NEW YORK — Of course it was going to be ugly. Of course there was going to be muck.
While everybody was marvelling at the tombstone armies out west, all looming goaltenders and defensive strength, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals were suffocating Ottawa and Boston, respectively, to the tune of 13 and 15 goals over seven games, while blocking piles of shots.
The swamps are across the river, but they’re at Madison Square Garden, too. And while Washington arrived at this style in a sort of deathbed conversion — 21st in goals against in the regular season, then a sudden buy-in come playoff time — the Rangers have been breathing this air all season, and were just a little more comfortable with it in a 3-1 victory Saturday afternoon in Game 1 of this second-round playoff series.
New York got just 14 shots, which according to TSN was their lowest shot total in a playoff game in 20 years. They allowed just 18. And it was Washington, whether lulled to sleep or unable to focus, that made the mistakes.
"They had a tired group over there, and we didn’t bring it, myself especially," said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who made just 11 saves. "I had a tough time getting into the game, not because of the stakes, but because of the way the game went. I just didn’t bring my level up when I needed to, and I’ll work on that for Game 2.
"You have to keep your mind in it, find ways to remind yourself of certain things you’re going to do. The biggest thing is to not get upset, not to start thinking that if they come down and score it’ll be the end of the world. You have to play every shot the same. And it’s hard to do. It’s easy to say, but ..."
Nothing about this series will be easy, one suspects. The first period was coma hockey, with 10 combined shots on goal. Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom did send one puck off Henrik Lundqvist’s shoulder and off the post — the Capitals would hit four posts or crossbars on the afternoon, all told — but even the MSG crowd didn’t bother standing up for the first 20 minutes.
But after a spirited penalty kill the building awakened, and the Rangers opened the scoring with New York fans chanting "Ovi Sucks!" at Alex Ovechkin at the eight-minute mark — they wait until the clock strikes 11 for Ottawa’s No. 11, Daniel Alfredsson — when Artem Anisimov came spinning out from behind the net with Mike Green hanging on his back like a little brother, and wrapped the puck in off Holtby’s stick. The Capitals got the goal back with 3.5 seconds left in the period — thanks to a sparkling saucer pass from Brooks Laich to a streaking Jason Chimera — and the score was tied heading into the third.
But Washington wasn’t good enough, or patient enough. Green, a shadow of his former self, was signalling to the bench for a change when emerging rookie Chris Kreider — brought in when Carl Hagelin was suspended in the first round against Ottawa — burst free behind him, and Green could not recover before Kreider blasted a slap shot past Holtby.
"I was going to the bench and nobody jumped, so I had to go back and he had a step on (Roman Hamrlik), and he made a great shot," said Green. "Not very impressed with our game. We knew they were going to come hard, but we have to push back, especially in this building. We gave them too much respect."
Chimera admitted he missed an assignment on New York’s third goal, which came 90 seconds later when Brad Richards was allowed to skate out from the boards and find another hole in Holtby. Three goals on 12 shots, and on an ugly day, that was probably the ugliest number of all.
"Neither team got many chances, even throughout the game," said Rangers coach John Tortorella. "It’s going to be a grind, and we’re just going to play our game. We’re not changing anything in how we go about our business."
This is New York Rangers hockey, and the Capitals had better get used to it. Their goaltending will need to be better; their focus will have to improve.
And Alex Semin, Backstrom and Ovechkin have combined for 12 points in eight playoff games. They’ve got to be stars, eventually.
"Yeah, absolutely," said Backstrom. "We’ve got to start scoring goals, and I think we created a couple chances tonight, we hit the post (four) times I think, so it’s tough, but overall we didn’t play a good game. We’ve got to play a little tighter, and just be better. We weren’t good enough."
— Postmedia News