WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals played with speed, energy and aggressiveness. They applied pressure in the offensive zone, where they were also unpredictable. They withstood the inevitable surges put on by the New York Rangers. They got their offense going with a power-play goal. They made quick passes and were strong on the forecheck.
Basically, the Capitals played Thursday night at Verizon Center like they did the final 19 games of the regular season, when they went 15-2-2 to surge up the standings and get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs as Southeast Division champions.
Now they have a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Braden Holtby made 34 saves, and the Capitals got second-period goals from Alex Ovechkin, Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera to defeat the Rangers 3-1.
Game 2 is Saturday at Verizon Center (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN, RDS).
"We played our system," Ovechkin said. "We have to stay the same way."
Not only did they play their system, the Capitals showed the same type of resiliency that helped them get to this point in the season. They fought back from a 1-0 deficit after giving up what can only be called an unlucky goal to Rangers forward Carl Hagelin with 3:16 to play in the first period -- a period Washington dominated except for that one goal.
Washington had momentum and a 12-1 advantage in shots on goal when Hagelin's wraparound shot hit the left skate of Capitals defenseman John Erskine and redirected past Holtby into the net.
"They scored a goal, but we knew it was kind of luck," Ovechkin said. "We knew if we stayed with the system and stayed focused we'd get it. We still had chances in the first period and we pushed it in the second to get the lead."
Ovechkin got the Capitals going with a power-play goal 6:59 into the second.
It was almost a relief-type goal for the Capitals, who had the League's best power play in the regular season (26.8 percent) but were 0-for-3 on the power play, including 0-for-2 in the second period, when Arron Asham was called for an illegal check to the head at 6:26 -- 72 seconds after the Rangers had finished killing Taylor Pyatt's elbowing minor.
Capitals coach Adam Oates said the power play looked "jittery" early in the game, but the Rangers knew they were playing with fire by committing so many penalties in such a short period of time. Washington finally burned them when Mike Green's one-timer from the point hit off the end boards and bounced into the slot, where Ovechkin found the puck and chipped it over Lundqvist to tie the game 1-1.
"They got a good bounce off the boards, but you just can't take two in a row," Rangers coach John Tortorella said, referring to the penalties by Pyatt and Asham. "Hopefully we'll discipline ourselves in the next game."
Washington's penalty kill, which was 27th in the NHL during the regular season, came through after Ovechkin scored to keep momentum on the Capitals' side. The Rangers couldn't convert on a 5-on-3 that lasted 56 seconds or on the ensuring 5-on-4. New York attempted nine shots over the entire sequence -- Holtby stopped four, two were blocked and the Rangers misfired on three.
"You're trying to get something there. We didn't," Tortorella said of the 5-on-3. "I thought after in the 5-on-4 we had some chances, but you'd like to get something there."
The Capitals took advantage a few minutes later when Johansson and Chimera extended their lead to 3-1 with goals 46 seconds apart.
Johansson scored on a breakaway after Steve Oleksy found him alone at the far blue line with a home run pass that caught the Rangers off guard and split Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. Johansson beat Lundqvist over his left arm with 5:39 left in the period.
"Both me and Danny wish we had that one back," McDonagh said.
Chimera scored at 15:07 when his blind shot off the left-wing half-wall somehow found the back of the net. Mathieu Perreault, who forced the turnover that kept the puck in the offensive zone, was in front and attempted to get a piece of Chimera's shot, but replays showed he never touched it.
Lundqvist said he was expecting a pass and was slow to react, but added that it's not an excuse.
"I have to stop that," he said. "It was just those couple of minutes there [in the second period] where they hurt us a little bit, a couple of big plays for them. If you take away those five to 10 minutes, we played a pretty strong game."
The Capitals played it better, even in the third period, when they kept applying some pressure and had luck on their side.
Hagelin hit the crossbar with roughly 10 minutes to play, and Rangers defenseman John Moore thought he had a goal off a bad-angle shot with 4:03 left, but it was ruled a no-goal after an official review because the puck was never seen in the net.
Holtby said he had it.
"It rolled into the palm of my hand," Holtby said. "One of the guys yelled it was in. It wasn't. It was in my palm the whole time."
The Capitals had Game 1 in their hands the whole time, too. They just had to stick with their system to grab the 1-0 series lead.
It's been working since the middle of March. No reason to stop now.
"It's going to be a battle every game, we just have to play the same way and we'll get success," Ovechkin said. "We just play our game right now."
|Carl Hagelin (1) ASST: Ryan Callahan (1), Ryan McDonagh (1)|
1 - 0 NYR
|PPG - Alex Ovechkin (1) ASST: Mike Green (1), Nicklas Backstrom (1)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Marcus Johansson (1) ASST: Steve Oleksy (1)|
2 - 1 WSH
|Jason Chimera (1) ASST: Mathieu Perreault (1)|
3 - 1 WSH
|Mats Zuccarello Too many men on the ice|
|Jay Beagle Boarding against John Moore|
|Ryan McDonagh Holding against Alex Ovechkin|
|Taylor Pyatt Elbowing against Steve Oleksy|
|Arron Asham Illegal check to head against Jack Hillen|
|Martin Erat Boarding against Mats Zuccarello|
|Eric Fehr Interference against Ryan Callahan|
|Ryan Callahan Roughing against Eric Fehr|
|Eric Fehr Roughing against Ryan Callahan|
|Jack Hillen Cross checking against Arron Asham|
|Michael Del Zotto Slashing against Eric Fehr|