As the Metropolitan Division Final moves toward Game 3 in Washington, the Rangers now feel as if their ship — the one that seemed to be capsizing on Thursday — has righted itself.
Having at least temporarily adjusted to what appears to be the long-term loss of Mighty Mouse Mats Zuccarello, the Blueshirts now will seek a series lead on Monday at Verizon Center.
Coach Alain Vigneault will do so fortified with confidence now that his club has tied the series at one game apiece. His Rangers seemed to have found what had been missing in Game 1; that is the confidence that they can finish with a W.
This time, the heroes happened to be goalscorers Chris Kreider, Dan Boyle and Derick Brassard, leading to the 3-2 Blueshirt victory before a tumultuous Garden crowd.
“The better team won,” admitted Caps coach Barry Trotz. “The Rangers wanted it more.”
That they did, outshooting the visitors 35-32 while setting the Washingtonians back on their skates when Kreider scored only 38 seconds into the match.
The trick now for the New Yorkers is to take the positive ingredients on to D.C. where the crowd is sure to be hostile and loud.
“I don’t believe in momentum,” asserted Rangers center Derek Stepan. “This was a good win in Game 2, but we have to focus now on Game 3.”
A constant threat in the first two games, Alex Ovechkin once again demonstrated why he’s the best left wing in the NHL.
In the third period, The Great 8 easily bisected the Ranger’s top defensive pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh before blasting a bomb past Henrik Lundqvist.
That narrowed the count to 3-2 after which the Capitals came oh-so-close to beating The King in the final minute.
“Sometimes,” said Trotz, “it’s not what you got but what you come away with and we feel good about coming home and playing them again on Monday.”
Solving Washington’s capable goaltender Braden Holtby was another important Rangers accomplishment. But even in defeat, the Caps’ net minder made a number of sensational saves.
“Holts kept us in the game,” added Trotz. “He’s at the top of his form.”
Then again, so is Lundqvist, who was called upon to do an imitation of Horatius at the Bridge after Trotz pulled Holtby for an extra skater.
“The Caps had some good ‘looks’ at the end,” recalled Vigneault. “Hank had to come up with big saves. It was a tough couple of minutes.”
To a man, the visitors expect a better performance in Game 3. Ovechkin confessed that the Rangers impressed him.
“This series could go seven games,” the Caps’ captain opined.
The importance of the first goal — and playing it clean — never was more evident over the 60 minutes. The Caps took pivotal penalties; the Rangers didn’t.
Washington was tagged with four infractions while the Rangers received only one minor. New York caught a meaningful break when the Caps revved up a strong offensive aiming for the tying goal late in the third period.
But then Troy Brouwer was sentenced to two minutes for high sticking and neutralizing what could have been an even more intense Caps offensive.
No less important was the fact that the speedier Rangers constantly beat their foes to the puck. And for once the Capitals’ penalty killing failed.
With his club up a goal late in the first period, Boyle dispatched a blinding shot that beat the screened Holtby. “Going down by two in the first period really hurt,” said Trotz.
“You always want to have good starts,” explained Stepan, who notched a secondary assist on the opening goal. “We’ve gotten better through the playoffs.”
Washington got closer in the shot count — if not the score — in the middle frame. After Lundqvist relinquished a juicy rebound on Jason Chimera’s shot, Evgeny (Young Ovie) Kuznetsov potted the Caps’ first goal at 13:59.
“We can be better in the next game,” said Kuznetsov.
The Caps came close to tying on at least two occasions later in the second stanza, but Lundqvist gave nothing away, preserving the slim lead.
Just over six minutes into the third period, Brassard found his way behind Matt Niskanen after exiting the penalty box. Derick received a perfect pass from Martin St. Louis and beat a stranded Holtby at 6:07.
“Hopefully the goal brings some confidence to our line,” said Brassard.
More scares came for The Garden crowd after Ovechkin’s sensational goal, but the Rangers held strong behind Lundqvist and several shot blocks from Kevin Klein.
For now and until Monday night, at least The Good Ship New York may be righted, but the Rangers aren’t getting ahead of themselves. Game 3 should be as close as the pair so far.
“These teams are pretty evenly matched,” concluded Trotz.
True enough; but that fact of life will change sometime late on Monday night in Washington!