NEW YORK -- In Game 1, the bounces went against the Washington Capitals. In Game 2, they made their own breaks and evened their best-of-seven series with the New York Rangers.
Alex Ovechkin answered the taunts of the sell-out crowd at Madison Square Garden with a game-winning, power-play goal with 7:27 left in the third period to give the seventh-seeded Capitals a 3-2 victory in the second game of this Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
During the first two games of the series, the fans at MSG organized a chant at the eight-minute mark of each period in which they, to put it nicely, express their negative opinion about the quality of Ovechkin's hockey abilities. After whipping a shot through a Troy Brouwer screen after a faceoff win by Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin celebrated by holding his hand to his ear near the boards at center ice.
"The crowd pay their money and they like to yell," Ovechkin said. "They are fans and they support their team. I'm sure they will be yelling in Washington, too."
The series shifts to Washington for Game 3 on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.
The Capitals admitted after losing Game 1 that they lacked intensity and made too many nonchalant plays. They also rang shots off iron three times in the loss, a sign that despite losing by two goals, they weren't that far off of their game.
In Game 2, the Capitals were opportunistic and showed an assassin's precision and deadliness whenever the Rangers made a mistake.
It started in the first period when Rangers defenseman Stu Bickel coughed up the puck at the attacking blue line. The flub led to a 3-on-2 break that featured pinpoint passing from Joel Ward and Keith Aucoin and ended with Mike Knuble tapping home a pass from Aucoin that Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was helpless to stop.
The goal at 12:20 was just the start of the Capitals' bottom two lines making an impact yet again.
Less than five minutes later, an error in judgment from Lundqvist led to Chimera's third goal of the postseason that made it 2-0.
Capitals forward Matt Hendricks dumped the puck into the zone, with the puck hugging the boards as it curled toward the trapezoid behind the net. Lundqvist came out of his crease to play the puck, but realized the puck was running out of steam far too late. Unable to play the puck outside the trapezoid, Chimera sent the puck to the crease. Hendricks' backhander through his legs went wide, but Chimera banked the puck off the skate of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and into the net to increase the lead.
The Capitals' bottom two lines have been dynamic during the postseason. Bottom-six forwards have three goals in this series and fourth-liner Ward scored the Game 7 OT winner against Boston in the first round.
"[Jay Beagle's] line -- they've just got to be terrible to play against," Caps center Brooks Laich said. "And [the fourth line], they are just a force every time they're on the ice. They don't complain about ice, they play the way they are told, they are tough to play against and they come up with big goals. And even with three minutes left, Knuble chases that one down to avoid the icing. The contributions those guys are making can’t be overlooked."
Brad Richards gave the Rangers life by scoring his third goal of the playoffs with 42.4 seconds remaining in the period. The 4-on-4 goal came after defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who hit two goal posts in the game, including one in the final seconds with the Rangers trailing by a goal, fired a cross-ice pass to Marian Gaborik, who fed Richards at the left post to make it 2-1.
After a scoreless second period, the Rangers evened the score at 2-2 with a power-play goal 6:58 into the third period. The Rangers moved the puck effortlessly around the Capitals zone for about 50 seconds before Del Zotto released a hard shot from the right circle that hit Capitals defenseman John Carlson and the leg of Ryan Callahan before getting past goaltender Braden Holtby to tie the game.
"We showed some character coming back and tying the game," Callahan said. "We just got into some penalty trouble."
The Rangers didn't get burned by their first penalty of the third period, when forward Brian Boyle, back in the lineup after missing three games with a concussion, was called for holding the stick. The Caps couldn't convert with the man-advantage, but Richards' holding penalty less than a minute after the kill set up Ovechkin's dagger.
"First I saw it, then I didn't see it, then I saw it," Lundqvist said about Ovechkin's goal. "It was a hard shot. It was a good shot. Unfortunately someone got tied up and he got a free lane. It's the wrong guy to get that opportunity. It was tough because we killed a penalty and then we were back on the PK again in a critical time of the game. We gave ourselves a chance, working back in the third, but it wasn't enough."
Before both Capitals goals, the Rangers had a chance to get on the scoreboard. Seconds before Knuble scored, a redirection by Callahan squeezed through Holtby's legs, but the puck was swept away by defenseman Mike Green. Just before Chimera scored, Rangers rookie Chris Kreider had a breakaway that was stopped by Holtby.
Yes, the Rangers hit their fair share of posts, but at critical moments, the Caps rose to the occasion and made the Rangers pay for their missteps.
"You look at the difference in the two games, we hit two posts last game, they hit two posts this game," Holtby said. "So that’s how close it is. We did a fairly good job for the most part the last little while there. I think we’d want to bear down harder on the puck in the last few seconds there. Myself I’d like to battle to see that deflection that went off the post a bit more. But the hockey gods were on our side tonight."
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