockey. The teams are close alike in their “clogging the neutral zone play,” blocking shots, making big hits, and battling to win the battles in the corners. Coming back from a possibly devastating loss in overtime to win, Caps veterans and youngsters showed a lot of mental toughness, which they have been criticized as not having in recent past years.
Neither team will be going down easy this playoffs, so Caps fans get your aspirin bottles out. Win or lose, you’ll need them to keep heart.