The New York Rangers were undefeated this season when heading into the third period with a lead. While they were tied heading into the third tonight, it was the Rangers who took the lead in the opening minutes of the final period. But this time, the Rangers couldn’t hold on to their slim lead, allowing the Washington Capitals to come back and take Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series 2-1 in overtime. Alex Ovechkin tied the game with just over 6 minutes to play in regulation, and Alexander Semin’s opportunistic goal late in the first overtime period sealed the deal.
It’s been well-noted that the Caps have employed a much different, defensive-minded style of hockey this season, and it showed in the first two periods. The Rangers, who don’t generate much offense anyway, didn’t trouble rookie netminder Michael Neuvirth much, while Henrik Lundqvist was asked to do a lot for the Rangers to keep the game scoreless through two periods.
But the Rangers drew first blood on the first NHL Playoff goal by defenseman Matt Gilroy. It was a prototypical hard-working play that led to the goal, with Brandon Prust’s tough forecheck creating the opportunity. Wojtek Wolski set uo Gilroy from behind the net, and for a team who held on to leads so well throughout the season, it seemed to be just what the Rangers needed.
Washington evened the game with just over six minutes to go in regulation on an odd goal. Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom drove towards the Rangers net, and stuffed away at the pads of Lundqvist. It seemed as though the Rangers netminder had kept the puck out, but the puck found its way behind the goal line. The referees did not give the goal signal immediately since the net had come off its moorings, but the goal was awarded after a video replay. The goal gave the Caps all of the momentum, and even though the game went deep into overtime, the Rangers never gave the feeling that they were really a threat.
The overtime was fairly even and the game seemed destined for a second extra frame, but a costly giveaway by the usually dependable Marc Staal squashed that. Staal tried to clear his zone with under two minutes left in overtime, but the clearance was caught in the air along the boards by Jason Arnott. Arnott centered to Semin, who rocketed a one-timed slapper past Lundqvist, taking Game 1, and perhaps sinking the Rangers, who could have greatly benefited from a Game 1 victory.
A big reason that the Rangers never really threatened after giving up the lead, or really ever sustained any great offensive pressure, is the disappearance of Marian Gaborik, who is quite frankly playing as poorly as possible. Whether its John Tortorella’s forechecking, cycling system not fitting Gaborik’s game, or if he’s simply been ineffective, something needs to be done to jolt the Rangers winger or they’ll be sent home soon. New York simply does not possess the offensive firepower to keep up with the Capitals, who even with their new low risk system still control the puck and generate scoring chances.
The Rangers will battle and grind, as they have all year. They will certainly not cave; they are a resilient bunch. But without Gaborik’s offense, or anyone else stepping up in that manner, good effort will only get them so far.