The Washington Capitals skated on to The Garden ice yesterday afternoon, secure in the knowledge that they have nailed down first place in the National Hockey League’s Metropolitan Division.
By late afternoon they weren’t so sure about that.
It is a fact of life that the New Yorkers could very well meet either Washington or the Stanley Cup Champ Pittsburgh Penguins in the first post-season round.
No worries. The 2-1 triumph says it all.
If yesterday’s clutch effort is a barometer, Alain Vigneault‘s victorious sextet could take on any NHL club and feel confident about a victory.
OVERVIEW: In this head-to-head confrontation, the Rangers prime assets came to the fore. Granted, Ovechkin, Inc. is a force to be reckoned with, but the Caps are far from invincible. If nothing else, the decision indicates that when the chips are down, the Blueshirts can maintain equilibrium and punch out a win. The offense was ecumenical in nature – one goal from the defense (Ryan McDonagh) and one from the offense (Mats Zuccarello with the winner.)
WHAT THEY DID RIGHT:
1. FIRST IN SCORING: It never hurts to score the first goal, especially in front of the home crowd. The fans get going, and the team gets juiced. Washington tied the score in the second period, but the Blueshirts renewed their lead in the third and took the win. Captain McDonagh’s red light ignited his club.
2. OFF THE MATS: The Best Little Man In The NHL, Mats Zuccarello, played big again. The winning goal — on a deft pass from Chris Kreider — gave New York the 2-1 lead which then was preserved by the hard-checking Blueshirts.
3. KING CONQUERS: Coming off the Thursday night loss in Brooklyn, Henrik Lundqvist limited the high-scoring Capitals to a mere goal, outplaying his opposite, Philipp Grubauer.
4. RESILIENT THIRD PERIOD: After a Capitals offensive barrage in the second period, the Rangers rebounded at both ends of the ice. Defensively, they kept the Capitals out of Lundqvist’s face. They stood up to the best team in the league and didn’t blink. It was a telling test for the Rangers – as in all’s well that ends well.
BEST SAVE: On the Capitals second power play in the second period, Alexander Ovechkin created room for himself in the left dot. But Lundqvist uncharacteristically left his crease to meet Ovechkin and stop his shot. Suddenly the puck rebounded to Nicklas Backstrom who subsequently fired the puck on net. McDonagh was manning the crease and made the save to keep the Rangers up 1-0.
BEST GOAL: With the score tied 1-1 in the third period, Mika Zibanejad won the faceoff, passed to Kreider, who took the puck behind the goal and passed it to Zuccarello in perfect scoring position. It was a quick play that put the Rangers ahead to stay.
TURNING POINT: See “Best Goal.”
WHAT THEY SAID:
MARC STAAL: “We did what were supposed to do. We expected to come in here and give a good effort and win the game. We were able to grind one out against a really good team.”
KEVIN HAYES: “They’re the best team in the league. You want to measure yourself up against them and today we did a good job.”
HENRIK LUNDQVIST: “Going into this game we felt like this was a good test coming at the right time for us. You can feel that we’re getting closer here and this is just another opportunity for us to work on our game against a really good team. We really set the tone in the first period, we had a really strong first period. We could’ve had a couple goals.”
ALAIN VIGNEAULT: “It was a really competitive game. We came out really strong in the first, our execution was good. They, like we expected, had a real strong push in the second. It was a tight game. It could’ve gone either way. We made a real good play on the winning goal.”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: With a new coach, Claude Julien, the Montreal Canadiens visit The Garden on Tuesday. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. TV MSG Networks.
BOTTOM LINE: Beating the best is a good barometer to help determine where the Rangers can go from here. But we’ll get a better reading on Tuesday!