Rangers coach John Tortorella couldn’t have scripted it any better himself. After announcing that he was glad to be starting on the road because it gave his team a chance to “steal a game” and snatch home ice advantage in their first round playoff match-up against the Washington Capitals he watched his team, and more specifically his goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, do just that.
Lundqvist was under siege in the first period as the offensively gifted Capitals, led by a motivated Alexander Ovechkin, brought the whole arsenal to bear. Lundqvist coolly turned aside every puck that came his way, and at the end of the first period, despite being badly outplayed and outshot, the Rangers and the Caps were deadlocked at zero.
Lundqvist’s first period heroics allowed the rest of his teammates time to find their legs, and they looked significantly better in the second period, scoring 3 goals to finish the middle stanza up 3-2. However, all the credit for the lead can’t go to the Rangers’ forwards. Caps goalie Jose Theodore definitely had more than a little to do with it.
Theodore was pretty ordinary between the pipes for the Caps, and the Rangers quickly found his weakness and did a good job of exposing it, firing puck after puck high to the glove side. Every time they aimed there the red light turned on behind the Caps net, and it is hard to recall Theodore making anything more difficult than a routine save.
Washington stole back the momentum and looked ready to take over the game when Alexander Semin scored at the 1:42 mark of the 3rd period to tie things up. However, Theodore failed his teammates once again. Brandon Dubinsky walked around a stumbling Jeff Schultz, and again beat Theodore high to the glove side. It was short-side and a shot that Theodore definitely should have had, especially with less than 10 minutes left in a tied playoff game. The Caps poured the pressure on, but again Lundqvist was equal to the challenge, shutting down the barrage, and staking his Rangers to a 1-0 series lead.
Despite the result there is much to be optimistic about if you are a Washington Capitals fan. Alexander Ovechkin picked up right where he left off in the regular season, firing an amazing 13 shots on goal, and finishing the night with 2 assists. And the Capitals powerplay finished with 2 goals on the night against New York’s vaunted league best penalty killing unit. However, the shaky goaltending by Theodore has to be a grave area of concern, especially with Lundqvist playing so well. The Caps will also need to avoid getting too distracted by Sean Avery. Avery didn’t register a point, but was definitely a factor, directly causing one of the Rangers goals with some well disguised interference on Caps d-man Mike Green, drawing a key penalty that the Rangers capitalized on, and getting in Jose Theodore’s kitchen late in the game. Nobody is better at getting under an opponent’s skin than Avery and the Caps players are going to have to ignore him and focus on their game if they want to snatch back home ice in the series.
Overall, the game tonight was massively entertaining. It had some huge hits, spectacular plays, controversy, and was a seesaw battle throughout. Easily the best game of the night. This is playoff hockey as it should be, and hopefully we will see this series go a full seven games before one of these clubs has to go home for the year.