By Sarah Kwak
The key to the Washington Capitals’ success in this series was always going to be patience in the face of New York’s stifling defense and goalie Henrik Lundqvist. On Saturday, after 68 minutes of trying to get a shot past the Rangers’ Vezina Trophy winner, the Caps finally broke through on a power play. Set up at the point, Caps defenseman Mike Green took a feed from Mike Ribeiro and whipped a one-timer that barely caught Rangers center Derek Stepan before hurtling past Lundqvist for a 1-0 overtime win at the Verizon Center that gave Washington a 2-0 series lead.
It was yet another demonstration of this team’s power play prowess. Though the Rangers had been much better about staying out of the box than they were on Thursday night, a delay of game call in OT proved to be their undoing. Here are some more observations from Game 2:
• Rangers coach John Tortorella doesn’t talk about lineup changes, but the minor adjustments he made set up his team for a physical battle. Center Brian Boyle, sidelined since April 16 with a lower body injury, and winger Derek Dorsett, who was playing his first game for the Rangers since his trade from Columbus, have a penchant for showing some toughness. Boyle was eased in with just 11:29 of ice time but still contributed six hits; Dorsett delivered seven. Feisty captain Ryan Callahan led New York with eight, but there was nary a player on either side who wasn’t throwing his body around. New York logged 58 hits in all while the Caps threw 50. It’ll be a wonder if either side can keep up that kind of pace in Game 3 and beyond.
• The Capitals deserved to win, as they largely outplayed New York and created more and better quality scoring chances. But Lundqvist, as he has been for years, was a game-changer. His 37-save performance gave the Rangers a chance to steal this one, and it was a welcome effort after his relatively subpar outing in New York’s 3-1 series opening loss. Repeatedly bailing out his defensemen, Lundqvist stonewalled a good number of the Caps’ golden chances and was by far the best Ranger on the ice.
• Shadowed by Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, Alex Ovechkin has been forced to look for open teammates, and he’s been setting them up for tap-ins — yet another way the winger has begun to diversify his game – but the Capitals spoiled several scoring chances by making an extra pass or hesitating before pulling the trigger. In the second period, Marcus Johansson, a natural center and puck distributor, was on the doorstep and looking at a wide-open net after receiving the puck right on his tape, but instead of unloading a quick shot, he stickhandled for just a moment, giving Lundqvist time to move post-to-post and Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh a chance to get his stick in the way. In the third period, on a 2-on-1 break with Nicklas Backstrom, Johansson passed — behind the play.
• Six weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been able to pick Steve Oleksy out of a police lineup. But through the first two games of this series, the 27-year-old journeyman minor leaguer has looked like a bona fide NHL blueliner. Not only has he been physical, leading the Capitals with nine hits on Saturday, he’s shown some excellent on-ice vision. Recall the long lead pass he fed to Johansson for the winning goal in Game 1. Throughout Game 2, Oleksy created a handful of scoring chances with sharp passes through open lanes. Perhaps his ability to read the expanse of ice in front of him is a result of his days as a catcher in college baseball. Called up during the regular season largely because coach Adam Oates was looking for a right-handed shot, Oleksy at one point in his career thought about abandoning hockey in favor of opening pizza shops. Making the most of his opportunity, he’s been a feel-good story in Washington.