No Big Loss: Blueshirts Fall to Caps

CAPITALS 2, RANGERS 0

Braden Holtby is regarded as one of the best goaltenders in the National Hockey League while playing for the best sextet in hockey.

That was the double-dip challenge the Rangers encountered last night at Verizon Center in the Nation’s Capital and — in the end — it was too much to handle.

For most of the match, Alain Vigneault‘s troops not only met that challenge head-on, but gave Holtby’s Heroes a good run for their pucks.

The asterisk that must be attached to the final 2-0 score is that A.V. rested six of his regulars in advance of the playoffs. But in the end, it was the Alex Ovechkin-led forces that prevailed as the Caps captain put his club ahead to stay on a second-period power play goal.

From then on, Holtby demonstrated why he’s a leading candidate to win the Vezina Trophy for the second straight year. There simply was not a red light for the New Yorkers to ignite.

OVERVIEW: With nothing to gain or lose in the standings, Vigneault realized that this was the best time to rest his aces and hope that the remaining roster could squeeze out a victory. For half the game, this seemed possible. Then Ovechkin broke the ice and iced the game. From then on, it was a question of whether Henrik Lundqvist could continue improving his pre-playoff skills. And that he did with no injuries to any Blueshirts.

Alain Vigneault talks about the Rangers' effort against the Capitals and how the team will prepare for the playoffs in the last two regular season games this weekend.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

1. BAD PENALTY, BAD RESULT: Brendan Smith took what NBC analyst Mike Milbury described as “an inexcusable penalty” in the second period. On the ensuing power play, Ovechkin’s shot beat Lundqvist. That was all the Capitals needed.

2. OFFENSE LACKING: With key scorers rested, the Rangers could not muster enough of a sustained attack to defeat Holtby. Actually, their best chance to beat Washington’s goalie came in the waning seconds of the game with Lundqvist pulled for an extra skater. A scramble developed around the crease, but somehow Holtby and friends managed to keep the rubber from crossing the line.

3. TOO MUCH HOME TALENT: Playing before a partisan crowd, the Caps won their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy while Holtby recorded his ninth shutout of the season. Ovechkin’s goal was his 34th of 2016-17.

THE GOOD NEWS:

1. PLAYOFFS AHEAD: The Rangers are locked into the first wild card spot and will face the Montreal Canadiens in the first playoff round, starting in Habstown.

2. HENNY READY: Having stopped 23 of 25 shots, Lundqvist produced a few extraordinary saves and has moved into mint condition for the postseason.

3. FOURTH LOOKED FIRST: Led by the effervescent Tanner Glass, the Rangers fourth line produced good chances and excellent physicality. Glass led the Blueshirts with four hits in 11:01 of ice time.

TURNING POINT: Despite a trimmed-down lineup, the Rangers played the Capitals even for more than half the game. After Washington scored its power play goal, the game tilted toward the home club and remained that way after the Caps scored again and took the two points.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: The Blueshirts close their regular season schedule with two games. First, they jet to Ottawa for a day game (Noon, MSG Network) on Saturday. They drop the curtain on Sunday at The Garden. Sidney Crosby’s defending Cup champion Penguins will provide the opposition.

BOTTOM LINE: As significant games go, this was not one of them unless you consider avoiding injuries something to be commended. And that it was. Other than honing Lundqvist’s skills to more sharpness, little else could — or should — be said about the game.