NEW YORK -- There's an inherent imbalance to elimination games when one team leads in a series. The trailing team is willing to go to any length to extend its season; the other team must match that urgency to overpower its opponent.
Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, the Washington Capitals were unable to match the desperation of New York in Game 6 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, and the Rangers' 1-0 win forced a winner-take-all Game 7 today in Washington.
"You're playing an extremely desperate team. When they can't eliminate you, they know that they might be packing their locker-room up in a few days here," Troy Brouwer said before the start of Game 6. "No player wants to do that; nobody wants to go home, and we have to have the same urgency that they have because they're going to come out and they're going to be very, very desperate."
Derick Brassard scored the lone goal of the contest on a deflection and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 27 saves for his first shutout of the series to extend the Rangers' season.
After looking out of sorts early on in the previous two games in New York, the Capitals assembled a more crisp start for Game 6. Washington's defensive support made for clean breakouts and short offensive possessions for the Rangers, until the visitors found themselves taking frequent trips to the penalty box.
The Capitals took three minor penalties in the final 9:59 of the first period, including two in rapid succession -- Karl Alzner for delay of game and Eric Fehr for elbowing -- that led to a 44-second 5-on-3 for New York.
Luckily for Washington, the Rangers' power play remained incompetent, making poor decisions with the puck, passing up opportunities to shoot and making it easy to anticipate its movements. New York recorded just five shots on the six minutes of power play time in the first, none on the two-man advantage and after two more unsuccessful opportunities in the third the unit is now 2-for-26 in the series.
After a scoreless opening frame with few quality chances the Rangers took a more direct approach in the second. New York established a strong cycle game and created a mess of traffic in front of Caps goalie Braden Holtby, searching for rebounds and odd deflections with an intense sense of purpose.
The approach paid off with 9:39 elapsed in the middle stanza when New York took a 1-0 lead after the Capitals lost multiple battles along the boards and failed to clear the puck out of their zone.
On the extended possession, Brassard fired a shot from the point that deflected off the left glove of defenceman Steve Oleksy and into the net. Holtby, who finished with 28 saves, likely didn't even see the shot because of a screen in the form of 6-4, 213-pound Rick Nash, positioned perfectly atop the crease.
Immediately after the Rangers pulled ahead the game took on a frantic end-to-end pace as the two teams traded chances and at one point went nearly six minutes without a stoppage in play. Perhaps no one was more noticeable in the latter half of the second period than Alex Ovechkin.
Washington's captain had two quality opportunities, on the first with 10:14 gone in the frame the puck rolled off his stick as he tried to work around an outstretched Lundqvist and then at the 15:10 mark when he forced the Vezina Trophy finalist to make a flashy left-pad stop. And after Lundqvist turned his shot away with his pad Ovechkin blocked two shots, both from defenceman Ryan McDonagh, for what was his best two-way shift of the series.
The Capitals pressed in the third period but couldn't find a way to beat Lundqvist, who calmly turned aside each and every shot that came his way.
-- The Washington Post